“Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb down the middle of the great street of the city. On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations.” – Revelation 22: 1-2
“Ecosystem restoration of landscapes across bioregions can ultimately lift the souls of dispirited citizens, provide continuously for their righteous livelihoods, regenerate the health and well-being of entire nations, while ensuring sustainability of our one shared biosphere… Only more leaves on the trees can heal your and our many nations’ brokenness. Please plant trees, restore ecosystems, and love nature and others.” – Dr. Glen Barry
The End of Being Looms
The ecological fabric of being is fraying and Earth is at imminent risk of become uninhabitable. The collapse of major ecological systems that provide for the well-being of all life is intimately entwined with the personal despair, and political and social chaos, roiling global societies. Many growing social ills such as poverty, violence, and addiction are ultimately driven by environmental decline; and can only worsen if nature is not protected and restored.
Here I will first review our ecological predicament, before referring (as an atheist) to biblical wisdom as to the role trees play in our healing.
The Age of Industrial Affluence whereby illusory human material advancement briefly occurred through the liquidation of natural ecosystems is ending. We are well into the Age of Ecocide as drawdowns of natural capital – water, soil, atmosphere, fish, wildlife – have exceeded their regenerative capacity. Everywhere the ecologically attuned eye looks, tawdry natural plant communities and wildlife populations are collapsing and dying.
Humanity has surpassed the carrying capacity of the atmosphere, ecosystems, and the biosphere.
Simultaneously, and as a direct result, human societies are distressed. Shocking levels of inequality exist whereby billions lack basic needs as a small group of billionaires live a life of grotesque opulence. Both extremes further squeeze the Earth.
The economic bubble of an industrial growth economy based upon ecocide has burst. Violence, drug dependency, sexual abuse, depression, suicide, perma-war, racism, and even a resurgence in slavery are rife. All are related to the lessened prospects of material comfort for the lower and middle classes as there exists fewer natural areas to plunder for money. And to a general sense of lack of meaning in lives devoid of nature. The entire premise of capitalism, that an economy can grow forever by razing natural systems, has been revealed to be nonsensical malarkey that threatens to kill us all.
Exponential growth in population and consumption drive the fatally unsustainable resource consumption that liquidates natural ecosystem habitats. This relentless growth in everything at the expense of the natural world is the ultimate source of biodiversity loss, ecosystem diminishment, a fatally diminished climate, and ultimately a decline in human prospects for meaningful, universal, and lasting advancement.
Entering this new era of natural scarcity had led to greater competition between both individuals and nations, and to spiraling conflict and malignancies of all types. The final assault upon the Planet’s last natural ecosystem engines can only lead to collapse of societies and the biosphere.
And the end of being.
The key point: human well-being (and indeed all life) is intimately dependent upon natural ecosystems. Indeed, humanity is part of the ecological whole, as goes nature goes humanity. Critically we have gone from a state of nature surrounding humanity, to humanity enveloping sickened natural remnants. As ecology has dwindled under a centuries old assault, human mid-to-long term prospects have declined in tandem.
After years of human advancement in liberty, human rights, and equality; the current rise of authoritarian fascism is the natural consequence of a sick global environment. In the global rise of right-wing anti-science populism we are witnessing fits of petulance when people and nations hit the limits to growth and can’t have infinitely more of everything for everybody. Ignorance, including regarding ecology, has lead to serious misdiagnoses of societal problems.
Humanity is hell-bent upon destroying their habitat and the natural capital which makes possible and enriches their existence. As the collapse of global ecosystems intensify, together we face a brief period of unimaginably grim social strife that threatens decades of conflict and pain; before humanity, all life, and the biosphere die.
Unless we plant more trees to restore the environment and our culture.
The decline in natural ecosystems, and the reduction in economic opportunity from their clearance, is a driving force behind a range of social ills including perma-war, violence, addiction, depression, suicide, and poverty. Only widespread tree planting to regenerate natural and agro-ecosystems in an Age of Ecological Restoration can avoid collapse of societies and ultimately the biosphere.
Leaves Heal Nations
As an atheist rejecting worship of mythical ghosts, I’m not one to quote scripture. My spirituality is found in self-evident truths such as nature. Yet I recently became aware of the bible verse “The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations,” and it deeply resonates with me. The quote occurs within the context of Revelation’s grim self-fulfilling prophecy of the end of the world as a result of sinful pestilence and war.
Stripped of Abrahamic myth, the quote contains an important secular truth that nations and their peoples are ultimately dependent upon the productivity and ecological health of their land, water, air, and seas. From trees and related natural ecosystems come the food, fiber, air, water, and livelihoods upon which the well-being of human and kindred life is utterly dependent. And when societies are in despair, it is ultimately nature and trees which can best heal the wounds of greed, war, and personal pain.
