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Jerry Herrmann: We must turn the tide with other nations concerned about our planet's atmosphere

Whether we like the idea of climate change or not, the planet does what it does, and it's changing. Concerns about greenhouse gases in the atmosphere are a wakeup call.

Targets for greenhouse gases were intended to be held at a level under 400 parts per million for carbon dioxide. According to the most recent NASA and other scientific surveys, many of which have been done from both Earth and from above by the international space station, show levels approaching 460 parts per million.

Earth's atmosphere has moved to the levels present in early geologic times when dinosaurs were roaming the Earth and everything grew so well because of the rich carbon dioxide.

It therefore supported huge populations of early animals, including the dinosaurs, those who ate the plants and those who ate the plant eaters.

Though we cannot sense the CO2 and other greenhouse gases in our atmosphere, the planet does. We don't know whether the atmosphere had superstorms back then, but we do know today's atmospheric heating is demanding that the planet naturally try to distribute that heat even through superstorms, if necessary.

Few scientists and even fewer political leaders are helping us grasp where we're going. We're going back to the time when Earth had almost no ice, higher sea levels and ultimately an atmosphere that produced massive growth. So much growth of both flora and fauna occurred that the geologic record shows all this as the abundance of fossil fuels, the result of sunlight captured at that time.

Why should we care? Though we hope that governments and leadership throughout the world can make a difference, it's up to all of us to make that difference, because government can't do it without our committed help. It should not be all about taxes; it should be about empowerment. It's not just about our dollars and cents. It's in fact about our sensibility.

Trees and woodlands in our urbanizing areas, now more than ever, need maximized protection, not because they're cute or beautiful, but for the work they're doing in helping address the changing chemistry of our atmosphere.

In Oregon, most of our river corridors support huge assemblages of black cottonwood and other fast-growing, carbon-storing trees. Even though they are short-lived, as they fall in decay, they store carbon as they improve the soil along our rivers. We don't like them, but they were created to perform a needed function.

Northwest Native peoples respected the cottonwood because of its ability to stabilize streams and rivers after floods. The trees further provided food and shelter to the many fish and wildlife species they depended upon. They said it had a spirit of its own as one variety from the eastern slopes would tremble in the wind. That was quaking aspen, another part of the poplar family, which includes black cottonwood.

Asking trained tree experts to evaluate trees as to their safety in our urbanizing areas is important, but it misses the obvious need today. Safe trees are important, yes, but the liability of losing trees to a suffering atmospheric chemistry can no longer be allowed.

Internationally, forests and good-growing understories are essential to help in the effort of giving our planet a new chance.

Young botanist and ecologist David Douglas surveyed the eastern mountains and forests of our country and then came to the West Coast in the 1820s. He documented over 500 native wildflowers, grasses, trees and understory shrubs. He was not doing this just for his pleasure, but to help reforest his newly denuded country, Scotland.

Like much of Europe, Scotland had been overgrazed and overharvested because wood was needed in so much early construction.

Today, the forests of Scotland exceed in many cases the health and vitality of our Northwest forests. They are populated with red fir, Western red cedar and Sitka spruce, just a few of the species he sent back.

Our recent concern about loss of tropical rainforests and the huge biological function they provide for our planet is just as good a reason to send support from America and our European neighbors to preserve those forests for the good of the planet.

We will have soon expended nearly $100 billion of America's Treasury in support of turning the tide in a war in Europe. But we must turn the tide with other nations concerned about our planet's atmosphere in the tropics and Earth's temperate forests, where so much carbon is being managed by natural processes.Jerry Herrmann

Is it hopeless? David Douglas did it and got people excited in his homeland in the early and mid-1800s. Boris Johnson, the current prime minister of Great Britain, at the most recent climate conference proclaimed that they were not just going to collect climate funding from people, they were going to get everyone from England involved in reforesting Great Britain on both public and private lands.

Johnson said government would lead the way, not by assessing people, but by encouraging everyone's involvement from the common person to those great landlords of estate acreage.

So, are we on our way back in geologic time to a circumstance that's irreversible? Or are we going to get busy and make the right choices in our neighborhoods and cities? It's time for everyone to be involved and not just government processes and sanctions. It's time to treasure the value of any growing thing as to what its values really are. It's time to get all of us and the world's peoples to act in stewarding and encouraging the recovery of Earth's natural systems that sustain us all. It's not time to go backward.

Jerry Herrmann is a Gladstone resident and president of Rivers of Life, a nonprofit organization that focuses on providing opportunities for at-risk youth through environmental restoration in the Willamette Valley.

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