The War Against Trees

Men (and it is mostly men) fight wars for many reasons, some more spurious than others. Usually the reasons given are a clash of interests, with both sides proclaiming noble values such as Home and Family and Morality and Our Children and Our Way of Life. We’ve become so used to wars that there are some of them that journalists hardly bother to report any more. Who knows and who cares what’s actually happening in the Congo? is the attitude (not enough to get the name right) or, internecine warfare between Jews and Arabs in the Near East is not worth reporting because nothing ever changes. The same can be said for The War on Terror – or rather between Whoever’s Got Oil (apart from Saudi Arabia) and the Western powers (apart from France and Germany). I marched in 1991 in San Francisco under a banner that said ‘NO BLOOD FOR OIL!’ and I hope whoever made it kept it because it would have come in useful in the decades ahead.

Then there are all the other wars. Like The War on Cancer. That seems to be an easy one: humanity on one side and cancer on the other, surely. A complicating factor its overlap with The War on Animals – a systematic global and multicultural campaign of torture and slaughter so kitsched by the infantile propaganda of Daisy the Happy Cow (forcibly impregnated, separated from her daughters, lowing for her slaughtered sons) and the Easter lambs (ditto) and chicks (mothers debeaked without anaesthetic or pecking their daughters to death in the same overcrowded cages, all awaiting electrocution while they never see the sun, the fluffy little sons picked out by human hands and pushed along a conveyor belt towards a sharp screw that grinds them into chicken nuggets) that most people’s reaction to the facts of the life and death of farmed animals is one of incredulity and anger against those who don’t support it. The daily industry is the meat industry. Egg production for human consumption relies on one cock, many hens, and all the other males chicks to slaughter.

A complication of both these Wars, to paraphrase Wendell Berry, is a food industry that ignores health and a health industry that ignores food. Then there’s the fact that even top editors of The BMJ , the NEMJ and The Lancet admit that the findings of most medical research are fabricated and published under pressure (follow the links). All those women wearing pink. All those charity shops. All those tortured animals. All those tenured professors. All those eager interns practising vivisection on their own hearts to cut out all traces of compassion. All advancing their careers. Because in vivo looks good on a CV (résume). Then there’s The War on AIDS, AKA The War on Gay Men; The War Against Transphobia, AKA The War Against Women (and Specifically Lesbians); and last but not least The War For Full Bodily Autonomy, AKA The War Against Female and Disabled Babies.

Having angered most of you now, consider this: who is the beneficiary in The War Against Trees? Why is it that so many men (mostly) are cutting down so many trees? This is a real question. Let’s try to think through the answer.

Everyone knows that men (more than women) are impressed by big hard things. I am. If there is a mountain, I want to climb it. I’m Scottish, my instinct is to walk up (probably because it gets very boggy, walking down). I’m also a man. But I don’t want to cut down trees.

I remember my father destroying a pear tree in the garden. It didn’t yield many pears, it’s true. But he pruned and cut it and sawed it up and yanked the roots out of the ground and sawed them up too. Then came back into the kitchen and cried for his brother that we had just buried. We watched him do it. I did nothing. He’d been a prisoner of war. Emotions didn’t come easy to my father.

In the past month, I got into the local paper in an article that was very well-meaning but almost entirely inaccurate apart from when it stated that I was questioning the right of an arrogant rich young man to chop down and burn trees along the banks of the beautiful Forth and Clyde Canal, right on top of the UNESCO World Heritage site of the Antonine Wall (older than Hadrian’s) in the hottest weather Scotland has ever had in living memory, during a wildfire warning, when the children had just got off school and families in this working-class neighbourhood were enjoying sitting in the sun in their back gardens – suddenly beset by smoke and the continual noise of a chainsaw.

Why do men hate trees?

In Sheffield, the local council want to cut down thousands of street trees. They’ve already destroyed 5,500 of them and want to destroy 20,000 more. Here’s the protest group for your support.

I talked about this to a friend and his reaction was that mature trees are less efficient at CO2 capture than saplings (then I remembered that he’s an accountant). While that may be true (I’m no expert) the benefits of trees are not reducible solely to their function of chemical gaseous exchange – as this rather What’s in it For You account shows.

So why do men hate trees?

My embarrassed answer is that it’s #notallmen (as if that helps when you’re a tree cut down in your prime) and my guess is that it’s the same hatred and sense of inadequacy that drives men to torture and kill beautiful powerful animals such as bulls and elephants and lions and whales, and to generally rape Nature. In other words it’s all about domination.

So why do men hate trees?

What is it about trees that men find so threatening? Is it their longevity, many species mocking the brief span of man? Is it their height, superior? Is it their beauty and the way that women love them? Is it because children delight in them? Is it because tall and dignified and stoic and silent, sheltering and inspiring, trees embody all the qualities that men wish to possess?

Do men hate trees because they are jealous of them? Is this hatred so irrational, so deep-seated, so ingrained in every pissed-off possessor of a Y chromosome capable of tearing off twigs, breaking branches, or assaulting their age-ringed trunks with deadly steel that there is little hope now of natural shade or stability of soil or ever reversing climate change?

I heartily dislike the phrase ‘toxic masculinity’, it renders the agency of women null and void (see The Mermaid and the Minotaur) and takes us into the murky waters of gender stereotypes. But, in this case, it seems quite apt.

Why do men hate trees?

The next time you see one of us assaulting one of them, ask (if you feel safe doing so).

Maybe, just maybe, one of us will think about that question and, in the meantime, one of them may be saved.


Thanks to Stephani Elizabeth who has released her photo “Buddhist Face in Tree Stock” (at Ayutthaya ruins in Thailand) into the public domain.