What do you see when you look at a tree? In some cultures, trees represent courage and strength. In science we see a tree as a producer of oxygen, habitat for birds, a storage container for carbon, a windbreaker, a climate controller, a soil protector, and an umbrella of shade. Forest and woodland ecosystems perform many important ecosystem services which are free of charge.
The more diverse the forest ecosystem, the more variety of ecosystem services it can provide. Deforestation reduces biodiversity and thus reduces the ability for the forest to moderate erosion of soils, protect water from pollution, provide firewood for cooking, and provide habitat and nutrition for wildlife.
Many years ago, Kenya’s forests were being cut down leading to desertification in some areas along with sediment pollution in its streams. Additionally, many citizens of Kenya depended upon the forest to provide them with the firewood they needed to cook their food and warm their homes.
One of my heroes, Wangari Maathai, launched the Green Belt Movement in 1977 to reforest Kenya and at the same time empower the women of Kenya. The program has been managed by the women in the villages of Kenya and they have learned to work together to grow seedlings and plant trees to bind the soil, store rainwater, and provide food and firewood. Through their efforts they have become more educated about how to protect their environment while at the same time earning money which allowed them to better care for their children and their children’s future.
The Green Belt Movement is responsible for planting more than 35 million trees and providing more than 30,000 women with new skills and opportunities. Wangari Maathai was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2004 for her “holistic approach to sustainable development that embraces democracy, human rights, and women’s rights.”
Although she was arrested, harassed, beaten, and called names she never gave up the fight for what she thought was the right thing to do. In her memoir she wrote “What people see as fearlessness is really persistence.” Wangari is a prime example of how one person can be a force of change. She symbolizes “think globally, act locally.”
“We cannot tire or give up. We owe it to the present and future generations of all species to rise up and walk.” ~ Wangari Maathai
Will you rise up and speak for the trees?