By Colin Tudge
Trees are the key to humanity’s evolutionary past – and our future. Yet in the planet terms, we have become stupid. Our heads are no longer filled with useful, earth-based knowledge. Today, citizenship involves an ability to date our national days, instead of being able to identify the most common of the paltry 39 species of native trees that even the most urban of us live among.
Human activity, temporarily spiralling around the thumb-soiled obsession with cash wealth and “growth”, throws all this into chaos: the climate change involves a change far too quick to be adapted to by plants or wildlife.
Even a minor effort – better house insulation, a tax on air fuel, restricting 4x4s and so on – might dilute the devastation. We are only talking about some 50 years, by which time the imminent exhaustion of fossil fuels would remove political power from the oil companies and force us to find forms of energy that do not bring massive species-extinction.
The author cites Brazil as the most depressing example of current insanity – cutting down its greatest and most irreplaceable resource to grow cheap soya or to graze sun-stressed cattle for as long as the soil remains fertile (not very long).
The real puzzle is why we can’t stop playing this endgame – or why we put up so patiently with leaders benefiting directly from it. Tudge sees our last chance in a shift of emphasis away from arable farming to agri-forestry: “if trees had only been taken more seriously, they could have become an enormous food resource.”
Consumers have to be better informed which means filling our heads with this sort of book alongside the sensual appreciation of trees themselves. The Secret Life of Trees takes us through the “glorious inventory” of flowering trees and the various uses everything from bacteria to humans make of them.
The age of trees often inspires awe, from the redwoods of California to English oaks. We wonder how they live so long, and how they really work after all, trees provide us with air to breathe, fruits to eat, and wood to build with – and they do the same for thousands of creatures and plants.
The author travels from his own back garden round the world to explore the beauty, variety and ingenuity of trees everywhere- from how they live so long to how they talk to each other and why they came to exist in the first place.
Lyrical and evocative, this book will make everyone fall in love with the trees around them.