Trees will save our planet | VPRO Documentary

Will trees save our planet? Trees and forests make the earth and climate livable and stimulate biodiversity. Yet we continue to cut trees on a large scale: last year twelve million hectares of forest disappeared. How do we deal with our ancient trees, and what else can we do?

Pulitzer Prize winner and bestselling author Annie Proulx wrote ‘Barskins,’ a monumental novel about the deforestation of North America in which settlers rush across the continent in a boundless hunger for more wood and money.

The grande dame of literature loves trees, perhaps more than people. She lives in the far west of the United States, in the Olympic Mountains outside of Seattle, which still has a small patch of a primeval forest. She tells us about her relationship with trees and the forest, and what we can learn from that. Proulx points to the balanced and respectful relationship that the original inhabitants of North America had – before the settlers came – and therefore advocates the expansion of wild, uncultivated forests.

The native inhabitants of America already knew that we could learn a lot from the trees and the forest. We portray Professor of Forest Ecology Robin Wall Kimmerer in the forest, where she researches with her students. It has its roots in the Potawatomi tribe. It combines its traditional origins with scientific methods to gain a better understanding of the place that we can occupy in the non-human world. She teaches her students to listen to what life forms have to tell us.

However, despite Proulx’s pointing finger, humanity is going on with cutting down trees, without listening to what that forest has to say to us. While doubling the number of forests alone could eliminate the damage caused to the atmosphere by the entire transport sector.

On Vancouver Island stands a lonely old douglas fir in the middle of a gigantic void. Here we tell the story of a Canadian lumberjack who came across this tree one day and couldn’t cut it down. The tree was so old and overwhelming that he decided to protect it. The ‘Big Lonely Doug,’ almost 100 meters high, was subsequently adopted by activist Ken Wu and his Ancient Forest Alliance and is the only one standing on a battlefield of felled trees.

In Canada, we visit tree researcher Suzanne Simard who investigated communication between trees against the scientific mores of her time. She received the cover of the leading scientific journal Nature, under the heading ‘Wood Wide Web.’ Simard exposed the complex systems in which trees talk and warn each other. She teaches us to see the forest as communities that are more related to us than you would say at first sight.

For Simard, life without trees is hell. We belong in Nature, and the notion that we are separate from it has put us in the situation that we are currently in.

Including Robin Wall Kimmerer (professor and forest biologist), Suzanne Simard (tree researcher), Annie Proulx (Pulitzer prize winner and bestselling author), and Gordon Hempton (acoustic ecologist).

Director: Tomas Kaan
Research: Henneke Hagen
Production: Olivier Schuringa
Commissioning Editors: Bregtje van der Haak & Doke Romeijn

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