How the Greens are turning me into a tree-hugger

It’s enough to turn me into a tree-hugger. Melbourne City Council – having already killed the gums along the middle of my street in an unnecessary and bungled road repavement – is now planning to get rid of Melbourne’s beautiful European trees, on the grounds that they use too much water. Personally, I’d be quite happy to pay higher rates to set up a water recycling scheme if there is genuinely a problem here. And who is leading the charge on this crazy policy? It’s the Green councillor Fraser Brindley. The irony! What finally turns me into a politicised nature-lover is a Green plan for environmental destruction. For my fellow residents of inner Melbourne, remember that on November 25 the Greens have a chance of winning the seats of Melbourne and Richmond. Put them last!

55 thoughts on “How the Greens are turning me into a tree-hugger

  1. And to think if they’d spent a bit more time thinking about the roof of Spencer Street Station, the trees there and around the inner city could have been inundated with water.

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  2. The Greens do not deserve credit for concern over the environment. Well-balanced people are squirming with embarrassment about climate change generally and issues like this in particular, yet unwilling to do anything so unseemly as throw their lot in with the Bob Browns of this world.

    Communism was defeated because people realised that they did not have a monopoly over concern for working men and women. It was people who had this concern, expressed it and manifested it, while at the same time being stridently anticommunist, who showed up the pretenses of communism and played the larger part not only in undermining communism, but in safeguarding the rights and well-being of workers. Sure, there are managers who accuse people of being “communists” whenever they ask for a payrise or call for an end to dangerous work practices, but this is the exception rather than the rule.

    It is perfectly possible to be an anti-Green environmentalist. Indeed, it is increasingly necessary.

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  3. Sounds like the usual Council-led idiocy. It doesn’t just happen in Melbourne.

    The ‘water’ argument may just be a cover for a campaign to get rid of non-native flora. It seems to be a policy of some council and government planning bodies: get rid of the (deciduous, beuatifully coloured and shade providing) European trees and replace them with (sparse, poison-leaved and minimal shade providing) natives.

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  4. The Green message has been diluted, none of the main candidates have the environmental credentials. They seem to specialise in feminist texts or HIV, which are issues but not really Green issues. The world needs less people and less people to be given power as it is currently distributed whether they perceive themselves as previously denied power or not.
    The ALP have become a party that would make a less labor intensive life easier (no harm in that but it contradicts their title).
    The Liberals are anything but liberal thesedays, headed towards more regulation, tariffs, automatic jailing for new Australians etc.

    So in that sense the Greens have come of age like a tall glass of cordial, matching all the other varieties.

    Vote for People Power/Crikey and they will put Landeryou in the stocks in Federation Square for the youtube crew to have fun with him.

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  5. I used to donate money to Greenpeace years ago, but their newsletters started to become illogical polemics against private ownership so I gave up. I do think Bob Brown is a valuable contributor to the overall debate in Australian politics (at least he keeps Labor honest to a certain degree), but any “green” candidate that wants to chop down european trees where they aren’t causing problem is obviously out of his own tree. Armidale would certainly be a less beautiful place without all the lovely, colourful, european trees scattered through it, so I can empathise with Andrews plight. These trees are a big part of our heritage in towns and cities across Australia and should be preserved.

    Unfortunately, the greens self righteousness matches that of the religious nutjobs, and their only use is as a protest vote against the continual idiocy of Labor party preferences benefiting Family First.

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  6. And after they’ve got rid of the European trees they can get rid of the European style buildings because they’re not very environmentally friendly either.

    But really you’re just looking for any grounds for campaigning against the hated Greens. This is one tiny, tiny part of the Greens policy, which you can bet would never get through anyway. Does anyone vote for a party which has a perfect policy on everything? When I first started, sort of reluctantly, voting for the greens – for Senator Jo Vallentine – I disagreed with lots of her ideas, but overall, she had some of the really important things right.

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  7. Why have European weeds in an Australian city that are water-hungry and which have no environmental benefits at all?

    Replace the lot with Australian natives that provide support for avifauna, which look better than elms and oaks since they flower, and which use less water.

    Australian trees in Australian cities.

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  8. David, You write as if cities should be designed without respect for conservation values which I do not accept. Cities are the places where most Australians live and where conservation values are most important. Get rid of stupid cultural cringes that are unnecessary and excessively expensive in terms of water needs.

    Suburban gardens and the entire urban landscape should have plants friendly to the environment. The zoo mentality of only pursuing conservation in parks and reserves is the wrong philosophy. Its the same daft idea as planting lolly pink azaleas in neat straight rows adjacent to fences in houses because that’s what a ‘real’ English garden looks like. Leave those nasty natives for parks etc where we can remind ourselves that we live in Australia.

