10 million trees: Another view

Eugene Moll, Kirstenhof, Honorary Professor in the Department of Biodiversity and Conservation Biology, UWC

Last week the readers of the Bulletin were treated to two comprehensive letters by William Bond and Tony Rebelo, basically damming the “Call to plant 10 million trees” (Bulletin, January 20).


I will not argue about the science but will say that I did not think the 10 million trees were all to be planted in Cape Town, or the Western Cape for that matter?

What I would like to highlight is that we’re on the steep, slippery slope to disastrous global climate change. Thus, unless we, and the world, do not take on the urgent challenge of mitigating this, our children may be lucky to be alive in a few decades.

In the 1960s Professor Richard Fuggle’s PhD demonstrated that cities are heat pumps. Today we know that planting trees in cities ameliorates this heat. We also know that Cape Town has an abysmal track-record of planting trees – one just has to look at the tin-shack slums, housing a few million people, for ample evidence of that.

It is fine for professors, living in brick-tiled, insulated houses in the leafy southern suburbs, to pontificate about tree-planting. But it is a completely different case for the majority living on sand-dunes in uninsulated, tiny, cheek-by-jowl shacks with almost nothing green around them.

Are the professors aware of how many shack dwellers are desperately trying to establish vegetable gardens, that some are selling peach-trees for R50 each, and that one of their only respites from the heat, if they are able, is to walk under the shady trees on the lower slopes of Table Mountain (where I have met people from township walking groups who know nothing of SANParks’ mission to remove all aliens from these slopes)?

All I ask is that they read Parkscape’s mission carefully, to learn that Parkscape is not about pines and gums, but about shade from indigenous and non-invasive aliens that can provide some health and well-being to Cape Town’s burgeoning population.

The professors’ fixation on water-use by trees is somewhat misplaced in a city where many, who can afford it, have well-points and boreholes – forgetting a 1970s CSIR report that found the Cape Flats aquifer to be heavily polluted (unfit for human consumption), and where the City engineers have canalised water-ways destroying wetlands that not only assist with aquifer re-charge but also clean the water of pollutants.

Attempting to save water and a few plant species, sadly already destined for extinction, is like fiddling while Rome burns. That was the way we were all schooled by the Western world, only some of us are more humanitarian inclined and are seeking alternative strategies for global survival, while attempting to provide better health and well-being opportunities for more people.