Sustainability: Why it Matters and What I’m Trying to do about it.

There are so many facets to global warming and climate change people are aware about, but don’t understand. This leads to a lot of focus on very specific issues, which, in turn, leads to negligence of other problems. For instance, one such facet is decreasing tree cover in urban areas and loss of forested areas. This problem is very simple to understand. People need space to live, and they need shelter to live in, hence, they take a plot of land with trees, cut the trees down to get space and materials for building those shelters. Sustainability here would be planting more saplings elsewhere and restricting yourself to the plot you cleared out initially. If, with time, you lack space, build vertically, not horizontally. Leave room for mother nature. Instead, due to an ever-increasing need for residential and industrial areas, cities continue to expand at a breathtaking pace. Find an image comparing what cities were like ten years ago and what they are like now visually, you’ll see what I’m talking about. Urban areas constantly demand more homes, offices, power generation facilities, shopping malls, roads etc. The list goes on and on. Nature doesn’t. Due to urban expansion and hence reduced green cover, carbon dioxide levels are ramped up with more vehicles to produce it and less trees to remove it. Describing the different ways through which carbon dioxide is produced is futile. More urban areas results in more airports, not just one for each city, but more than one for the large cities. Airports need vast patches of land, which means less tree cover. More airports means more flights, and aircraft are one of the biggest singular producer of greenhouse gases, so that just keeps adding on. This is just one impact of not having enough green cover, some other consequences include higher temperatures (hence more need for air conditioners in buildings and vehicles, which has redundant unit-impact, but a very large aggregate impact), soil erosion, elimination of natural flood barriers etc. It’s bad. You might say that cutting down a small patch of trees has no impact in the larger scheme. You’re right, it doesn’t. But when millions of people say that, that impact adds up, and it leads to the world we’re in today.

Now less green cover is just one facet of the problem, as I said at the start. You might’ve realized the magnitude of this problem, but there are other problems out there that bear the same, if not heavier consequences. There’s rising temperatures, rising sea levels, desertification etc. And these are just other aspects of the same overarching problem: global warming. There are a host of issues out there: space junk, war, plastic pollution etc.

But then, the reason why one can’t solve all these issues is because they’re too large. That doesn’t just mean each one needs too much effort and time, it means that each one needs too much money, on the scale of billions of dollars. Knowing this, I set out to try and make my own small-scale, high-impact solution to the problem of reduced tree numbers: Treephillia.

Planting trees is something we’re all taught as a kid. Kindergarten and elementary school are full of activities where PT teachers show you how to plant a sapling, then you go ahead and plant yours and it feels like you’re doing your bit for the world. It’s something we all read about, and I do believe that the mass media deserves a lot of credit for showing the world just how important planting trees can be. In the developed world, and in a significant proportion of the developing world, most people know about this issue, even though they may not do anything about it or not even care. Awareness is there, but no one knows what to do. Take person X, for example. X wants to contribute by planting trees, but he has no idea about what to plant or how to plant it. He doesn’t know where he should plant it, and he doesn’t know which saplings he should buy from where. X is also aware of how important planting trees is, but is unsure about the impact just one plantation can have. X is representative of the majority of Earth’s population in this matter.

My application tries to remedy these issues. With inputs from experts who have field experience, I can advertise to its users what they should plant. For instance, the Eucalyptus is a 100% no-no, it might look pretty but it stunts the growth of other trees. With a plantation site feature that enables officials within the local forestry department to mark spots ripe for public plantation campaigns, I can tell X where to go to plant his tree. With a map that enables X to see plantations, he gets to know the larger impact. If you have a city with a population of 1 million people, and 1 out of 100 plant just a single sapling, you still have 10000 plantations. If you have a country with a population of 100 million people, via an extension of the same assumption 1/100 plant, you have 1 million plantations. That’s a lot, and that would really matter. My application gives its user the personal interface they need to plant trees smartly in the modern day era. And no, it’s not just limited to the stuff I listed out above. There is a serious lack of incentive surrounding planting trees, so I also decided to implement a voucher feature that rewards users who plant trees. While a voucher should not be a reason to want to plant trees, it serves as a pathway to doing so, and that works.

Now, how exactly does my application in reality? It’s not just for singular users who want more information and who want to record what they actually do. For instance, businesses can use it to have each employee plant a tree in the event of an office birthday and track the trees planted on a map. People can plant a tree on the important occasions of their life, say birthdays, anniversaries etc. Hotels can get employees to plant a tree when a guest has a birthday, or maybe even plant one without any occasion to visually improve the setting their guests stay in. The government can use it to track tree plantations and mark planting sites for the public. NGOs in this sector can use this to reach people who genuinely care and want to have an impact on the world through planting trees.

Personally, tree plantation is very important. As a 7 year old, I helped Dad plant a sapling outside our old house. For four years, I saw that sapling grow from a timid little thing to a leafy tree. Every time I return to that house, I think about just how much that one tree has grown. With this in mind, I’ve always drawn an analogy between planting a sapling and a mass tree plantation movement. Like a sapling, any plantation trend would be small at first. But, with time, it’ll grow. It’ll sprout branches and twigs, wear leaves, and most importantly, grow roots deep enough to keep it stable and strong. However, there is one difference here. Unlike a tree, a movement can’t be ripped out of its foundations or chopped off from its base. It will persist, and so will our planet.

Metrics for Analyzing Urban Societies

If we want to analyze specific regions or communities within cities, there must be some indicators that act as differentiators. For example, carbon dioxide concentrations, literacy rates, water hardness levels, diabetes levels etc. We can use multiple quantitative metrics. However, the hard part is finding relationships between these metrics and interpreting them.

With regards to Jaipur, there are various ways to collect data and use metrics. The first, simpler method is to set up your own grid of sensors around the city, each sending data in files based on its latitude and longitude rather than identification number. The second would be to get in touch with say the state government, or a sufficiently large private company.

Now, along with collecting numerical data, we will also need some qualitative data (and assign classes) to establish patterns. For example, if a specific region with a certain pincode has an abnormal concentration of carbon dioxide and a high usage of cigarettes, we would expect severe health, or even comfort problems there.

Getting the data is the hard part. Kaggle has a database on Jaipur, but only regarding weather data, which sucks. There are various other governmental sources, but most are written in hindi and are consequently very hard to input into a model as a language to language model/framework will be required. If all the sheets have a standard template, we could type in the data manually for the first few sheets, and then figure out a scraper to do the job for us.