Woodman, Spare That Tree


I recently witnessed a small tree being cut down in a very uncaring manner. It was still alive and thriving. Apparently, someone feared that its roots would damage the foundation of the nearby house. As a fan of environmental movements which have historically taken action to support forest conservation, I was horrified to see an act of deforestation and degradation right in my own front yard.

Almost forty years ago, the global reforestation movement emerged in developing countries. It stands as a symbol of ecological awareness and non-violent environmental change. Today, global warming and climate change are making headlines. The destruction of the world’s forests and their accompanying biospheres can no longer be ignored to protect the future of the planet. For global health and well-being, it may now be prudent to consider the important benefits of protecting trees!

Trees and Climate Change
Storing Carbon: Reduction of Carbon Emissions
Recent statistics reveal that urban trees in the U.S. help to reduce carbon emissions by storing 700 million tons of carbon. Individual urban trees are said to contain four times more carbon than individual trees in forests. Trees have been found to reduce atmospheric CO2 including carbon from car emissions. Projects such as The Million Trees LA, a campaign to plant one million trees to reduce atmospheric carbon dioxide by about 1 million tons over the next 35 years, envision catalyzing carbon reductions equivalent to the effects of having 7,000 less cars on the road every year.

The Heat Island Effect
Trees and vegetation lower surface and air temperatures by providing shade and the benefits of evapotranspiration. Shaded surfaces may be 20–45°F cooler than the peak temperatures of unshaded materials. Mature tree canopy reduces air temperatures by about 5-10° F. It is also interesting to note that the indirect cooling effect of evapotranspiration is greater than the direct effect of shading. Evapotranspiration reduces summer temperatures, suggesting that tree planting may be one of the most cost effective means of reducing the severity of urban heat islands. Air temperature reductions have been recorded in urban areas with tree cover, demonstrating that trees cool city heat islands by 10 to 20 degrees and simultaneously reduce ozone levels, necessary to meet air quality standards.

Energy Efficiency Benefits
Trees and Urban Forests
Reduced AC use results in reduced carbon emissions as well as reduced cooling and heating costs. Three strategically placed trees can decrease utility bills by 50%. Researchers have also found that the cooling effect of a healthy tree is equivalent to 10 room-size air conditioners operating 20 hours a day. Evergreens serve as windbreaks and in the winter and can help to save 10-50% on heating costs. A 20-percent tree canopy over a house can offer annual cooling and heating savings and reduce cooling costs by as much as 30 percent. Shading an air conditioning unit can further increase energy efficiency.

Health and Environmental Benefits
Trees are an important food source for humans, birds, animals and insects. They protect biodiversity and endangered species. Forest restoration can also reverse damage due to soil erosion and restore regional watersheds. Trees are an essential source of oxygen. Simultaneously they remove carbon dioxide, sulfur dioxide, nitrous oxides and other pollutants from the air. Trees also collect water contaminants and help to neutralize water pollution while reducing the amount of storm runoff and the risks of flooding. Researchers have attributed a number of health and social benefits to the presence of trees including reductions in blood pressure, improved recovery for hospital patients, increases in worker productivity, as well as stress reduction. City areas which favor trees and natural landscape have scored lower with regard to crime, domestic violence and accident rate, as well as offering residents the joys of natural beauty throughout the seasons.

Trees have been celebrated throughout the ages by great artists and poets. They are a living component in our world biosphere which need to be treated with care and respect for the benefit of human health, the environment and societal well-being.

Trees Pay Us Back,” US Forest Service
Benefits of Trees and Urban Forests: A Research List,” Alliance for Community Trees
i-Tree calculator, US Forest Service
Modeled PM2.5 Removal by Trees in Ten U.S. Cities and Associated Health Effects,” US Forest Service
Woodman Spare That Tree, 1837, First Environmental Song

Simi Summer, Ph.D. is an organic advocate, independent researcher, educator, and free lance writer. She is a strong proponent of organic consumer education and informed consumer choices.

NOTE: The opinions expressed in bylined articles are not necessarily those of the publisher.

Posted on WholeFoods Magazine Online, 9/14/2016