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Whitewashing and Earth Day

22/04/2011

Today’s post is taken from the blog of Volunteer Karin Jones:

Painting the trees in Kirovograd

It is whitewashing time again.I noticed last year after I arrived in Kirovograd that the bottoms of all of the trees in the city (with the exception of the “forest” areas) are painted white, up to about chest height (for me). At the time, when I asked why, someone said “it protects them from bugs”, but did not tell me exactly how painting the bottom of a tree white manages to achieve that goal.

When I saw them starting to paint trees again this year, I once again wondered exactly why is this whitewashing being done? What is the purpose behind painting the bottoms of trees? I mean, unless it is a really strange fashion statement, then there must be a logical reason, right?

I decided to try to find the answer to this question. As usual, I did an online search and found out that, apparently, the white paint is meant to protect trees from the following things:

  • Sunscald. Yep. Apparently, trees can get sunburned, especially if they had been protected by other trees or their own branches and then are suddenly exposed to strong, harsh sunlight. According to ehow.com, “Too much hot sun directed onto a tree trunk day after day may not leave behind a sun burn but it will cause damage to the bark that will become noticeable over time.
  • Bores. Those little insects that tunnel under the bark of a tree and damage the underlying layers of the tree. According to the University of California, “a large infestation of tree borers feeding on a single tree can result in damage that can only be rectified by heavy pruning or removal of the tree.” So by protecting the bark from sunscald, you make the environment less friendly for bores.
  • Splitting. According tot he University of Missouri Extension, splitting happens when a tree is exposed to freezing evening temperatures followed by a daytime thawing. Painting its trunk white will help reflect sunlight during the daytime hours and keep the tree warmer at night.
  • Animal Damage. We all know that some animals like to snack on the bark of trees, however, I was unaware that the trees are not so fond of this. Makes sense, though – I mean, the thought of someone using me as a snack is not one that is especially tempting. But according to what I found out, merely painting the trees is not deterrent enough – there is some sort of additive, a repellant, that can be added to the paint to discourage hungry rabbits (for example) from having the tree for lunch. Apparently the rabbits have to go elsewhere to find their meals, as this restaurant is closed.

My research also said that a person does not have to use white paint, but that any light-colored paint will work. So here is what I am envisioning – around Easter time (now), trees with barks painted in “springtime” hues, anything from white to light pink, purple, blue and green. I am imagining how this would look as a person walks down the sidewalk….distracting is one word that comes to mind. Experts are quick to mention that a person should not use exterior paint on trees, as it will damage them, and they encourage people to use “green” or organic based paint.

So why am I talking so much about trees today? Well, today is Earth Day, a day that is intended to inspire awareness and appreciation for the Earth’s natural environment. We are living on this Earth and not taking care of it properly, with disastrous consequences. Take littering, for example – a huge problem in Ukraine.

Sadly, this is a common sight in Ukraine

Littering can be hazardous to peoples’ health. Trash in an area attracts vermin and bacteria. Broken glass and other sharp objects are dangerous when they are left lying around in public places.

Litter is harmful to wildlife. Birds mistake plastic for food, eat it, and chocke. Even worse, small bits of plastic can accumulate in the stomach of a bird, never digesting or decomposing, to the point where there is no more room for real food and the bird starves to death with a full stomach.

Last, but most obviously, litter makes an area look bad. When a large amount of litter can be found in a particular environment, it reflects badly on the people who live there. I am still shocked when I go to an area outside the city, or within the city limits but not in the center, and see the amount of litter that exists. I see people leaving trash behind when they go to enjoy the lakes and fields, which quickly makes those lakes and fields far less attractive for others to enjoy.

Why do people litter? Well, for a couple of reasons. The most obvious is laziness. When people are out partying and have garbage, but there is no garbage can nearby, they don’t want to go to the effort of carrying their trash with them until they reach a garbage can. They figure someone else will pick it up.

The problem is, no one else is picking it up either – they are all doing the same thing.

By the way, if you think this is only a problem here in Ukraine, it is not. It is just more obvious to me, because this is where I currently live.

So what is the resolution – how do we solve this problem? Well, the first step is for people to realize that we are all responsible for the health of our environment and to start to take steps to keep it healthy. In a place like the United States, this means participating in a recycling program, producing as little waste as possible, purchasing fuel-efficient vehicles (better yet, taking public transportation or walking), the list goes on and on. In Ukraine, most people already walk or take public transport, but people could participate in clean up campaigns, stop littering and use trash cans, and push for cleaner water.

I don’t claim to have all of the answers, but I do know that we as a global society need to address and work on our environment. We need to stop thinking only of ourselves and think of future generations, and of this marvelous, life-giving Earth upon which we live.

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