Should a Tree Have the Same Rights as You?
We, as modern humans, living in the hi-tech, plasticised, ultra-connected, monetised, consumer-driven world that we do, find ourselves so divorced from nature that we often struggle to see life from other, often very different points of view. Be it an indigenous person, an animal, insect, tree, virus or river; seeing the world through the eyes of another can be a very challenging thing for those of us who live in the West and it can be completely baffling for those of us who are making important global and local decisions that affect every single Being on the planet.
And besides, why on earth would you cut a tree down without asking it how it would cope being pulped for sawdust? Why would you pollute a river without trying to understand how it feels about becoming toxic to all life forms? Why would you shoot an elephant down during a trophy hunt without finding out whether it has children, a mother and other kin whom it would sorely miss and who would miss it in return? If indigenous people know how to do this, why don’t we? Perhaps because recognising the sentience and personhood of trees and rivers is all such risky business. After all, to recognise that we are endangering other sentient Beings’ livelihoods is to recognise that we are threatening our own livelihood too1 and unfortunately, in this modern world of ours, some of us have been led to believe that they are invincible, that everything else will fall before they do, that they are immune to this climate change/extinction thing and that no matter what happens, they will prevail.
I believe Nature is here to show us another way; she offers us wisdom time and time again with openness, innocence, reverence and celebration, without showing the least sign of malice or dominion over us. She is prepared to sacrifice herself for the greater good and is right now, preparing to face extinction honourably and with noble grace. If we are truly ready to awaken to the fact that we are exquisitely entwined with all of Nature, we must realise that whatever happens to Her will eventually happen to us too. Now is the time to utilise Nature’s great wisdom, intelligence, knowing and ingenuity and set up council where every Being is consulted and listened to with humility, not just for the solutions they may and surely will bring to the table but because every single life really does matter for the good of All.
I live an hour’s drive away from the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland. One day, I believe a Council of All Beings will be sitting in the UN assembly rooms in conference with Men. I know this scenario sounds like it has been plucked from a sci-fi novel about alien colonies trying to reform and govern after an apocalypse3 but I want to stress most vehemently that we are already, right now, living within a story such as this and it is no longer science fiction. I am under no illusions about the urgent work that needs to be done before we even get inside the walls of the United Nations, let alone start talking to animals about building a new world together; that is why I am here sharing some important news with you today:
It is possible to set up a dialogue with another without using words. In fact, there is no more eloquent a conversation than one that never uses words.
Think of the mother who understands her baby, a child who converses with a kitten, a rider who flows effortlessly with his horse and (now we know) a tree who shares its information with the fungus entwined in its roots, a bacterium which instructs its offspring how best to fight antibiotics and a DNA strand which imprints upon its own genetic clone. How could it be any other way? Imagine the challenges of war, poverty, hunger, education, clean water and energy, economic growth, climate change, extinction, justice, equality, environment and politics all being tackled with the input of our wise brothers and sisters without the use of words; where we just KNOW the solutions; what elegant, intelligent and exquisitely refined healing we would be able to give to this planet … for the good of All.
What would the world look like if bees, orchids, swallows, earthworms, grasses, poppies, rabbits and weasels were consulted before any new housing block was planned, any factory foundation laid, any pipeline constructed, any airport or open-cast mining project started? It would look like Paradise on Earth. Yet still, we are hell-bent on destroying it all because we do not understand how to make peace with ourselves long enough to be able to hear the voices of our fellow Beings who live, breathe, love, hope, cry, feel pain and despair just like we do. And when we are no longer able to hear their voices, we are no longer able to feel responsible for our actions and therefore, we no longer need to care. I hope that I will be one among many present at the Council of All Beings, representing those who are unable to speak a human tongue and that I will do this intuitively, as all indigenous people (and children) do automatically and naturally. I also hope that by then, an interspecies communicator will be as common as a solicitor, lawyer or translator is now.
Plants, animals, insects, even single-celled organisms are doing it continuously and effortlessly (and have been doing it long before we invented language) and if we, as humans, can come to the table with enough humility, openness and respect for the intelligence of all these forms of life, we could allow this way of conversing to blossom within us again.
The sub-heading was inspired by this article: Should this Tree Have the Same Rights as You? by Robert MacFarlane in the Guardian Newspaper 2019.
1Progress is being made; the personhood of nature is slowly starting to be recognised. In 2017, after 140 years of negotiation, the Whanganui iwi tribe from the North Island of New Zealand won the right to recognise the Whanganui river as an ancestor, and it now holds the equivalent legal standing as a human being.
2In fact, I HAD a dream; one night, in that time between waking and sleeping; my body turned around and I saw a group of animals standing in front of me in a semi-circle as if standing at a watering hole. I immediately received from them the impression of expectancy, watchfulness, urgency and potential. There were no words exchanged between us but I saw in the body language of the wolves, giraffes, beetles, pangolins, sparrows, owls, snakes and crocodiles standing there, that they were waiting for me to represent them and give them a voice. This vision was so clear that it could have taken place in the real world and although it lasted for a second or two, it has stayed with me ever since.
3Try The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula le Guinn for a taste of this world.