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David Farmer is a public affairs, political and media consultant in Portland, where he lives with his wife and two children.
Trees, it seems, are smarter than U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and the majority of his fellow Republicans in Washington.
McConnell and a majority of the Republicans in the Senate continue to block desperately needed aid for our country, even as the terrible impacts of COVID-19 continue to mount.
It’s a dereliction of duty and a compassionless response to a human and economic crisis unlike any the world has seen in 100 years.
Even trees — at least mature trees the age of the average member of the Senate — know better.
In a fascinating article in the New York Times Magazine on Sunday, reporter Ferris Jabr introduces us to Suzanne Simard, a groundbreaking forestry researcher who has uncovered the amazing networks that connect trees together in the forest.
Simard’s work, which is controversial among some scientists and foresters, has found that trees can share resources through a network of roots and fungi, even across different species. Her research suggests that there’s even a form of communication that exists among trees that can make the overall forest stronger.
The research raises significant questions about forestry practices and evolutionary biology, which is built — at its core — on the idea that individuals compete for resources and to reproduce, passing their genetic material along to a new generation of their own kind.
Simard is described as innovative and exhaustive in her approach and has helped us to better understand forest systems, and a character in the Pulitzer Prize-winning book, “The Overstory,” was based on her.
“Simard has discovered that fungal threads link nearly every tree in a forest — even trees of different species. Carbon, water, nutrients, alarm signals and hormones can pass from tree to tree through these subterranean circuits,” Jabr writes. “Resources tend to flow from the oldest and biggest trees to the youngest and smallest. Chemical alarm signals generated by one tree prepare nearby trees for danger. Seedlings severed from the forest’s underground lifelines are much more likely to die than their networked counterparts. And if a tree is on the brink of death, it sometimes bequeaths a substantial share of its carbon to its neighbors.”
I’m neither a forester nor a biologist, but I know a good metaphor when I see one.
Last week, a bipartisan group of senators, including Maine’s Angus King and Susan Collins, proposed a $908 billion relief package to help our country withstand the enormous strain created by COVID-19.
As with the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, the bill falls short of what’s truly needed. Our country has shed jobs as the virus has devastated sectors of our economy and put people in long lines for coronavirus tests and to receive donations of food.
We have a health care and an economic calamity on our hands. More relief, sooner, is better. But the $908 billion plan is better than nothing, which is where we stand today.
Even the pared down compromise relief bill from both Republicans and Democrats has not been enough to get McConnell and the majority of his fellow Republicans to take action.
In the common forest where we all live, the distress signals are getting louder and louder. The death toll is growing by the day and cases of COVID-19 are increasing exponentially in some places. And our economy is floundering for many working people, who are behind on their rent and not sure where their next meal will come from. People are trading their health — and in some cases their lives — so they can pay the bills.
Our country’s response — or lack thereof — to the crisis is an epic failure.
And many of our country’s political leaders don’t have the sense God gave trees.
The underlying discovery from Simard is that forests are stronger and healthier when the trees and other plants are able to work cooperatively, particularly during a time of need. And that it is the ability to cooperate and to share resources that increases the overall health of forest.
We’re all facing COVID-19 together. Our economic recovery is linked to our ability to control the disease. The actions of one are linked to the outcomes for many. The need to work together is overwhelming. The need to move resources to the people who need it the most is clear.
And yet, nothing.
Like I said, trees are smarter than Mitch McConnell.