By Tim Porteus

A WHILE back, I had a conversation with a man who was on holiday here. He was in Scotland mainly to play golf and try whisky, he told me. I was trying to convince him Scotland had many other things to offer and we got onto the issue of Scotland’s landscape. He seemed interested in how our land was used, and he told me that back home he owned a ranch, which included a medium-sized forest of native trees.

I remember saying “wow, that’s so special”, but he shook his head, saying: “Special? No, not really, a stupid law means the forest is worthless.”

I was a bit confused, so I asked him what he meant. “There’s a preservation order on it, which means that part of my land is unproductive,” he said.

I realised at this point that although we were having the same conversation about land, we were having different understandings of it.

He shook his head sadly and said: “It’s just a waste of good timber”.

That kind of ended our conversation. I didn’t try to persuade him to think differently, I felt that I wasn’t in a position to do that since he was a paying customer and my tip could have been at stake.

That conversation was nearly 20 years ago. And yet his comment “it’s just a waste of good timber” has stuck with me ever since. The reason for this was the mindset it revealed. I found it depressing that he could not see the value of something so precious because it would make him no financial profit.

As my kids get geared up for the school climate strike this week, I realise now this mindset is one which has to be challenged. When I look back, I am ashamed of myself that I did not have the courage to speak out to the man, simply because I needed his tip.

There are many parts of the climate crisis, but one truth within the debate is trees are our life. I have seen one calculation that each human breathes in the oxygen produced by around eight trees. So count the number in your family and those you love and multiply by eight. That is the number of trees needed to help your family and loved ones breathe. For sure, trees aren’t the only source of the oxygen we breathe, but they are a significant part of it, and they hold tons of carbon. Surely that alone is ‘profit’ enough.

But while the riches of woodland go way beyond that of timber profit, I understand that environmental destruction is linked to poverty as well as greed. We need to challenge both. But we will never do this if we are made to be too afraid to speak out, either because we fear those who wield financial power over us, or the ridicule of others who as yet don’t get it.

In a storytelling session last week for a P2 class in an East Lothian primary school, I told the tale of the king who wanted to touch the moon. He always gets his way because people are afraid of him, so the forest in his kingdom is cut down to make a tower of wooden boxes to the moon. But he is impatient and foolish, and falls from the tower, and the boxes all get smashed. The forest has been destroyed for the king’s failed vanity project, while his people remain poor and still afraid of him.

One of the girls in the class put her hand up then said: “But we need trees to live.” Later she told me: “They should get rid of the king if he doesn’t change his bad ways.”

Many of our young people get it. It’s their future. We can all make our own small personal contribution, but to save our children’s future, courage is needed to speak out, for adults too.

Never again will I remain silent, for either reward or fear of ridicule. There is too much at stake, not just for me but for my children and this dear planet which is home for us all, but dying in our care.