Sunday, February 21, 2010

Nurturing Kinmen's Trees

Here's a cool little story that I heard from my father-in-law about his days on JinMen island, just off the coast of Xiamen, as a soldier in the 1950s.  At that time there was serious fighting and the island was armed to the teeth with soldiers and weapons. 

He recounts that one officer had the common sense of realizing that to stay indefinitely on the island wouldn't be feasible without trees.  Without trees, he argued, keeping people on the island wasn't sustainable.  Apparently JinMen was a little barer than it looks today. 

So he made it mandatory that all soldiers planted a tree upon their tour of duty.  But that's not all.  The officer tied the well being of the soldier to the survival of the tree.  If the soldier didn't take care of and nurture his tree, he would face the consequences. I think that's a novel idea.  It's funny how enlightened (under military rule of course) thinking like this can have a positive effect for the long term of the island. 

This follows exactly with what Jared Diamond warns about in his book Collapse when describing how the culture on Easter Island collapsed after all the trees on the island were chopped down (among other things).  He also cites the case of Dominican Republic which instituted their national forest program under a dictatorship.  The Dominican Republic now has a very healthy forest system while Haiti on the other side of the shared island suffers with most of its trees chopped down.
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