Listen To The Banyan Tree: it will tell us what we must do

The symbolic center of Lahaina has always been the court house square with a small boat harbor on one side, an enormous banyan tree on the other, and the old courthouse in between. The banyan tree is a traditional gathering place.  Visitors meet there to decide where to go next.  Under the spreading branches, musicians perform, craft fairs are held, people rest on benches, children play, and directions are given by where something is from the Banyan Tree. 

The tree is badly charred but still standing after the recent horrific fires.  Everything around it is gone: the harbor docks, courthouse, Pioneer Inn, Baldwin House, and the grade school next door.  Only the tree remains.  The state’s principal arborist declared it is still alive, not well, rather in a tree like coma.  Will it survive?  It might.  It’s been given nutrients, water and a mulch blanket.  When asked what comes next, the arborist said we wait and listen to the tree to tell us what it needs.  If it lives it will become the symbol of Lahaina’s resilience and restoration to new life. May it be so. 

What struck me most about the arborist’s interview was when he said we must wait and listen to the tree, it will tell us what to do. The earth has been telling us what to do for a long time, but we haven’t listened.  Like the stiff necked people of ancient Israel, we have not listened to the voice of God, the prophets, or indeed, our own common sense.  We have given our collective allegiance to unneeded convenience, high wage jobs producing goods that poison and destroy, personal habits of wasteful convenience.  We worship the gods of consumer products while dismissing their misuse.
I don’t think any of it was or is done out of malice.  It’s the other way round.  Almost all of our acts of poor stewardship have been in pursuit of a better life: more abundant crops, lush green lawns, a vehicle for every person and every purpose made easily convenient at any time, extension of food shelf life, products’ ease of use and disposability, and just plain fun.  We have been a people of good intentions with unawareness of consequences and disbelief of our current day prophets’ concern and warnings.

Who were and are our prophets? Some were over enthusiastic tree hugging environmentalists who appeared  more concerned for bugs and birds than people.  How irritating. Tthe voice of Almighty God was proclaimed in the pulpit and by prophetic messengers often treated as religious do-gooders who didn’t understand real life.  Scientists and environmental journalists were heard but put on hold while contrary opinions were trotted out to mislead and misinform. Mother Earth herself, our island home, has been screaming at us for decades but we haven’t listened.  I include myself in that “we.”
Now Mother Earth roars with violent discontent, wreaking destruction in every part of the globe.  What are we to do?  I doubt the answers are draconian: more like adjustments, some a bit painful. The most obvious is to stop listening to climate change deniers whose false prophecies have sown doubt and distrust of the obvious.  They can”t be stopped from talking but we can stop listening. 

Carbon emissions must be reduced dramatically right now, not in a few years.  How?  Public policy and private behavior need to change immediately.  Democracies find it difficult to make rapid changes in public policy because interests with economic stakes in resisting change are able to slow legislative machinery to a snail’s pace. Yet the dragging feet can’t be chalked up to corporate greed alone.  Entire communities have become dependent on industries doing the most damage.  It’s hard to make a case for the common good when one’s ability to make a living is threatened. We want others to change their life styles but leave ours alone. Big policy changes needed don’t require the elimination of petroleum and coal based products, but their future uses cannot continue to be major contributors to the contamination of the earth.  For instance, plastics will probably always be needed but not for frivolous uses like grocery bags, food containers, and useless trinkets. Gasoline and diesel engines will be needed but as auxiliaries to other means of power.  Clothing may become a more utilitarian industry eschewing so called fast fashion, stewardship of the land will have to become as important to agriculture and forest management as crop and timber production are.  Mining corporations can no longer be allowed to dictate terms of production methods and restoration requirements.  None of these changes will be easy, especially in our democracy, but policy makers can be goaded into a more rapid pace by ordinary consumer voices and behavior. 

Changing consumer behavior is a marketing problem.  It’s a matter of selling and way of thinking about consumables.  We know how to do it because we’ve had generations of experience in selling consumers on everything from toothpaste to crypto currency.  It’s time to turn it around so consumers will have a better way of thinking about what the good life is. The right marketing can make a more environmentally responsible life style a status symbol to be desired, and over consumption undesirable. Gentle ridicule, carefully used, can be an effective marketing tool.  Consider ads about bad breath, body odor and smelly houses.  Gently ridicule conspicuous consumption, frivolous waste and unhealthy foods.. Sex sells, it always has, promote healthy life styles as the ultimate measure of sexiness. It would mean taking on entrenched corporate interests head on and dollar-for-dollar.  Not easy, but doable.

Perhaps most important, sell the spirit and life of Mother Earth as the source of all that will sustain us if we only respect and honor her. Holy Scripture declares the sacredness of creation and our responsibility to care for it.  Some of my Indian and Hawaiian friends will scoff, declaring they’ve been telling this story forever and encountered total disregard of them and their ways of life. Sadly, that’s true, but we need to listen and act now. Listen to the Banyan Tree as a living prophet of what we must do, and what will happen if we don’t, 

2 thoughts on “Listen To The Banyan Tree: it will tell us what we must do”

  1. Thank you. I especially like on line: “They can’t be stopped from talking, but we can stop listening.” Yeah.

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