During my decade-long career as the head of ForestEthics, I've become a hopeless tree geek. Dr. Seuss' Lorax come to life, my days are too often spent studying the sources of forest destruction: endless piles of catalogs and junk mail, mountains of copy paper with no recycled content, and other forest-plowing norms of modern life.
With so much of my time spent on what's wrong with society's relationship to forests, I sometimes need a reminder of the things that have always been deeply right about it, and why I was drawn to this work in the first place.
So for you, and for me, here are five reasons to speak for the trees today:
1. Forests make us feel better. Half of our medications, from digoxin for the heart, to taxol for cancer, come from the plant kingdom. Our bodies recognize and are healed by plant remedies. There's science to this but, to put it simply, our cells speak the same language. Even if you're not sick, and your only affliction is having spent the last hundred hours staring at a computer screen, getting into a forest is good for you. A 2010 study found that just five minutes doing something in nature can boost your mental health.
Beethoven said the forest was the muse for his symphonies. Let it be a muse for yours.
2. Forests create the air that we breathe. In fact, that breath that you just took? Forests and oceans conspired to make it. Even Bill Clinton has to inhale some time, and none of us would be able to do it without the oxygen-producing capabilities of the Boreal, the Amazon, the rainforests of Indonesia, and a tight, hard-working cluster of trees, plants and soil near you.
3. Forests give us our water. Thoughts on where our water comes from often don't go much further than the faucet. But forests help purify and store nearly two-thirds of the US water supply. And when I say forests, I mean the real kind -- not sterile tree plantations planted in the wake of clearcutting. Rows of trees garnished with generous helpings of pesticides do not a forest make.
In fact, forests and water are such 'friends with benefits' that World Forest Day is today, and World Water Day is tomorrow. I have no idea what Wednesday is.
4. Forests are home to countless species -- including humans. Homo Sapiens -- you know the type: opposable thumb, walks on two feet, will perform mating dance after a few drinks. As many as 150 million people actually live inside of forests and depend on them directly to fish, to hunt, to harvest food and medicine, and to endure as a culture. Their homes deserve protection.
Forests' contributions to other species are immense: 80% of the terrestrial biodiversity on Earth call forests home, from the endangered orangutan of Indonesia to the Spirit Bear of British Columbia's Great Bear Rainforest. In North America, British Columbia's forests have become a veritable Noah's Arc for 17 major mammal species, as their neighborhoods elsewhere on the continent have been felled to make everything from junk mail to -- get this -- the world's dirtiest oil in the forests of Alberta, Canada (if you haven't yet heard of the Tar Sands, trust me, you will).
5. Forests have been battling climate change for a very long time. For thousands of years, forests have played a crucial role in absorbing and storing whatever carbon is emitted into the atmosphere. And it was smooth sailing until we started pumping record amounts of CO2 into the atmosphere while at the same time leveling the forests that worked to keep our climate in balance. In terms of battling climate change, forests are tough to beat: they're not waiting for government seed funding or venture capital for research; they don't require a senate supermajority. Forests just need to be allowed to do what they do so well.
Spring is right around the corner, and that's when Boreal forests, the halo of northern forest encircling Canada, Russia, and Scandinavia, are in their peak growth phase. This period is so intense for the planet that each spring we can measure worldwide levels of carbon dioxide falling and the worldwide levels of oxygen rising.
Think about it: you breathe in what trees breathe out; trees breathe in what we breathe out. Talk about a match made in heaven. What's the catch? There is none. This is the planet we were born to live on. Get out there and enjoy it.