Wood for the Trees

I spilled my morning cup of tea. Once again. This time caused by the startling news item; ‘Capital will get 11 city forests in 2019-20.’

Leaders are leaders. They will do. Like create 11 city forests from scratch. Whereas commoners will read newspapers and spill tea. Is it any wonder that we are commoners whereas leaders are leaders? It is possible that it is so because we neither attended the ‘How to become a leader in two easy weeks” course offered by a leading business school nor read the bestseller ‘The real and actual truth about Leadership which nobody told you’, which the leaders did neither.

And, in leader-like fashion, no details based on which questions could be asked, were provided. And, in true commoner-like fashion, it set my mind racing with possibilities.

Would we plant saplings while chanting an ancient Vedic mantra that would cause the sapling to become giant banyan trees in two easy weeks? Or, would we inscribe the name of a certain God on each seed which will give it the power to become a redwood tree in two easy weeks, and thereafter carelessly scatter them in the wind, which will spread them to different corners of the state? Or, have we finally been able to access the magical powers contained in the waters of a river descending from its heavenly abode in the Himalayas, with which we will water barren patches of land and make them magically productive to raise full-grown trees in two easy weeks?

Is there anything our leaders cannot do? Producing not one, not two, but eleven forests in a city that regularly tops the charts as being the most polluted in the world.

But, most of all, my mind was racing with the worry that all our efforts of the last few weeks to save the environment for future generations had been exercises in futility, given that now forests could be produced on demand. Or, at least in two easy weeks, by our political leaders.

The last few weeks had been a time of excitement and frenetic effort on account of the World Environment Day, marked on the 5th of June. Of telling everyone else what “we” should be doing to protect the environment for future generations. And, in turn, being told by others what “we” should do to protect the environment for future generations.

Saving the environment for future generations can be a back-breaking task. Especially when you have to tell others what they should be doing by to save the environment for future generations. And others have to tell you what you should be doing to save the environment for future generations. All the while using the pronoun “we” to make it sound like you are in it with them. Like, “we should plant more trees” which means “you should plant more trees”. Particularly in areas we have no control over or where it cannot be done. In someone else’s house, for example. Or, on road surface.

The “we” that is defined by the Cambridge dictionary as ‘used as the subject of a verb to refer to a group including the speaker and at least one other person’ is uniformly defined by savers of the environment for future generations as ‘used as the subject of a verb to refer to a group necessarily excluding the speaker and including at least one other person’.

And there were many unique ideas that were generated as a result of these conversations and debates in separate discussions in different groups.

We should plant more trees, was the unique solution provided when it was realised that the temperature had breached the highest ever summer temperature recorded in Gurgaon.

We should plant more trees, was the unique suggestion made when reports of the water table falling to inaccessible depths started trickling in.

We should plant more trees, was the agreed unique solution on a day higher than the normally higher than permissible air pollution levels were recorded.

We should plant more trees, was the unique conclusion reached when the twin hazards of waterlogging along with an inability to recharge the water table on account of rapid concretisation of open ground, in light of the approaching monsoon, were highlighted in a TV report.

Four different problems. One solution. If ever the billion plus population was ranged behind a solution it was this. Why worry about identifying a problem when we know the solution.

There are other things I am beginning to understand now. Perhaps our leaders always knew.

Imagine a scenario where every inch of land where trees could be planted and survive has been planted. Surely, for a nation where the government has an annual USD 400 billion budget, with more than ten times the number of people available per square mile to do the task as compared to, say, the US, this cannot be a difficult task. Of covering every piece of eligible land with trees. Especially when it seems that planting a tree entails neither cost nor effort and that we should be casually doing it while brushing our teeth in the morning or just before spilling a cup of tea reading startling news.

If every inch of eligible land has already been planted with trees, how will we save the environment for future generations when the mercury touches a new high next summer?

If every inch of eligible land has already been planted with trees, how will we save the environment for future generations each time the government allows clearing of a vast swathe of protected forest to build premium housing?

If every inch of eligible land has already been planted with trees, how will we save the environment for future generations when the next factory that will leech chemicals into the ground is set up?

If every inch of eligible land has already been planted with trees, how will we save the environment for future generations when we need to pave more open ground and build roads, underpasses and overbridges to accommodate the space needed by larger, gas-guzzling vehicles with a single passenger each?

If every inch of eligible land has been planted with trees, how will we save the environment for future generations each time we instal one more air-conditioning unit that threatens to drill more holes in the ozone layer?

If every inch of eligible land has been planted with trees, how will we save the environment for future generations when we find, to our utter astonishment, that our rivers are not rivers but open sewers?

Just as well that records on historical attempts at planting trees in lieu of projects causing environmental damage, and their survival, seem to be dodgy. Else, we may have to start holding people accountable. Where money is to be made, one cannot do that.

At least, “we” can plant a tree and save the environment for future generations.