Losing the forest for the trees

Within the space of about 30 years, atmospheric pollution has worsened, even though measures taken from time to time have cost as much as 10 Olympiads. However, other things have also changed. Interest (both scientific and political) has moved from the ecological approach to an environmental activism that has sometimes verged on the «boy scout» approach. Green roofs are said to have been used in a number of countries to great effect. But these countries have different climates (more rainfall and greater humidity), and different problems – not photochemical smog. It is also claimed that green roofs can help to change the microclimate over a few dozen blocks. In practice that means that they can help reduce extremes in temperatures. According to Maria Papafotiou, a lecturer at the Athens Agricultural University, one would need about 1 or 2 hectares of green roof, the equivalent of 200 apartment buildings, all adjoining. Papafotiou observed that such an area would reduce noise and rain runoff, the main reason for their use in Canada and Germany. Panayiotis Nektarios, a professor at the same university, explained that if implemented in Greece, considerable preparations would be needed. «The first problem is water. In a city with what appears will be a clearly dry future, special solutions would be needed. We have suggested using the water from the Psyttaleia waste treatment plant, but were told that would be unfeasible. «Choosing the right plants also needs particular care; they should not require large amounts of water nor, of course, fertilizers or chemicals that would pollute the urban or marine environment. There are such plants and our university has prepared proposals and alternative solutions using plants from among Greece’s flora.» Green roofs usually fall into three categories – extensive, semi-intensive and intensive, depending on the depth of the soil and the amount of maintenance required. The intensive type is the most effective, as it can be planted with trees, but is prohibitive because of the infrastructure required. The soil needs to be at least 60-80 centimeters deep; many of Athens’s apartment buildings could not withstand such weight. Extensive gardens can easily be covered with grass or small aromatic plants, but the problem here appears to be that many of these are annuals, although the university staff say there are solutions to this. It is hard to find an expert on dealing with the effects of atmospheric pollution who is in favor of green roofs. For some years now, it has been said that the problem was created by pollution from vehicles and the lack of parking spaces and this is where the solution has to be sought. Leonidas Louloudis, the university’s vice rector, is one of the first people in Greece to have become involved in political ecology… which deals with environmental issues by mobilizing society. Every problem has not only losers but winners. Pollution means financial profit for some people, so any solutions cannot be sought through some traditional «love of nature,» says Louloudis. According to political ecology, the individual cost is more often approached as «free personal choice,» something like philanthropy in the welfare state. «The few green roofs in Patissia is a nice image,» says Louloudis, «as a protest against the lack of a new design for a city that has already spread concrete into the Mesogeia plain. But it won’t be anything more than that.» …Instead of trying to cure what we experienced last summer, we dream about small Mt Parnithas on our roofs and have forgotten about public urban greenery.