Have you ever worn a scarf, handkerchief, or mask covering your face to protect against air pollution when riding a two-wheeler? We know that air pollution harms our health. We are also aware of the irrevocable effects of pollution: global warming, rising sea levels, climate change, and the imminent threat to our planet as we know it. These effects are unfolding even as you read this.
The levels of air pollution, as well as flooding during rains, are increasing in cities. A major reason is that, as the city population grows, the traffic, number of buildings, and illegal construction has been increasing, while the tree cover has been drastically reducing. While fighting against illegal and indiscriminate construction, it is equally important to preserve the “urban lungs”—the natural forest cover in cities.
So instead of laying back and just protecting ourselves against pollution, wouldn’t it be a better idea to actively work towards ending or at least reducing air pollution?
You don’t have to work as an environmental lawyer or policy maker to do your bit for Mother Earth. An ordinary citizen can also contribute to this goal by participating in the urban forest movement.
What is the urban forest movement?
The urban forest movement is an ongoing effort to develop and maintain forests within cities. Various governments and organizations are undertaking this work worldwide. The Indian government, too, has called for the development of urban forests. In addition to organizations, city residents can also come together to plant native trees and create forests.
Why should you volunteer for the urban forest movement?
Well-being of the community
In urban areas like Pune where there is already a high density of people and constructions, urban forests like Anand Van can help reduce the rapidly rising temperature and air pollution locally, even if they cannot address climate change by themselves. They can also prevent soil erosion and flooding, thus preventing death and property damage/loss.
Mental and emotional well-being
In recent years, the medical community has realized the importance of mental and emotional health in combating diseases. Spending time in nature has been scientifically proven to improve both physical and mental health. Moreover, urban forests are known to reduce noise pollution in cities; so they can benefit mental health by providing a calm environment to live in.
In todays’ digital age, “instant culture” has left us more and more isolated in the comfort of our home or social media. No wonder many of us feel discontent and disconnected from the world and from ourselves. We see a rise in the incidence of depression and other mental and emotional conditions, especially among the youth. Man is a social animal. We have an emotional need to be with our own tribe. One way to fulfill this need and reduce our discontent, confusion, and emotional turbulence is to come together as a group and work towards a goal bigger than ourselves.
Eminent psychologist Viktor Frankl once said that life is not a quest for pleasure or power but a quest for meaning. When we find something that adds meaning and purpose to our lives, while working together as a community, we enrich our mind and soul.
So, if we come together as people who collectively believe in preserving the green cover in our cities, we work towards a bigger purpose. This can help us feel empowered and regain that emotional connection with others and ourselves, helping us manage issues like low self-esteem, anxiety, and depression. Not to mention, the physical activity involved in volunteering and spending time in nature can energize us and further improve our health.
The next step
Now that you know the importance of volunteering for the urban forest movement, how can you go about it? Look around your city for natural green areas; look for groups or organizations working to preserve or grow these forest areas. You may also use social media to keep you motivated and to search for such groups: follow environmentalists in your city and hashtags related to the urban forest movement (such as #urbanforestmovement, #urbanforest, and #urbanforestry). And if you are in Pune, feel free to check out the Anand Van Reserve Forest, a budding urban forest within the city.
“Do your little bit of good where you are; it’s those little bits of good put together that overwhelm the world.”
~ Poornima Suresh