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Urban Forestry: The panacea to all problems and needs of urban society

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By Nithin Sridhar

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The Union Government has decided to start an “urban forest” program and through the program, it will plant trees in those areas that have been marked as forest lands but do not contain any trees.

Previously, on June 6th, Union Environment and Forest Minister, Prakash Javadekar had inaugurated Urban Forest Garden project at Warje, near Pune. The project was one of the initiatives of the Union Government under its urban afforestation programme that intends to increase tree cover around the cities.

These measures will go a long way in countering the hazardous effects of rapid urbanization.

What is Urban Forestry?

An urban forest is a forest or a group of trees that grow around any human settlement, be it a city, a town or a village and management of such forests constitutes “Urban Forestry”.

Urban Forestry can be defined as: “the art, science, and technology of managing trees and forest resources in and around urban community ecosystems for physiological, sociological, economic, and aesthetic benefits that trees provide for society.” 

The urban forests play a very vital role in improving the quality of life in those areas. They provide various benefits to the ecosystem- like removal of pollutants, biodiversity conservation, and heat reduction. They provide tangible and intangible economic outputs as well. Hence, they are inevitable for the overall development of an urban center.

What is the need for Urban Forestry?

Rapid urbanization has led to severe depletion of forest cover in the last few centuries. The depletion of forest cover has in-turn adversely affected the ecological balance and the economic stability of the society. The health of the people has been affected as well.

In 1900, 10% of the global population was living in urban centers. But it is now more than 50% and is expected to rise up to 67% in another 50 years.

The urban population of India has increased from 17% in 1951 to 31% in 2011 and is expected to reach 55% by the year 2015.

This concentration of human population in various urban centers results in various environmental concerns- like increased air and water pollution, increased temperature, destruction of natural habitat, increased emission of greenhouse gases, and an overall ecological imbalance.

But these harmful effects of urbanization can be mitigated by adopting urban forestry.

Urban forests outside India

Many countries have successfully employed the concept of Urban forest in their cities. Although there is a difference in opinion among experts regarding the ideal per capita tree cover area that is required for a city, it can be observed that many cities which are famous for their green cover have maintained a green coverage of 20 to 40% of geographical area and a per capita green space of 25 to 100 sq. metres. 

The International minimum standard as suggested by World Health Organization (WHO) is 9 sq. metres of green open space per city dweller.

A study conducted in 386 cities of Europe revealed the green space coverage as ranging from 1.9% to 46% with an average of 18.6%. The urban green space per capita varied from as low as 3 sq. metres to as high as 300 sq. metres. The average tree canopy area over urban areas in United States is 27%. In 2006, China had an urban green cover of 32.54%.

China is one of the best examples of successful implementation of Urban Forestry

Though it went through rapid urbanization in last few decades, its urban green cover has not decreased. In 1986, it had a green space coverage of 16.9% which increased to 20.1% in 1991. It further increased to 23% in 2000 and 32.54% in 2006.

By such sustained efforts at urban forestry, China made sure that the harmful effects of its industrialization and urbanization were mitigated to some extent.

Urban forests within India

The situation of Urban forests across various Indian urban centers is not very encouraging except in few areas. Delhi has a forest cover around 20%. Chandigarh stands at 14.9%. Gandhinagar, municipal areas of Ahmedabad and Vadodara stand at 53.9%, 4.6%, and 16.29% respectively.

According to this report, the green cover in Bengaluru Urban district and Bengaluru Rural is estimated at 6.85% and 13.96% respectively. The figures for Chennai, Hyderabad, and Jaipur are 6.25%, 5%, and 4.49% respectively, and Mumbai City and Mumbai Suburban stand at 1.21% and 26.91% respectively.

According to India State of Forest Report, 2013, urban tree cover exists on 12,790 sq.km out of the total 77,997 sq.km of urban area. That is, only around 16.4% of urban area is covered by trees. This is quite below the global standards of 20-40% forest coverage.

Further, the situation is very worrisome in places like Hyderabad and Jaipur which have very low percent of tree cover.

