The Future for Western Redcedars

February 22, 2019
Rick Kool

For me at least, climate change came home four weeks ago when four young western redcedars (Thuja plicata), none likely older than 200 years, were cut down on the Royal Roads campus. It was clear they were dying this past summer as their lush green foliage had begun to turn brown and fall, a clear sign that it was over for these four individuals.

They died not because of old age, as cedars can live for a thousand years or more on some parts of Vancouver Island, nor were they cut because someone wanted to make a cedar canoe or bentwood boxes or planks for a longhouse. Much of their bodies will likely end up being used for firewood, and some rounds have been moved to moist locations where they will begin to decay in a few decades, hopefully then inviting rough-skinned newts to get out of the sun and hang out in the cool rotting wood.

These trees, these baby trees really, came down because of global warming, climate change, call it what you will; they came down because the summers are increasingly too dry for western redcedars on southern Vancouver Island and what we saw two weeks ago is becoming and will continue to become the pattern in our area. On the driest of the places where western redcedar have been able to hold out against dry summers, they’ll lose the battle, and the local environment will slowly, one by one, lose this iconic species.

One should be sad about these trees coming down, and angry too… Angry at ourselves, angry at our corporate and political leaders, angry that when, perhaps, we had the knowledge of what was likely to come we didn’t, couldn’t, wouldn’t do anything.

And now the redcedars are dying around us.

We’ve been stupid. The German historian Erich Voegelin, using an essay called Uber die dummheit (About Stupidity) written in 1937 by novelist Robert Musil , says…“Stupidity shall mean here that a man, because of his loss of reality, is not in a position to rightly orient his action in the world, in which he lives [italics added].” We are dealing with climate adaptation and not mitigation because back in the 1980s and 1990s, and even into today, we were not willing to deal with reality and acted, collectively, stupidly.

In the context of Germany during the Third Reich, Voegelin wrote about “…the consequences of stupidity when they come to the surface in a disturbed society and become socially relevant… That is the point at which stupidity—because it harms not only the one who is stupid but also other human beings…— must in this specific social circumstance be called criminal stupidity…stupidity is not criminal in itself, but it can become criminal through social circumstance… the criminally stupid man brings misfortune not only on himself but on millions of other people too.”

And cedar trees as well.