China enlists 60,000 soldiers to plant trees in war against air pollution

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China is under attack on its own soil. And just as most countries with a large armed force would do, the country is deploying troops — over 60,000 members of the People’s Liberation Army — with no delay.

The invading force is insidious and can’t be dealt with using traditional military tactics — the raw manpower is needed but none of the standard maneuvers of warfare apply. And this is why China is arming its soldiers with two of the most effective weapons possible: shovels and saplings.

By planting a massive number of trees, China seeks to further suppress air pollution, a formidable adversary responsible for one-third of all deaths in China in 2016. The Chinese government is so serious about battling smog that a large regiment of soldiers along with a number of the country’s armed paramilitary police force have been pulled from their posts patrolling the northern border and reassigned to Hebei province on tree-planting duty, reports the Independent. By the end of this year, it’s expected that the troops will have planted an air pollution-absorbing swath of forested land — an arboreal sponge, essentially — roughly the size of Ireland at 32,400 square miles.

And China doesn’t plan on relenting. By 2020, the government aims to increase the total amount of forest coverage to 23 percent of the Chinese landmass. Currently, forests cover roughly 21 percent of the country — about 208 million hectares (roughly 514 million acres). Per state officials, about 33.8 million hectares (84 million acres) of new forest has been planted over the last five years.

This won’t completely eradicate air pollution in Chinese cities. Not even close. But when combined with other air quality-improving efforts such as banning vehicles with combustion engines, replacing coal with natural gas and leading the world in the production of solar energy, thousands of new square miles of air pollution-mitigating forests do make a small dent. And in a country as polluted and as populous as China is, every dent, no matter how small, is an improvement. (…)

MMN, Matt Hickman, Feb 2018