Innumerable cultural traditions – many of them massacred by christians – have understood humanity’s oneness with, and utter dependence upon, trees and nature. Destroying your shared environment is the ultimate sin for which redemption may not be possible if you wait too long.
The core nugget of universal, objective truth found in this bible verse is that tree leaves can heal nations. Tree planting will heal all nations and restore a personal state of natural awe and well-being. More tree and other plant leaves will lead inexorably to more fertile soil, plentiful water, full stomachs, sustained wildlife, full employment, peace, prosperity, and an operable climate.
While planting trees is good, doing so with the intent of restoring natural forest and agro-ecosystems is even better.
There exists tremendous potential to restore local ecosystems in a manner that improves landscape health and ultimately allows nature to once again provide the context for humanity. Remaining natural ecosystem fragments can have their margins secured to allow natural succession and their expansion to occur. This natural regrowth can be augmented with the planting of dominant natural tree species. Ecosystem restoration along with simultaneous rapid reductions in fossil fuel emissions (covered in other essays) are humanity’s only remaining hope to avoid destroying our one shared biosphere home.
Several large contiguous large forest wildernesses, and significant fragments of natural ecosystems, remain and for now are the ecosystem engines that are powering the global environment. Despite the fragments being nearly universally distributed; they are often small, isolated, and are thus unable to provide the full range of ecological and economic benefits necessary for the well-being of human and all life. And wherever old trees stand they continue to be assaulted under the quasi-religious dogma of economic development.
These last naturally evolved ecological gems can be eliminated in a futile attempt to prop up continued exponential growth. Or the pressure can be taken off of the leaves of the trees; as natural ecosystems are assisted to regenerate, expand, reconnect, and ultimately become fully productive again.
Multiple goals can be pursued. Core ecological areas that are large and connected enough to maintain the entire panoply of life, and which provide ecosystem services upon which all life depends, must be protected and/or re-established. Within this landscape matrix areas of production of food and fiber can co-exist. This will run the gamut from perma-culture gardens of fruits, nuts, and vegetables; to natural plantations of fiber for shelter and other necessities, all enmeshed within the core areas. Local species and genotypes will be favored, yet due to abrupt climate change it may be necessary to use species assemblages that occur together in nearby hotter climates.
There exist hundreds of millions of denuded acres globally that can immediately be marked as zones of ecological restoration (given consent of local peoples and plans for their economic benefit). In many areas,
small tawdry patches of naturally evolved plant stocks remain, that if the pressure were taken off, could quickly regenerate, particularly in the tropics. There will be millions of jobs for local peoples in plant
nurseries; and tree planting, care, and harvest. While some core areas must remain involatile to remain ecologically intact, small communities of forest keepers will live sustainable, fulfilling lives throughout the rest. And critically indigenous land tenure, including to stolen lands,will be restored and solidified.
Ecosystem restoration of landscapes across bioregions can ultimately lift the souls of dispirited citizens, provide continuously for their righteous livelihoods, regenerate the health and well-being of entire nations, while ensuring sustainability of our one shared biosphere.
The Age of Global Ecological Restoration
Please hear the clarion call of millions already working to usher in an Age of Global Ecological Restoration. We must come together as a global family to restore ecologically the places we inhabit and which we and our forebearers have senselessly allowed to be destroyed. One last time lets beat guns into plowshares, to make the shovels necessary to plant the trees whose leaves we need to cool the frustrations of diminished prospects and restore hope in a mortally threatened world.
By reconstituting ecology, society will reconnect to the wonders of nature. A sense of communal well-being will come; as guns, hard drugs, suicide, and over-consumption fade away. The focus will be upon shared advancement, well-being, and experience rather than insular, anxious lusting for the accumulation of more stuff.
In many a glen, after a day of hard work planting and caring for trees, people will gather in new forests of their making for feasts under the moon and stars; and again find community and make love.
We will marvel at creation and the miracle of being as we work for her continuation. Once again, we will feel in our very cells our own intimate connection with kindred species with which we share this billions of year long evolutionary journey. There will be a resurgence in self-expression as art, sport, music, theater, science (and other knowledge), and the written word rise in prominence. Emerging technologies will be used appropriately, and only to the extent that they augment ecology, and are used exclusively for social good.
Frequent long-distance travel, the military-industrial complex, fossil fuels, big government, abject despair, extreme poverty, and social want will fade away as a more just society based upon equitable and sustainable bioregional plenty re-emerges.
Together the human family has arrived at the point where only the leaves of the tree can heal the nations. We have one last chance, and a closing window of opportunity, to restore the ecosystems that humans need to both survive and thrive. We must power down, demilitarize, reject industrial ecocide, and embrace centuries of ecological restoration as the penultimate focus of human endeavors.
Only more leaves on the trees can heal your and our many nations’ brokenness. Please plant trees, restore ecosystems, and love nature and others.