    To the contrary exotic plants should be placed in botanical gardens so that Australians can view the plants of other countries. But don’t use them in urban or city landscapes.

    On aesthetic grounds give me a flowering Australian eucalypt any day over a boring european weed.

    Jason we live in some of the most biodiversity rich areas on earth. Why import nutriment-greedy English weeds?

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  9. Crikey hc – I was just pointing out that your idea of aesthetically pleasing (or even sustainable) might not be everybody elses. It’s been a long time since a new town or city was built in Australia, and most of the existing ones have some european influence. It’s not cultural cringe (what a wonderful 1970’s concept to reintroduce), it’s an acceptance of the past.

    The middle of Armidale is practically a botanical garden as it is, it doesn’t cause any harm to the beautiful national parks or productive farmland around here and we get a nice sense of change of seasons. I’m glad you like flowering eucalypts – there’s plenty of these here too and I agree they are lovely. The native birds don’t seem to give a fat fig which tree they are sittingin, and there’s a noisy famiy of possums (inlcuding a big fat albino one) living in the enormous elm that overhangs my house, so the whole native diversity argument seems to be bunk as well.

    On top of that, the trees here are not watered – they have to live on the natural rainfall. Plant your own garden how you like, keep the wild places wild, and leave those 150 year old trees just where they are.

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  10. Unusual libertarian test case #834: should people be allowed to grow the flora – weeds or otherwise – they think beautiful and appropriate? And should they be allowed to lobby for governments to plant them in public places?

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  11. I couldn’t care less about trees in Melbourne, but chopping off any trees in cities sounds like barbarizm. hc, you can’t be serious?!

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  12. Conrad and hc,

    If you really want a decent target in getting decent environmental policies up, you’re barking up the wrong tree entirely in illogical rants about european trees in towns.

    You should really be directing your anger at our friend Jennifer Marohasy further up in the thread. She’s a board member of that despicable AEF mob, basically getting paid by mining companies to deliberately spread disinformation (have a look at her blog – she even drags out the “abiotic” theory of oil, a long discredited piece of garbage that conspiracy theorists hold dear to their hearts). Those kinds of people are holding up the debate about global warming and causing real problems. There is nobody with less ethics in the country than that mob and Ms. Marohasy in particular. Don Burke should be deported for even associating with them.

    I’m a bicycle riding progressive – I’m not the enemy just because I don’t agree we should remove all european flora.

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  13. Diagree David. We need to develop an affinity and respect for our natural flora and fauna and one way of doing this is to promote such in our cities where people live. Put exotic flora into botanical gardens and put local natives in public streetscapes where they can soften human impacts on the environment.

    By the way David there was no anger in my argument, just disagreement with your argument. That’s different.

    John Humphries. Do you think you are telling me something by saying that people have different preferences? If so, get real.

    Libertarians often cannot see anything other than the issue of free choice in any situation – its the defective obsessive vision of monofocus. In this case the broader debate is about promoting environmental quality and externalities. It is also about aesthetics, public choices and ethics that go beyond the type of individualism that will not allow satisfactory resolution of public choices anyway. It is also about trying to influence people’s values in a public debate. And all you can pathetically rattle off is some truism about different people having different values!

    To obsessed libertarians environmental issues, the case for smoking cancer-causing cigarettes, the rights to kill animals for sport, the case for privatisation of the military forces etc are all just issues of trying to prevent elitists from imposing values on the few free Libertarian spirits who continue to exist. You are wrong but the problem is the obsessive focus. Fortunately you have about as much political support as the lunatic left – no-one else listens.

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  14. I’m going to stick my neck out here, and (partially) support Harry. Yes, chopping down trees is probably barbaric, as Boris says, but those trees do actually belong to the local government. How individuals or collectives choose to maintain their own property is their own business. Sure Andrew is pissed off about the trees – and we can all dispise greenists – but he doesn’t own the trees. Under our system of democracy he can lobby the government now, or agitate to have them thrown out at the next election. As a general principle, however, it’s also not unreasonable for the local government to want local plants in public spaces.

    Where I disagree with Harry is in terms of individuals’ own property. (Mind, Harry didn’t actually say this). People should in their own garden be free to plant whatever they choose – it is their garden and they are paying for the water. Now the come-back is that water is too cheap and so people may over-use water and plant water hungry plant. Maybe water is too cheap, but so what? If the government doesn’t want people to use water for gardening – they could always increase the price. (Also, though, if Harry made that argument I’d oppose it. I am not conceding that water s too cheap. But, that is another debate).

