I'm a Dogmatix — I howl at every tree I see cut down. It is a deeply instinctive response. I howl for lost life, both a giant one that lived for so long, and for millions of tiny ones who have come to depend on it.
We once lived in trees too and, if we allow it, know their nurturing, life-giving embrace.
Okay, I know we cannot always be led by our emotions and there are plenty of good reasons why we have to offer an apology and start the chainsaw — I have done it myself.
But my first point is that in our technologically ascendant world, we have become too indifferent to both the fact of the infinitely complex web of life around us, and to its value.
And that we are absolutely a part of this web: we are totally dependent on it, not just physically, but also psychologically. Scientific research at the University of Rochester has proven that close proximity to trees makes us more generous and community minded, while lack of them makes us more obsessed with our status and self-worth.
So we need to be able to walk under vast leafy canopies, to breathe the oils in the air — to take a "forest bath" as the Japanese do.
This need puts an enormous value on our few remaining arboreal remnants — established old trees, not newly planted saplings.
A nerd with numbers could put a figure on it, but it is surely worth millions, not even taking into account the considerable investment it takes to get a tree to reach maturity, or its carbon sink properties. Is this ever considered before phoning the wood-cutter? It should be mandatory.
One thing we are realising more and more today is that our conventional metrics such as GDP are seriously distorting our values, concealing what is really important to our well-being.
Trees are necessary to our wellbeing, but only feature in GDP when they are planted or cut down.
My second point is about accountability. It seems to me that this issue has arisen because someone thinks that maybe the Keirunga oaks could be a hazard to people. And as soon as that thought is there it has to be acted on because if it is not someone will be liable for accusations of negligence.
It is time we confronted this crushing monster in our society. The cost of housing has become prohibitive to so many young people, not because of demand from immigrants, or rental investors, or gouging building suppliers (though all those things have played a role) but primarily because of compliance requirements.
I used to design houses in the 90s: the cost of a set of plans was $5-10,000 and specifications were one page. Today the plans for that same house would cost $40,000 and the specs would be a book, before even beginning the building.
Yet little has changed, except that the buyer can no longer afford it, and the house is barely any safer. This has happened primarily because of local council compliance requirements.
Accountability is buck-passing, it is saying I don't care what I believe in, I will not open my mouth, I will pass it on to someone else, who will probably do the same. It is reducing every issue to one assessment: risk — never mind the formidable economic, cultural or philosophical arguments.
You can't blame people within the system for being like this, it is the system itself which is out of control. Yes of course we need people to be safe, but that safety has to be assessed as part of a whole, not purely within itself. If we enforce safety alone what else are we loosing which might actually be more important?
I believe that it is far better for the occasional child to suffer a broken arm, than for kids of a whole generation to be stunted because they are denied the amazing learning experience of climbing trees. Nobody I have met disagrees.
Nature IS risk; we cannot avoid that, whether it is icy roads, earthquakes or falling branches. We can lock ourselves into concrete bunkers and pretend we are safe, and in the process we will go quietly bonkers.
We can deny children learning experiences because of perceived risk, but they will end up neurotic with no resilience and will fall to the first blow because they could not see it coming or know how to deal with it.
We can't go on picking off risks as they are moved to the top of the list, ad absurdum.
Someone has to draw the line and say here we stop because beyond this point the losses outweigh the gains. That is the case in Keirunga: no one has done the accounting to prove to us that the risks of leaving the trees are greater than the losses of removing them.
That onus is on council. You could say it is part of the social contract: by being part of society we buy into its standards. We do not accede to the extremists (in this case those who say someone might be hurt by a falling branch) but accept the consensus that we want the trees, and are prepared to take the minimal risks with them because that is what nature is.