Why Cape Town urgently needs urban forests as green lungs

Urban forests and green lungs

It has always wondered me why so many trees are being cut down in Cape Town? It is an international well- known fact that trees produce the very element which we need for a living: Oxygen.  In cities such as Cape Town it is especially important to have urban forests and green spaces within the city as there are a lot of CO2 emissions. In summer it is especially evident when one sees the orange smog cloud that hangs over the city bowl.

South Africa is one of the biggest greenhouse gas emitters worldwide. This is caused by the high amount of coal fired power plants and motor vehicles. The most visible sign is the heavy smog that you see in summer and winter over Cape Town which stretches over the whole peninsula into the Cape wine lands.

Some of the most beautiful forests of Cape Town have been cut down in the past years. These trees have been felled with the excuse that they are “aliens”? Alone the fact that this term is used to describe the trees bothers me. Aliens? Really. These trees have mostly stood there for longer than we live and the fact the we are calling them aliens is in plain terms just discrimination. Nevertheless, it is I guess very much in our history to keep on naming, labelling and separating. If there is something is different we look for some excuse and label it. If we call the pine trees aliens I wonder what we are? It must be something beyond alien?

What angers me is that in place of these forest hectares of vineyards have been planted. If the pine trees are labeled with the term “alien” the wines definitely exceed this. In natural form wine does not occur neither in this form nor in this region.

Another point which has been made is that the pine trees are taking away too much water from the fynbos.  I assure you that wines take away more water than pine trees. By far more water. They need to be watered by the irrigation systems and pine trees get their water from the ground and rain. Pine trees are remarkable oxygen producers. Much better oxygen than fynbos is usually. I am not suggesting that pine trees should now replace the fynbos. I am talking about biodiversity. Biodiversity of all kinds of plants should exist and they should all be able to live in the same city. I am suggesting that the wines should not replace our oxygen producers. This story of aliens has just been set in our minds for an excuse for money making. As neither new trees, nor fynbos have been planted in most cases.

All over the world, there is a general consensus that trees are vital in combating global warming and CO2 emission. More and more should be planted… indigenous perhaps, but those precious few that exist, should be protected at all costs!

The explanation that fynbos will grow naturally on the deforested ground might be true to some point, but it will take ages for these trees to mature and grow into a climax community. Only old mature trees are very good carbon dioxide converters. Into the direction we are moving with our world we definitely need good carbon dioxide converters. By the point new fynbos will grow naturally on a deforested ground another natural effect might come before that: mudflow and erosion. When the rain comes there are no roots to hold the soil any more and the soil will flow down, causing immense problems to the houses that are beneath these empty hills.

Forests and trees also retain rainwater in the earth around their roots, recycling it back into the atmosphere.

I guess the only way we will ever learn is when we have seen the disaster with our own eyes. At that point, however, it is often too late. I wish we could learn to think about the effects and look for a solution now because by the time we do ask ourselves that question there might not be a lot left for us to save.

Not long ago I hiked along  Constantia Nek and the whole hills were empty, eerie and deforested. I felt two strong feelings: The one was a deep sadness and the other one was anger. In front of me there was an enormous graveyard of dead trees and a lost biodiversity. Everyone saw it as something normal and carried on chatting while I was left standing there left in a state of devastation. All this beauty and this habitat had been cut off. The very reason why we live. How many animals have lost their homes and even lives through this? More destruction than positive construction has been created. As most people seem so immune to the condition that we put our environment in let me present some facts:

CO2 emissions cause tiny particles in the air, which are extremely dangerous to our health. A study initiated by the World Health Organisation showed a dramatic increase of chronic lung diseases caused by pollution. The tiny particles which are formed in the air are exceptionally bad for our lungs and cause and increase asthma as well as obstructive lung diseases. We live in a cycle and nature is bound to us. If we do not act and keep on destroying: disaster will strike us and it is not far away. In fact, it has already kicked in but we have just not realised the causes.

More and more trees are being cut down to build houses and other buildings. Often these houses and buildings take the entire space and do not leave room for a garden or a natural space. This causes flooding as rain water can not sink into the ground efficiently anymore and cannot be absorbed.

To conclude not only are we increasing global warming, which leads to several drastic consequences, but we are also affecting our health.

It is always easier to talk than to act and lets therefore move onto an action plan which we should all set our minds on.

  • Alternative energy supply through wind energy and solar power which is ideal for the Western Cape
  • Enhance public transport. Schools could liaise to organise bus shuttles for pupils
  • Preserve the urban green lungs as we urgently need them. We cannot remove trees that are oxygen distributor. It takes decades before news trees mature and can supply the same amount of oxygen.
  • Plant urban woods, reforest mountain hills and prohibit clear-cutting of forests without reforestation.
  • Improve air quality in cities through controlled emission of exhaust pipes and blue motion technology. The Blue Motion Technology enables cars to stop the motor while they wait in traffic or at robots or to collect children from school.
  • In Europe only cars can access the inner circle of a city of they have a certificate for low emission.
  • Raise awareness of the importance of improved air quality and health hazards caused by smog.