Planting today, planning for tomorrow

I am constantly thinking about trees — we simply don’t have enough. And in Israel, those that we have are young and lack diversity of species.

I grew up in the arboreal paradise of the Pacific Northwest and had the luxury of attending summer camp nestled in groves of ancient redwood trees. My sophomore year at college, my class planted our class tree. When I return to campus I check on our tree. The longevity, or at least the potential for longevity, inherent in trees draws us to them. Why else would Shel Silverstein have written a book about all the wonderful gifts we get from trees that is now a beloved classic to many? We need trees and trees need us – to protect and nourish them just as they protect and nourish us.

As I look around the remarkably diverse ecosystems we have here in Israel, I see the need for more trees. Instead, though, I see more cranes, and not the kind with wings. New plantings are unfortunately often stunted or fail to thrive due to a lack of proper care – in particular in my city, Yokneam. When my middle son was in the third grade, all the third graders in town were invited to a Tu B’Shevat tree planting ceremony. The kids participated in a lovely morning where they planted what was to become a citrus orchard on public, open space. The city has yet to tend to these trees.

Community citrus orchard, Yokneam, Illit. Rachel Gould, 2019

I can’t imagine that my son even remembers his tree planting ceremony. And if he did, he certainly wouldn’t feel pride in what is there now. The trees have not flourished and the children’s sense of rooted-ness has not been nourished.

Unfortunately, trees are a hot topic right now because so many of them in the (1) Amazon (2) rainforest (3) are on fire, and those are just three of the current articles. The boreal forests burning as well and releasing massive quantities of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. These trees help us maintain the balance in our climate, keep us cooler, and help us breathe. They won’t help us do that as charcoal.

Christiana Figueres spoke at this year’s annual conference of the Israel Society of Ecology and Environmental Studies (ISEES). She is optimistic and positive about tackling climate change. She is pragmatic about tree planting to mitigate climate change. She is calling for planing 0.9 billion hectares of open land (which will not infringe on land for crops or habitation) with trees – to reforest huge swaths of the planet. Those trees can capture and store enough carbon to keep climate change in check in the short-run while we change our behaviors and improve our technologies for the long-run. To accomplish this, we must act, and we must act quickly. It takes trees time to sink in their roots and become active participants in the respiratory cycle.

We already know that preserving native lands to protect trees can help offset climate change. And that mangrove replanting is reforesting vital rice growing areas and removing the salt that has infringed on the freshwater in Senegal. Since 1977 empowered women in Kenya, as part of the Green Belt Movement have reforested Kenya with great success. Women in Uganda have successfully reforested the area around Lake Victoria.

Solutions don’t have to be massive, national scale projects. We can look to Paris as a model city with a number of projects focused on maintaining or adding green to all possible nooks and crannies in a crowded urban environment. Urban forests, rooftop gardens, eco-neighborhoods, and curbside gardens — can all have a noticeable impact on both the environment and the people.

Israel and the Jewish National Fund (JNF) has a strong track record on reforestation and public engagement, even if in retrospect planting a mono-culture wasn’t such a brilliant idea. At the city level and at the national level, Israel has to do its part to help stave off climate change and reconnect the individual to our responsibility to protect the land.

Climate change is a huge, massive, and scary problem that no one person can resolve. Planting a tree or garden is a small step each person can take. We know the value of the personal connection to the land through the act of planting a tree. It is time to reprioritize that connection.

Nine million people live in Israel. Nine million more trees could be planted in the few minutes it takes to dig a hole. Nine million more connections to the land could be created. The time it take for a tree to grow where one once was – that is the time we have lost. We should have started sooner — we MUST start now.

About the Author
Rachel Gould made aliyah in 2010 to Haifa and now lives in Yokneam. She is a PhD Candidate in Public Policy at TAU focusing on environmental and population policies. She was a candidate for city council in Yokneam on the Mekomi list in 2018.