Sunday 4 December 2016

Review: The Global Forest by Diana Beresford-Kroeger

Particular Books, €16.99

Rosita Sweetman

Published 25/09/2011 | 05:00

Extraordinarily, given our national attitude to trees (chop them down with the biggest, noisiest chainsaw you can find -- and then burn them), Diana Beresford-Kroeger, the internationally recognised botanist who wrote The Global Forest, is Irish.

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As a five-year-old, Beresford-Kroeger (a consultant to the Woodland League of Ireland), was orphaned and brought up by her mother's family, rooted in Gaelic rural culture. From a very young age, she closely observed nature. Today, Beresford-Kroeger is passionately convinced that our indifference to, and ignorance of, nature is leading us to extinction.

All around the world, she says, forests are being destroyed -- we ignore the fact that trees are the lungs of the world: breathing in and storing carbon dioxide, exhaling oxygen.

The book lists the brutal statistics: pointing out that nature provides 80,000 plant and tree species that are food-giving (nuts, fruits, tubers, rhizomes), the global food industry focuses on just eight -- wheat, rice, corn, potato, barley, cassava, sweet potato and soya bean. The other 79,992 are being forgotten or extinguished, despite having provided all our ancestors' needs: shelter, food, medicine, tools.

Not that The Global Forest is all gloom and doom.

"We can all do something about this problem. If we can cause it, we can also cure it," writes Beresford-Kroeger, who practices what she preaches; she and photographer husband Christian Kroeger have created a "Garden of Eden" at their home in Canada.

Each of the book's 40 short chapters is led by a kind of thought firecracker, thrown into the mix to get the mind going. The Global Forest stuffs an amazing amount of highbrow learning into its brief pages, but it's the author's passionate love of trees, of plants and the natural world as a whole that gives the book its distinctive signature.

It's the author's ancient Irish upbringing that transforms a scientific tract into a lilting prose poem in praise of trees and all they have given, and continue to give to us.

In a world brought to the brink of economic, environmental and spiritual destruction by men in suits, we should be incredibly proud to call this amazing lady one of our own.

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