I just read your article for huffington post ‘Earth day 2012, this isn’t about tree hugging anymore, it’s about the way we live.’ http://www.huffingtonpost.com/ed-norton/earth-day-2012-this-isnt-_b_1442104.html
Your title was the perfect example of what I discovered to be the greatest delusion that we culturally suffer under. That hugging a tree is an impotent act. That it is not dangerously political to hug a tree. Or deeper still that’s it’s an immature and ineffective response to the current environmental concerns, the obvious inference that hugging a tree is like nature itself, powerless to change the coming human made destruction- a docile attempt at child’s play activism.
Through my own practice with trees and the research I’ve embarked on over the years, I discovered that tree hugging is not only the birth of the environmental movement but was and still is a front line political act. It is the physical and moral heart of environmentalism spanning beyond your fathers strategical 30 years, right back to 1730 AD. This myth of the hippydippy act of hugging a tree has been propagated to us for hundreds of years. To say that hugging a tree is useless act or that our most potent act is calling on government for change means that institution is more important than nature itself. It’s the classic schism that institution is where the power is and people are always encouraged to address any ‘mature’ or rational activism towards the government to save our environment. It is the age old gap between culture and nature, that culture is where our energy should be rather than nature. Mr Norton you call for a bipartisan agreement and for people to keep organizing protest and pressure through the way they live. I agree and believe a voice must be there to be seen in public and must be lived in our own lives. But It all begins in trees . Why do you think people care? Why do you think people will be motivated for the environment? I’ve come to the conclusion it is because they have a connection to it through experience, an innate, instinctual and developed relationship that’s essential to their quality of life, spiritually, physically, mentally, emotionally and socially. This connection starts in childhood and often with climbing trees and essentially spending hours, days and years growing up in and around nature.
Tree hugging through climbing is not only a necessary part of growing up; a life affirming act in itself, but it is also the political and moral birth of the environmental movement. And why is that? Because it has been women and their children who have led an awakening, even at the costs of their lives, for the solutions that only biodiversity can offer. Amrita Devi the world’s first recorded tree hugger gave her life hugging a tree. This act of loving might led to her three daughters doing the same and the village following, 363 people died that day. They saved their forest and it became the world’s first dedicated environmental reserve. This wasn’t in a targeted protest at the governing power, this was tree focused activism.
Amrita Devi inspired the Chipko movement in the 70’s, women organized to protect trees against government logging by choosing a ‘sister’ tree to hug and protect from the axes and to dress the wounds of the sapping tools incisions. They too succeeded in protecting their forest from government logging and still today have control of the policies that affect their forest. That’s a highly political act that starts with choosing a tree to hug.
Wangari Maathai won the noble peace prize for linking equality, democracy, women and trees in one fantastic revolution of tree planting. Women formed a green belt by planting 30 million trees, all on private property recreating a green corridor, saving their lands from desertification, poverty and community breakdown; this would not have been done if they relied on protest exclusively, waiting for the government to plant trees or support their efforts, their environment was saved by just getting together and planting trees. Maathai’s famous closing line for the noble peace prize speech was ‘My life is my message. Also plant a tree.’
Hugging a Tree is political, is dangerous, is appreciative, is caring, is connecting, is the very heart of biodiversity, both for the ecology and for our survival. Just planting trees brought arrests, threats and governmental restrictions against women who gathered to plant with Maathai ,who eventually was hospitalized in the process from government brutality. I believe activism starts with the trees, once they are planted and held onto, that’s when it’s time to confront the government, hey they’ll probably confront you if the action is revolutionary , after all that’s the front line. We know the solution, we don’t need government permission. Because if we believe we do who are the interested parties lobbying the government to have them cut down? Can the concept of democracy really fight funded corruption? Is lobbying the government going to protect and grow trees any faster than what I can do myself today?
We need to plant trees and reforest our cities, streets and suburbs, have our children reclaim the lands and climb the trees we plant everywhere, we don’t need anyone’s permission; we can grow our own corridors just like the women from the green belt movement did with far less political and financial resources than we have! The answer is simple. Dont just go green, grow green.
Mr Norton, I think you’re right, environment day 2012 is about the way we live, but it starts with the trees. The forests are the front line, the houses of governments are just people, and perhaps we can plant a whole forest around the white house? The trees are what need to be saved and grown, we need to be near them to actually know and care and direct our energy toward them. Hundertwasser said it best in his 1972 manifesto, 'your window right- your tree duty’. The human race will begin and end around trees.