A story in the Times-Picayune tells the sad tale of the death of yet another benevolent giant live oak in Louisiana. This time, it was a revered tree in Old Mandeville, killed by the usual suspect–humans. Yet the writer and the so-called expert got it all wrong. This tree did not die a natural death, it was a slow-motion murder by pavement and development. It didn’t have to happen, and it doesn’t have to continue to happen, but it will.
We lack the common sense to be responsible stewards of our landscape. To some, this isn’t a big deal. But the fact is, we will die if we continue to fail to address our ignorance. That tree is just one of thousands of ancient oaks lost to development. In too many cases, “tree coffins,” those concrete boxes in the sidewalk or parking lot in which we expect trees to “live” are ultimately the cause of their deaths. You see it everywhere, from downtown streets to mall lots, older trees getting scraggly and dying in these small set-asides. It’s just plain stupid.
I’d love to do a documentary on this subject if anyone out there is interested in helping. It’s long overdue.
And here are the comments I posted:
It is clear that development under the canopy is what killed that tree. To have a concrete curb within mere feet of the trunk means that the root system was damaged, ripped up and smothered by paving. The number one cause of the death of urban trees is soil compaction. Older trees, that grew without interference for decades, are particularly sensitive to disturbance of their root zones. Think of a tree as a closed system where the roots recycle the fallen leaves and act like both lungs and intestines, processing nutrients, water and air in a metabolic system. Then imagine machines, shovels, people, digging, covering, and sealing this system. It often takes decades for these trees to die.
Look at the large trees in Old Metairie, surrounded by pavement. They are spindly, which means the tree is shutting down branch systems in its attempts to adjust. Trees are like submarines or ships with watertight doors that close to protect the rest of the vessel. When you see dead branches, those branches are shut down and will not become leafy again.
That tree in Old Mandeville was murdered by progress. It died a slow and public death. It did not die of old age. It died of ignorance, neglect, and by the assault of human development.
The good news is that we know better and can do better. But it is too late for many of these sentient giants in whose branches we can sense the touch of the divine. Older trees need and deserve protection and that means public policies that honor their roles in the health and wellbeing of the land that supports and nurtures us. We need to give older trees space. The top 18 inches of soil where most of the life-giving aspects of biology give rise to not only trees, but us. We need to understand that soil is alive and that trees–and humans–need healthy, loose, alive soil if we are to thrive.
Guidry is wrong. It was somebody’s fault, a very long time ago, when they failed to care about the space that tree needed, and put concrete and pavement over its roots, and began a process of starvation and strangulation that weakened it and caused it to die sooner than it should have. We killed this tree, probably generations ago, when we built the roads and sidewalks over its most sensitive space, its root systems.
But it’s not just about protection, if we are to have good public infrastructure and healthy communities to serve future generations, we need to understand that we must put the right tree, in the right place, planted at the right time. And that means a broader variety of native species, not more crape myrtles, and not live oaks planted in small spaces between sidewalks and roads and under power lines. This, too, is foolhardy.
Until we become better educated about tree biology and implement policies that protect older trees and guide future plantings, many more will die. And we lose something of ourselves every time.
And here’s a picture of a tree killed by development after Katrina, since this article needs a dead tree and I’m not going to use the T-P’s pic.
20 million barrels of oil. 20 million. That’s what the USA uses every day. And nearly 50% of that oil is being burned each day as motor fuel. As of Monday, June 7, the BP Macondo well has spewed in the vicinity of 2,000,000 barrels with no end in sight. That’s the equivalent of 10% of one day’s oil use in the US.
“That’s what we need to get through the day!” exclaimed John Hofmeister (German for “yard master” to you etymological folks) the former head of Shell on a recent Larry King Show. In prior media appearances Hofmeister promoted his oil skimming ideas, his experiences in keeping a culture of safety at Shell, and his book. On King’s show he reverted to the Company Man and showed his Chamber of Commerce side, indulging in a couple too many Gripes on Behalf of the Oil Companies. He evaded James Carville’s challenge to explain and justify the cozy relationships Big Oil cultivated with government, including regulatory agencies and personnel, which will prove to be a major factor in the chain of events.
Then came T. Boone Pickens. He was visibly stressed. But he was clear as a bell. His overriding message, “It’s not time to panic.” He emphasized that we need to focus on stopping the well and dealing with the humanitarian and environmental response. When we get ahead of these demanding issues, then we can focus on inquiries and blame. But he knows it’s bad. “This event is like a 100 Year Storm.” He emphasized a military-like focus.
Which brings us to that ugly and horrible act of humanity: War.
