Ancient trees that supplied Notre-Dame’s roof no longer exist for rebuilding

After Monday’s tragic fire that ravaged Paris’ Notre-Dame cathedral, French President Emmanuel Macron expressed that “the worst has been avoided” and vowed to immediately begin the process of rebuilding the 856-year-old church. While the main structure of the cathedral survived, the wooden roof was destroyed and replacing it with comparable oak will be impossible as France no longer has trees big enough to replace the beams. As Fortune explained, the wood for the ceiling was “first felled around 1160 to 1170, with some of it coming from trees thought to be 300 to 400 years old at the time they were chopped. That puts the oldest timber in the cathedral at nearly 1,300 years old.” Bertrand de Feydeau, vice president of the preservation group Fondation du Patrimoine, explained that trees which supplied the roof’s frame came from primary forests—forests that are largely untouched by human activity, and he surmised that the huge trees associated with primary forests are gone too.

Only 4% of Europe’s remaining woodland is primary forest (old growth), according to a study published last May, with none larger than 500 square kilometers outside of Russia or Northern Europe. In France specifically, while forest covers nearly 1/3 of country, just .01% of it is primary forest that contains trees between 200-400 years old. 

In addition to the fact that old growth trees are no longer available to rebuild the roof of Notre-Dame, pollution has been compromising the structure for many years as well. As Weather.com reported, “flying buttresses that support the entire cathedral have been darkened by pollution and eroded by rainwater and acid rain has eaten away at limestone decorations. Gargoyles, originally designed to carry rainwater away from the building, have fallen off the building.” The stone of the cathedral has become eroded in large part due to the pollution resulting from traffic congestion in Paris. 

Why This Matters: While the fire at Notre-Dame was not connected to climate change, the phenomenon will nonetheless put countless landmarks we cherish at risk (like the Statue of Liberty here in the United States, or Peru’s Machu Pichu). If we want to protect the greatest testaments of human civilization and leave them for our children and grandchildren to cherish then we must become far better stewards of our planet and work to curb climate change and protect our land, air, and water. We cannot allow the heartache that was witnessed around the world in response to Notre-Dame to become the norm.

Up Next

US Green Diplomat Previews Glasgow

US Green Diplomat Previews Glasgow

By WW0 Staff For the United States, the post-Trump, pre-COP26 road to Glasgow has been paved with ambition and humility. In a major speech, the President’s Envoy, John Kerry, previewed the results of his climate diplomacy before heading into two weeks of intense deliberations of world leaders. Speaking at the London School of Economics — […]

Continue Reading 421 words
One Cool Thing: COP26 Coverage Kickoff

One Cool Thing: COP26 Coverage Kickoff

Next week, the COP26 climate conference in Glasgow will draw hundreds of world leaders to Glasgow to determine the path forward five years after the Paris Climate Agreement (for a primer, read this) as new science underscores the urgency. The conference aims to squeeze countries to strengthen the commitments they’ve made towards securing global net-zero […]

Continue Reading 194 words
DOD Says Climate Change Increases National Security Risks

DOD Says Climate Change Increases National Security Risks

By Amy Lupica, ODP Daily Editor In a report released last week, the Department of Defense (DOD) confirmed that existing risks and security challenges in the US are being made worse due to “increasing temperatures; changing precipitation patterns; and more frequent, intense, and unpredictable extreme weather conditions caused by climate change. Now, the Pentagon is […]

Continue Reading 440 words

Want the planet in your inbox?

Subscribe to the email that top lawmakers, renowned scientists, and thousands of concerned citizens turn to each morning for the latest environmental news and analysis.