The Inner Mongolian Plateau, to the north of Beijing, used to be the source of the wind-blown sandstorms that were rampant in the Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei region each spring. But now, over 700-square-km of trees, called Saihanba, has formed a green wall 450 km from Beijing, saving the capital from being buffeted by wind and sand.
This green barrier is not a natural phenomenon but the result of 55 years of man-made afforestation.
The forest lies close to sandy land on the plateau. Fifty-five years ago, it was wasteland with scattered yellow grass and a few trees, which gradually became sandy. Efforts to rehabilitate the land started in the 1960s. In 1962, the government began building a forest farm there and organized agriculturists and farmers to plant trees. Thanks to the relentless efforts of three generations, the barren land turned into a lush forest. The forest stock in Saihanba has reached 10.12 million cubic meters, conserving and purifying 137 million cubic meters of water every year.
The story of a green Saihanba spread nationwide and received an enthusiastic response. It also gave rise to the concept of the Saihanba Spirit, defined as a combination of dedication and entrepreneurship, a scientific and realistic approach, and green development.
The Saihanba Spirit is exemplary for three reasons:
First, people in China and other countries have been making efforts to improve the condition of desertified regions. The successful practice of Saihanba shows that human effort to improve the natural environment is not in vain. A sandy tract can be transformed into an oasis.
Second, generally speaking, China's ecological environment is vulnerable. Besides natural deserts and wastelands in the west and north regions, there are places in the south that originally had abundant rainfall and vegetation but were seriously damaged due to the unsustainable development pattern formerly pursued in the past few decades. The government has realized that pursuing economic development while seeking ecological balance can lead to and has introduced a strategy of making ecological progress and building a beautiful China.
Saihanba's transformation demonstrates that the strategy has an achievable goal, and economic growth and ecological progress can be synergized.
Third, afforestation is one of the pivotal ways humans can deal with climate change. Saihanba's trees can absorb 747,000 tons of carbon dioxide and release 545,000 tons of oxygen each day. The mechanized Saihanba tree farm can produce over 450,000 tons of marketable wood, and its carbon emission permit trading volume can exceed 30 million yuan ($4.55 million), according to China Green Carbon Foundation. This means we can replicate the Saihanba model and cope better with climate change.
The Saihanba Spirit is motivational. Promoting ecological development and addressing climate change both take time. We should be prepared to fight a protracted war for a sound environment, just like generations of Saihanba people. With persistance and hard work, our earth will become a much better place.