Every day in India we face new experiences and difficult cultural challenges. We expect these and try to prepare ourselves as best as possible. Today brought a different kind of challenge though. Today, we planted trees. The cyclone last year destroyed sections of the forest, and while our group only planted four trees today, I would like to think we made an albeit small dent in reforestation, in capturing some of our carbon footprint and maybe even changing our own thinking on global climate change. We visited Evergreen Forest this morning, where along with getting our hands dirty, and tasting some homemade chai tea on a work break, we learned about the trade-offs between biodiversity conservation and the carbon crediting system.
In a nutshell, biodiversity conservation creates a sustainable environment by re-introducing different species of trees that are native and can therefore thrive best in a given region while carbon crediting is a system of buying the right to emit carbon dioxide by paying someone else to plant trees. If you want to optimize the biodiversity of the forest then you don’t necessarily cram as many trees as possible into the space as you would if you used the carbon crediting system. Carbon credits are part of the Kyoto Protocols ‘flexible mechanisms’. The Kyoto Protocol to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change sets binding obligations on industrialized countries to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases. It has been largely unsuccessful but at the very least it demonstrates hope that conversations about climate change are happening worldwide. But even if biodiversity conservation is the goal, carbon crediting pays for the forest. As with many elements of development, there is catch-22 built into the system. Do we do what pays or what is ultimately better?
For India the change in temperature means rising sea levels, increased cyclonic activity and precipitation patterns and while the jury is still out, one can’t help but connect last year’s cyclone with the climate change. The effect of our trees today is minimal. The one act we did today may not change the world but if that tree can offset even a little of the carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere every day then maybe we are moving in a more sustainable direction.
As we move into the final week of our communications projects in India, we can begin to see how everything in development must be connected in order to be sustainable. The tree we plant for fun on a Saturday morning is actually going to grow into a tool to help the environment, pollution, and creating a scene that would not have existed otherwise. It may be small but maybe with a few more trees we can grow a sustainable future.