Challenges to implement Urban Forestry:

There are significant challenges that need to be addressed before urban forestry programmes can be successfully implemented. The very first challenge is to change the attitude of all stakeholders; be it general public or politicians.

The issues of environment are often put forward as being obstacles to growth and development.

This mindset needs to change.

People must be made to realize that development and environment are not contradictory. Instead, true development is not possible without taking into account the environmental impact of every activity.

Therefore, the planning and developing of a city with all its buildings and amenities should go hand in hand with the conservation of ecological balance.

The Union government appears to be aware of these challenges. In its “Draft Guidelines for conservation, development and management of Urban Greens”, it lists down various issues related to the conservation of urban greenery:

  1. Absence of long term planning resulting in frequent changes in land use. As a result there is lack of integration of trees/ greens with planned development process and trees are often planted as an afterthought.
  2. Land covered with trees is viewed as loss when compared to the land put to commercial and infrastructural uses.
  3. Limited space available for tree planting. Trees are often viewed as obstructions to development and therefore become the first casualty in the process.
  4. Water scarcity, refractory soil and stressful growth conditions impact proper growth and health of the trees, leading to high cost of development and maintenance. Lack of trained manpower for the management of greens poses a serious problem.
  5. High public pressure on urban greens due to high floating population. Urban poverty and homelessness encourage squatting in open areas reserved for trees.
  6. Lack of respect, sensitivity and care from different sections of the society. Green spaces, young plantations, and saplings are prone to vandalism.

Benefits of Urban Forestry

Urban Forestry has innumerable benefits ranging from economic to ecological. Its ecological benefits include reduction in temperature, rise in urban areas due to heat island effect, reduction in CO2 emissions through photosynthesis, removal of other air pollutants, prevention of soil erosion, recharge of groundwater, and stabilization of soil. They act as home to many animals and birds and hence help in conservation of biodiversity.

For example, it has been reported that urban trees store around 700 million tons of carbon in the border areas of USA. A total of 711,000 metric tons of air pollution removal has been achieved by US urban trees.

A study showed that the forest ecosystems of Beijing could intercept approximately 1.43 billion cubic metres of annual rainfall and 277.82 million cubic metres of soil water under ideal conditions, and supply 286.67 million cubic metres of fresh water.

Further, reduced pollution and increased biodiversity will improve the quality of human life.

Many of the diseases that are caused due to water and air pollution can be reduced as well. People will have a place to relax and de-stress which will in turn improve their emotional health.

Apart from this, the urban forests provide various intangible benefits.

Urban shade trees can help in reduction of building air conditioning demand and the savings may be as high as US$ 200 per tree. A 2010 study revealed that the total economic value of water conservation provided by Beijing’s forests was US$ 0.63 Billion.

In a study conducted in China, the value of intangible forest environmental services was six times that of forest material goods.

Hence, urban trees play a very vital role in maintaining ecological balance and improving human life. Furthermore, they impart various economic benefits. They provide tangible economic items like firewood, timber, fruits, medicinal products etc. They further act as places for recreational activity. Therefore, forest tourism can be made a source of wealth generation.

Therefore, Urban forestry is a necessity and not a necessary evil. It is not an economically unprofitable initiative. Instead, it can provide enormous economic benefits and at the same time help conserve environment and improve human life. Therefore, the measures being taken by the Union Ministry of Environment and Forest is in the right direction.

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Women of America Are Stepping Up As Nuclear Energy Advocates

Nuclear power is clean, safe and better for the environment than some alternative energy sources

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Nuclear Energy
Engineering manager Kristin Zaitz and her co-worker Heather Matteson, a reactor operator, started Mothers for Nuclear. VOA
  • The availability of cheap natural gas and greater energy efficiency has reduced demand for nuclear energy in recent years
  • Nuclear power is clean, safe and better for the environment than some alternative energy sources
  • Industry experts say that women who work in nuclear power can be powerful advocates for nuclear

San Francisco, August 26, 2017: Kristin Zaitz is confident that her nuclear power plant is safe.

