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Thank G-d For Trees
by Prof. Yirmiyahu Branover

We owe a great deal to trees, and this Shabbat, when we celebrate the New Year for Trees, is a good time to enumerate their blessings. Trees not only produce fruit and provide us with shade. They also play an important role in preserving the natural landscape, by anchoring the soil and serving as a habitat for many types of wildlife. They are also critically important in modifying environmental temperatures and reducing carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

Certain gases, such as carbon dioxide and methane, are called greenhouse gases because they trap heat in the atmosphere. Modern industrial plants and automobiles emit higher than natural levels of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere as exhaust. Over time, this results in a gradual warming of the earth's surface, known as global warming.

Many scientists believe that the best way to offset the effects of greenhouse gas is to plant trees to absorb the excess carbon dioxide. Trees provide natural shade from the sun's radiation, and convert atmospheric carbon into wood. However, many once-forested areas are now clear of trees due to either logging or forest fires.

A human being on the ground can plant up to 500 trees a day. But millions of trees are needed to absorb the excess carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. In the 1970s, a climatologist and former RAF pilot, Dr. Jack Walters, came up with an idea to fly over open fields with military aircraft, and drop seedlings rather than bombs. Walters' idea proved impractical because of budgetary constraints. Also, in the '70s the technology did not yet exist to encase the seedlings and keep them intact during the drop.

Lockheed Martin Aerospace has recently revived the idea of using military C-130 transport aircraft to plant seedlings. The seeds are encased in pointed containers, shaped like bullets, which also contain fertilizer and a material to soak up surrounding moisture. The container is made out of biodegradable metal, which disintegrates as soon as it lands, so the seed can put its roots in the soil. Officials at Lockheed say that 900,000 seedlings can be planted a day using this method.

Aircraft that was once used to drop landmines will be used to drop seeds instead. This technology is an example of the fulfillment of the biblical prophecy, “And they will beat their swords into plowshares.” This is yet one more benefit of trees that we can celebrate this Tu b’Shvat—a vehicle for fulfilling a long-awaited prophecy.

Prof. Yirmiyahu Branover is chairman of the Center of Magnetohydrodynamic Studies and Training at Ben-Gurion University.



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