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Wednesday, March 12, 2008

China's Day of Tree Planting

Today people all over China will purchase tree saplings and plant them in city parks or around the countryside. China adopted National Tree Planting Day in 1979, in an afforestation effort of massive proportions.

China's lack of prolific trees in urban areas stems back to the Cultural Revolution in the sixties and seventies, when Chairman Mao decreed that China must purge it's culture of "liberal bourgeoisie" elements, including parkland, trees and non-agricultural plant life. Mao felt strongly that people could use the power of science to master nature. He wanted to encourage a "freedom from nature" attitude, especially since Taoist, Buddhist and Confucian thought draw much of their philosophies from man's interaction with nature.

According to a 1981 resolution by China's top legislature, every healthy Chinese citizen older than 11 has a duty of planting three to five trees each year without pay. Most families choose to plant at least one of these trees on March 12. The first of April is also a popular day for tree-planting. Urban parks provide free planting kits, and people can buy different kinds of saplings there for 20 to 40 yuan (US$2.40 to US$4.80).

This year, China's National Tree Planting Day takes on additional meaning. As Beijing prepares for the coming Summer Olympics, city officials continue to strive for an increased number of "Blue Sky Days." Beijing's air pollution makes it one of the most polluted cities in the world, which might heavily impact the health and performance of the 2008 Olympians.

To win as the 2008 host city, Beijing promised the IOC a "Green Olympics." One method, small though it is, involves increasing the planting of trees in and outside of the city. Officials hope that trees planted to the northwest of Beijing might help create a windbreak to lessen the impact of seasonal dust storms. These seasonal dust storms occur when winds originating in Mongolia sweep across the arid Gobi Desert, bringing huge clouds of yellow dust into Beijing.

I wonder if China's efforts will be enough? Will it be a "Green Olympics?" Or will it be a gray one?