This article comes from the journal Special Issues Sciences et Avenir no. 201 from April 2020.
Jacques Tassin is a researcher in plant ecology at the Center for International Cooperation in Agricultural Research for Development (CIRAD). Science and the future asked him a few questions.
Sciences et Avenir: Why did you call your book “Thinking Like a Tree,” which may mistakenly imply an anthropomorphic approach?
Jacques Tassin: Of course, the trees don’t think. The idea is to think about your life in the way of trees, to learn from their way of existence. Plants and animals have developed radically different lifestyles and it is these traits that are fascinating. The tree is the archetype of otherness. To look for in him what resembles us, even worse, to lend him human feelings, would be without interest.
Do you think wood is a good source of inspiration?
He is one of the great figures of life on Earth, if not the greatest. He conquered the whole world by freeing himself from the marine environment, adapting to his environment. We must remember that we inhabit a plant planet, dominated by trees. Our primate ancestors lived in the forest for 65 million years, the trees shaped us: we preserve the memory of this shared and interactive history.
For example, what “behaviors” do you consider admiration?
Go further than yourself, expand into the world: wood is above all a surface that allows it to interact with all the components of the living world. No living thing comes out so much. The tree shapes the atmosphere, plays with the light it absorbs or repels and from which it captures energy, it dialogues with the soil from which it draws water which then evaporates; He has included bacteria that have become chloroplasts that provide photosynthesis, works with fungi to gain better access to mineral elements, connects with pollinating insects, birds that scatter seeds … and even people who transport its fruits far away or young plants. It is total sociability, multiplied symbiosis, an expression of a sharpened sense of cooperation from which we could draw inspiration.
The tree is also endowed with remarkable morphological plasticity: a species like pedunculate oak can present a great variety of shapes. For him, there is no predefined architecture or imposed plan, but he has a lot of flexibility. It does not withdraw from the world, as an animal can do on the run, but faces adversity, adapting to what surrounds it, in accordance with the subtle time of Nature, not the clock. However, the current craze for meditation reveals our need to be fully present in the world. A careful visit to the woods reconnects us with our intimate temporality.
Can the forest inspire us in the face of an ecological crisis?
It is an inexhaustible source of inspiration for the circular economy: the forest is a model of recycling, and wood a model of sobriety. It is completely recyclable. It develops the organic matter that makes it, fixes carbon, produces oxygen. Researchers are also trying to reproduce photosynthesis processes to capture CO2 which are broadcast by our industrial companies and we store them in organic form. It would benefit us to establish a new alliance with trees and forests!
Interviewed by Eliane Patriarca