MELBOURNE (Reuters) - Trees in the Australian city of Melbourne are replying to emails from the public as authorities seek to highlight the impact of climate change in a country where rising temperatures are expected to outpace global warming worldwide.
The city council initiative, which spotlights each of Melbourne's 77,000 trees on an interactive map, invites visitors to email a tree to report problems such as low-hanging branches or insufficient watering.
But it has had an unexpected outcome, with dozens of Melbournians writing to express affection for their favourite trees. "Dear Tree, If you are that big, round, beautiful, low-hanging tree, I think you are my favourite tree ... Keep up the good work," wrote one correspondent using only the initial "N".
The quirky emails, to which staff respond on behalf of the trees, are building awareness of climate change in Melbourne, regarded as Australia's most European city, thanks to its architecture and wide tree-lined boulevards.
But almost a quarter of its trees, including oaks, elms and planes, are set to die off by the end of the decade, and that figure will rise to almost 40 percent by 2030, speeded by a devastating 13-year drought that broke in 2012.
"As our climate becomes more and more extreme, we're going to have to look at trees that are fit for purpose," Councillor Arron Wood told Reuters. "We now have a target of having no more than 5 percent of one tree species in the city."
Australia faces a rise in temperature of potentially more than 5 degrees Celsius by the end of the century, the national science agency says.
The business district is dominated by plane trees, which are drought resilient and have broad canopies, but are now being scaled back because they shed leaves during long periods of high temperatures, an aspect of the weather expected to worsen.
The council plans to plant 3,000 trees a year to double the forest canopy by 2040 and so cool the city by 4 deg C. It hopes residents will pay attention to the city's future appearance, while enjoying the trees as long as they can.
"Dear beautiful Platanus London Plane," wrote another fan, using the moniker "e". "I pass you every time I'm in Melbourne. You are so fabulous. And it saddens me that your passing will be sooner than my own. I can't wait to see you next. Love you."