by Dave Cable
“The one who plants trees, knowing that he will never sit in their shade, has at least started to understand the meaning of life.”
-Rabindranath Tagore, a poet, musician, artist and Nobel Prize recipient from the India.
The fact you are reading this means you are probably already a tree lover with a keen appreciation for the true gift trees bring to us every day. You already know urban trees are nothing short of miracle workers, providing us with meaningful, life supporting dividends 24/7/365. Trees are a critical component of our green infrastructure and, unlike our deteriorating pipes, streets and bridges, trees actually appreciate with age, adding more and more value as they soldier on. And some trees, like our extraordinary native white oaks (Quercus alba), continue giving for more than 300 years!
We celebrate the love and good things trees so loyally bring us every day, while they ask for so little in return. Our urban trees produce oxygen, give us a sense of place, increase our property values, and provide vital habitat for wildlife. And, as importantly, trees capture and remove polluting agents and particulates from our urban air, helping us breathe and stay healthy. Our large willow oaks can remove up to 70 times more pollution than small trees.
Most folks believe we’ve all contributed to the environmental challenges we currently face, including climate change. So how can we all help out by doing our part in not leaving a wrecked planet to our grandchildren? Climate experts suggest we each do two things to combat climate change: plant trees and limit our carbon output.
Trees help reduce global warming by absorbing atmospheric carbon dioxide. They effectively vacuum up and store, or sequester, carbon molecules over their life time. I’m sure you remember photosynthesis from biology class. Miraculously, trees take in CO2, the current climate “bad boy”, and convert it, with help from sunshine and water, to food and energy for their use. And, then they exhale oxygen.
As our weather becomes warmer and storms are more violent, intense and frequent, urban areas like Charlotte are more susceptible to flooding and storm water runoff. Trees mitigate the impacts of climate change by slowing runoff and increasing infiltration of water into the soil, moderating flooding and water pollution from soil erosion, the #1 threat to our stream and creeks.
Trees also help keep us, our buildings, and parking lots cooler. Our shaded buildings use less energy for cooling in the summer which lowers our carbon output. Plus cooler streets can extend life of paving by as much as 10 years1, saving money and reducing carbon production.
Non-believers don’t acknowledge the linkage between human activity and global warming / climate change. In reality, whether you believe we are responsible for climate change or not, protecting our environment is a moral issue and crucial responsibility. The weight of evidence suggests our climate is changing dramatically, and independent of the causes, trees give us the gift of being able to participate in a solution, and have fun at the same time. In the end, being good a steward of our planet is common sense, and it’s easy for us to serve the planet and add meaningfully simply by planting a tree – a tree that will be enjoyed and valued greatly by our grandchildren! What a gift!!
- “Urban Forests and Climate Change”, Hannah Safford, et al, US Forest Service.
Photo by Mandy Barrett