Can We Act In Time To Save The Trees – And Ourselves?

May 13, 2019

I’ve seen a lot of the Carolinas over the years, but the other day I heard about a place I have to go visit sometime – the Black River down in southeastern North Carolina.

Its tea-colored water is home to a couple of rare fish species, and it’s known as one of the cleanest streams in the state. But the real attraction is the trees. There are bald cypress trees in the Black River swamp that have been around more than 2,000 years – literally since Jesus was a boy.

A group of scientists who have been studying the trees published a report about them the other day. They took core samples and determined that one tree is 2,624 years old, which makes it the fifth-oldest known tree on Earth.

Just think of what that tree has survived – the hurricanes, the lightning strikes, all the random disasters that can happen to any living thing.

But now the question is: Will the tree survive us?

A few days before the discovery of the ancient trees was announced, the United Nations came out with a biodiversity report that should have blared around the world like a siren.

The report says that we humans pave over so much wild land and burn so much fossil fuel that we could see a million species of plants and animals become extinct within a few decades. That pace is far faster than anything the scientists could measure going back 10 million years.

I know some of you don’t want to believe in climate change – I wish it wasn’t real, too. But it’s basically a done deal as far as science is concerned. Just about the only people who believe otherwise are people who will profit from things staying the way they are.

There are three big issues with climate change. One is that it’s a long-term problem and most of us focus on short-term things. Two is that it feels almost too big to solve. And three is that solving it requires us to change the way we live – what we eat, what we wear, how we get around.

That’s hard to take in a culture that thrives on the freedom to do pretty much anything we want. But doing anything we want to the earth is what got us here.

Those ancient cypress trees give me a little bit of hope. They’ve spent 2,000 years enduring everything this world had to throw at them, and they’re still here. One secret of their survival is how they react to the environment. The rings show that they conserve their energy in a drought. They don’t just push to grow and grow no matter what.

Maybe one day we’ll be as smart as the trees.

Tommy Tomlinson’s On My Mind column normally runs every Monday on WFAE and WFAE.org. It represents his opinion, not the opinion of WFAE. You can respond to this column in the comments section below. You can also email Tommy at ttomlinson@wfae.org.