39 and thinking about time (and tropical forests)

By: Lilly Briggs
May 25, 2022

I turn 39 today. As the date approached I indulged in cliché birthday behaviour of thinking about time—what has changed over the years, or not, and what is to come.

When I was about to turn 13, I was living in Seoul, South Korea due to my dad’s job as a diplomat. Despite being contained in a congested capital city in Asia, I was dreaming about tropical forests in Central America. And worrying about deforestation. There was a school dance coming up, so I was also dreaming about the boy I liked. And worrying about whether or not he would ask me to dance with him. My almost-adolescent concerns collided when I decided to run a bake sale at that dance to raise funds for the Rainforest Action Network (RAN). I rallied my classmates into contributing all the cookies and cakes they could to the cause of protecting tropical forests.

The bake sale generated over $100 for RAN. And the boy asked me to dance. Could life get any better?

It turns out, it could. I now live and work in a forest in Costa Rica alongside a wonderful man I’m (almost) married to who is equally dedicated to conservation. Finca Cántaros Environmental Association includes forest stewardship in its mission just like the organization I once supported with sweets sales.

As happy as I am with where my life is at on this birthday, I’m also sad that I have even more reason to worry about the world than I did when I turned thirteen. Yes, we can celebrate many environmental victories. Costa Rica, for example, “is the first tropical country to have stopped and reversed deforestation”; in 1983, the year I was born, just 26 percent of its territory was covered in forest, whereas now forest covers over half (World Bank, 2016)*. But in Brazil, rates of clearcutting in the Amazon have accelerated since President Jaír Bolsonaro was elected (BBC, 2022). And we have never needed to protect vast swathes of forest like the Amazon—with their carbon-absorbing, temperature-regulating capacity and more—as urgently as we do today, given that the negative impacts of climate change are increasingly pronounced across the globe.

So when I start thinking about birthdays to come, it’s easy to drift to a dark place. It’s easy to despair about the power of the Bolsonaros (and the T’s and the P’s…) of our times. It’s my birthday and I’ll cry if I want to, right? No. 

Instead I choose to focus on the power of all the amazing people that surround me. While most of my classmates teased my environmental zeal back in those bake sale days, the people around me today are on the same page. We share the same passion for trees, birds, bats, and more. We lift and inspire each other. We support and motivate our mutual goals, among them protecting and restoring our precious tropical forests.

Instead of panicking about the race against time with respect to climate change, I choose to focus on the gift of time all these people go above and beyond to give—not to make a payout, but a positive impact on the planet. 

Could there be a better birthday gift? No.

#fincacantaros #forestrestoration #environmentaleducation

References:

BBC News. (2022, February 11). Amazon deforestation: Record high destruction of trees in January. BBC News Science. https://www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-60333422.

World Bank. (2016, May 31). Accounting reveals that Costa Rica’s forest wealth is greater than expected. World Bank Feature Story. https://www.worldbank.org/en/news/feature/2016/05/31/accounting-reveals-that2-costa-ricas-forest-wealth-is-greater-than-expected.

*However, forest restoration experts I work with have noted it is important to take such data with a grain of salt, given that single-species plantations (which do not promote biodiversity) are often incorporated into forest cover statistics.

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