A little more tree hugging can do us all some good

Greg Cusack
It is a pleasure to hear how China has embraced the need for eco-balance and the wonderful soothing and life-giving properties of trees and parks.
Greg Cusack

Dear editor,

I really liked the article on Friday (“Taking the road to urbanization, stop to appreciate the forests,” March 22).

It is also a pleasure to hear how China has embraced the need for eco-balance and the wonderful soothing and life-giving properties of trees and parks.

When I was a child, I was very fortunate to live right across the street from undeveloped land, a woodsy environment full of flying, darting and scurrying animals into which I could — and did — disappear for hours, with friends or just by myself.

There is a lovely small park a short distance from our home here in Portland that I try to walk to and loll within each day, and that returns me to the delightful memories of those long-ago days in that now vanished wood. The house where I was born and raised still stands but the land all around it has been “developed,” reducing that lovely forest into isolated trees as part of landscaping in an urban environment.

Speaking of the word “development,” I remember one time, as a young legislator, participating in one of a series of Saturday meetings with constituents and interest groups. Saturdays were always busy because, during the legislative session that ran from January through May, we were in the capitol during the week, 180 miles from my hometown, a distance that made it impossible for most of my constituents to talk to me in person save by telephone.

Anyhow, in this particular meeting with a group of realtors, I remember how the conversation turned to a large plot of still agricultural land that was being surrounded by subdivisions of new homes. I was stunned to learn that, for most of the realtors, land that was “undeveloped” — that is, not built upon — had little value.

Think of that. It jolted me.

Not only could that rich land grow nutritious crops, but it was home to a variety of our fellow creatures. That was one of the many times that I received an insight into the warped values of capitalists.

‘Cost of production’

Another time, when I was meeting with another group of mostly businessmen, I was defending some proposed environmental protection legislation. I was told that if that proposal passed it would “increase the cost of production” for many businesses. That was true. What was most interesting to me, though, is that the cost to the land, air, and water of their existing methods of production were not a factor in their thinking at all.

This attitude is at the heart of continuing pressures on state legislatures and the federal congress to weaken or eliminate environmental protection standards, whether those are intended to protect threatened species from extinction or to keep pollution levels in our soil, air, and water low.

In this mindset, the only economically valid costs — those that should appear on a business’ spreadsheet — are those that constitute “inputs” and the costs of labor and marketing. Social costs — the effect of their behavior upon people or the environment — should, in their minds, be seen as burdens to be born by the public, not by themselves.

Yet, of course, they are also constantly urging cuts in government spending on such matters as the environment and public welfare.

Such folks are necessarily hypocritical; it is amazing how our minds can be convinced that we have considered all relevant facts when, in truth, we haven’t. But we are often — perhaps, usually — not aware of that. We are very good at convincing ourselves of the rationality and inclusivity of our thinking and, as well, at even unconsciously rejecting information or data that contradicts or, at the very least, challenges the soundness of our mental processes.

This is why attempting to “break through” another’s mindset is so very difficult.

If, in the process, we approach such persons in an accusatory or guilt-inducing manner, we are just about guaranteed to be met with a rigid, even angry, rejection.

Our only hope is to use the virtues of patience and constancy in gently conveying our alternative point of view, especially if we can relate to once having held the same understanding or conviction that this other person still has.

I am usually a hopeful person, but I am very concerned that “the world’s” response to global warming is too partial and too half-hearted to prevent the awful suffering that seems ever more likely, suffering that not only will affect millions of human beings, but also so many other of our fellow creatures.

May enough people — and soon enough — breathe in the comfort and truth of our forests. Tree huggers, unite!

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