Doctors plant for health

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With climate change recognised by many as the number one threat to human health and existence, it is encouraging to hear about initiatives that seek to reduce the impact on future generations.

As a high CO2 usage professional group, doctors have taken steps to compensate for their contribution to carbon emissions by setting up Forests for Health New Zealand – a partnership between Ora Taiao NZ Climate and Health Council and the Sustainable Business Network’s Carbon4Good Programme.   The partnership exists to assist health professionals to reduce carbon emissions and to offset the emissions associated with unavoidable travel. It is based on an understanding that offsetting goes hand-in-hand with action on mitigating emissions.

As a society of carbon emitters, continued action by individuals, especially reducing energy consumption, is vital in reducing atmospheric carbon levels. For many people that means cutting down on travel. Doctors are invited to calculate their emissions from activities like flights and road travel to conferences, along with their household electricity, by contributing to a fund that plants trees which absorb carbon as they grow. Payments are then made securely to the Sustainable Business Network.

“We can cut back on carbon, and we can also help the land to ‘suck carbon up’ “, says Johnsonville GP Rebecca Randerson, an executive member of Ora Taiao: the New Zealand Climate and Health Council, who was heavily involved behind the scenes in setting up the Council’s Forests for Health NZ.


Peter Gilberd and Rebecca Randerson on the marae

Looking out from the young manuka that edge this recent planting zone

The scheme was launched in the middle of last year and to date a significant number of native trees have been planted in a wind-swept, gorse-covered Wellington hillside between Newlands and Horokiwi. The developing forest has involved a number of groups including Trees for Survival. Consistent with the latter’s aim to see a school and community working together, the planting project has called on, Newlands College, a TfS school, along with Bellevue School and adult volunteers. The first 150 trees purchased with money from Kiwi doctors were planted on World Environment Day in June last year.

With the gorse chopped back and spadework carried out by volunteers, the school children enthusiastically planted manuka along with two northern rata, which will provide seed to aid forestation.


Ora Taiao executive member and orthopaedic surgeon Russell Tregonning

Bellevue School pupils with (back) parent Karen Lelieveld, teacher Maria Church, marae committee member Peter Gilberd, and volunteers Rosemary Machin and Narlene Edwards

According to local marae chair, Bill Rawiri, the ultimate aim is to create a forest haven for kiwi, as the area once was, when given the name Horokiwi.  He goes on to say, “The project is a circle of win-wins”. The Department of Conservation helps source plants, rest-home residents pot up seedlings and school pupils grow them on and the marae has its own shade-house built free by supporters.

Peter Gilberd, TfS Wellington regional manager, was the man on the spot, co-ordinating the school’s involvement and plant care.

While the former landfill is fast becoming surrounded by carbon-soaking native trees, thanks to doctors putting their hands in their pockets, Dr Randerson insists, “Carbon forests are a well-known strategy, but the main focus for mitigating climate-change risks should still be CO2 reduction”.

Original reporting and photos by Virginia McMillan for New Zealand Doctor

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