Friday, November 6, 2009

Let us Invest in Trees


I am a nature lover as its various contours always fascinate me. Flora of any kind, vast virgin beaches, wind swept deserts, jungles, lush green plains, mountains, valleys and snow covered peaks – all these things that abound Pakistan, are my favourite. While every bit of nature is fascinating, there is something about trees – towering, majestic and awe inspiring.
My love for tree – specially those standing tall like the Alstonia, Pine, Silver Oak and like, developed when I was entrusted with a task of afforestation on an area of some twenty squares of salinity hit area. I along with my team of men, bulldozed jungle muskets from the entire area, leveled it, made water channels, installed dozens of peter-pumps and then planted hundred and thousands of Eucalyptus saplings, since this was the only fast growing tree that could survive in a salinity heavy soil. Today those Eucalyptus trees stand tall over 30 feet, and growing.
Beside refreshing one’s eye sight, trees are a natural gift to the mankind that carry in themselves numerous benefits for us, only if we really care to know. Here are some of the major benefits we accrue from trees around us:

• Trees Defeat the Greenhouse Effect - Carbon dioxide (CO2) is a major greenhouse gas – which the trees absorb, thus removing and storing the carbon while releasing the oxygen back into the air. In one year, an acre of trees absorbs as much amount of CO2 as produced by a car driven for 26,000 miles.

• Trees Clean the Air and Provide Oxygen as these absorb odours and pollutant gases (nitrogen oxides, ammonia, sulphur dioxide and ozone) and filter particulates out of the air by trapping them on their leaves and bark. It is said that in one year an acre of trees can provide enough oxygen for eighteen people.

• Trees Provide Shade and Habitat for Wildlife - Bottlebrush, Jacaranda, and Oak are among the many urban species that provide excellent urban homes for birds, bees, possums and squirrels. If we look around in the cities, all green patches are slowly and gradually disappearing for widening roads and building infrastructure. A time would come that urban children will not get to see squirrels running up and down the trees in their courtyards or small birds flying overhead. For the sake of having some sort of contact with the nature, we need to conserve trees and the natural habitat of birds/wildlife that these support.

• Trees are Air Conditioners for the Cities by cooling up to 10°F by shading our homes and streets and breaking up urban “heat islands” – and by releasing water vapour into the air through their leaves. A study shows that the average temperatures in Los Angeles (USA) have risen 6°F in the last 50 years as tree coverage has declined and the number of heat-absorbing roads and buildings has increased.
• Trees Conserve Energy as strategically placed trees around a single-family home can cut summer air conditioning needs by up to 50%. By reducing the energy demand for cooling our houses, we reduce carbon dioxide and other pollution emissions from power plants.

• Trees Help Prevent Water Pollution and Save Water - Trees reduce runoff by breaking rainfall thus preventing storm water from carrying pollutants to the ocean. When mulched, trees act like a sponge that filters this water naturally and uses it to recharge groundwater supplies. Shade from trees slows water evaporation from thirsty lawns. Most trees need only fifteen gallons of water a week, the equivalent of two toilet flushes. What’s more, as trees transpire, they increase atmospheric moisture.

• Trees Help Prevent Soil Erosion - On hillsides or stream slopes, trees slow runoff and hold soil in place. Now this is something very important to know specially in context of Pakistan where the people living in the mountain regions cut and burn wood for domestic use denuding the vast stretches of mountain slopes that have started to show their adverse effects in the form of landslides and soil erosion.

• Trees Shield from Ultra-Violet Rays – as per a study, skin cancer is the most common and most rapidly increasing form of cancer in most of the countries. Here trees again come for our rescue as these provide protection from cancer-causing ultra-violet rays, especially on campuses and in playgrounds where children spend hours outdoors.

• Trees Provide Food and Boost Economic Opportunities – Needless to mention, trees are a source of natural healthy food for all of us. An apple tree can yield up to 15-20 bushels of fruit per year and can be planted on the tiniest urban lot. Aside from fruit for us, trees provide food for birds and wildlife. Fruit harvested from orchards add to the economic activities and provide employment to many starting from the orchard gardeners till all labour and traders in the markets and then again onward journey till these are purchased by the consumers.

• Trees Breed Harmony in the Community as tree plantings provide an opportunity for community involvement of everyone in a bid to nurture nature together.

• Trees Mark the Seasons – one can know of the forthcoming season change by just looking at the cloak of the trees.
But it is a sad thing that instead of adding more to our natural trove, we are destroying our environment by cutting down trees to make way for the roads or merely burning it as firewood. Expanding cities at the cost of cultivable land rather than making efforts to make saline and waste land into cultivable area. When very young, we read in our initial schooling decades ago that a country must have forests on its 25% of the total area – something that continues to haunt us even today since we have not been able to achieve this target till date. Every year, millions of saplings are sown by the Forest Department and the Tree Plantation campaign starts with much fanfare, but has anyone ever pondered that despite the effort, our total area under forests remains unchanged. It is because we only try to plant saplings over the same area again and again which does not increase our overall area under trees. We have not gone out to areas where there are no trees to enlarge our area under the tree canopy. Unless we do that, we would continue to remain a tree starved country – which would mean less rains, more soil erosion and more dry weather.
Therefore we need to first understand the importance of the trees and their impact on the climate and economy of our country and then educate others in order to conserve trees before we are denuded of the thick green umbrellas and hear the chirping of birds or squirrels no more.


S A J Shirazi said...

Going green is a wonderful idea. This has not started happening here yet.