Tree Man joins the fight against climate change
The people of Orissa know that something is changing. The Indian coastal state, which lies at the head of the Bay of Bengal, has been lurching from one extreme weather condition to another for more than a decade. Cyclones, heat waves, droughts, floods and other catastrophes have taken more than 30,000 lives and affected tens of millions of people. Meanwhile, sea level rises have claimed more than 100 sq km of land and caused the abandonment of five villages.
Sujit Mahapatra, founder of an Orissa-based Bakul Foundation, reports that climate change is 'impacting us in ways that we realize and in ways that we do not realize. We are suffering from the warming and freakish weather patterns, but we are unable to fathom the gravity of the situation, since we acknowledge dangers only in retrospect'.
Sujit realises that countering climate change will require more than individual actions - it means building a movement - 'and that is what we are attempting with all our enthusiasm', he says. The Bakul Foundation has launched a tree-planting initiative in the state, known as the 'My Tree Campaign'. The name has been chosen deliberately to emphasise that individuals cannot simply plant and forget about their tree - they must take responsibility for its survival.
'We are not thinking of a mere event or activity. We are attempting to create a sub-culture around tree plantation, where trees can become a part of the everyday lives of people... We are trying to introduce an emotional connection between people and trees'.
A number of methods are being used to build this sub-culture. For example, the group hopes to introduce a tradition of gifting saplings on birthdays, child births, and weddings so that people will have an emotional connection with the gifts and therefore take responsibility for nurturing and caring for them. Importantly, Sujit says, this actions conveys the importance of trees without anyone having to preach on the subject.
Other steps include partnering with corporates so that they gift saplings to their employees on their birthdays, talking with hospitals about the possibility of gifting saplings following child births and working with organizations and institutions to get students and employees to plant a tree to mark their entry into the institution and to see it grow with them. Meanwhile, the campaign's very own super hero, Tree Man, has been swooping into crowded places accompanied by teams of volunteers in order to encourage individuals to join the campaign - according to Sujit, 'the Tree Man has done what a hundred processions could not have'.
Beyond the tree planting itself, an energetic awareness raising campaign is motivating youth to see climate change as a cause for action. This has included film screenings of 'An Inconvenient Truth' and 'Climate's First Orphans' (a BBC Film on how climate change has affected Orissa).
This awareness raising is central to the initiative. Sujit recognises that small actions will not work unless people understand the issues at stake so that they can tackle them together - 'the My Tree Campaign is not about planting trees but about mobilizing people to plant trees'.
Find out more about the Bakul Foundation at http://bakulfoundationfaq.blogspot.com/
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