The world we share

By Sean Hua

Federal Minister for the Environment and acting Minister for Cities and the Built Environment Greg Hunt has begun outlining a plan to increase tree coverage for cities. The effort is aimed at lowering the temperatures of our urban areas, and increasing the quality of life, especially for those most vulnerable to extreme heat like the very young and elderly.

Image source: The Fountain - slashfilm.com

There have been successful attempts to do this at the local level. The City of Melbourne initiated their Urban Forest Strategies in 2013, made famous by giving the public the ability to “email a tree” of their choice.

Council has various rationales behind their strategy: to begin replacing the older trees that are reaching the end of their lifespan; to increase biodiversity and resilience of the urban landscaping; and as a benefit for its citizens health and wellbeing. The extra canopy shade and mitigation from the urban heat island effect – where urban areas are warmer due to human activity and buildings trapping heat – are bonus side effects. This is especially evident when people try to avoid the heat and end up costing the economy millions of dollars a day from the drop in retail activity.

It is easy (relatively speaking) to enact such strategies at the local level, especially in a council that is as progressive (relatively speaking) as Melbourne’s. What remains to be seen is whether the Federal government can enact this strategy and how. They will have to negotiate the various planning systems of each State, not to mention the variances between local governments. This would be especially challenging seeing as the Cities portfolio is newly created without much precedence. Where does their jurisdiction start and end? And if we are looking at delivery of an environmental project of such scale, what example is the acting minister setting with this track record?

Questions abound…. That said, the Feds should not be solely responsible for looking after the country we share, nor should other levels of government be solely responsible for the functions of state and city. While my belief is sorely tested on a daily basis, I would like to think we are mindful of the world we live in, and of the futures of our descendants. I often ask myself 'To whom does the world and future belong?' and I usually answer, 'To everyone, and to no-one.'

It might be too large a question to ponder, so if you need a small target, how about this: go plant a tree. I just did!

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