LETTER TO THE EDITOR
AIR TRAVEL FOR TREE-PLANTING EXERCISE ENVIRONMENTALLY UNSOUND
I refer to your report, “Planting Trees to Mark 25th Year” (Metro, 8th Oct). While I applaud AEON’s environmental initiatives such as planting trees, reducing the use of plastic bags and collecting waste items for recycling, I must express serious concern over the environmental cost of flying in volunteers from Japan to plant trees in Malaysia.
Relying on the International Civil Aviation Organisation’s and CO2 Balance’s carbon emission calculators, I have determined that a return trip for just one person from Tokyo to KLIA would generate an estimated 2.51 tonnes of carbon dioxide.
This calculation is in accordance with the UK Government’s Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs 2008 Guidelines to Greenhouse Gas Conversion Factors. Multiplied by 500 volunteers, this would amount to 1,255 tonnes of carbon dioxide.
Let us take into cognisance the fact that mature trees offset far greater amounts of CO2 than young trees. A tree will only begin to be effective in absorbing carbon in its tenth year. A 25-year-old tree will be able to absorb approximately 0.0011 tonnes of CO2 a year. Over 25 years, we would need 36 trees to offset one tonne of CO2.
A concession would have to be made for the fact that the majority of the trees planted at the Malaysia-Japan Friendship Forest are actually hibiscus and small shrubs, not indigenous rainforest trees, but the principle of benefit of the doubt will be applied in this circumstance.
In order to offset the 1,255 tonnes of carbon dioxide generated by flying in 500 volunteers from Japan, AEON would have to plant and maintain at least 45,180 forest trees of significant size, and ensure that the said trees stay alive for at least 50 years. Disease, deforestation and reclamation of land for development will have an impact on whether or not a tree survives for 50 years and beyond.
Instead of sponsoring air travel for its volunteers from Japan, AEON could, alternatively, engage the assistance of the expatriate Japanese community in Malaysia, sponsor and mobilise wholly local volunteers, utilise technologies such as video conferencing or make video recordings of the event to be viewed by Japanese counterparts. Environmental responsibility entails long-term commitment, creativity and an intelligent assessment of all the social, economic and environmental aspects of a project, on the part of the project proponents.
While I laud the corporate social responsibility efforts of many retail corporations, great pains must be taken to ensure that these are not reduced to opportunities for a tropical junket, or mere exercises in ‘greenwashing’ that may end up causing more harm to the environment, or, at best, be of no benefit to the environment.
WONG EE LYNN