Nature’s best buffer against climate change: Trees

Rasa Kaye
September 30, 2019 - 1:19 pm
Philadelphia skyline

Roman Babakin/Getty Images

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By Rasa Kaye

PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — A bunch of teenagers bawled out world leaders (and the rest of us) for not doing enough to slow the rate of climate change last week, against a backdrop of dire data dumps, Amazon rainforest fires, and threatening reports from various industrial sectors about the impacts of a warmer world.

If the kids’ ire has inspired you, we’ll remind you of 1Thing that quietly and efficiently fights the good fight against rising greenhouse gases and temperatures: a tree. Any tree.

Trees take in carbon dioxide and store it as carbon, then emit pure oxygen. They can absorb as much as 20 percent of our annual heat-trapping gas emissions.

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A recent Swiss study used satellite imagery to identify more than 2 billion acres of land worldwide that could be reforested — that's an area roughly the size of the United States — without interfering with agriculture or residents.

And the math on this is amazing: Some 205 gigatonnes of carbon could be sucked out of the atmosphere when the 1.2 trillion trees planted on the available land fully mature — about 25 percent of all the carbon in the atmosphere, or almost two-thirds of all carbon that humans are estimated to have contributed to.

The scale of this kind of reforestation requires government involvement, but greening up any plot of dirt protects soil, provides wildlife habitat, shades your homes, creates windbreaks, and keeps streams and rivers clean. Wood is good.

Sprucing up a city neighborhood can cool down more than just the heat-island effect. Researchers evaluating a public-private partnership in Philadelphia last year found that gun assaults dropped 29 percent in high-poverty areas surrounding vacant lots, a year-and-a-half after they were mowed, graded and replanted with trees to create a park-like setting. The authors suggest that if vacant lots citywide received the same treatment, Philadelphia could expect to record 350 fewer shootings each year. 

As the Chinese so aptly put it in this proverb, "The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now."

Let’s go tree-hugging, shall we? Dig in!

If you live in what’s called a low-canopy neighborhood, meaning a low amount of trees in your area, you can register with Philadelphia Parks and Recreation’s TreePhilly Community Yard Tree Giveaway program to get free trees planted on your property. TreePhilly is hosting free tree events across several Philadelphia neighborhoods this fall.

The New Jersey Tree Foundation is a statewide nonprofit organization dedicated to planting trees in urban neighborhoods, “greening New Jersey one tree at a time.” It takes credit for more than 7,000 trees, throwing only the most welcome shade.

Its Urban Airshed Reforestation Program lets residents apply for and adopt trees, help organize events, and assist with getting them in the ground. Volunteers are being recruited for events in Pennsauken, Gloucester City and Camden into November.

For almost a century, the New Jersey Shade Tree Federation has been promoting the care and maintenance of shade trees, with a goal of making every lane in the state a leafy one. One of its slogans: “Trees turn cities into hometowns.”

Its 94th annual conference in Atlantic City this month will give attendees all the dirt on best planting practices, and it will dig into legal issues that come with all that shady goodness, from injuries to property damage to neighbor disputes. Tree law — it’s a thing!

Black Run Preserve in Marlton is the gateway to the Pinelands, and some extra hands are needed for its Clean Communities Clean-Up Day on Oct. 6 to prep the park for winter exploration and activities. Help out with some general maintenance and comb the trails for trash, while also getting a closer look at some of the endangered plants and wildlife that call it home.

And have you tried forest bathing yet? Black Run Preserve invites you to an introduction to the practice on Oct. 21.

The Tookany/Tacony-Frankford Watershed Partnership could also use some help to prettify the Tacony Creek Park Tabor Gateway on Oct. 17. Sign up to plant, collect trash and pull invasive species.

And finally, Love Your Park Fall Service Day takes place Nov. 9 across Philadelphia. The partnership between Philadelphia Parks and Recreation, Fairmount Park Conservancy, and the Philadelphia Park Friends Network will deploy thousands of volunteers across the city to prepare local parks for winter, including collecting leaves, picking up litter, and planting trees and bulbs. Registration opens Oct. 9.