Since the dawn of human consciousness we have identified with charismatic life forms.  Landmark trees are appreciated for the special spaces they create. But also for being a personal bridge between historical and human times scales.

Ancient human communities adopted animal totems to encourage, in themselves, the values they 

A secretary bird & king protea in the South African coat of arms

saw in their totems. Values such as strength, speed, courage, cunning and wisdom.  This ancient respect for charismatic animals and plants sees them featured in many national emblems today.

As our scientific knowledge grows, so we are challenged or enthralled by the surprising similarities amongst Earth’s creatures. Surprising because the Abrahamic stories we told ourselves claim that we are uniquely created. Yet, humans are not the only ones with complex communication, sophisticated social structures, tool making and complex problem solving abilities! Animals and Co are doing it too. Even plants communicate and develop community structures.  We are rediscovering what the old ones knew. We are all related and dependent on the web of life. 

Today as we stand at the cross roads of our future, it is time to relook at our founding stories, to expand our understanding of sentience and what is sacred.

New discoveries show that we are also related to trees, sharing as much as 25% of our genetic make -up.  More exciting however is the research on old growth forests in the Northern Hemisphere which is revealing how trees communicate and even share resources with each other.  Farmers and conservationists in Africa have known for years that heavily browsed Acacias release chemical scents to alert neighbouring trees.   

The strategy behind co-operative trees is to build stable communities of interdependent individuals. It is a strategy that humanity needs to learn if we are to mature into stable human communities.  Without anthropomorphising trees I am suggesting that humanity can learn from millions of years of field studies for success.

Since the start of our agricultural revolution we have acted like primary successionary plants.  Like the tough, fast growing and prolific plant species that move in first to settle new areas. They focus on competing for resources, growing quickly to occupy space and to produce offspring. In time these plant colonisers modify the local environment and establish conditions suitable for longer lived species as well as a richer diversity of species. This sets the path to ecological maturity.

12 000 years after the start of agriculture we are still acting as primary successionary plants. We compete aggressively with each other and the rest of the web of life for ever more resources. Our creative technology has advanced the quality of our lives but also multiplied our reach and our impacts.  We are no longer creating an enabling environment for a mature community of life. 

What can old growth forests and their canopy trees, those key stone individuals alive for the long haul, tell us? They are connected to a diverse but stable web of life that has established itself over thousands of years.  Tree matriarchs have `learnt’ that competition is a short term strategy.  Instead, they provide storm protection, insect alert and even share nutrients with other trees, across species and ages through a ‘wood–wide–web’ of symbiotic fungi.  Too incredible to believe! Then read the sources below.

Co-operation within an interdependent community of life is the key to the longevity of their community.  It is also the key to the long term wellbeing of humanity.  Our destruction of nature though economic systems that promote individualism, excessive consumption and the wrong kind of consumption lies at the heart of our existential crisis.

Staying stuck in our ego driven pioneer stage of development is also at the heart of our spiritual crisis.  

An eco-centred approach based on need not excess, on building co-operative communities, on sharing resources and rehabilitating natural systems is the path to a mature human society. The one human attribute that does separate us from the rest of creation is our advanced ability to reason, to learn from others and to adapt.  We have a world wide web of information and communication opportunities.  Let’s spread a new message of adaption and replace the dominant pioneer economic mentality based on greed and instant gratification with growing co-operation for the well being of all.  A good place to start is to refuse all products that result in virgin forests being felled.

If the trees can do, it why can’t we? 

Kim Kruyshaar 27 September 2019

Wood wide web sources: How trees secretly talk to each other – BBC News

Or Read Best Seller  The Hidden Life of Trees  by Forester Peter Wohleben.

The drawing of cities eating trees is a Svitalskybros cartoon from Cartoon Movement