Author, Lecturer, Ethicist

Thinking About Joyce Kilmer

Poetry Magazine.jpg

Our maternal grandmother, Anne (a.k.a. “Granny Annie”) was, among many other things, a walking encyclopedia of poetry. She could - and would - at the drop of a hat recite by heart everything from Vachel Lindsay’s Abraham Lincoln Walks at Midnight and Tennyson’s Charge of the Light Brigade to Frank Lebby Stanton’s Keep a-Going’! , William Cullen Bryant’s Thanatopsis, Longfellow’s Song of Hiawatha and Joyce Kilmer’s Trees. These poems - and dozens of others - were the soporifics which lulled us to sleep in our earliest years. Oddly and eerily, for the past couple of days, I’ve been trying like the Dickens (pun intended) to remember (without having to resort to a Google search - no challenge there) which poet wrote Trees. I could still recite it by heart, but somehow had misplaced the poet’s name. . . . a clear-cut “junior moment.” Actually, it turns out that my temporary forgetfulness was a goad to this week’s essay . . . a little something which likely occupies a treasured spot and purpose in my Celestial Cigar Box. Just before falling asleep early on the morning of July 4, the name “Joyce Kilmer” (1886-1918) reached the old frontal lobe. Eureka! Along with the Kilmer recollection came yet another of Granny’s beloved poets: Lucy Larcom (1824-1893), perhaps best known for Plant a Tree, whose first line goes “He who plants a tree plants a hope.”

When I woke up on the morning of July 4 and started reading online editions of various newspapers, I was struck dumb to see an article by A.P. science writer Seth Borenstein entitled A Way to Fight Climate Change? Plant a Trillion Trees. So that’s what the remembrance of Kilmer and Larcum was all about . . . planting trees to save the planet. From what I’ve learned over the past couple of days, there is a new study just published in the journal Science which concludes that planting billions of trees around the world would be the cheapest and most effective way to tackle the climate crisis. Since trees absorb carbon dioxide, which contributes to global warming, a worldwide planting initiative could remove a substantial portion of heat-trapping emissions from the atmosphere.

The researchers say a program at this scale could suck up about two-thirds of the carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions caused by human activities since the start of the industrial revolution, or nearly 25% of the CO2 in the atmosphere. "This is by far — by thousands of times — the cheapest climate change solution," study co-author Thomas Crowther, a climate change ecologist at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich, told The Associated Press. Crowther stressed the need for urgent action, given how rapidly climate change is already progressing, and said tree planting would have near-immediate results, since trees remove more carbon when they are younger.  "It's certainly a monumental challenge, which is exactly the scale of the problem of climate change," Crowther said.

Replenishing the world’s forests on a grand scale would suck enough carbon dioxide from the atmosphere to cancel out a decade of human emissions, according to an ambitious new study. Scientists have established there is room for an additional 1.2 trillion trees to grow in parks, woods and abandoned land across the planet. If such a goal were accomplished it would outstrip every other method for tackling climate change – from building wind turbines to vegetarian diets. The hundreds of gigatons worth of anthropogenic emissions which could be removed from the planet is beyond belief.

Lack of accurate information meant for years experts severely underestimated the number of trees on Earth. Combining data from ground-based surveys and satellites, Dr Crowther and his colleagues arrived at a figure of three trillion trees on earth – over seven times more than a previous Nasa estimate. And so, they have determined that if somewhere between 1.5 and 2 trillion trees were planted, we would come light years closer to our goal of saving the planet.

The world’s longtime leader in reforestation is, of course Israel, where over the past 118 years through the Jewish National Fund, the tiny country has planted more than a quarter-billion trees, turning a desert into a garden. They have proven that it can be done, and that along the way, reforestation also creates jobs, food and hope.

Besides the politics involved in stopping climate change (the administration of the planet’s largest contributor to anthropogenic poisoning blithely rejects science), there is that haunting, depressive feeling that when all is said and done, there’s next to nothing we can do to stem the tide; to save the planet from an ecological apocalypse. However, there is reason for optimism; while we’ve been sleeping, kvetching and growing increasingly impotent, there’s actually a lot going on . . . much of it unnoticed and unknown:

  • The United Nations Trillion Tree Campaign has already planted more than a billion trees on several continents. One can select the continent - or country or town - they wish to assist.

  • India has been tackling reforestation in a massive way. Not that long ago, 1.5 million volunteers in the state Madhya Pradesh state planted more than 66 million trees in less than 12 hours.

  • There is an 8,000 km wall of trees being built in Africa - making it the largest living structure on the planet once it's finished. The wall aims to spread across the width of Africa and through more than 20 countries including Senegal, Nigeria and Ethiopia. A decade on from its launch, the wall is currently 15% complete, with 11.4 million trees planted in Senegal alone.

  • An international organization called Plant For the Planet is engaging students from around the world to become “Justice Ambassadors” in the fight to help heal the planet. To date they have planted billions of trees, millions of tons of food, and seen scores of nearly extinct creatures coming back to life.

  • Various states, counties, cities and towns have instituted their own projects and rules for making their home turf a bit more edenic.

  • There are companies, such as Truewood, (they make and market wonderful wooden watches) which will plant 10 trees for every watch sold. In their first two years in business, they have already planted more than a half-million trees. (I myself already own and proudly wear 4 Truewood time pieces.)

As mentioned above, planting billions and billions of trees also helps increase biodiversity, creates jobs, and feeds hundreds of millions of previously starving people. It is also far, far less expensive - and far, far quicker - than changing the planetary economy from carbon-based to renewable.

Kilmer was undoubtedly on to something when he wrote:

I think that I shall never see
A poem lovely as a tree.
A tree whose hungry mouth is prest
Against the earth’s sweet flowing breast . . .
Poems are made by fools like me,
But only God can make a tree.

And even more to the point, perhaps, was Lucy Larcom’s Plant a Tree, in which she proclaimed:

He who plants a tree
Plants a hope . . .

Wayfarers he may not live to see.
Gifts that grow are best;
Hands that bless are blest;
Plant! life does the rest!

Heaven and earth help him who plants a tree,
And his work its own reward shall be..

488 days until the next election.

Copyright©2019 Kurt F. Stone