Trees are on the front lines of our changing climate, Robbins writes. And when the oldest trees in the world suddenly start dying, it’s time to pay attention. North America’s ancient alpine bristlecone forests are falling victim to a beetle and an Asian fungus. In Texas, a prolonged drought killed more than five million urban shade trees in 2011 and a hundred times that many in parks and forests. In the Amazon, two severe droughts have killed billions more.
The common factor has been hotter, drier weather, but Robbins goes far beyond the obvious connection between trees and carbon. Trees of course produce shade, building materials, fuel, beauty, and oxygen. Trees are also part of an ecosystem that can be traced from decomposing leaves to plankton, roots to clams, and leaves to natural aerosol antibiotics. They absorb toxic pollutants and manufacture clean water and air.
At the end of this thoughtful, non-technical essay, Robbins asks, in a changing climate which trees should we be planting?
"Why Trees Matter" appeared in the April 12, 2012 New York Times. Robbins's book, "The Man Who Planted Trees: Lost Groves, Champion Trees, and an Urgent Plan to Save the Planet" comes out next week.