How Can Kolkata Go Green and Enjoy Cooler Summers?

“I miss those wonderfully bright mornings,” sighs Tanima Basu, a 40-year school teacher living in Kolkata. “The soothing greenery and the chirping of birds used to be a pleasant start of the day…nowadays, it’s so bleak, so gray!” complains the Beliaghata resident. Unfortunately, she is not alone in experiencing this. The city’s ‘green cover’ is on a steady decline with rapid urbanization and infrastructural development projects underway. Plus, Kolkata loses a lot of trees every year due to storms. However, there isn’t much effort towards replanting the receding greenery.

With more concrete and fewer trees becoming the new normal in the city’s developing landscape, there’s a considerable economic damage being done besides the evident environmental damage.  For instance, a fully-grown tree is capable of producing oxygen valued around Rs.24 lakh per year, and considering the number of trees that are being felled every year, the estimated economic loss is in the tune of Rs.240 crores.

The perennial concern, however, is the ever-increasing traffic load of Kolkata. The toxic pollutants emitted by these vehicles day in and day out is destroying the urban ecology of the city, depleting the amount of oxygen day by day. Currently, there are not enough number of trees to recycle back the polluted air into oxygen, a prime cause of lung disease and other serious ailments.

Destruction of greenery is taking a heavy toll on Kolkata’s ecosystem and general climate. For instance, Salt Lake has been witnessing a loss of biodiversity over the past many years. We are now experiencing sweltering hot weather conditions in the middle of what used to be considered as spring months; winters are getting less cold with every passing year. We are all aware of recent temperature rises and are always discussing the effects of global warming, but there’s very little being done to remedy the situation.

Here are some steps we need to take now in order to promote greenery in Kolkata, which will also allow us to enjoy cooler summers.

Better Reforestation Strategy

Trees are constantly being hacked to accommodate urbanization, but there’s not enough reforestation drive to compensate for the felling of the trees.

Special initiatives should be undertaken to plant saplings in strategic locations so that they don’t have to be cut down when they are full grown trees in the next 15-20 years to make way for new infrastructure. Also, roads and highways that are not under the ‘green cover’ should also be brought under the reforestation drive.

Create More Green Spaces

Taking care of plants is surprisingly simple and the recompense is incredibly rewarding both at personal as well as community level. Here are some ways citizens and authorities cam come forward to create more green spaces:

  • Plant trees/plants wherever practically possible.
  • Homeowners should be encouraged to keep gardens and those without enough space for a full-blown garden (like those who live in apartments) should keep indoor plants.
  • Form a community to protect a park or a green zone near you.
  • Real estate developers should be encouraged to include more greenery and landscaped gardens into their project plans.

Encourage Less Usage of Cars

Some of the greenest cities in the world encourage bicycling and walking rather than cars. For example, everyone in Amsterdam rides bicycles, and they have been doing it for decades. Less usage of fuel-powered vehicles reduces the carbon footprint and though this is practised in some of the ’greener’ Indian cities, Kolkata fairs poorly at the bottom of the chart. Here are some steps that can be taken to discourage people from using cars too much:

  • Ensure protected paths, racks and parking for riders
  • Enhance on-road security and cleanliness to encourage people to walk
  • Increase the parking fees for vehicles
  • Create awareness programs and open dialogues with the citizens

Reduce Greenhouse Gas Emissions

Besides, cutting down the use of cars, the following measures can be taken to lower down greenhouse gas emissions:

  • More solar units should be installed, which will also provide the benefits of net metering
  • Authorities should introduce more vehicles that run on CNG or electric power
  • Homeowners and civic bodies should be encouraged to replace power-consuming appliances with smart, energy-efficient products and devices

Apart from these best practices, here’s one more thing people can do to promote cooler and more energy-efficient living spaces instead of cranking up their ACs…

 Change Over to Cool Roofs

Switching over to cool roofs requires a whitewash over the traditional dark ones is a simple way to reduce the heat inside buildings. Cool roofs reflect back the daytime heat, instead of absorbing it, which reduces the indoor temperature by almost 5°C.

Many cities in India, especially Delhi, is spearheading the adoption of cool roofs in both domestic and commercial segments. Air-conditioned buildings with a roof area of 150m2 can save close to Rs.15, 000 annually in electricity bills by merely swapping their conventional dark roofs with an energy efficient cool one.

We all want Kolkata to be more urbanized and developed, but not at the cost of its precious greenery. The environmental balance has to be restored and this responsibility lies on us. We must all take a stand before it’s too late.

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