Tuesday, August 17, 2021

Original Tree Huggers

The original tree huggers were also loggers.
~~ Dr. Hayes-Bohanan to many students

Chipko in Uttar Pradesh (now called Uttarakhand) in 1973.
India Times by way of Wikimedia.

That is -- as I acknowledge to those students -- a bit of an overstatement. But only a bit. 

The term treehuggers became known throughout the world because of the activism of women and men in northern India who were not exactly loggers, but nor were they opposed to cutting down trees.

Regular readers of this space will know that I like to learn about geography -- and everything else -- through biography. Years ago, this led me to start reading the works of John McPhee, which I continue to do. 

More recently, this has led me to the extraordinary journalism of BBC Witness History. As an educator, I try to learn something new every day. As a BBC listener, this often happens between 4:50 and 4:59 a.m. In just 9 minutes each morning, BBC journalists connect us to people who have been directly involved in important trends and events.

In this case, the story is told very well in the segment Chipko: India’s tree-hugging women, in which Viv Jones interviews chipko activist Dr. Vandana Shiva. Their conversation addresses the difference between timber mining and sustainable use of the forest. They use the term "timber mining" to describe the large-scale harvesting that was favored by the Indian government. Meanwhile, post-colonial restrictions sometimes precluded the use of the same forests for firewood, animal fodder, and medicinal uses.

The interview describes how this injustice led to creative and determined action -- first locally and then throughout the world. As with many environmental victories, though, past gains are now threatened by climate-related setbacks. I first realized this almost a decade ago, as I wrote in the 2012 post Cochabamba Continued and subsequent items on retreating glaciers.

Lagniappe

This story reminded me of Julia Butterfly Hill, who famously occupied a redwood tree to protect a forest. It turns out that she was a guest on 2014 -- probably the only one I've met personally. 

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