The Future of Trees

Listen 48:42

Humans have a close relationship with trees. We plant and cultivate them for food and shelter. Trees offer protection from the rays of the sun. We relax and seem to breathe more deeply in their presence. And of course, we couldn’t breathe at all without trees — since they act as the “lungs of the earth,” converting carbon dioxide into oxygen.

On this episode, we explore our relationship with trees, and the shifting give-and-take in a changing world. We hear stories about how climate change is affecting our forests; what it’s like to live in a tree; and how science is trying to bring a near-extinct tree back to life.

Also heard on this week’s episode:

  • How is climate change affecting trees? Unlike animals, they can’t migrate when the going gets tough — which is why reporter Alan Yu says some humans are giving trees a hand at moving house.
  • For more than a century, American chestnut trees have teetered on the edge of extinction, due to a disease called the “chestnut blight.” But now, after decades of work, scientists have come up with a solution — a genetically engineered chestnut tree that’s resistant to the blight. Supporters say it could revive the species — so why are some critics saying it could destroy America’s forests? Liz Tung reports.
  • What’s it like living in a tree? We find out from Nate Madsen, a lawyer and environmental activist. In the late 90s, he spent two years living in a redwood tree to save it from loggers.
  • Air pollution from highways can affect people’s health. Could trees help? WABE reporter Molly Samuel talks with a researcher who’s studying which trees are best at blocking pollution.
  • California forest fires seem to get bigger and more destructive every year. But climate change isn’t the only culprit — 150 years of bad forest management have changed the very structure of the wildlands, and not for the better. According to scientists, what they actually need is more fire and maybe a little help from some forest-loving lumberjacks. Daniel Merino reports.

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