A Man with a Flashlight


How do I get one of these for my backyard?
April 9, 2007, 9:01 pm
Filed under: The Earth

Trees give me a thrill. It’s not just the various things they do for us, without our lifting a finger to help them – the shelter they give, the habitat for birds and countless other animals, the wood that makes tools, furniture, or whole houses. It’s not even that humans and every other animal are, for better or for worse, parasites dependent on the layer of oxygen that they prepared before we came. No, what really kills me is how a seedling, anchored in place forever, finds resources enough in a single patch of dirt to grow into shapes like this:

baobab-madagascar.jpg

Fucking golden eh?
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not the kind who can appreciate trees on a purely aesthetic level. Or much of anything else for that matter. No, I admire them the way a baby admires his mother’s breasts. Both are majestic shapes which just keep giving to you, for no clear reason. Symbols of mysterious generosity.

Every time people talk about environmental problems, inevitably someone will say, “oh, I don’t worry myself about it. There will be a technological fix.” It always irritates me.

Now, technology is fundamental to humans. The wheel is a technology, as is planting crops. Books are a technology, and for a long stretch of our history it took enough effort to produce one that they were chained to library shelves. So I won’t even stoop to saying that I approve of technology, because that is like saying I approve of us being humans instead of apes. Of course I do.

A technology has been thought of which will reduce global warming by scattering trillions of mirrors, each 2 feet in diameter, between the Earth and the Sun. And who knows, it may be tried. This is quite something.

Like the Joker said, “Where does he get those wonderful toys?”

Still, let’s not expect the impossible from our wonderful toys. In the end, they depend on us to repair them and protect them from the elements. They need to be charged or fueled, and that electricity or gas requires enormous networks of cooperation to be moved into the right places at the right times. Powered machines cannot be depended on to work in emergencies. If they could, buildings would not have stairwells – the elevator would be sufficient. Think of how you would feel inside a building with only elevators and no stairwells.

As Ian McHarg put it, “nature perform[s] work for man without his investment.” Whereas our technologies, by definition, perform work only with our investment. If we went to space for a thousand years and came back, our machines would all be useless rust. But the machines of nature would be spinning at their optimum pace, even if we stayed away for a thousand million years.

Put another way, since they are working for us anyway, why even contemplate allowing them to cease doing so?

Click here to see neatorama’s list of the world’s 10 most magnificent trees. (Nod: The Hairy Reasoner)

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