For nearly 10 years we, our families, friends and neighbors have been paying the ultimate cost for our military actions around the world. The United States has been at war longer than World War ll, and as of June 7, longer than in Viet Nam, our longest war. We are paying the price in lives, money, energy and resources. Yet we blithely go about our days worrying more about phony celebrities, useless trends and pop culture than we do about being at war in foreign countries. We are sacrificing so much–lives, resources, energy, money, time–and we are so spoiled by all the power we wield with our smart phones, fast cars, fast cards and fast food–that we are oblivious, like slowly cooking frogs, to our impending doom.
Whether is it our diet and diabetes, or our vapid, mobile lifestyles and growing environmental crises, we are in a massive state of denial that only a large-scale psychological and spiritual transformation effort can least-painfully change. But it appears we’re incapable of changing without very painful and tragic impetus.
Hell, if even the increasingly unnecessary maiming and death of our best and brightest in military service isn’t compelling us to act, then perhaps Nature will. Or will it?
The root cause of this situation is our demand for oil and our addiction to dirty fossil fuels. Though we built our consumer society on what appears to be “cheap” fossil fuels, the true cost has never been fully factored or equitably distributed.
For 150 years, modern civilization has depended upon exploitation, extraction, manufacturing and distribution of natural resources, usually directed from the less powerful to the more powerful.
And now this. The BP oil disaster is well on its way to being the worst singular petroleum catastrophe in world history, impacting far more than just Louisiana and the Gulf of Mexico.
The site of the BP Deepwater Horizon and areas impacted by the catastrophe are the uterus and placenta of the Gulf Stream. And a breathtaking array of biology upon which humans on multiple continents depend is threatened. We cannot determine how long it will take to recover, even after the well is stopped. Years? Decades? In whose lifetime will these land and water ecosystems return to the diversity and volume of April 2010?
Some 30% of the USA’s seafood comes from these estuaries. But, that’s only measuring it in the USA. Many of the species most seriously affected by this spill migrate between continents. There could be shortages of fish products around the world.
But let us not lose sight of the biggest tragedy–us. This is a growing humanitarian crisis.
In Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Florida and Texas, hundreds of thousands of jobs are threatened and tens of thousands of jobs are at a standstill or waiting to be told to stop. This means that thousands of families and households are not receiving income.
Second Harvest has been overwhelmed trying to bring food to families in Louisiana. With the assistance of Catholic Charities, the New Orleans Food & Farm Network and others, a growing number of volunteers are participating in distributing food to the hardworking, diverse patchwork of celebrated cultures of people who define the character of Louisiana to the world but who are not emotionally prepared to be dependent upon charities.
As efforts mount, words get stronger. Beth Galante calls us to action in the May 2010 Global Green newsletter, “The humanitarian crisis is the first priority – every single coastal resident has had their job destroyed or damaged for the foreseeable future, from the fishermen to the local restaurant staff to the hotel maids, and it is imperative that aggressive action ensures that they can keep food on their families’ tables, make mortgage and credit card payments, and get rapid access to comprehensive mental health care services.”
Why are these things happening? Why is this how we are going to spend the 5th Anniversary of the tragedy of the failed levees after Katrina? Fundamentally because a perfect storm of stupidity has swept this country for the past few decades. We’ve had all the information, all the warnings we needed to make changes. We are lost in consumerism. We are not saving energy. We are not taking the steps needed to reduce our impact. We are indeed living in The Age of Stupid. We are at war on two fronts, sacrificing our friends, families and economy to the mighty Oil God. And we won’t change our ways. We are ultimately at war with ourselves.
Will this event change us? There is no doubt that Louisiana is now forever changed, perhaps for generations. But will the USA change its ways and reduce our dependence upon dirty fossil fuels? 11 dead in the Gulf and 15 dead in the mines in 2010 don’t seem to matter much. More than 5000 of our finest sacrificed in Iraq and Afghanistan seems to make no difference. We blithely drive, shop and waste and waste and waste. We gossip about pop “stars” ruining their lives while our own are ruined by ignorance, inactivity, bad food and the resulting obesity, diabetes, heart disease and cancer. The fact that the current generation is the first in modern times to be expected to live shorter lives than their parents doesn’t even seem to be changing people’s attitudes much. We are speeding pedal to the metal into a dead end.
So I have a request to the USA: pray. No, I’m not a religious person. But I am desperate. And in desperation, most folks suddenly find God. Besides, other than cutting your driving by at least 20% and pledging to do better, there’s not much you can do.
So, Dear America, pray. And pray hard and for a long, long time. It might not slow the oil. But at least it will slow you down.