BRUNSWICK — Roger Cohen’s recent New York Times column “The Great Unraveling” came to mind while I watched three 100-year-old healthy trees being converted to sawdust.

Cohen mentioned the “broken” men, victims of public beheading, and by implication, their suffering in the years of confinement and the progressive removal of all elements of their personhood. What we saw, in their final moments, were the mere shells of what they had been. In whatever form, death must have represented an end to suffering.

Though the situations are very different, there are some similarities.

Growing up in Belfast 70 years ago, I worked summers for Central Maine Power on a trail crew, clearing power lines. We cut down a lot of trees, using crosscut saws and axes, first cutting down the tree, then, when it fell with a certain splendor, delimbing and sawing it into logs.

Now two men, with a bucket lift and chipper, first strip the tree of its branches, leaving a lonely spike, then reducing that to logs before feeding the smaller portions into the chipper, loading the larger trunks onto the truck. What in the 1930s took a crew two days now is done by two men in a few hours. Efficient, yes. But what the cost?

As the victims of beheading were deprived of personhood, and the trees of “treehood,” are we now, gradually, being ourselves deprived? Depersonalized?

In Belfast our telephone number was “161,” with a live operator. We gathered around the radio and talked about what we heard. There were no cellphones or complicated phone systems to separate us from direct contact with our fellow humans.

More seriously, there was no technology for our elderly, who are now existing (not “living”) longer in inadequate surroundings. For what reason?

Medicine has changed remarkably in past decades, from a profession to a technical job. Patients have become commodities to be managed, not “persons.” Existence is extended, “life” overlooked. Many cannot afford to die at home, and when in nursing homes are often inadequately cared for, suffering in isolation, devoid of personhood. Can a cost be assigned?

It may be too much to relate this to the crisis of our changing climate, but I wonder if our loss of connection with humans in Africa, Asia, Texas, California and many other places allows us to deny, or not think, about what is happening outside our personal sphere. If we did think of them, we must also think of their food, clothing, shelter and education. The cost – unimaginable.

Far easier to not think of them, but if we slip and do, to regard them as somehow not people like ourselves. Too disturbing to realize that the pathetic children we see on TV today with no source of clean water are possibly the terrorists of 10 to 15 years from now. The cost?

Increasingly the media sees the reality of the changing climate, and there are numerous organizations devoted to it (the Natural Resources Council of Maine, Sierra Club, Environment Maine, Citizens Climate Lobby and 350.org, to name a few).

Deniers remain, motivated by greed – as the coal and oil industries – and by ignorance, concentrating on the short view (turbines will spoil the mountain scene) and avoiding the longer view (how the mountains will look after more years of changing climate).

This past spring Robert Weissman, president of Public Citizen, wrote the column “Averting Climate Catastrophe,” urging aggressive action. The American Association for the Advancement of Science published “What We Know,” a synopsis of the 2,500-page U.N. climate change report, described by writer and environmental consultant Marina Schauffler in a column in the May 18 Maine Sunday Telegram as “a sound bite crying for our attention.”

In September the World Meteorological Association reported that carbon dioxide rose “at a record-shattering pace last year.” In the column “The cost of global warming in Maine,” Gina Hamilton, writing in the Times Record, concludes that “dealing with global climate change needs to be more than an environmental issue. It is a severe economic threat, one that we all share, regardless of where we live.”

The New York Times’ Mark Bittman dealt with these issues last April and again in September. He ignites public opinion in “The Aliens Have Landed” and generates hope in “Let’s Reject the Inevitable.”

Bittman says we must confront the fossil fuel industry and fight plutocracy. He quotes Naomi Klein, who claims in her book “This Changes Everything” that solutions are there, citing Germany, which used “bold national policies, encouraging small players like municipalities and co-ops.” Klein adds that we need “a robust social movement … willing to revive … long-term public planning and saying no to powerful corporations.”

We can accomplish that, Bittman says, by creating what Klein calls “Marshall Plan levels of response” and a pro-democracy climate movement.

It’s worth trying.

— Special to the Press Herald