Zaitz, an engineering manager, was at Diablo Canyon Power Plant during both her pregnancies and has scuba dived to inspect the plant, which hugs the California coast. Zaitz wears a pendant with a tiny bit of uranium inside, an item that tends to invite questions.

“We all have our perceptions of nuclear,” Zaitz said.

In a few years, Diablo Canyon will close, part of a trend nationwide. The availability of cheap natural gas and greater energy efficiency has reduced demand for nuclear energy in recent years. Add to that ongoing concerns about public safety, such as those raised by memories of disasters at nuclear power plants in Fukushima, Japan, Chernobyl in Ukraine (then part of the Soviet Union) and Three Mile Island in the United States.

Nuclear is ‘cleaner’ than fossil fuels

Supporters of nuclear energy say that when a reactor-based generating station closes, not enough wind and solar power is available to make up the difference. They lament that energy companies tend to turn instead to fossil fuels — coal and natural gas — which produce environmentally harmful emissions.

Zaitz and her co-worker Heather Matteson, a reactor operator, started Mothers for Nuclear, their effort to get the word out that nuclear power is clean, safe and better for the environment than some alternative energy sources.

“I went into the plant very skeptical of nuclear and being scared of it,” said Matteson. “It took me six to seven years to really feel like this is something good for the environment. I don’t want people to take six to seven years to make that decision. We don’t have that long.”

Matteson, too, wears the uranium necklace as a conversation starter. “Nuclear is fun,” she said. Is there any radiation emitted by the pendant? “There’s slightly more than from a banana,” she conceded.

Also Read: Indian nuclear industry growing fast, says former Atomic Energy Commission chief

Women seen as powerful advocates

Industry experts say that women who work in nuclear power can be powerful advocates for nuclear. They can help change attitudes of other women who tend to be more skeptical than men about nuclear energy’s benefits.

At the recent U.S. Women in Nuclear conference in San Francisco, women working in the industry talked about how more should be done to make nuclear power’s case to the public, and how they may be the best suited to do it.

“As mothers, I think we also have an important role to play in letting the public know that we support nuclear for the future, for our children,” said Matteson. “And we don’t know other mothers supporting nuclear power in a vocal way. We thought there was a gap to fill.”

Young women say they look at careers in this industry because they are socially minded.

‘Do something good for the world’

“I went into this wanting to do something good for the world,” Lenka Kollar, business strategy director at NuScale, a firm in Oregon that designs and markets small modular reactors. “Wanting to bring power to people. There are still more than a billion people in the world who don’t have electricity.”

Critics of nuclear energy say it doesn’t matter who is promoting it.

“Using mothers’ voices to argue for a technology that is fundamentally dangerous and that has been demonstrated by disasters like Fukushima to be not safe for the communities that surround the power plants or even cities that are hundreds of miles away is disingenuous,” said Kendra Klein, a staff scientist with Friends of the Earth, an environmental group.

While the future of nuclear power in the United States may be uncertain, the women here say they have a positive story to tell. (VOA)

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Street View Car Map by Google Locates Methane Gas Leaks

Colorado State University biologist Joe Von Fisher helped enable a street view of Methane leaks in the city with the help of Google maps

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Colorado State University
Gas Leak. Wikimedia

August 04, 2017: Finding underground methane gas leaks is now as easy as finding a McDonalds, thanks to a combination of Google Street View cars, mobile methane detectors, some major computing power and a lot of ingenuity.

When a city’s underground gas lines leak, they waste fuel and release invisible plumes of methane, a potent greenhouse gas. To find and measure leaks, Colorado State University biologist Joe von Fischer decided to create “methane maps,” to make it easier for utilities to identify the biggest leaks, and repair them.

“That’s where you get the greatest bang for the buck,” he pointed out, “the greatest pollution reductions per repair.”

Knowing that Google Maps start with Google Street View cars recording everything they drive by, along with their GPS locations, von Fischer’s team thought they would just add methane detectors to a Street View car. It turned out, it was not that simple.

