‘Ensuring a healthy environment is the duty of every individual’
“Dear Algerian Oak,
Thank you for giving us oxygen. Thank you for being so pretty. I don’t know where I’d be without you to extract my carbon dioxide. I would probably be in heaven. You are the gift that keeps on giving. Stay strong, stand tall amongst the crowd.”
— Letter to an Oak Tree, one of the messages from the citizens of Melbourne, Australia, to the trees of their city.
In 2013, the city authorities of Melbourne assigned trees with numbers and email addresses to make it easier for people to report complaints they might have regarding trees with outreaching branches or those that might have tilted over a garage.
The response was a delightful surprise. Citizens reported their issues all right, but that was just part of the whole thing. What unfolded was a beautiful exchange between the people and trees. While most expressed gratitude like the one illustrated above, some displayed curiosity: “Do trees have genders?” Some others expressed existential dilemmas: “How do you deal with soul-crushing pain of disappointment that characterises our lives on the Earth? You must be very old. So I thought you might know.”
As words spread, mails poured in from across the world. Tina from Germany warned trees to “Keep away from fire!” Another hoped that the trees were “enjoying the Ashes series as much as they were in England.”
But the common thread — and the most heartening — was the outpouring of love for trees. Here is one of the finest expressions: “You deserve to be known by more than a number. I love you. Always and forever.”
I find this initiative beyond awesome: the relationship people build with trees, the perception of trees as not just disposable things or non-entities, but as living beings and friends, their fierce defence to protect them, and the solidarity of trees being fellow citizens.
I draw your attention to this as I watch with immense sorrow the silent slaughter of trees in Gurugram. Over the years, thousands of trees have been cut and entire forests have been cleared. More recently, there was news of 1,300 trees to be axed at Atul Kataria Chowk, and about 10,000 more to endure the same fate on Sohna Road. Thousands of trees and forests are being cleared in Delhi and Noida. Though, determined citizens have come together to speak up against this mindless massacre, the need of the hour is mass involvement.
Don’t all of us need unpolluted air, clean water and soil, all of which are crucial to our health? A healthy environment is everyone’s task, the impact of polluted air is democratic, affecting each one of us. Toxic air enfeebles our hearts and lungs, can lead to cancers, and cut short our life. The larger motive of the Melbourne authorities was to revitalise the greenery and increase canopy cover to cool rocketing summertime temperatures. Need one stress how desperately we need the shield and shelter of trees in the increasingly scorching, toxic environs of Delhi-ncr? Citizens need to appreciate the value of green cover, be informed about governance issues that affect everybody, speak up in defence of trees. The need of the hour is to make pollution, loss of trees, forests and lakes, and clean drinking water electoral issues to ensure that governments act. And yes…pen your love letter to the tree today, and keep your commitment.
(Prerna Singh Bindra is a former member of the National Board for Wildlife. She is the author of The Vanishing: India’s Wildlife Crisis.)