Polar ice caps are melting; forests are burning. The rate of global warming is faster than we thought. It’s a climate emergency and we need to act quickly. The simplest and most cost effective way to reduce our emissions of CO2 from the atmosphere is to plant trees. It appears that woods and forests absorb atmospheric carbon and lock it up for centuries, so as well as planting trees, we must protect existing ones.
Trees are essential for the environment in helping to prevent flooding, cool temperatures, reduce pollution and enrich the soil. We can’t survive without them.
War and Deforestation
Apart from the obvious toll on human life and the ongoing fear and grieving, war is incredibly destructive to the environment. According to the experts, a country like Afghanistan should have at least 15% of it forested, but war has reduced this to only 2%. Sadly, countries at war are not thinking about environmental issues, so places like Afghanistan, Somalia and Yemen are among the most vulnerable in the world to climate change, and the least equipped to handle it.
The carbon footprint of war is enormous. Many forests and farmlands in Afghanistan have been burned and degraded by heavy military technology and chemicals; some woods were deliberately destroyed to remove hiding cover for warring factions. Displacement of people also strains an area’s natural resources.
War brings poverty and with the destruction of electricity grids in Afghanistan many have had little choice but to cut down forests to fuel stoves and keep warm in winter. Half of the country’s pistachio trees are gone, as are the almond and juniper trees. These important cash crops have been sacrificed for fuel.
Then there’s a kind of ‘timber mafia’ involved in an illegal logging trade of spruce and pine over the border to Pakistan; the money is used to fund insurgents.
Afghanistan was a stopping ground for migratory birds, but deforestation, drought and war have ruined wetlands and reduced the number of these visitors by 85%.
The climate crisis in Afghanistan is predicted to get worse with increased droughts and flash floods. Yet, this is a country that is rich in mineral resources, unable to be mined because of constant conflict. It doesn’t need to stay poor. Lithium and copper, both highly sought after in the modern world along with iron, cobalt and gold deposits are all there, but the country doesn’t have the skills or infrastructure to capitalise on these resources.
Plowshares and Pruning Hooks
It takes faith to plant trees that you will never see fully mature, but the ‘Planting Dukes of Atholl’ did just that in the 18th century in Scotland. They embarked on the extensive planting of millions of trees including the historic Hermitage woodland in Perthshire with a variety of deciduous and evergreens.
These forests of Scots pine, oak and rowan mixed with larch, sycamore and the towering Douglas firs, the tallest in Britain, are famous for their lush, green beauty. The 4th Duke was known as ‘Planter John’ and is reported to have filled clay balls with his tree seeds and fired them from a cannon to scatter them!
The thought of a cannon, a weapon of war, being used to work with creation, instead of as an instrument of destruction, thrills me. It reminds me of the passages in Isaiah 2:4 and Micah 4:3. There the prophets share a poetic picture of the ideal, promised, peaceful land where God is sought after and war is no more.
‘They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore.’
Healing the Nations
God loves trees. The Bible is full of them, from Genesis 2:9 where he chooses a tree as the symbol of life in the Garden of Eden, until the end of the Bible where we find this tree on both sides of the river of the water of life. The tree of life produces fruit every month and its leaves are for the healing of the nations ( Revelation 22:2).
When Jesus returns, we read in Revelation 21:4 that he will wipe away every tear from our eyes and there will be no more death, mourning, crying or pain. He has full knowledge and understanding of each of his children’s personal griefs and losses. Individuals, however, are part of nations and there are sufferings and traumas experienced in this world that are peculiar to our ethnicity and land of birth. Perhaps that’s why God talks of healing the sickness of nations. Even the leaves of the tree carry power to heal the tears we’ve cried together.
We pray for peace, an end to violence and a government committed to serving the people. Let’s see if the Taliban can do that while also fulfilling their pledge to tackle climate and even to plant trees! Whatever happens, we know that Jesus himself, who died on a tree, is that tree of life whose presence gives life and healing love to all who trust in him – even in Afghanistan.