SOAPBOX

Forget the silly slogan

A conversation with a river red gum tree on “saving the planet”

When for a few days, I heard a soft whimpering voice from the sky as I walked on a lonely track along a creek, I worried that I was suffering from psychosis.

The creek once was part of the walking track followed by the Australian
Aboriginal Boon wurrung people for many thousands of years. As I walk, I see a tattered and faded Aboriginal flag flying on a flagpole in a little park. A
yellow circle in the centre of a rectangle divided in half horizontally, the
upper half black and the lower ochre red reminding anyone who cared to find out of an ancient culture’s spiritual relation to the land and the sun — the planet and the cosmos. The ancient spirits sending me a message?

One day the voice was louder, “Hey mate, I’m talking to you.” I looked
around and saw nothing. “Look up, mate.” The only thing I could see was the
high canopy of a huge river red gum tree, a common eucalyptus species in these parts. Oh, the tree was talking to me, I realized. “What can I do for you?” I said, struggling to find the right word to address this old, majestic tree;
“mate” seemed so ordinary and disrespectful.

“Could you please remove this plastic banner some idiot has wrapped around
my trunk?” the tree asked gasping. “It’s killing me.”

I removed the banner and looked up. “From here I can’t read the writing on
the banner,” the tree said. “What does it say?”

“Save the planet.”

“Is the planet dying?” the tree asked anxiously.

“Not really. The planet has been around for 4.5 billion years and still be
here for another 4.5 billion years even if its atmosphere heats up by hundreds
or even thousands of degrees. A big, rogue asteroid may disturb its orbit a bit
if it hits it hard. That’s all.”

“Why then this silly slogan?” the tree exclaimed. “You should be shouting,
save our species. Better still, save us from our silliness. Your stupid species
is indiscriminately destroying the land and water with imperishable plastic and choking the air with noxious carbon. How could you save yourself from your excesses when you print a silly slogan on a plastic banner and leave it around to kill other species?”

My human mind had no answer. I nodded to show my concern.

The tree seemed genuinely angry. It continued, “I have been here for more
than 200 years, and I’ve noticed the air becoming warmer. Too much carbon
dioxide for us trees to breathe in and not many of us to breathe out oxygen.”

“Well, the level of carbon dioxide is going up every year. Now there are 415
molecules of carbon dioxide molecules in every million molecules in the air. It was 400 in 2013.”

“I don’t care about these numbers, but I do care about the numbers of our
species of river red gum trees decreasing dramatically. I give a damn about
your species. As you say, mate, the planet, though it’s atmosphere a little bit
warmer, will still be here for another 4.5 billion years. I’m sure once your
self-indulgent and self-destructing species have disappeared forever, the
planet will look forward to hosting a truly intelligent life that respects its
own kind and the other kinds and its environment.”

Lost for words, I took a sip of water from my reusable water bottle.

“What’s that green sticker on the bottle?” the tree asked. “It looks like a
eucalyptus leaf.”

“It says, save 2000 plastic bottles by using this reusable bottle and save
the planet.” I heard an uproarious laugh and then the tree saying, “Silly
slogans and symbols won’t save human beings; a little respect for the
environment and the other species may. Where are the blackfellas who had a
spiritual connection with the land around this creek?”

© Surendra Verma 2019