Urban forestry vs. global warming

BREAKTHROUGH - Elfren S. Cruz - The Philippine Star

Extreme temperatures heat and cold kill five million people a year. While in the past, more people died of cold than heat, the balance is changing. This means that heat-related deaths are on the rise. These findings are the result of a 20-year study published in the Lancet Planetary Health Journal.

The study states that if action to mitigate climate change is not taken, more deaths will occur because of extreme temperatures, especially heat.

Climate researcher Jonathan Overpeck of the University of Michigan wrote recently: “Perhaps the most important thing for everyone to realize is that extreme heat waves are becoming more frequent and hotter because of human-caused global warming… The devastating extremes associated with climate change are only going to get worse and worse until we halt the causes of global warming.”

A severe heat wave in 2003 that happened in France killed about 70,000 people. However, very few people are aware of the grave danger that heat waves can cause.

Among scientists and health personnel, heat waves are known as the “silent killer.” Storms and floods cause property damage and immediate deaths through drowning or landslides. Heat waves do not cause people to suddenly die in the street. Instead almost all heat wave deaths happen at home and may even not be discovered at once.

We may have witnessed on media death and destruction caused by severe flooding or storm surges; but heat waves do not have the same dramatic visuals.

Efforts to address global warming are usually long term. Thus targets may be set for final conclusion way into the future like 2050. One problem about this is that those setting the targets and the deadlines are mostly in their 60s and 70s who will most probably not be around by 2050. Those who will be most affected will be those who are still alive in the 2050s. Unfortunately, these young people do not have the clout or influence to demand shorter timelines and more drastic targets.

I am sure that if I write again about methods and steps to reduce emissions many readers will stop reading this column. The governments should be accountable for these long-term programs.

The ordinary citizens who have the idealism and the desire to do something should be given projects – like community pantries – to do in their local communities.

Urban trees only for rich

In almost all cities in the world, including the Philippines, air pollution is getting worse. More and more of the urban areas are being covered by concrete and tarmac. Subdivisions are being transformed from agricultural lands, further adding to the pollution and global warming.

Trees are a possible answer to the twin problems of pollution and heat. But in the urban center of developing countries, like the Philippines, trees are increasingly limited to the rich. There are hardly any public parks with extensive tree coverage. Major tree areas are now increasingly found in the enclaves for the rich and in golf courses. Perhaps the reason the rich do not miss trees is because in the narrow world they live, there are still trees. In the crowded neighborhoods where most Filipinos live, trees are disappearing. Trees can cool things down and provide shade.

Miyawaki forests

A group of botanists have found a partial solution to this lack of urban vegetation. They propose to plant miniature forests ecologically engineered for rapid growth. Miayawaki Akira, a plant ecologist at the Yokohama National University in Japan, has developed a process of ecological succession by which bare land develops naturally into mature forests. Gardeners, who can be community volunteers, will need to nurture and water these plants. After that, the miniature forest will grow on its own. Dr. Miyawaki has supervised more than 1,500 of these miniature forests in Japan and other parts of the world. Other cities and countries are following. In Mumbai, India more than 200,000 trees have been planted throughout the city. In India, the largest of the Miyawaki forest is less than four hectares.

The Miyawaki method will never work for large-scale reforestation because it is too labor intensive. But it can work in small neighborhoods.

Institutions like schools who have botanists can, for example, tie up with specific neighborhoods to provide technical advice. The government or foundations can provide incentives for these miniature forests. This is a project that can be done at the community level and we can look forward to the day when trees are not only for the rich.

Letter from Rene Saguisag

In my last column, I wrote about “Winning Philippine Elections.” Rene Saguisag wrote me a reply worth reprinting.

For the few who may not know, Rene was the presidential spokesperson for Cory Aquino during her campaign against Marcos and during the first couple of years of her presidency. He has retired from the Senate but remains a human rights icon. Here is his letter:

“In 1987, my Senate candidacy showed that one with modest means could win as senator. I ran reluctantly. Tony Gonzalez, the boss of my wife, donated P1M as seed money. We returned it intact after the polls. We had no need for it. AMPONIN Rene was a winner, the brainchild of Raul Contreras and Nonoy Gallardo. I didn’t have to spend a singkong duling of my own. But 1987 was just after 1986 and its spirit was waning but still there. 1988 marked the return of money politics.

“In 1998 I, not cut out for politics, opted not to run, despite the risk of winning.”

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Writefest2021, our annual 6-session workshop returns on July 12-23. Young Writers’ Hangout on July 24 with award-winning author Weng Cahiles, 2-3 p.m.

Contact writethingsph@gmail.com. 0945.2273216

Email: elfrencruz@gmail.com

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