Friday, December 19, 2008

Reforest North America

It took riding a bicycle up the middle of North America to realize that the continent on which I grew up is under-forested. Looking for a tree to shade me from the heat of the Mississippi Delta in August was a memorable experience. Surely this lush area was thick with trees when the first European settlers dragged the first African-Americans into what is now a patchwork of treeless fields, mostly growing cotton. I wonder if any of the new arrivals bothered to learn how the first people lived before they made irrevocable changes.

As I bicycled through twenty eight of the United States, I regularly observed the impact of oil intensive mono-crop agriculture. These methods can produce amazing results in the short term, but over time they drive farms into debt and dependence upon volatile export markets. We've got a nation that can over produce GMO corn and soy, but can no longer feed itself. The Frankenfoods being grown across our nation aren't fit for direct consumption by man.

Cutting trees and burning petroleum have also begun to change the global climate. Reversing this problem will take everything we've got. The American way of life is going to have change if humans are to survive. How else will we convince three billion Indian and Chinese people not to follow in our footsteps?

A reforested North America could be a delightful place to live. Calculate the savings if your hometown grew all the fruit and nuts it consumed, rather than importing them. Productive trees won't eliminate trade, but will allow us to save transport energy for the highest priorities. Even with global warming and high quality greenhouses, most North American communities won't be growing their own latex or ironwood.

I've got faith in trees. They absorb the carbon responsible for climate change. They also moderate the immediate climate impacts, by shading us, capturing precipitation, and diverting winds. Mangroves can prevent damage from tsunamis and hurricanes, while any locally appropriate forest can shelter a diverse healthy ecosystem.

So what are we waiting for? If you own property, go to your local nursery and learn how to enhance its value by planting a broad selection of the best producing trees for your location. Talk with the people who own the land around your home. It's likely they'll let you improve their land with young trees.

Please don't stop there. We're all going to have to work together to reforest North America. Visit your city council to discuss a Permaculture in the Parks Proposal. Lobby your federal representatives for tax credits for tree crops. Start gathering seeds and growing young trees. We've got a lot of trees to plant!

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