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  15. LOL. Yes, indeed you could. I imagine though the council will simply chop them down at some stage. Following the precedent of the bats in the botanical gardens you could also threaten to ‘spike’ one native tree for every european tree than dies. That, however, would constitute an act of terrorism, and – for the reward money – all of us would dob you in (we only respond to price signals here 🙂 )

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  16. Sorry hc, I’m making very little sense out of your argument. You want to remove european trees from cities as some sort of advertisement for native species so the populace will develop an affinity and respect for it? You’re going to lose the respect of a hell of a lot of people with an approach like that. It might be feasible to argue that the trees should be *replaced when they die*, but unless you’ve got a practical reason for it, all you’re going to generate is resentment.
    I’m no libertarian, generally I prefer to point and laugh at them, but this issue is silly.

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  17. ‘It is also about aesthetics, public choices and ethics that go beyond the type of individualism that will not allow satisfactory resolution of public choices anyway.’

    HC – can you explain this further, possibly give us an example? Maybe it’s because of a libertarian obsessive monofocus, but I don’t understand your argument.

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  18. Jeremy, There are environmental externalities and public good issues that mean individual freedom of choice based on individual preferences in the conservation areas won’t realise a social optimum even from the perspective of narrow, utilitarian, Libertarian ethics.

    Growing roses and putting lots of manure on them stuffs up storm water quality that costs us all. Growing lots of pastel-pink azaleas or vibrant weedy green English environmental weeds does not promote Australian biodiversity values. Look at how exotic bird species (mynas, starlings) dominate environments which contain mainly English weeds and see how they disappear when replaced with natives. (These sorts of values don’t appeal to the Libertarians whose main idea of the value of native fauna is that it provides something to kill – try to stop them and you are interferring in their individual right to behave in a barbarous way!).

    Although this is not part of the spillover argument, european shrubs require watering in the summer whereas many Australia species don’t at least once they are established so they are easier and cheaper to maintain. Australian plants also flower longer (compare grevillias with rhododendrons), have more character etc.

    Australia has some of the best biodiversity resources on the planet both in terms of flora and fauna and yet our city treescapes and out thinking about garden landscapes is borrowed from a small island on the other side of the world with an impoverished landscapes where planting hedgerows is seen as ‘conservation’. I am with the greens at least on the issue of recognising the value of the rich biodioversity values we have.

    Three cheers for the elm-leaf beetle! Clean-up Royal Parade’s ghastly elms and replace with some distinguished ironbarks.

    David, Look at how economists value biodiversity resources. One way is in terms of the price of accessing such resources – the cost of actually getting to them. Having rich endowments gives lots of social surplus and, for this reason, conservation makes sense in city areas, even if land values are high. Education and experience is important. Look at the recent unfortunate death of the Crocodile Hunter Steve Irwin – he began his lifelong interest playing around a creek area in a Melbourne suburb.

    I think the case for replacing exotics with natives when they die is reasonable – at least in many situations – so we agree on that. We also agree that the best way of dealing with the Libertarians is via laughter. Sometimes this lot are valuable in forcing you to think about the rationale for public interventions but their case for minimal government is ridiculous given the role of externalities, public goods and social justice issues in the modern world.

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  19. OK hc, fair enough.

    but if anybody attempts to practice “conservation” with a chainsaw on my elm tree, there is going to be some trouble.

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  20. HC:

    ‘Growing roses and putting lots of manure on them stuffs up storm water quality that costs us all.’

    I’m not sure how it affects the quality of storm water, and I’m not sure how it then costs me, but even if I accept your point I don’t see how it is a significant cost, especially given all the other rubbish that goes down the drains. Anyway, if it was a significant cost, we could apply the usual remedy for externalities and apply a tax to the sale of manure and rose seeds, which we could then use to cover the cost to the storm water system. (I think – my basic micro is a bit rusty, maybe Jason can help).

    ‘Growing lots of pastel-pink azaleas or vibrant weedy green English environmental weeds does not promote Australian biodiversity values.’

    Cutting down trees to build Sydney’s CBD didn’t do much for Australian biodiversity values, either. But I don’t hear many complaining about that. Given this, I can’t see why we should belt up retirees for tending their Azaleas. In cities, where people live and their homes are (at the moment, anyway) their castles, we have to compromise. Until you can convince people to do away with their ‘weeds’, we’ll have to leave biodiversity to the billions of acres of bush, I think.

    ‘Look at how exotic bird species (mynas, starlings) dominate environments which contain mainly English weeds and see how they disappear when replaced with natives.’

