In what could be dubbed the “Great Liquid Tree Debate of 2023,” the story of an innovative solution to replace urban street trees has gone viral.
The tweet in question, now retweeted nearly 20,000 times, shows an aquarium full of algae on a Serbian sidewalk, highlighting a scientific breakthrough in using algae to mimic some of the air-filtering properties of trees. The images seemingly went viral after a TikToker, Nana Ibrahim, posted a video about the project.
But while the Belgrade, Serbia-based scientists have lauded the “liquid trees” and their potential applications — such as producing materials for solar panels and absorbing air pollution — most Twitter users were not having it.
@nanaibrahim2023 #tiktok #story #stories #people #fyp #fy #environment #earth #trees #foryou #viral #new #pollution #airpollution #tiktoker #tiktoks #reel #reels #facts #fact #factss ♬ original sound – Nana Ibrahim
One user was quick to lambast the idea, saying:
“Why would you want a tree (home to birds and squirrels, rustles in the breeze, changes colors with the seasons, a subtle reminder that life ebbs and flows and grows and was here before us and will outlast us all) when you could have A Bus Stop Filled With Goo.”
Why would you want a tree (home to birds and squirrels, rustles in the breeze, changes colors with the seasons, a subtle reminder that life ebbs and flows and grows and was here before us and will outlast us all) when you could have A Bus Stop Filled With Goo https://t.co/aFNVHEOAGG— Rodger Sherman (@rodger) March 29, 2023
Another echoed the point that this innovation seemed totally unnecessary, exasperatedly tweeting, “Just plant trees. It’s easier and cheaper and better for the environment.”
Despite the immense amount of criticism that the project saw, some defended the technological innovation. One user was quick to mention that some people on Twitter aren’t considering the upsides.
“Scientist: here’s an efficient and compact carbon storage device to help clean the atmosphere more efficiently than a tree in places where planting and maintaining trees is difficult,” they wrote. “Twitter: just plant trees lol.”
scientist: "here's an efficient and compact carbon storage device to help clean the atmosphere more efficiently than a tree in places where planting and maintaining trees is difficult"— bee (@bee_not_hachi) March 30, 2023
twitter: "just plant trees lol" https://t.co/In9aHowQoK
One defender of the project pointed out that street trees aren’t always the best option due to cramped conditions and concrete sidewalks that can choke out roots.
“It’s tempting to dunk on them with ‘why not just plant trees,’” they wrote. “But they’re actually more effective at absorbing CO2 than trees and can fit in places trees can’t.”
These are not new, and it's tempting to dunk on them with "why not just plant trees," but they're actually more effective at absorbing CO2 than trees and can fit in places trees can't— Thor Benson (@thor_benson) March 30, 2023
—A nerd https://t.co/xMnWk84T8z
But if the massive amount of attention this post got shows us anything, it’s that people want natural areas in their cities and ways to eliminate air pollution.
Whether the best answer in cramped urban areas is real street trees or artificial liquid trees — that’s still up for debate.
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