A ‘wooden Rwanda’ for climate change mitigation?

Ethiopians certainly broke a climatic record the other day. On a voluntary basis, they planted 350 million tree-seedlings in a single day! It’s a feat that none else has conquered.

Rwandans, used to being the preserve of swiftly-bagged firsts in diverse areas, should feel a tinge of healthy envy.

“Healthy” in the sense that they should civilly give Ethiopians their deserved thumbs-up, without forgetting that being beaten to that heroic tree-planting exploit is a strong censure on their conscience

Only problem: 350 million trees? Rwanda may be a land of countless hills – a “thousand hills” is a miniaturisation manner of speaking, by the way. But accommodating that number of trees would be a sure dilemma.

A population of 12m; hosting refugees and migrants unwanted elsewhere; habitation units, other buildings in towns, villages; domestic, wild animals; roads, pathways; lakes, rivers, rocks; then addition to existing trees.

All these jostling it out on 26,338 square-kilometres?

Well, Rwandans, you’d better give that a pass and do with the little tree-cover you can garner. Yet what an environment-and-fresh-air good it’d do you, only Mother Nature knows.

Still, fret not; all isn’t lost.

If you put your heads together and devise ways of getting benefits of large-scale tree-cover in other ways, maybe you may not benefit from the abundance of the “lungs of the earth” (the Amazon rainforests). But, for sure, it’d stand you in good stead.

What’s the big deal about being wooded, you may ask.

Well, as we learnt in elementary Biology classes, plants breathe in carbon dioxide and breathe out oxygen. And oxygen sustains us all as living things. But little elementary knowledge is one thing.

Knowledge of the complex photosynthesis process that produces oxygen is a totally different other. Certainly, a mystery to some, like a PhD friend who never saw the inside of a Science classroom!

Mystery or not, anyway, again, none need fret. All talk about wood and other plants is a lot of hot air over little oxygen contribution: a tiny 0.01% for our entire earth.

A veritable tiny mystery to us all that we need to kneel down and worship is a dot of a marine plant known as a plankton. It’s a microscopic, single-celled photosynthetic organism that lives suspended in water, I am told.

These plankton darlings are responsible for the bulk of our vital oxygen. So, for their survival, you should tenderly tend your few freshwater basins.

Then the most important task will be to keep carbon dioxide at bay lest it displaces oxygen, pollutes our universe and sends all to certain obliteration.

Your wee contribution? Avoid burning any oil. A tall order, of course, the way you love your cars, riding buses or hopping onto the nearest motorcycle taxi. Other hurdles: ridding yourselves of herbivorous-animal waste, mitigating industrial processes (cement manufacture, etc.) and all forms of fossil fuel combustion.

Deforestation was an irksome habit you have managed to kick.

So, the next logical thing I’ll suggest, dread of all dreads, is a return to “Nyakatsi”!

But before you go for your hammer, hear me out! It’s only in a manner of speaking. Still, sit on a chair in your home or any other building and seriously look around.

From the metallic/plastic chair, the cement floor, concrete-and-steel walls, plastic ceiling to iron roof, they are deadly carbon dioxide emitters. In short, you are snuggled inside a carbon poison-box!

You are safe only if your chair, floor, walls, kitchen, ceiling, roof, all are wood. Which is not exactly “Nyakatsi” but remember how wood and grass used to be inseparable partners.

So, I say: take the timber route if you want a truly well-protected, friendly environment. Wooden buildings, it’s been scientifically proven, is a solution to climate change.

Timber structures “would allow us to draw carbon from the air and store it in our homes”, offices, social halls, stadiums, churches, name it. When these structures are in construction, the sites won’t only be quiet and clean but the structures will also smell good.

Take your KICC, for instance. It’d not be an imitation of your culture; it’d be your 21-century-modernity culture incarnate. Steel columns and pillars (inkingi) for strength and as supports completely wrapped up in wood but otherwise timber core, walls, floor slabs and also those imitative spirals (imbariro) all as wood.

As for height, fret not either. I’ve heard of wooden 60-storey skyscrapers.

To render it strong and robust, it’ll be built with what I hear is called “engineered wood systems such as cross-laminated timber”.

Then you and every visitor will sit and marvel at this wonder structure that’s lighter by 5%, is cleaner and smells good. You can bet that the whole country, nay, the world, will ‘go wood’!

The tricky part: where to get all that timber.

But that’s little sweat. Considering the high demand, everybody, especially ‘jungle-covered’ neighbours, will learn how to regularly plant and harvest as many trees as possible. After all, in old age trees cease to ‘breathe out’ oxygen.

A good time to turn them into wood that draws carbon from the atmosphere and stores it.

The views expressed in this article are of the author.

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