Trees in need: The social media as advocates

opinion May 14, 2016 01:00

By Veena Thoopkrajae
veena@nati

10,165 Viewed

The social media have become infamous for the unreliability of the information circulated. Users toss around facts and falsehoods as though lives depended on it - though in the case of the truth, of course, sometimes they do. The sharing networks are pers



However, amid the dull and the discontented, the social media, when wisely used, can be effective tools in promoting good causes.
Thursday witnessed the birth of the Thailand Urban Tree Network, a fine example of how these platforms can be constructively employed. The swift and successful launch was largely thanks to Facebook. 
It began with people sharing their frustration over how all the big trees in Bangkok are cut down and the city is becoming a concrete jungle, shorn of leaves to help us breathe. The main thrust was always maintaining the trees that still remain, but now there’s a fresh approach.
 After one of founders, Chorpaka Viriyanon, used her own Facebook page to casually ask people to join hands in protecting the trees left in the capital, support rapidly spread. The campaign heated up, as it were, as the temperature rose and shade-less sidewalks began buckling.
Complaints reached a boil on the social networks about how the municipal authorities in Bangkok and other urban centres routinely allowed trees to be cut down. Many photos of lifeless trees were posted, along with pictures of how our neighbouring countries are doing the opposite – planting more and conserving more. 
But no real action took place until the Thailand Urban Tree Network emerged at a press conference on Thursday. In the 12 days preceding, it had recruited 56 organisations as allies and had signed up more than 25,000 members.
“People will have to change their belief that taking care of trees is the responsibility of the state,” the group said in a statement. “If the authorities don’t do it properly we scold at them. But we and other business entities who have no choice but to live in the city will have to help, because it’s our home.” 
It was a manifesto for the greening of Thai metropolises, striking all the right chords.
Obviously the network and its allies have a formidable job ahead. Its members are planning to patrol streets and neighbourhood in search of ailing or endangered greenery. People are already exchanging reports on specific Bangkok district offices cutting down trees – a practice that surprisingly takes place often in the summertime, when every citizen and stray dog is gasping for shade.
The Urban Tree Network aims to pool resources and experts to cooperate with the people doing the cutting on behalf of the BMA, the highway department and district authorities. We might get to see a lot more trees spared, even if network members have to apply splints and bandages where needed and make the rounds with hoses and watering cans. The hope is that, with members on patrol, officials will be less quick to grab the chainsaw and more apt to take better care of the trees.
So, once again, we have the social networks being put to solid benefit. In the past there have been individual campaigns to help stray dogs, homeless people, blood-donation drives and much more, but nothing is so effective as an online network.
Let’s hope the Urban Tree Network serves as a model for more such civic-minded advocacy. It’s quickly found the right mix of caring individuals, environmental groups like the Big Tree Project, a book publisher, artists, universities, cycling clubs and news media.
A network can be quickly established when the objective is clear and the invitation to get involved sounds heartfelt and promising. Next time you pass a tree in the city, ask if it needs any help. 
If the answer is yes, post its picture online.