Wednesday, August 15, 2012

The Man Who Planted Trees

Crass individuals who associate their environmental drive and vision with a near-death experience brought on by alcohol withdrawal don't necessarily fit within modern paradigms of heroes. Especially not heroes hailing from the modern day sustainability movement, yet David Milarch is poised to play a critical role in maintaining the planet's biodiversity. Jim Robbins (a frequent science contributor to a number of publications including Smithsonian, Audubon,Scientific American, and The New York Times) follows Milarch on his quest to clone the world's champion trees thus preserving the genetic legacy of our ancient forests in his latest title, The Man Who Planted Trees: Lost Groves, Champion Trees, and an Urgent Plan to Save the Planet.

Moving beyond his interesting past and connection in his mission to save the world's forests, Milarch is engaging in an innovative and potentially groundbreaking grassroots effort to ensure that our lack of foresight doesn't result in a world deprived of quality forests. The premise behind Milarch's effort is simple, by preserving the genetic material of ancient trees (through cloning) the world will have better supply of genetic material and forests may be able to be restored using the exact genetic code that allow trees to emerge as "champions" (champion being the term used for those trees which are the largest or oldest representatives of a given species). Milarch worries about the challenges that global warming will bring as weather patterns intensify and hopes that by preserving genetic material that has weathered a rather tumultuous past will provide us a better set of tools for preserving forests.

Robbins does an excellent job of following Milarch's efforts and showing how Milarch (and his family) were willing to undergo rejection as well as resistance from some of the world's preeminent environmental organizations to bring a vision to life. In my opinion (as someone who's always considered trees to be the kings of the plant kingdom), Milarch's work is outstanding. While it may not sit on the most scientifically justified foundation, I think there is some ethical justification in helping to save tree species which wouldn't be as bad off if it weren't for our assistance. Robbins also delivers a robust scientific narrative involving our ever-evolving understanding of plants which shows that perhaps our previous conceptions of trees may have been woefully simplistic.

The Man Who Planted Trees: Lost Groves, Champion Trees, and an Urgent Plan to Save the Planet engages the reader on a variety of levels and offers an interesting look into the mechanics of what it takes to protect biodiversity. David Milarch is an interesting and oft-inspiring character that reminds us that drive and vision are the real key to making the world a better place.

This article was originally posted on Urban Times where Josh is the Senior Editor for the Built Environment Section.