    I’m not convinced – ‘throwing the baby out with the bathwater’ comes to mind. This is an argument for getting rid of the exotic birds, not the flora they live in. And anyway, I’ve lived in areas full of native flora, and they are dominated by bloody-minded Magpies. If I followed your argument, I’d get rid of the native trees so as to remove the Magpies.

    ‘(These sorts of values don

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  21. HC,

    There’s also a public safety argument, against eucalypt trees, anyway. In times of drought, euro-weeds tend to die slowly.

    Eucalypts, however, are hardy survivors in a dry land, and they survive by cutting water supply to their branches – which means that, at the moment large, heavy limbs are dropping on footpaths and roads.

    The eucalypts outside the Treasury building in Canberra have been cut down because of the danger to the public. Treasury’s courier car has a big dent in the roof from a native (now ex-)tree doing what it had to do to survive the drought.

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  22. hc, if opposition to chopping off trees – any trees – came from libertarians only, you could indeed laugh it off. But it will come from people left right and centre. In fact the current issue has nothing to do with libertarianism, and all to do with common sense.

    I still hope you are kidding, but that seems less likely now.

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  23. Harry, how far does your ‘natives-only’ view go? I, for example, have an apricot tree, a lemon tree, a mandarin tree, and also tomatoes, zuccini, pumpkins, lettuce and many, many herbs growing in my garden. All of these are non-natives (not to mention my roses). In fact, most of the foodstuff Australians consume (including red wine), while produced locally, are from non-native fauna and flora. So where is the limit of your argument?

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  24. You have not produced an argument Boris, just a noise when read aloud. Writing about ‘common sense’ either shows you don’t have or can’t be bothered to spell out an argument. Nothing else.

    Sinclair the issue of growing native crops for food is too big to consider here but it has sustainability advantages. But of course we have to eat so that’s a limit.

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  25. hc I did not produce an argument because there were enough arguments produced in the comments above mine. All I wanted to say is that these arguments are not so much libertarian arguments. I don’t actually know why you brought libertarian angle into the discussion. Maybe because some of the people who commented are libertarians?

    I am all for preserving ecosystems but my approach would be to interfere only when there is a compelling and widely accepted evidence that harm is being done to them. Otherwise this quest for native flora reminds me of the quest for echnic purity. I am talking about practical not ethical aspects of course. In the global world, is it really feasible?

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  26. “Otherwise this quest for native flora reminds me of the quest for echnic purity. I am talking about practical not ethical aspects of course. In the global world, is it really feasible?”

    that is a really good comment.

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  27. Speaking about practical solutions, the obvious one, which Sinclair doesn’t like but works well in Perth, is simply to have higher water charges (although I wouldn’t have the foggiest what the real cost of water is — but I’m sure the government will find it easy to justify higher ones), which I assume will come sooner or later given the issue has recently become very politicized and the type of authoritarian solutions that Australians seem to like.

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  28. Conrad, my problem with simply increasing the water price is that overnment is then using price as a just rationing device and not as a market signal. If water were scarce and prices rose then fine, but water is not scarce. True, water doesn’t grow on trees, but it does fall out of the sky and hit you on the head. As you say, ‘I

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  29. I wouldn’t want to see the water price increase either, and for that matter I wouldn’t want to see it increased for new water infrastructure either until we get rid of other inefficiencies and really need it. I just tend to think that the government will say “we need this new infrastructure, therefore your water goes up 2 times” sooner or later, which has will have the unintended benefit of solving the exotic plants problem in suburbia.

    Personally I’d prefer them to say something like this “we are no longer subsidizing all the crappy farming communities in any way or form, whether that be directly via cash hand-outs or indirectly via infrastructure”, in which case all the people planting crops in deserts might find something better to do, and it would help solve much bigger environmental problems than those caused by suburban sprawl.

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  30. Boris and others, What nonsense is being sprouted. Preserving native flora and fauna has no relation at all to a racially discriminatory immigration policy. Jason Soon started off this idiocy with what I assume was a flippant remark but now people seem to be pursuing this line with seriousness. The value in preserving our native biodiversity is that it has intrinsic interest (aesthetic values, existence values, option values), perhaps use-values but most importantly that it helps to maintain environmental resiliance.

    Real Low’s book, Feral Future, to find the devasting impact of exotic plants and animals on our native biota. Its important for people to be informed and to understand the damage that has been done.

    The discussion has wandered quite a way from the ‘street trees’ issue but don’t let it end up in this particular blind alley.

