College of Natural Resources, UC Berkeley

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July 9, 2013

The Libyan Spring’s Environmentalists

By Ann Brody Guy, UC Berkeley College of Natural Resources

What do you do if you have three academic degrees in forestry-related topics and your home country is a desert? Plant trees, of course.

For Rida Sherif, one of two first-ever Libyans currently attending this summer's Beahrs Environmental Leadership Program (ELP) at the University of California, Berkeley, reforestation is a simple math problem. “There are 6 million people in Libya. If each one of them planted 5 trees, we’d have 30 million trees, just like that,” he illustrates with the snap of his fingers.

“Trees are important to manage desert encroachment and sand storms,” Sherif says. “Sand dunes form and cause road closures, traffic accidents, loss of limited fertile soil, and various diseases, especially respiratory ailments.” He cites research showing trees produce a 50-70 percent reduction in dust, depending on the tree density. What few trees there were have been cut down for wood in a country whose first priority in its post-conflict environment is just trying to maintain basic law and order.

Rida Sherif (far left), touring the urban garden program at Jefferson Elementary School in Berkeley, Calif., with Nancy Peluso, a professor of Environmental Science, Policy and Management, and other participants in the 2013 Beahrs Environmental Leadership Program. Photo: Karlina Wu

Sherif, a native of Tripoli who is wrapping up a Ph.D. at Mississippi State University, focuses on using satellite imagery data and geographic information systems as tools for monitoring, assessing and predicting the trend of environmental change. He is using his time at the ELP, the annual summer training for mid-career environmental professionals from around the world, based at UC Berkeley’s College of Natural Resources (CNR), to develop his leadership abilities and build the network that will help him establish a non-governmental organization to work on preserving existing forests and natural vegetation, and planting new trees inside and outside the cities.

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