Film Festival: Taking Root

I don't plug a lot of movies, mostly because I don't see a lot of movies - I spend so much more time staring a computer screen than I want to, I don't go to the movies often. But I thought I'd have a little blog film festival over the summer, showing bits or trailers of some of the best movies that both show our problems and offer solutions This one, "Taking Root" from 2008, however, is very much worth seeing:

What Wangari Maathai and the Green Belt Movement have accomplished is important the rest of us in a whole host of ways. One of the likely consequences of increasing economic stress and lowered fossil resources is deforestation - and it is one of the things we can least permit, given the climate costs. In a warmer, depleted world, planting trees and carefully nuturing them will be one of the single most important things we can do - cooling trees, soil holding trees, food bearing trees, wildlife supporting trees.

But it isn't just the trees - it is the poliitcs that go with the trees. Because it isn't just in Kenya where women and men getting together to preserve and create an environment worth having changes the world. A SUNY Albany study, for example, found that community gardens were significantly likely to lead to more community organizing and political action than other community events. When you get your hands in the soil together, things start to change.

The USA and the rest of the developed world needs its own Green Belt Movement. We need trees, we need to organize, we need to empower the poor and women, we need more green. Watch the movie, then, get started.


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"We need trees...we need more green." I certainly agree, but as an urban forester, I have long been struck with the strong cultural differences between this movement and superficially similar activities in the States. The critical issue Maathai was dealing with was the lack of firewood, as her book The Green Belt Movement makes clear, for the collection of which village women were being forced to travel increasing distances. Trees were planted, in other words, to provide wood to burn for food preparation.

No question that planting trees is an excellent community endeavor, and a most useful means of ameliorating severe conditions. However, for me the most worrisome long-term (?) aspect of global warming is research that shows that tropical tree mortality increases as the temperature increases, and at some tipping point the forests literally begin to fall apart and the landscape will shift to a grassland savanna. And as all those resevoirs of carbon decompose returning carbon dioxide to the atmosphere.

Here in Rhode Island people are noticing that the winters are growing too mild for maple syrup production -- and in fact, the cold winters that stimulate the flow of sap will be soon moving out of the sugar maples range altogether, even farther north. It makes people wonder whether we'll need "johnny mapleseeds" to move not just maples, but all kind of plants around to help them adapt to climate instability. Forests migrate naturally, but not very fast, and given what we've done to the biosphere, we may need to lend a hand if we can. Trouble is, even maples are part of a whole ecosystem, including uncounted microbes, invertabrates and fungi and I don't know whether anyone is really tacking the challenge of helping ecosystems migrate.

Actually, I think the acute need for firewood is not so very unlikely to be an issue in much of the cold climate regions of the developed world, and not so very long from now. Planting trees isn't simply a warm fuzzy activity, it is your kids' and grandkids' hope for not freezing to death.

Phytophactor, this is all absolutely true - which is just another reason for the urgency of a Green Belt movement internationally - because in places like Kenya where deforestation has led to precisely that scenario, it has been possible in some measure to hold back the savannah by human intervention - by the planting of trees, watering of them and the gradual re-creation of forest and oasis. Will this solve climate change or tropical deforestation as a whole? Almost certainly not - but again, the best practice is to fight tooth and nail.