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  31. ‘HC, you botanical Hansonite! ‘

    Jason is being flippant, but like much of his flippancy there is a real underlying point here. The impact of non-native trees in an Australian city is kind of trivial – compared to the environmental impact of the city itself. Similarly, the 20 million – odd people who are non-natives (so to speak). I understand it’s not your intention, but you (Harry for late comers) seem to be describing a bleak and dour existence. People want to surround themselves with pretty things, that suggests a combination of native and non-native plants etc. Although, I stand by my comment that local government has a reasonable argument for using natives on public property.

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  32. Sinclair and Conrad, from non-economist, suppose water became really scarce, how far we can go raising its prices? I am worried that the rich can grow many plants while the poor can’t take a shower.

    A similar problem was with petrol when in 1970s the US and others imposed a speed limit to reduce the consumption of petrol. From market perspective, if petrol is expensive and you want to drive fast, then you pay more. But the problem is that supply was inelastic (oil embargo), and the wealthy driving fast made the price so high that the poor couldn’t afford to drive to work at ANY speed.

    Isn’t this where market fails and we need some government intervention, e.g. in the form of nonlinear pricing?

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  33. HC, I didn’t know (or forgot) that Jason made that point before me. I don’t recall ever reading about this issue anywhere.

    And like any analogy it si not particularly precise, but I think there is something in it. You say people need to be informed and read about it. I agree, though I can’t be bothered. But if you say that the effect is devastating, then maybe we need to take action. As I said, if there is a compelling evidence… But maybe you can explain, in a few lines, how flora in cities, which occupy a tiny proportion of Australian territory, can influence flora throughout the continent?

    I am fully prepared to change my mind on this.

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  34. I’m not an economist Boris — but one of my interests is in people’s misperception of statistical data and their opinions which go against real data (i.e., false beliefs — also strong beliefs about things people wouldn’t know the slightest thing about or where the data itself is indecesive), and my other is the modeling of complex systems (mainly to do with brain/mind processes) — economists are good and finding examples of the first (the effect of tax cuts on the economy is a good one), and also good at abusing/misinterpreting data from the second (the strength of genetic and neural evidence for any complex behavior is a good example). Its also interesting for me to see how logically similar problems are solved (or abused) in different ways in different areas.

    As for your questions, I don’t think you need to be an economist to answer it — I don’t think we will ever get into the problem of too expensive water either, since in the worst case you can a) recycle it; and b) create it, both of which are more expensive than now but not prohibitively so for rich countries (in fact, recycling isn’t too bad at all and it surprises me that they don’t do it here), since many cities do it already and don’t have prohibitively expensive water — but in the worst case, I can’t see why a non-linear function would be a fuss.

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  35. I think it’s mindbogglingly stupid to advocate the destruction of long-established urban tree-scapes simply because they don’t fit with some purist notion of pre-1788 botanical correctness.

    Exotic species have been part of the Australian landscape for centuries and provide beneficial shade and greenery in cities.

    We have a huge liquidamabar, an oak and an olive tree in our garden. They get no additional watering – where’s the evidence that LGA’s are selectively pouring megalitres of water into exotic trees? – and they’re thriving. Mulching can work miracles.

    After a couple of hundred years of drought and flooding rains it might be the case that some long-established exotic species might have worked out that they’re not actually growing in Kent or Dorset and adapted accordingly.

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  36. There is an abundance of beautiful Australian native trees and plants. There is absolutely no need for planting or maintaining exotic water-hungry species. This is Australia, not some extension of England.

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  37. “There is an abundance of beautiful Australian native trees and plants. There is absolutely no need for planting or maintaining exotic water-hungry species. This is Australia, not some extension of England.”

    Self-evidently, this is Australia.

    My argument is that long-established exotic trees, which aren’t “water-hungry” – shouldn’t be destroyed for the sake of so doing.

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  38. Sinclair, in terms of water, I’ve read that the Earth is pretty much a closed system – while it’s thought that about half the water came from icy comets in the distant future and the other half was primordial (based on looking at isotopes), I’m not aware of any significant external inputs to Earth’s water at present. There’s the possibility that water vapour could be dissociated by the sun’s UV light into oxygen and hydrogen, with the hydrogen escaping to space, but people think that the rate of this is pretty low at the moment (eg see the bottom of http://history.nasa.gov/CP-2156/ch2.3.htm).

    Chemists and earth scientists could write more about this.

    If the non-native trees aren’t taking absolutely ridiculous amounts of water, what’s the problem with leaving them? If the idea is to systematically replace non-natives with natives to use less water, that’s ok, although exceptions could be made if these particular trees are particularly ornamental. Symbolic changes in tree species, if that’s what this is, seems pretty strange!

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