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The High Price Of Taking Trees For Granted

10/24/2008 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

I just came back from a trip to Honolulu. Those of you who have been there probably noticed the spectacular old trees that stand tall all over the Hawaii capital. I certainly did. I also noticed the absence of new trees, and the long stretches of cement, with no shade to protect people from the scorching sun. Planting a tree is so simple, and such a great investment. So why is it that the city officials in Honolulu do not make the trees more of a priority? The big talk is about building a mass transit system, which would cost 3.7 billion dollars. The mayor has made it the main theme for his reelection campaign. That's all good. And that's no excuse for forgetting the trees.

In my own city of Palo Alto, I have been remarking on the same problem, although to a lesser extent. Trees missing here and there, along tree-lined streets, and no replacement in sight. Across the freeway, in East Palo Alto, the situation is even more blight. Hardly any trees. Its residents have other worries than planting trees, too busy they are to survive, and stay safe.

I have been wondering for a while, what is it with the trees that makes them the forgotten child of environmental policies? Part of it is taking for granted what gives us so much, and asks so little in return. If tomorrow, the trees were removed from our urban landscapes, we would instantly notice, and plead to get the green giants back.

Just when I thought I was done thinking about the trees, I get this email from Glenn Pricket, from Conservation International:

The CO2 emissions from deforestation are greater than the emissions from the world's entire transportation sector-all the cars, trucks, planes, trains, and ships combined. Less forest cover means fewer acres of habitat for species, so they must move or adapt. Those that can survive; those that cannot, go extinct. ... There have to be limits to how much and where we encroach on the natural world.

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Call me clueless, but that is news to me. I had no idea trees in faraway places were this critical to our survival. And that is a problem: our collective ignorance is doing a number on us.

I take issue with the clever tagline used in the Conservation International campaign. "Lost there, felt here" fails to capture the whole issue. I am not, you are not feeling it "here." The challenge is how to translate this remote tragedy, into one that's personally relevant to all the world citizens. More accurate would be "Lost there, problem for you."

Let's face it, we are squandering away one of our most important natural capital. Today, I am asking you to take a few minutes, and claim your one acre of the tropical forest.