Melbourne Invents the 21st Century Equivalent of Tree Hugging: Email a Tree

Melbourne Trees
DocklandsTony FLICKR

The City of Melbourne, Australia has stumbled upon a novel way of wasting taxpayer money: email any one of the city’s 60,000 trees and they will email you back, as their thoughts are helpfully channelled through the minds of friendly, handsomely paid council employees. (h/t WUWT)

Melbourne is characterised by wide tree lined boulevards which were mostly built and planted before the Great War, but thanks to a long drought in the early 2000’s almost half are expected to die in the next 20 years. The city authorities are trying to combat this die-back by doubling the number of trees by 2040, but have come up with an unusual way of advertising it to the public.

As part of the preservation and planting project, each of the city’s trees was assigned a unique ID number and categorised. The city then turned that information into an interactive map so that residents could identify particular trees – and contact them.

“Some said we were wasting money, but the trees were always going to have individual ID numbers anyway. So it was only logical we’d assign the ID numbers to an email which connects these trees to the community,” says Melbourne city councillor, Arron Wood.

Unsurprisingly, the whole idea forms part of an ambition to alert the public to the dangers of climate change. “Whether or not we can retain a heritage park as it has been in the past is probably the wrong question. We’ve got to figure out how our Urban Forest is going to sustain itself in the face of ever-increasing extreme weather,” says Wood.

For Wood, that means getting Melburnians involved in the tree scape of their city – by getting to know the trees personally. “An unintended but positive consequence was that instead of reporting problems with trees, people began writing letters about how much they love individual trees in the city.

“The emails show Melburnians know and respect the importance of trees in reducing heat in our city and increasing Melbourne’s liveability.”

Emails of praise have come in from people offering words of encouragement and praise. one fan of a golden elm emailed it to tell it to “keep up the good work”; another wanted to compliment a London plane tree on its beauty. One resident moving abroad contacted a green leaf elm urging it to stay in good shape, according to Guardian Australia.

However, the plan is not without it’s detractors. Writing for Watts Up With That, Eric Worrall commented “Critics of tree communication might suggest that the money spent helping the trees to answer their correspondence could be better spent on drought mitigation measures – more irrigation, maybe some silica pellets to help with soil moisture retention. But perhaps it does the trees good to talk through their problems.

“As a former resident of Melbourne, there is more than one tree to which I probably owe an apology, thanks to the lamentable lack of after hours facilities in some parts of the city. But I don’t think I will ever get drunk enough to write an email to a tree.”

Meanwhile Australian climate blogger Jo Nova has observed “These poor trees are victims of 20 years of dysfunctional science. They need some messages of hope, and skeptics might like to cheer them up by reminding them of how much extra plant food we are pouring into the sky. Tell the trees you care for them by driving your V8 full size pickup truck, and you like to brake hard. If you win lotto you’ll import a Ford Raptor from America.

“If you are a Melbourne City Council ratepayer, I wouldn’t write to the trees, I’d write to your councillor.”