On the second Sunday of September 2019, I woke up, made two placards and walked to a park near my home, with my mother. A friend joined us there, and we circled the 2 kilometre (approx.1.24-mile) circumference of the park, expecting to join a large gathering of people, coming together to remind the government of the need to preserve 2,700 trees, and the life that depends on them.
To me this initiative wasn’t about Us and Them: the ones who care and the ones who do not. To choose between ecological preservation and scientific progress has always seemed foolish. I am acutely aware of my own fragility and the privilege and responsibility of having a cognitive presence in an organic ecosystem. To hand over both the privilege and the responsibility to corporations and the government, would be an act of ignorance, and a dishonour to my freedom. And so I circled the park, holding the placards with my friend and my mother, trying to locate the others. One joined us and then another, and that was it. We were five cognitive beings, coping with our fragility, and walking silently, because how could we not.
Five is not a crowd, not in a city of nearly 19 million people, yet we drew attention. People walked up to us and asked what we were campaigning for. They wished us good luck and told us not to feel dejected even if we were a mere handful, because like them, others would notice, become aware, and would pledge their support and solidarity.
I thought of Gandhi, and the power of the salt march—Gandhi and a few companions walked 241-miles to the coast of the Arabian Sea, to nonviolently oppose the salt tax. This act of Satyagraha—revealing truth and opposing injustice through nonviolence—gathered thousands of supporters and transformed the status quo.
Trees in a forest don’t need us to survive. We need them. We are part of the biodiversity—the life—that depends on them. Forests are critical for the planet’s survival, and one large tree for the survival of four people. A large tree in a neighbourhood can provide a day’s supply of oxygen for four humans—that may be you and your family.
A metro alone won’t take care of the air pollution problem, but trees do! Choice isn’t involved, perception is.
(A report in Science, and an interview in National Geographic calls forests our life support system)