The California redwood trees are not only the tallest on the planet, but are almost as old as the dinosaurs. Some are older than Christianity, and they are only in California. They have even survived some of the worst of climate change — until now.
The New York Times published not just an article, but also quite a few destructively mesmerizing photos of the devastation. One photo shows giant flames burning the interior of one of the redwoods in Big Basin’s Redwood State Park. The article noted that these giants once towered over California before there was a California. Friday, they stood for the final time — in flames.
The NYT interviewed several people who shared their memories of the park. One woman, Laura McLendon, thought of her wedding day there. McLendon is a conservationist living in San Francisco. Her three-year wedding anniversary is just next week. “It was evening and the sun was just starting to slant through the trees. We could hear birds. It was magical. Like a time out of time,” she said.
The park, 118 years old, has been completely devastated by the fire. Park officials closed it on Wednesday and these ancient and beautiful trees are yet another victim of not just these fires, but also a victim of the climate change that lit the ignition to these fires — climate change that is caused by the refusal to even care about the environment or the impacts of what fossil fuel dependency has done to our world around us.
The stories that The NYT shared along with the photos are haunting. The beautiful forest, devastated, will not only leave one of many scars in California, but the loss of many of these ancient trees will affect this planet drastically. Yahoo noted that some of these giants are more than 50 feet around and as tall as the Statue of Liberty. Some of them predate the Roman empire.
How Redwoods Help Protect the Planet
When redwoods are cut down or burned by fires, they release a lot of their stored carbon back into the atmosphere. And, of course, they can no longer transform the CO2 into oxygen. Sempervirens Fund noted that studies have proven that redwoods capture more CO2 from our vehicles and power plants than any other tree on Earth. And through the process of photosynthesis, redwoods transform the CO2 into oxygen.
KQED Quest followed a group of UC Berkeley scientist back in 2011 to the top of a 320-foot redwood. KQED Quest noted that only 5% of these have survived humanity’s hunger for wood — deforestation. The scientists wanted to see how the remaining ones and their descendants would survive climate change in the decades to come. Nine years after this article, the fires have ravaged many of these beautiful trees.
In 2019, CNET published an article detailing just how California’s redwoods handle climate change. A study found that redwoods were able to thrive in the face of climate change. “What we’ve learned is that contrary to what we expected, the redwood forest is healthier and growing faster today than ever before. Redwood forest turns out to be not just one of the few winners in the climate change world but in fact, is a critical resource in the fight against climate change,” Sam Hodder, who is president and CEO of Save the Redwoods League, a nonprofit that sponsored the study with Humboldt State University, told CNET. The study offered a theory that, as temperatures and the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere increase, the fog that typically shrouds the Northern California coast has decreased. Fewer foggy days meant more sunlight for the redwoods, which, in turn, stimulated more photosynthesis in the trees. And this lead to rapid growth even during the droughts.
Losing the redwoods would be a major loss for our planet and our climate. However, there is hope. We do live in the dual ages of science and technology. Last year, the idea of cloning the giant redwoods was proposed to help combat climate change. NBC reported that efforts are underway to grow new redwood forests from existing trees that can sequester massive amounts of carbon. Jake Milarch, of the Archangel Ancient Tree Archive, pointed out that there are different hormones at the tops of the trees. When they propagate or clone one, they get the exact genetics of the tree. “There’s different hormones at the top of these trees. What we hope to get when we propagate or clone a champion tree is the exact genetics of that tree. It’s proven itself over time, that it can deal with adverse conditions,” he said.