Public Comment

Why We Should Save All Trees

By Krishna P. Bhattacahrjee
Thursday September 25, 2008 - 09:56:00 AM

The excellent editorial and the news reports published in the Berkeley Daily Planet on Sept. 17 reminded me, an alumnus of UC Berkeley, of those turmoil years of the 1960s (as referred to in said editorial) when the students fought for their free speech rights. I witnessed how the sit-in demonstrators within the Sproul Hall were thrown out with water jets. And soon Mario Savio, one of the leaders, was arrested.  

The state and the UC Berkeley authorities unleashed their might and force against the harmless students who were only demanding their civil rights. 

I couldn’t imagine that such action could take place in America, a champion of democracy. It was an act of state terrorism against its own people which have taken place in Italy, Germany and in Soviet Russia. 

In your editorial, you mentioned that images of those turbulent years of the 1960s returned when the UC Berkley authorities used the police force to vacate the last remaining tree-sitters. Perhaps the most disturbing act performed by the authorities is to bring in surveillance helicopters to provide cover to tree-cutters and to the scaffolding builders. A war zone was created which has disturbed the local citizens and the students on the campus. Was there a need for creating such a terror? 

The tree-sitters at the oak grove tried their best to protect the trees there, which is the right of all citizens to do in order to reduce environment pollution and to protect the natural environment of the Berkeley hills where buildings have reduced green spaces. Since there are large number of homes on the hills, pollution is ever present there and now fire too is occurring frequently. 

This at a time when the danger of rapid climate change is imminent and coastal cities around the world are struck frequently by hurricanes and are flooded, and with unseasonable rain occurring in South America, Europe and Asia. 

There is a need for all citizens to protect trees and green spaces to mitigate disaster. Under such a situation all trees must be saved at any cost. Mangrove forests are the only means of protecting shores from the mountain high Tsunami waves, as witnessed and claimed by experts. 

The United States is also a signatory to international instruments to reduce greenhouse gases (GHGs) in order to minimize climate change. Consequently the state needs to save all trees, and if trees are to be cut for any important project of national importance, the saplings of similar and same number of trees are to be planted in advance prior cutting down such trees, as per recommendations of the UN Environment Department.  

Perhaps if UC Berkeley had planted saplings of oak and redwood trees in a suitable location and created an ambient environment to replace those trees which have been cut down, that would have satisfied the protesters and the problem would have been peacefully solved. Alternative ways through discussions must be evolved. 

The UC Berkeley authorities must remember that whatever we create, destroying the environment will have an adverse affect on the environment. The concrete athletic stadium and the supporting buildings will use high energy intensive materials which will create pollution during the construction and during their use. Then there will be hundreds of beer cans, soft and hard drink bottles lying around for days before they would be cleaned; another source of pollution as already been reported. 

Technically speaking, critical earthquake zones must be avoided for the safety of the buildings and their users. Earthquakes do not kill people; materials and debris do kill people. 

It is indeed an unwise decision on the part of the UC Berkeley authorities to select that site which falls on the earth quake zone and on the Hayward Fault. Seismic experts have already indicated that earthquake in Berkeley and San Francisco may occur at any time and all necessary precautions need to be taken from now. 

What is being built today is against the local people’s wishes and against nature’s virtual warning. Only the future will tell about the consequences of such unilateral action against nature and the people of Berkeley. 


UC Berkeley alum Krishna P. Bhattacahrjee is director of the Centre for Human Settlements in Calcutta, India.