By Joachim Ng
Has the silver state turned over a new leaf? Is Perak now on a roll to conserve the jungle, disavowing its chainsaw image splashed across news pages last year? Menteri Besar Dato’ Saarani Mohamad has announced a laudable agenda to plant one million trees within 10 years.
Last year, the state got roasted over a wood fire by a host of nature conservation NGOs for allowing the colour of greed to replace the colour of green on patches of Kledang Saiong Hill, Gunung Panjang, Bukit Kinta Forest Reserve, Besout Forest Reserve, and Bukit Larut Forest Reserve.
However, the target of a million plantings within 10 years is too small for Perak to earn the celebrated eco-warrior badge as it is just 100,000 a year on average, whereas the Greening Malaysia plan announced by the Prime Minister is to add 100 million trees to Malaysia’s forest cover over the next five years. That’s 20 million trees annually. Yet no details can be gleaned on where the seeds are coming from and how many nurseries will be needed.
After planting 1,217,963 trees last year at several forest reserves in Teluk Intan, Gerik, and Lenggong, the state may be feeling that it has already crossed the finishing line. More likely the budget now permits only 100,000 trees yearly.
But how is it that one food and beverage company, Nestle, is able to commit to planting one million trees a year over the next three years? Less ambitious but still very admirable is property developer Gamuda Land’s target of planting one million trees within three years.
The Perak treasurer needs to recount his silver coins and raise the spending by some notches. Forests cover 55.3% of the total land area of Malaysia, but is planting 100 million trees enough? A large number is merely replacement for mature trees that have stopped growing and can no longer serve as carbon dioxide absorbers.
More seriously, human births in Malaysia outpace the numbers required to exactly replace the persons who die and by 2025 we will have added approximately two million to the population count.
How many trees will be needed to offset the carbon dioxide production of these two million extras? One person, through his lifestyle, emits 6 tonnes of carbon dioxide per year as a global average. A fast-growing tree may be capable of absorbing 48 pounds of carbon dioxide annually, but you need 250 such trees to offset each person’s emission. Hence, 500 million trees will be needed to offset the emissions of an extra 2 million folks. We are short of 400 million trees.
One big role of trees is to generate a life-saving cooling effect. To confirm whether there are any sufficient trees in the world and in your city, all you have to do is measure three things: the temperature in the shade outside your house, the sea level at the nearest beach, and the remaining mass of polar ice.
Measuring the temperature under a tree is the easiest to do. Oldies know that city temperatures in Kuala Lumpur, Ipoh, Johor Bahru, and George Town have risen at least six degrees Centigrade since the 1960s. It’s hitting 35℃ on a regular basis now — and this is in the shade.
Ipoh has turned into quite an oven, registering a temperature rise of 6.75℃ since 1998, according to the Think City study published last month. Malaysian cities are sweltering heat islands, devoid of sufficient greenery. Ipoh has a plan to contribute 1,500 trees a year, but that’s a good number if the city plans to add just six extra residents a year to its population.
The heat is worse overseas. Seoul hit 39.6℃ last year, New South Wales did 45℃ and California sweated it out at 49℃ with one spot called Death Valley registering 54℃ — the highest temperature ever recorded anywhere on earth since measurements began.
In the Climate Change Performance Index 2020, Malaysia rated near the bottom, surpassing only eight other countries in battling climate change. America occupied the lowest rung unsurprisingly, with Korea and Australia a few rungs above it. Malaysia was just three rungs higher than Australia and five rungs above Korea.
All the land trees in the world combined absorb less than one-third of the CO2 emissions by humans every year. The forest carbon sink is like a kitchen basin stacked full with unwashed plates.
Buy a thermometer and watch the mercury surge to 40℃ in 2025, creep up to 45℃ in the shade by 2035 and then hit 50℃. Above that point, you will suffer extreme dehydration and kidney failure leading to death. Ambulance sirens will be wailing every second. This is the grave nightmare awaiting Malaysia.
If you want to remain alive 25 years from today, plant big trees in your garden or one large potted tree if you have a condo balcony. Persuade the experts to retrofit existing buildings with rooftop tree gardens and wall creepers. Join a tree-planting eco-network that can obtain government approval to grow clusters of tree pockets at all vacant spots in every town and city.