Can we save the world, one tree at a time?

(The Guardian, 10 Sep 2019) The battlefront is not only to save the forests we have left, but to revegetate the spaces humanity has already taken over.

Fires are raging across Queensland and New South Wales – 80 across Queensland alone. As is the case with the Amazon fires, for many the strong urge is to hide from the news.

It’s not for lack of caring.

It’s because you don’t even need to have survived fire seasons to remember how this awful story ends – just a childhood memory of Bambi or Smokey Bear. The forest paradise is destroyed, the world made more ugly in its ruin. The animals are left homeless, scarred or dead. Watching the news at a distance is to feel as powerless to intervene and save the innocent creatures as we did back then. We’re just weeping children stuck in their chairs while on the other side of the cinema screen – or the world – that which is most precious is annihilated.

Amid the growing global climate anxiety, there’s an intimate, personal distress induced by these blazes. Other desperate omens – the disappearing glaciers in Iceland, the bioluminescent coastlines in India, melting lakes in the Alps – register as disturbing but more abstract terrors. One explanation of why forest catastrophes are uniquely terrifying perhaps also explains the powerful impact of the Bambi story, even on children who have never seen a living deer. In his book Children’s Dreaming and the Development of Consciousness, psychologist David Foulkes suggests animals are recruited as avatars of the emerging self in children’s dreams; they feature heavily within them. “Animals carry human concerns,” Foulkes writes, “and readily become objects of identification.”

So it’s not just on a metaphoric or rational level that we know what’s happening to the creatures terrorised, scorched and destroyed in the flames is also happening to us. We grasp it psychologically. No wonder the instinct is to run away, hoping for a hero, a cosmic deus ex machina or someone’s clever mum to save us, especially given governments from Brazil to Australia and the US seem so uninterested.

Thinking about child psychology, the way children problem-solve and a panic-inspired, imperative emotional need to rescue every Bambi, everywhere, provoked me to the sudden question: Mum, can we regrow all the burning forests in our backyards at home?

External link

The Guardian, 10 Sep 2019: Can we save the world, one tree at a time?