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Richard St. Barbe Baker, the Man of the Trees, believed that we are skinning Mother Earth alive.
He repeatedly stated this over the years, putting it in modern layman’s language for us in 1981, the year before his death at age 92:
Of the earth’s thirty billion acres, already nine billion acres are desert. And if a man loses a third of his skin, he dies; plastic surgeons say “He’s had it.” And if a tree loses one-third of its bark, it dies. And if the earth loses one-third of its green mantle of trees, it will die. The water table will sink beyond recall and life on this planet will become impossible. It’s being skinned alive today…
Richard St. Barbe Baker–the first Baha’i to achieve international recognition specifically for his forestry and environmental endeavors—often credited the Baha’i Faith for providing direction and a deep spiritual underpinning to his life’s work. He derived his ethos of earth stewardship from religion, and internalized and actualized statements such as these from the Founder of the Baha’i Faith, Baha’u’llah:
- The earth is but one country, and mankind its citizens.
- Ye are all the leaves of one tree and the drops of one ocean.
- We desire but the good of the world and the happiness of the nations…
- Nature is God’s Will and is its expression in and through the contingent world. It is a dispensation of Providence ordained by the Ordainer, the All-Wise.
“St. Barbe,” (as his friends called him), heralded humanity’s oneness and the dawn of a newly-revived consciousness in our relationship with nature:
- He championed the rights of indigenous peoples around the world, sharing in their special relationship with nature.
- He categorically condemned slash-and-burn and clear-cut logging. He advocated selective harvesting techniques—which he helped develop and then demonstrated the economics of—to keep forests healthy and productive for future generations.
- He conferred with Franklin D. Roosevelt, then governor of New York, and helped conceive what became America’s Civilian Conservation Corps. The CCC then planted shelterbelts of millions of trees, which served to check the horrific dust storms in the Dust Bowl of the American west.
- He gave tenacious, determined, active leadership, over decades, that helped halt the destruction of the California coastal redwoods—groves that include two-thousand-year-old trees.
- He presented a plan of breathtaking scope to the international community for stopping —and through tree-planting—reversing the ravages of the Sahara Desert and other wastelands of the earth.
- His research into, and cogent analysis of, the world history of forestry—which he pursued for most of his life—provides a benchmark for future generations.
- He traveled to Central and South America, and was among the first to propose and plead for an economic solution from the international community that could halt the greedy devastation of the Amazon rainforests.
- At the age of 90, he traveled to a remote area of the Himalayas in India, where the women of the Chipko tree-hugging movement had, in desperation, taken a bold stand against the deforestation of the region. He visited them in their villages and then publicly spoke out in support of their efforts.
St. Barbe had an ongoing collaboration with the Guardian of the Baha’i Faith, Shoghi Effendi. In an initial meeting between the two in 1929, Shoghi Effendi became the first ‘Life Member’ of the Men of the Trees, an organization that St. Barbe founded in Kenya in 1922. In the altruistic tradition of his grandfather Abdu’l-Baha, who contributed funds to help found the global charity Save the Children, Shoghi Effendi helped launch the Men of the Trees in the Holy Land with a financial donation.
In 1945 St. Barbe began a series of annual international meetings which drew conservationists from dozens of countries. These forward-thinking conclaves became known as “World Forestry Charter Gatherings.” For twelve consecutive years, up to his death in 1957, Shoghi Effendi sent inspirational cables to that body. Three samples of Shoghi Effendi’s messages give us further documentation of just how far ahead of the curve St. Barbe was in desert reclamation:
DESIRE TO EXPRESS TO HIS MAJESTY THE KING OR HIS MAJESTY’S REPRESENTATIVE AS WELL AS TO ASSEMBLED GUESTS MY HOPE WORK OF MEN OF TREES SO IMPORTANT FOR PROTECTION PHYSICAL WORLD AND HERITAGE FUTURE GENERATIONS MAY BE RICHLY BLESSED AND AT SAME TIME CONSTITUTE YET ANOTHER FORCE WORKING FOR PEACE AND BROTHERHOOD IN THIS SORELY TRIED DIVIDED WORLD. – Shoghi Effendi, Cable dated 23 May 1951 to New Earth Luncheon, London.
DESIRE EXPRESS ADMIRATION YOUR ESSENTIALLY HUMANITARIAN WORK NOBLE OBJECTIVE RECLAIM DESERTS SPIRIT CO-OPERATION FOSTERED BY YOUR UNDERTAKINGS WISH YOU EVERY SUCCESS. – Shoghi Effendi, Cable dated 21 May 1956 to World Forestry Charter Luncheon, London.
DELIGHTED STEADY PROGRESS ACHIEVED MEN OF THE TREES WORLD OVER ESPECIALLY HOPES PLAN RECLAMATION DESERT AREAS AFRICA. – On behalf of Shoghi Effendi, Cable dated 22 May 1957 to World Forestry Charter Luncheon, London.