Failing to see the wood for the trees

It will take quite a while for us – the inhabitants of Attica at least – to overcome the shock caused by the incineration of a significant portion of Mount Parnitha. For reasons divorced from reality, we seemed to have been under the impression that Parnitha was protected against all harm by some invisible shield. With many areas of the Mediterranean ablaze and hundreds of fires raging across Greece, it never crossed our minds that Parnitha might come to some harm; we felt certain that it would always be there, providing us not only with oxygen but also its unparallelled natural beauty. We were wrong. Perhaps we should attribute the melodramatic hand-wringing that dominated most of the media the following day to our state of severe shock. We were bombarded with tidings of doom such as: «We have lost Parnitha» and «A century before the forest will grow back.» But then again, how could any composed and sensible analysis possibly prevail in a country where public opinion is shaped by hysterical TV news bulletins? The truth is that we have not lost Parnitha. A huge expanse of forestland – initial estimates put it at 4,000 hectares – has indeed been destroyed but not «all of Parnitha.» The mountain range that includes Parnitha covers some 30,000 hectares. All this talk of having to wait a century before the forest grows back is pure nonsense. Parnitha is not just any old mountain. It is the highest in Attica, receives almost double the rainfall as the rest of Attica (some 800 centimeters per year) and, unlike other nearby mountainous areas such as Pendeli, it is not used for grazing purposes. All these factors are anything but discouraging for hopes of regrowth. Parnitha could be green again in just five years if the right action is taken. There is a problem with the fir trees, which do not grow back as easily as the pines. But Parnitha’s fir trees already had a problem even before the fire; one in four was already dead. Nevertheless, someone said it would be a century before we get our forest back and so now we’re all saying that it will be 100 years, 200 years. But we should not be distracted by figures. The media’s excesses may give vent to our anger but they are also dangerous. They inhibit our hopes for Parnitha’s future. After all, if 4,000 hectares have been destroyed, then there are at least a further 25,000 in the broader mountain range that need our protection more than ever. The media, by delivering a disheartening outlook of the future, is discouraging the active citizen from contributing. It would be far more useful if the media were to project images of the little saplings that have already sprung up in Halkidiki, which was ravaged by fire last summer.

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