Driving through town today, all the yards were in full bloom and everybody looks like they are in ‘spruce it all up in time for Memorial Day’ mode. Which reminded me of an old blog I once wrote about the fact that there are trees out there with YOUR name on them. In fact, each of us gets 52 trees, more or less.
Let me explain. Since the 1960’s and the creation of NASA, one of the side-benefits of space flight is that scientists now have lots more information about the condition of planet Earth. How fast is it warming? How fast are the glaciers melting? Is the Sahara growing? What’s going on with the rain forests?
One of the less obvious recipients of all these diagnostics and research has been the science of forestry. Since trees reflect sunlight in distinct patterns, NASA scientists can get a pretty good understanding of the condition of all the Earth’s trees, whether they are part of a dense forest, or standing alone in a city park. In fact, they did an audit of the planet’s tree inventory, to set a benchmark for future research.
What did they find? Turns out that if you start with a few assumptions about tree density in the average hectare, and multiply by the number of hectares on the planet, you come up with an estimate of approximately 400 Billion trees. Holy Cow, that sounds like a lot. However, if you factor in that there are approximately 7.7 Billion people on the planet, you can calculate that each one of us has ownership of about 52 trees.
(…interestingly, the number of trees on the planet seems to be actually increasing. You wouldn’t think so when you hear about things like the destruction of the Amazon basin. But a recent article in Nature suggests that while we are losing huge amounts of forest in some pristine places, that loss is more than made up for by increases in new trees in North America, Europe and Asia as a result of former mono-culture farmland being converted to mix-used areas like small towns and suburbs. Granted, these new trees do not provide the same biodiversity and value as mature forests, but it is a small consolation…)
Anyway, back to YOUR trees. You get 52. Think about that. You get 52 trees with which you can, say, hit a home run. You can frame your house, print out your proposal, or send a holiday greeting. But remember, we also need some of your trees for putting up garish billboards, for making crayons, for flying kites, and for playing ping-pong (including the table, the paddles, and even the balls). Linoleum, rubber, turpentine, and fruit pie filling are also made of trees. And if you use up more than your share of 52, none of us can play our guitar, filter our coffee, fill out the form with a #2 pencil, fumble with the chopsticks, say “paper” to the grocery bagger, or enjoy a beechwood aged Budweiser.
So, as you are doing yard work this weekend in preparation for summer, remember, you get 52 trees, and no more. So please be responsible and use them carefully.
WAIT! Hold on there. Do you own a shovel?
– Mike Keeler