For International Year of Biodiversity,
World Citizens Propose Planting Trees of Life
Rene Wadlow*

Listen for whispers from the woods, and wisdom will come.

The United Nations General Assembly, in Resolution 61/203; has proclaimed 2010 as the International Year of Biodiversity. The resolution, marking the UN Convention on Biodiversity was passed prior to the holding of the December 2009 Copenhagen Climate Conference which highlighted the interactions between global vegetation and climate, the negative effects of deforestation on climate, the importance of vegetation feedbacks on global warming, and the extent to which forests create their own micro-climatic influence.

Denmark was an appropriate location for this emphasis on the role of woods and forests acting for the benefit of the planet. In Scandinavian mythology, the Great World Tree, Yggdrasil, is the tree of existence, the tree of life and knowledge. Care of the tree is entrusted to three maidens named Urdhr (Past), Vervandi (Present) and Skuld (Future). From this tree springs forth our visible universe. On the topmost branch of this tree sits an eagle, who symbolizes light and whose keen eyes see all things taking place in the world. The tree is the cosmic pillar that supports heaven and at the same time opens the road to the world of the gods. The tree permits an opening either upward (the divine world) or downward (the underworld). The three cosmic levels — earth, heaven, the underworld — have been put into communication.

In the myths and legends of other cultures, we also find the importance of the tree as a symbol of life with its roots underground, its trunk in the world of humans and its top-most branches touching the sky. Branches are compared to steps or a ladder and so are a way by which the hero climbs, through initiations, to higher consciousness. It is under the protecting branches of a tree that the Buddha reached enlightenment. The loss of the leaves of a tree and their renewal has served as the symbol of death and regeneration. The tree is a living symbol. A grove of trees was often considered sacred and the sanctuary where religious rituals were carried out.

In the grove of trees of life, animals also have symbolic meaning, such as the eagle in the Scandinavian myths. Birds represent the element air, and a snake, thought to live underground among the roots, a symbol of the earth or the link to the world of after life. This symbolism of animals in a tree grove was stressed by A.J. Wensinck in his study Tree and bird as cosmological symbols in Western Asia. For African examples see the extensive research of Viviana Paques.L’Arbre Cosmique Dans Le Pensée Populaire et Dans La Vid Quotidienne Du Nord-Ouest Africain. In the Bhagavad Gita, the tree is the symbol of the person and his destiny, a symbol also used by Plato as well as in the Kabalist Zohar.

Thus the tree is an appropriate symbol for the integration of human, animal and plant life in a system of biodiversity. The planting and care of a tree is a ritual of respect for biodiversity and a way to overcome the sense of separation from nature which many humans feel. Societies have often taught its members to fear nature or to conquer nature — an understandable attitude in earlier stages of human evolution. However, today, this disconnection from nature produces dysfunctions and environmental, social and mental problems. Re-contacting with nature can produce joy, regeneration and community bonding.

This feeling of harmony with nature is what the former Harvard biologist Edward O. Wilson called “biophilia” — connections that human beings subconsciously seek with the rest of life. Our natural senses are designed to bring our being into harmony, fulfilment and community with the world. As Wilson wrote “wilderness settles peace on the soul.”

Obviously, there are many different aspects to the protection of biodiversity, measures which need to be undertaken within the United Nations system (1), by national governments and by local authorities. However, individual action is necessary and important. The planting of a tree both individually and as a group effort is an important sign of respect for biodiversity and thus a contribution to the International Year of Biodiversity. Each planting can be accompanied by the thoughts, emotions and words considered appropriate.

Each tree is a living symbol of respect for nature and a positive contribution to world citizenship.

(1) For more information on UN activities, see the UN website for the International Year of Biodiversity:

*Rene Wadlow, Representative to the UN, Geneva, Association of World Citizens

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