Photo by Oscar Romero; pinterest.com
A hundred years is old for a cherry tree, especially in a Victorian suburban garden. This summer it looked sick, lost its leaves, its trunk developed a split, and by mid October it was clearly dead. To the gardener who maintained that garden, and who wrote to a well-known media site to mourn the lost tree, this was further evidence that the world itself was dying. Soon all the trees in the garden would be dead; the garden itself would decay into a desert as the planet became a shrivelled husk.
Well, one day perhaps it will, but not in our lifetimes; indeed, not in the next several centuries.
It was a sad, dismal letter; a man seeing in a tree the symbol of the decay of the world. And, of course, there were, as we expect in news items now, many comments by readers that agreed with the bereft gardener and called for climate emergency measures to be stepped up. As to how, there was a general vagueness, but banning single-use plastics, banning cars, banning foreign holidays, banning wood-burning stoves all figured. Always banning. It was a relief to see the many comments that called for more of something – e.g. tree-planting - reminding the glum gardener of the cycle that always brings new, green life.
To be a gardener is to pursue an occupation, whether amateur or professional, that is about the creation of life and the encouragement of growth. But gardening, if successful, also has a considerable element of ruthlessness. In autumn, out come the gardeners’ instruments of death - the clippers, the axe, the secateurs - and in their fearless deployment lies next year’s lush growth and fulsome blooms. If that job is not done, then the plant will become leggy and produce fewer flowers; plus the winter winds will catch it and loosen its roots. Misplaced kindness will create weakness – or even death.
Poor old cherry tree. But its time had come; shed a tear, mutter a little prayer or vote of thanks for all the past pleasure it has given. Use the wood to make something elegant and useful. Prepare to plant something new, order a new tree - a sapling for delivery and planting in the spring. Then enjoy watching the slender sapling grow year by year; its first blossoms, maybe its first fruits, birds perching in its sheltering canopy, and probably eating those fruits before you can. The new tree will absorb more carbon dioxide than the old, if that matters to you, and produce more oxygen. You will have done a wonderful thing, for the planet, for natural beauty, for wildlife, and for your mankind as they have the pleasure of watching it grow each year. That is what gardeners do; they understand the rhythm of the earth and work with it, knowing that is not only how things are, but how they must be, and it is to be celebrated.
Whether you are a gardener or not, look around you. In many parts of the earth the world is greener than ever, and lush, lusher than ever. There is more carbon dioxide in the air than there has ever been – but that is not bad, it is good for plant life and tree growth. Not everything that is happening is bad. In the UK, in the last five years we have had two normal or average winters, and three mild ones. We have had four good growing summers and one dry one. The result has been unusually lush growth. No winter tobogganing, it is true, the lawn needs cutting more than usual, the pruners have had more summer use, but both gardeners’ and farmers’ crop yields have been higher than normal.
The climate is always changing. In my lifetime I remember very cold winters in the 1960's and very dry summers. A perusal of UK history will reveal long runs of very hot, dry summers, exceptionally wet summers, long harsh winters. Vines grew further north than now; young oak plantations were destroyed by bad winters, the weight of ice breaking off slender branches. 10,000 years ago Dogger Bank was an inhabited island! The climate varies, our planet is not static. There are winners and losers in change; at the moment Europe, at least, seems to be overall a winner. But we do not help the losers in the Middle East, in Africa, in Bangladesh by obsessing about achieving Net Zero; what is needed is practical assistance.
We do not really understand enough about our planet and climatology to really know what is happening, and in particular what the real causes are. It might be human activity, it might be a natural rhythm. We know we have had very severe weather conditions in the past – the covering of much of the land mass north and south in glaciers, variations caused by asteroid strikes, the desertification of parts of the Middle East. This is a time to be careful; to learn more about what affects the planet we sit on.
There can be no harm in using less of the earth’s resources. We are using some precious minerals up, and there are more and more of us, so prudence should once again become an admired virtue. If we can use the sun or the wind to generate light and power economically that can only be good. If we tackled the one thing that is never talked about, no matter how many CoP summits are held - reversing the over-crowding of the planet by humans - we shall undoubtedly do our descendants an enormous favour. But we must not overlook the losers in all this change. Most importantly, we should work out how to help those where climate variation is causing negative results – those whose land is becoming too dry to cultivate, those whose land may vanish under the sea, those suffering from temperatures so that it is too hot to live. It is more important to help those whose lives are being ruined rather than spend too much time pondering barely understood questions as to why this should be so.
There is now on this subject a sense of panic and hysteria that has overtaken calm research into how to create improvements both in how we manage our resources and in how we help those who are or will suffer. There is a danger that we will somehow manage to make things worse by interfering in forces that we do not understand, and that may turn out to be self-balancing (as the planet recovered from the asteroid strike that wiped out the dinosaurs). In fact, we need to cheer up and accept that the climate change is slow, much slower than human response to it.
Opinion surveys over the last thirty years show that our fellow citizens have become increasingly gloomy and pessimistic almost every year; the rate of despondency now is at its highest level, and still it rises. Nothing is as bad as it seems (alright, rarely is it as bad as it seems). We need to cheer up. We need to get into a positive frame of mind and think about how we can make the world better, not about what we can ban, not about hair-shirts and accepting a slow increase in poverty.
If you have one, cherish your garden. If you haven’t one, plant a tree or ten. There are plenty of charities which will take modest donations for planting and maintaining trees. And in the spring, go walk amongst them. You will feel so much better!