“Now we have scientists opening our doors of perception about trees…”
by Ray Grigg
Although the sophistication of tree intelligence may stress some people’s credibility, Dr. Suzanne Simard — who has documented it with rigorous scientific protocols — contends it is an established fact.
Peter Wohlleben has done the same. By examining the metabolism of trees over time, he has found that trees in a beech forest synchronize their photosynthesis so that each grows “into the best tree it can be.” This is not competition but a system of “mutual support”. Indeed, a forest is a community that functions for the betterment of all its members.
Wohlleben, in his more poetic description of trees, notes that they have “individual characters”. Some, which he describes as having more “anxiety” than others, will drop their leaves early to avoid the damage of autumn storms. Others are riskier, willing to take the chance for a little extra growth. Some are more gregarious than others, doing more communicating and trading — cedars, apparently, tend to be loners.
We, of course, would attribute this tree behaviour to genetics. But couldn’t we say the same about the character of any human being? Children clearly have innate personalities, pre-packaged in their genetic structure. They grow up expressing these qualities. Why would we expect a tree to be any different? Continue reading
by Ray Grigg
Fall colours, by B.C. painter Doris Laner.
Suzanne Simard, a forest ecologist from UBC, has been studying the intelligence of trees for about 25 years. When you walk in a forest, she says, you see trees, but “underground there is… a world of infinite biological pathways that connect trees and allow them to communicate, and allow the forest to behave as if it’s a single organism. It might remind you of a sort of intelligence.”
Simard has documented this intelligence using tracer isotopes such as carbon-13, to show how “birches and Douglas fir supply each other with carbon and nutrients, while taking turns as the dominant partner in the exchange” (Maclean’s, Sept. 19/16). This interdependence is often so strong that felling one tree can cause the other to die.
Such interdependence is even interspecies. The mycorrhizal networks that form the living body of fungi — their fruiting bodies are mushrooms — have no photosynthesis to produce the sugars they need, so they get this essential nutrition from trees in exchange for elements such as nitrogen, phosphorus and carbon. “The connection runs so deep that from 20–80% of the tree’s sugars can be transferred to the fungi, while the transfer of nitrogen to trees is such that without the swap, trees would be toy-sized” (NewStatesman, Oct 26/16). Continue reading
Painting by Emily Carr, one of the Canadian Seven. Photo courtesy of WikiArt..
by Ray Grigg
A different scale of time accounts for one of the reasons we have difficulty understanding the intelligence of trees. We interpret events with reference to our human sense of normal. Comparatively, trees seem to respond slowly, their life cycles sometimes approaching millennia — in the words of the German forester, Peter Wohlleben, they “exceed the human attention span.” They feed on the raw material we call dirt and produce their energy by the perplexing process of photosynthesis. As very different creatures, it’s not surprising we haven’t been able to understand them.
Because trees are “rooted” in one place, they have devised and used their own ways to relate and communicate with their surroundings —ways that happen to be outside the range of our usual perception. And why should they behave as we do? This expectation is one of our major shortcomings. Children, with their special innocent wisdom, recognize and accept trees as living beings with purposeful and deliberate behaviour, and so do Peter Wohlleben and Suzanne Simard. Continue reading
Forests of British Columbia, painting by Emily Carr 1931-32. By Emily Carr, courtesy of Digital Journal Archive.
by Ray Grigg
Some discoveries are revolutionary and so obvious that we’re surprised we didn’t know about them earlier. The new perspective they provide begins to work its magic by shifting our awareness and values. And we can never again return to our old way of understanding the world.
This has been happening with increasing frequency, particularly in biology. At the very time when we are losing species and destroying ecologies with a prodigious efficiency, we are also gleaning remarkable insights about the astounding ingenuity and complexity of life. The discoveries of a German forester, Peter Wohlleben, and a UBC forest ecologist, Dr. Suzanne Simard, are a striking example.
If living cooperatively in communities, rather than living competitively as individuals, has made more evolutionary sense for humans, why shouldn’t the same principle be used by trees? Indeed, as complex biological organisms, trees have existed hundreds of times longer than we have. If cooperation has been beneficial for us, why would we think that trees should be exceptions? Continue reading
by Ray Grigg
The American voters understood the question, they just didn’t like their choice of answers. Neither of the two presidential candidates, Hillary Clinton nor Donald Trump, represented the change they wanted and needed.
Their disquietude is justified. To the growing vertical division between right and left has been added the horizontal division between rich and poor. This is creating a palpable social tension. The increasing dominance of the corporate agenda is too often contrary to the public interest. The uncontrolled flow of money into politics has adulterated the democratic process. Irritants such as racial tension, changing demographics, foreign policy miscalculations, trade deficits, energy transition and weather extremes have all contributed to their demoralization.
Hillary Clinton and the Democratic Party represented the intolerable status quo. Donald Trump and the Republican Party offered confusing choices between unpredictable change, extremism, bigotry, racism, misogyny and the vague promise of making America great again. Voters chose the riskier option.
Donald Trump is an outlier in almost every respect. But, at least, he is change. He has never held political office, he doesn’t belong to the Republican establishment, he is an individualist who offends, provokes, polarizes, bullies, and seems to possess a logic that defies reality. This is the risk Americans have decided to take. Unfortunately, these are the risks that also must be shared by the rest of the world. Continue reading
In August, the Musgamagw Dzawada’enuxw First Nations gave eviction notices to salmon farms operating illegally on their territory. In response, Marine Harvest Canada has recently filed a lawsuit, prosecuting them for obstructing their [illegal] aquaculture sites, Photo by Tide of Change.
by Ray Grigg
On September 23, 2016, Marine Harvest Canada Inc. filed a “Notice of Civil Claim” for trespass against “Alexandra Morton, John Doe, Jane Doe and all other persons unknown to the plaintiff occupying, obstructing, blocking, or physically impeding the plaintiff’s aquaculture sites.”
This action is unlikely to win public support for a salmon farming industry already with a tattered reputation. And it may raise legal complications that will test the wisdom of the court.
This is the first time Marine Harvest has sued Morton for anything she has previously said or done. One possible explanation for this legal action is that her “Operation Virus Hunter” aboard the Sea Shepherd’s RV Martin Sheen this summer may actually be harming the industry. Corporations only trouble themselves with individuals when they’re feeling threatened. Continue reading
by Ray Grigg
In 2013, the Northwest Passage was expected not to open up for travel until Mid-Centry (Scientific American, A. Jogalekar 2013 March 6, 2013), but now in 2016 it is being done. Shown here is the rate of change from 1979 – 2007. NASA image created by Jesse Allen, using AMSR-E data courtesy of the National Snow and Ice Data (NSIDC), and sea ice extent contours courtesy of Terry Haran and Matt Savoie, NSIDC, based on Special Sensor Microwave Imager (SSM/I) data. – NASA,
The Crystal Serenity, a 300-metre long luxury cruise ship on its journey from Alaska to New York via the Northwest Passage, will be the first vessel of its size and sophistication to traverse this complex and dangerous waterway. Now, unfrozen because of global warming, the iconic Northwest Passage will be able to offer a unique blending of excitement and indulgence to the adventurous 1,070 passengers and the crew of 700.
The expedition required meticulous planning. Only about 10% of Canada’s Arctic waters are adequately charted. So, two veteran ice pilots are assisting in navigating the huge ship. The Crystal Serenity is also accompanied by a British icebreaker, the RRS Ernest Shackleton, along with two helicopters to scout for threatening ice conditions.
Professor Michael Byers, a UBC expert on climate change and Arctic sovereignty, noted that the expedition could be the beginning of a new industry called “extinction tourism”. Continue reading