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February 2006


Offset your carbon emissions

- Priya Sundaravalli

Plant a few trees for every air-trip



Auroville's Green Group proposes a deal. Air-travellers are invited to offset their contribution to air pollution by paying for planting tree saplings. Your air miles don't buy you flight coupons or gadgets; just the joy of greening the environment. The more you fly, the more you pay, and the more trees get planted.

A closely knit team––Natasha, Kali, and Jos. “For Rs. 50 per seedling, a rare TDEF species can be planted on your behalf”. Photo by Priya Sundravalli

A crazy idea? “Not at all, it makes a lot of sense!” says Jos who, together with Natasha and Kali, initiated the project. “Each plane burns kerosene and emits greenhouse gases, which affect the environment. Trees absorb green house gases, so planting saplings that will become trees in the future, helps to make a difference.”

Natasha reels off the figures. “A return flight from Chennai to New York puts out over 3 tonnes of carbon dioxide. This roughly means that five trees per passenger are needed to offset the emissions.” A return trip to Europe , it appears, demands three trees per passenger. Jos admits that the calculations may vary according to the technique used, but downplays the importance of exact calculations. “What matters is that we become aware of our contribution to the earth's warming, so that we can make a conscious choice to do something about it.” The team is yet to publish figures on how many trees have to be planted to balance the effects of driving a motor bike or car, but, says Kali “the programme also welcomes contributions from those who use two or four wheelers.”

A really conscious eco-traveller would ask what kind of saplings are going to be planted and where. The Green Group has anticipated these questions. The saplings are not ordinary: they belong to the 42 Rare, Endangered and Threatened (RET) varieties of the 266 species of the Tropical Dry Evergreen Forest (TDEF). They will replace the non-native ‘work' trees (Acacia auriculoformis) which, because of their drought resistance and fast growth, were once the trees of choice to reforest Auroville. But their short life-span of less than 20 years means that they have to be replaced by new trees.

The contributions will be used to cut the old trees, to search for RET specimens in the few remnant TDEF patches––usually snake-infested sacred groves around old temples, to collect the seeds, germinate them in nurseries in Auroville, and plant and nurture the saplings in the forests. “At fifty rupees a sapling we believe we are providing an excellent deal,” says Jos.

The aim of the Green Group is to propagate 25,000 seedlings in the various nurseries so as to have a ‘genetically viable population of offspring that can self-propagate'. At five trees per return-trip from India to the U.S. , Aurovilians would have to make 5,000 air trips. Admitting that this is not realistic, the Green Group encourages visitors to Auroville to join the programme. It goes without saying that the programme is not restricted to trips to or from Auroville. It can also include any other air-travel. For example, those who attend the Auroville Inter-national meeting in South Africa this March, can contribute three trees per return trip from Europe or India .

The Green Group's list of enthusiastic supporters is topped by Aurovilian Klara of Auromodèle who contributed retroactively for all the flights she has ever taken since coming to Auroville. A commendable example! Who's next?

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