‘Plastics are made by fools like me,
but only God can make a tree’
At university, some fifty years ago, we had a mechanics text book entitled The New Science of Strong Materials. Each chapter was introduced by a quote, one of which stuck in my mind: ‘Plastics are made by fools like me, but only God can make a tree’. I didn’t realise at the time that the author of the book had adapted the last two lines of Trees by Joyce Kilmer, ‘Poems are made by fools like me, but only God can make a tree’.
We have come to realise that plastic, this relatively new strong material, has disadvantages as well as advantages. Plastic can be incredibly useful. It is light, easily shaped, durable and inexpensive, but can have harmful impacts on the environment, waterways, oceans and animals. The Blue Planet series brought this forcibly to our attention.
The big problem is single-use plastics and the quantities in which they are used. A plastic bottle can last for up to 450 years in the marine environment, slowly fragmenting into microscopic pieces which never truly go away.
It would be hard to go back to life before plastics, which are vital in our phones and computers, our homes, cars and hospitals. However we can reduce our use, recycle wherever possible, and drastically cut down on single-use plastics, urging manufacturers to do the same.
Joyce Kilmer’s poem begins: ‘I think that I shall never see a poem lovely as a tree’. Humankind has long been aware that trees are incredibly useful as well as lovely, but with all our scientific knowledge we cannot make a tree.
There are over 250 references to trees in Bible, where they symbolise fruitfulness, strength, endurance, beauty, healing. There is an interesting verse in the Old Testament Book of Deuteronomy, ch 20 v.19: ‘When you lay siege to a city for a long time, fighting against it to capture it, do not destroy its trees by putting an axe to them, because you can eat their fruit. Do not cut them down. Are the trees people, that you should besiege them?
Humans cannot survive without trees. As well as their obvious uses, trees help combat climate change, improve air quality, and help reduce soil erosion and flooding. Research shows that hedges can trap toxins at exhaust pipe level, and so reduce people's exposure to harmful pollutants.
Trees can transform the appearance of built up areas, help cool the streets and muffle urban noise. Vertical forests - residential tower blocks which house trees and shrubs in their balconies - are now being built in various cities around the world.
Are the trees people, that you should besiege them? The world needs to heed this ancient advice, so that de-forestation does not carry on apace. More trees and less plastic waste will help bring back a balance to God’s good creation, our beautiful but fragile planet.Liz Walters - Associate Minister