The disappearing arbres d’alignement
That trashy, left-wing environmental mag The Economist is at it again — this time printing an article, Killer trees, that laments over the removal of roadside trees. Incredibly, some 3 million such trees (90 per cent in total) have been cut down in the last 30 years because of road ‘improvements’ and fears about road deaths. For non-subscribers the full article is reproduced below.
A wrong-headed campaign against roadside trees
THE tree-lined roads painted by Alfred Sisley and his fellow impressionists are emblematic of France. Yet they are vanishing fast. Forty kilometres (25 miles) of 200-year-old plane trees, in their neat twin rows, have just been cut down near Levignac, in the south-west, to make way for a convoy of components for Airbus’s A380 superjumbo, being built in Toulouse. According to a survey by the French forestry commission, 20,000km of roadside trees (some 3m trees, or almost 90% of the total) have gone in the past 30 years.
Although they are often said to be a legacy of Napoleon, who wanted to give shade to his soldiers, France’s roadside trees actually date to the 16th century, when Henri IV ordered the building of straight roads flanked by arbres d’alignement on both sides. Planted to provide firewood and building materials, as well as shade, to passing armies, the plane trees later became loved for their beauty, eulogised by such writers as Balzac and Colette and, later, by film directors such as Jean-Luc Godard.
Now their numbers have dwindled to a mere 250,000. Road improvements and concerns about road deaths are to blame. Lateral obstacles, usually trees, account for nearly two-fifths of the country’s fatal car accidents. In most cases, a drunken driver veers off the road and hits a tree. Camus was killed in 1960 when his publisher drove into a tree, as was Coluche (a comedian fond of a bottle of wine at lunch) in 1986.
Yet, as Chantal Fauché, a 50-year-old teacher, sagely observes, if you hit a tree, it is not the fault of the tree. She is the founder of Arbres et Routes, an association for the protection of roadside trees, based in the department of Gers. The doughty Mme Fauché has managed to save several thousand trees in the past few years, by painstaking negotiations with local councils.
The number of road deaths in France has fallen by over 20%, to below 6,000 a year, since the government cracked down on speeding last year. A campaign has begun against drunk driving. Yet the tree massacre continues, at the rate of 100 a day. The government is offering to plant two trees to replace every one lost to the A380. But, as Mme Fauché notes, it takes 100 years to grow a plane treebut just five minutes to cut it down.