Can’t see the forest for the trees?
That familiar saying illustrates the problem of focusing on one detail while ignoring the big picture. In a truly literal way, focusing on just the trees misses the huge ecosystem of life that makes up the entire forest.
Years of wildlife photography has taught me that it’s important to be able to see the details in the forest, while also understanding how those details are part of the big picture. Learning to see nature in its totality — wild, with its own rhythms and clear life patterns — is not only a true pleasure but also an important and continuous lesson in the mysteries and joys of creation.
Here’s an example of the importance of observation: I drove past this stand of wild flowers on a back road, and at a distance it’s lovely but mundane. But closer inspection revealed these beauties:
That big red bee-like creature is a hummoth, a cross between a moth and a hummingbird! Even small stands of daisies teem with activity:
Bees, flies and ladybug all busy pollinating…
And here’s one of my favorite creatures, a skittish and elusive kingfisher:
Can’t see it? Well, here it is….
How did I see the kingfisher? Well, a really long lens does help, but first I had to sit and observe this pond for a long time. I heard the kingfisher’s distinctive chattering noise long before I saw this one flitting about from branch to branch. Listening for the sounds, following the movements, being patient and observant —- these are not only important habits for wildlife photography but also fundamental components of learning to understand and appreciate the natural environment and its inhabitants.
Can’t see the forest for the trees?
Critics of Pope Francis say that he is wrong to address climate change concerns, that he should “leave the science to the scientists” — who, by the way, largely agree with the Pope’s assessment of the situation. But the “climate change deniers” love to point to a cold winter or low summer temperatures to claim that global warming is a myth. In fact, denial of climate change science is a willful misunderstanding of the difference between weather, which is a short-term measure of activity in one place, and climate, which is a long-term global measure of the health of the planet. In short, weather is the tree and climate is the forest. Denial of the potential for catastrophic climate change truly focuses on random trees at the expense of the forest.
In his encyclical on the environment Pope Francis writes,
“The climate is a common good, belonging to all and meant for all. At the global level, it is a complex system linked to many of the essential conditions for human life. A very solid scientific consensus indicates that we are presently witnessing a disturbing warming of the climactic system. In recent decades, this warming has been accompanied by a constant rise in the sea level and, it would appear, by an increase in extreme weather events even if a scientifically determinable cause cannot be assigned to each particular phenomenon. Humanity is called to recognize the need for changes of lifestyle, production and consumption, in order to combat this warming or at least the human causes which produce and aggravate it. It is true that there are other factors (such as volcanic activity, variations in the earth’s orbit and axis, the solar cycle), yet a number of scientific studies indicate that most global warming in recent decades is due to the great concentration of greenhouse gases (carbon dioxide, methane, nitrogen oxides and others) released mainly as a result of human activity. Concentrate in the atmosphere, these gases do not allow the warmth of the sun’s rays reflected by the earth to be dispersed in space. The problem is aggravated by a model of development based on the intensive use of fossil fuels, which is at the heart of the worldwide energy system. Another determining factor has been an increase in changed uses of the soil, principally deforestation for agricultural purposes.” (Laudato Si #23)
The Pope goes on:
“Warming has effects on the carbon cycle. It creates a vicious circle which aggravates the situation even more, affecting the availability of essential resources like drinking water, energy and agricultural production in warmer regions, and leading to the extinction of part of the planet’s biodiversity….If present trends continue, this century may well witness extraordinary climate change and an unprecedented destruction of ecosystems with serous consequences for all of us…” (Laudato Si #24)
Next: water everywhere!
Read and watch Trinity Alumna and Yale Professor Mary Evelyn Tucker ’71 on the Pope’s Encyclical: “The pope is saying to the world that climate change brings moral change,” said Tucker, co-director of the Yale Forum on Religion and Ecology. “The health of both people and the planet will require a transformation toward care for creation and concern for future generations.” Complete report at Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies