One of the most influential books I have ever read is The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein.
This book inspired me to volunteer to clean my local park and take environmental science my freshman year. The Giving Tree is a story about an apple tree who keeps giving to a boy who asks for more and more. The Giving Tree is however, more than just a story about a boy and an apple tree.
The beauty of this book is that it offers plenty of symbolism as well as ways to interpret it. One possible interpretation is that the book is an allegory about our treatment of the environment with the tree symbolizing the Earth and the boy humanity. The Earth is very generous, giving us a beautiful environment protected by an ozone layer with diverse wildlife, plenty of resources such as oil, and fertile soil that grows more than 700 million tons of rice and more than 800 million tons of corn every year. Humanity hasn’t been kind to the Earth though. The United States alone produced 6,870 million tons of greenhouse gas in 2014.
Greenhouse gases have caused a 1.1 degree Celsius increase in global temperature which resulted in rising sea levels and more erratic weather. In addition, more than 12 billion tons of garbage is dumped into the world’s oceans every year. The rise of human civilizations has also brought many animal species to the brink of extinction. There are more than 16,000 endangered species on the IUCN Red List.
Thankfully, people such as lawmakers have realized the importance of biodiversity. Conservation efforts such as the Endangered Species Act of 1973 have saved many endangered species from extinction. Another problem is the increasing amount of fossil fuel usage. At the current rate, we will run out of known oil deposits by 2052. Given our dependency on fossil fuels, we should be looking at ways to reduce fossil fuel consumption and alternate forms of energy and implement them around the world. Hydrogen powered cars and wind energy are two solutions but they remain too expensive and underused.
A third issue is the misuse of fertile soil. Damaging agricultural practices such as planting the same crop on the same soil over and over as well as slashing and burning have led to soil erosion and degradation which is the loss of nutrients in soil. These practices have resulted in the disappearance of arable land which is farther worsened by the massive boom of the human population. Soil erosion and degradation is mostly irreversible but can be prevented by planting grass and avoiding overwatering the soil. The Giving Tree ended with the apple tree giving everything she had to the boy until she was nothing but a stump.
If humanity keep going on the path it is on, the Earth will someday be like the apple tree at the end of The Giving Tree, a hollow stump of what it once was. However, this doesn’t have to be the fate of the Earth. If we made a conscious effort to reduce waste and greenhouse emissions, we would be a step closer towards a more beautiful world. If we invest more in alternate energy sources like nuclear, wind, and geothermal energy, we would be a step closer to a less fossil fuel reliant world. If we practiced smarter agricultural practices, we would be a step closer to a world that can provide food for everyone.
If we heed the lessons of The Giving Tree, we would be a step closer to a better world.