“Squirrelly objects”

The world’s best methane detectors are accurate in an area the size of a teacup, but methane leaks can be wider than a street. Also, no one had ever measured the size of a methane leak from a moving car.

“If you’ve ever seen a plume of smoke, it’s sort of a lumpy, irregular object,” von Fischer said. “Methane plumes as they come out of the ground are the same, they’re lumpy squirrelly objects.”

The team had to develop a way to capture data about those plumes, one that would be accurate in the real world. They set up a test site in an abandoned airfield near campus and brought in what looked like a large scuba tank filled with methane and some air hoses. Then they released carefully measured methane through the hose as von Fischer drove a specially equipped SUV past it, again and again.

They compared readings from the methane detectors in the SUV to readings from the tank.

“We spend a lot of time driving through the plumes to sort of calibrate the way that those cars see methane plumes that form as methane’s being emitted from the ground,” von Fischer explained.

With that understanding, the methane detectors hit the road.

Also Read: This fiber material can sense odorless fuel leaks


Turning data into maps

But the results created pages of data, “more than 30 million points,” said CSU computer scientist Johnson Kathkikiaran. He knew that all those data points alone would never help people find the biggest leaks on any map. So he and his advisor, Sanmi Peracara, turned the data into pictures using tools from Google.

Their visual summaries made it easy for utility experts to analyze the methane maps, but von Fischer wanted anyone to be able to identify the worst leaks. His teammates at the Environmental Defense Fund met that challenge by incorporating the data into their online maps. Yellow dots indicate a small methane leak. Orange is a medium-sized one. Red means a big leak – as much pollution as one car driving 14,000 kilometers in a single day.

Von Fischer says that if a city focuses on these biggest leaks, repairing just 8 percent of them can reduce methane pollution by a third.

“That becomes a win-win type scenario,” he said, “because we’re not asking polluters to fix everything, but we’re looking for a reduction in overall emissions, and I think we can achieve that in a more cost effective way.”

After analyzing a methane map for the state of New Jersey, for example, the utility PSE&G has prioritized fixing its leakiest pipes there first, to speed the reduction of their overall pollution.

“To me that was a real victory, to be able to help the utility find which parts were leakiest, and to make a cost effective reduction in their overall emissions,” von Fischer said.

Von Fischer envisions, even more, innovation ahead for mapping many kinds of pollution… to clean the air and save energy. (VOA)

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Stanford Study Ranks India among the Laziest People in the World

A recent study by a group of researchers at Stanford have revealed that Indians are among the laziest people in the world

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Laziest People
Indians average just 4,297 steps a day. Wikimedia
  • A Stanford study has ranked India 39 in the world for the laziest people 
  • China, and particularly Hong Kong, has the most active people
  • The research also found out that Indian women walk even less than men

July 17, 2017: Researchers at Stanford University carried out a study on 46 countries to find out the levels of laziness. In its finding, Indians ranked 39 and thus among the laziest people.

Indian people average only about 4,297 steps a day. It was also observed that women in India walk much less than men. While men registered an average of 4,606 steps daily, women averaged 3,684 steps.

The world average is 4,961 steps. The Americans stood at an average of 4,77,4 steps daily.

ALSO READ: Cosmetic Industry is Booming: Thanks to Young Indians!

The most active people, according to the research, are the Chinese and mainly the ones in Hong Kong. Other notably active people are from Ukraine and Japan. The people in these countries walk more than 6,000 steps daily, mentioned ANI report.

With a daily average of just 3,513 steps, the Indonesians ranked as the laziest people in the world. Other laziest countries include Malaysia and Saudi Arabia. These countries have an average of fewer than 3,900 steps.

The researchers at Stanford University installed step-counters in smartphones and used that information for the research. 700,000 people from 46 different countries were part of the research, which has been published in the journal called Nature.

– Prepared by Saksham Narula of NewsGram. Twitter: @Saksham2394