Saving trees and purifying the air

One must find it mystifying that the campaign “Save our trees” is needed to stop the relentless destruction of essential mature trees in Malta

Trees are the longest living organisms on the planet and are one of the earth’s greatest natural resources. For thousands of years trees have been the foundation of humankind’s development and a vital basic source of material for so many of man’s initiatives, such as fire, marine exploration, tools, machines, weaponry, housing and constructions.

Trees are also vital to human life itself, therefore one must find it mystifying that the campaign “Save our trees” is needed to stop the relentless destruction of essential mature trees in Malta. Even more puzzling is the personal vilification of some campaigners by senior intellectuals, rather less intellectual bloggers and even politicians. Even several normally positive local councils seem to have fallen into the trap of purging mature trees.

This is not just an aesthetic matter; not just scenic. Trees have an enormous environmental, ecological and even economic value. 

Simple and basic research reveals that, in an era when utility cost is playing an important part, trees placed around buildings can reduce air conditioning need by 30%, the shade and wind buffering provided by trees reduces heating and cooling costs, and each average sized mature tree saves an estimated 60 euros per annum in environmental benefits, including energy conservation and reduced pollution.

Environmentally, trees play a huge part; a mature tree removes almost 70 times more pollution than a newly planted tree, a single tree produces 260 pounds of oxygen per annum, i.e. two mature trees create enough oxygen to supply a family of four. One tree can absorb as much carbon in a year as a car produces in 26,000 miles, and in the course of its lifetime one tree can absorb a ton of carbon dioxide. Of course trees reduce erosion and moderate the climate and provide a habitat for many species of animals, birds, insects and plants, all of which are part of the basic life cycle of our planet.

These statistics are frightening in the context of densely populated Malta, as trees are central in the cycle of life, and yet they are being systematically destroyed. Replacement by young saplings is just not good enough as these take years to grow to effective maturity.

Malta is lucky in that being an island, oxygen supply blows in from the sea, and carbon dioxide blows away, but this does not reduce the need for land rooted recycling of the air we breathe. Remember too that the car per head ratio in Malta is enormous, thus multiplying the carbon dioxide production.

It may be that certain engineers, architects and planners simply think only of the visual effect of their work, which is understandable in a way, but it must be high time that properly structured and well informed environmental assessment is carried out whenever there is a proposition to kill off mature trees, or indeed create massive new structures. 

So campaigners to save trees are not the eccentric “tree huggers” who are the target of comedians. They have a legitimate, valid and positive argument in the best interests of all – they should be listened to.

Of course trees are also part of the system for creating purer air in Malta, by far Europe’s most densely populated country, but because of the scarcity of land relative to the population, the effect of the trees must necessarily be enhanced. So a comprehensive “pure air concept” is vital to the well being of the Maltese people.

How does a “pure air concept “ work? Simple – grow a large number of plants which convert carbons into oxygen.

How do you grow a large number of plants in overcrowded Malta? Not so simple, but definitely feasible – by creating vertical wall gardens and roof gardens.

Roof gardens are comparatively easy provided roofs are built which are able to support the weight and pressure. Vertical gardens require specially designed supports and walls, but if properly created are very attractive. Furthermore they require co-operation from architects, engineers, councils and the Planning Authority.

Many of the larger new buildings in Malta have at least one blank wall which could easily be a host wall to a new and environmentally beneficial vertical garden. Indeed, inclusion of vertical or roof gardens might even sway decisions in favour of new buildings.

Michael Turner