Wherefore sustainability: Nature’s torch

Suriya Prakash Ganesan
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How do you perceive on these forest outlooks? Does it jaunt for a trek along with that Ma On Shan country park?

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A ferry ride in Tai Tam reservoir? Or ambitious dream of owning a peak-view apartment in Twelve  peaks? We certainly feel ecstatic, viewing astonishingly grown trees, and those blossoming flowers serve right as a visual treat.

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But senior plant ecologist, Dr. Zhang from the Kadoorie gardens, doesn’t exactly feel the same. In his  
recent SCMP interview, he remarked, “the forest looks very green, but it actually lacks diversity”. 
Some may wonder, if there is a large spread of trees, what does the scarcity of different tree species even  
mean? or why is it a topic of discussion?

There is a plausible reason behind this concern.

Ecologist Sawid Abbas from Hong Kong Polytechnic  University states that these limited tree species are more vulnerable to (drumroll)  CLIMATE CHANGE: perhaps the excessively used term of this decade. He explains that the limited tree species are more prone to extreme weather such as typhoons or even wildfires. And to add fuel to this fire, the recent International Panel of Climate Change  (IPCC) report issued a “CODE RED” for humanity. The report summarizes in a definitive language that “human activities unequivocally warmed up the atmosphere,  ocean, and land, which will increase the frequencies and intensities of unprecedented events”.

Now that lavish apartment dream is certainly getting stumbled, isn’t it?

Senior landscape ecologist and the University of Washington - Environmental science faculty, Prof. Paul  Hessberg feels the same or even worse, and expresses that these less diverse forests “scares the (not exactly the word I can insert in a University newsletter based on his intention) of me”. He adds that the United States had lost such forest covers at least the size of one of its states. The state of California witnesses more than 9000 wildfires and damages around 1 million acres of forest lands every year, not to mention the fatalities of firefighters and innocent wildlife creatures. The deadliest Australian wildfires that charred 45 million acres of forest lands and the disturbing events of people fleeing from  Greece wildfires, reckoned as an eye-opener on the virtue of the current environmental state.

Too jargony? Let me rephrase it: If we had experienced 50000 wildfires in 2019 (that’s right), there is a probability that the numbers could double by the year 2040.

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Said this, imagine an event where wildfire's number doubles; the implication would be way fewer measures or  
alarms to mitigate the damages. With these disturbing scenarios, let’s hope that the fire settles down and doesn’t  
radiate to any more forests including Hong Kong.

(It’s heavy, right? Take a moment with this puppy picture)

So again, why this article? I tell you this, it is definitely not written to instigate fear or overwhelm you, rather wake you to foresee the future we may live in. When people in Greece were suffering from the wildfires, the pain, agony, and helplessness of seeing their ecosystem burning in front of their eyes slaughtered their souls. That shan’t be the future. It’s not unless we take responsibility for our “unequivocal” actions and start ensconcing the place we reside in.

If you feel guilty that you’re not climate-conscious as you should be and don’t know how to make sustainable changes in your daily life, you’re not alone; and it’s certainly not persuaded by an individual turning vegan or using paper straws in Starbucks.

Sustainability is working towards as a  community. Props to Hong Kong’s and our UST’s Net-Zero and Sustainable initiatives, we will balance our carbon emissions by 2050. Meanwhile, turn off the lights and computers in your office if not in use, consider having your own to-go cups and grocery bags, reduce food trashes. We will get better!