This article was published on: 07/23/19 4:34 PM
If blistering heat just swept through your city, you’re not alone. Last month was the hottest June on record. And we still have a lot of summer left.
For those of us living in cities — which is over half of the world’s population — these record temperatures feel even hotter: Buildings, concrete, poorer air quality and limited shade and greenspace all contribute to warmer temperatures in urban areas, a phenomenon known as the heat island effect.
Add recent heat waves fueled by unchecked global warming into the mix, and the combination makes for a brutal couple of months. But there is some good news. In the short term, trees can combat heat waves; in the long term, they can even fight global warming.
As climate change continues to warm the planet, trees should be a staple of any city plan. That’s why Earth Day Network aims to plant 7.8 billion trees, one for every person in the world, by Earth Day 2020. Their ambitious tree-planting campaign is called the Canopy Project.
Still not convinced? See all the ways trees can help your neighborhood:
Cities are often several degrees warmer than rural areas, with concrete and buildings greatly
contributing to this effect. Concrete and buildings reduce shade and moisture that would otherwise exist in the wild. As sun shines down on a dry, exposed city block, for example, that block absorbs heat much more readily than a wet, shady surface.
Tree cover can counter this effect, providing shade that reduces the ability of that concrete to retain heat. Additionally, trees absorb moisture more readily than paved-over surfaces. Trees absorb water through their roots and release it through their leaves (a process called evapotranspiration), which also cools the air.
When it gets unbearably hot, people turn on their air conditioners. In the long run, this warms and hurts our planet, as power plants burn more coal and release more greenhouse gases to keep up with electricity demand. According to the Centers for Disease Control, higher temperatures can lead to an increase of harmful pollutants and allergens.
A well-placed tree, however, can give a property just enough shade to keep building at comfortable temperatures. Why flip on the A/C when trees can do the work?
Trees also act as natural carbon sinks, removing and storing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. In the short term, trees reduce smog and acid rain; in the long term, they slow climate change.
A grassy field absorbs water a lot better than a parking lot. In some cities, rain causes billions of gallons of sewer runoff a year. That sewage can send contaminants into streams and rivers, polluting our drinking water supply and throwing off intricate ecosystems.
A cool summer rain might be welcomed, but not if it means raw sewage running through the streets.
The large roots of trees absorb excess rainwater and prevent sewage runoff. Tree roots can also filter the rain that turns into groundwater, effectively filtering our drinking water.
It’s scientifically proven that people like trees. Studies have shown that access to green spaces, even small ones, can improve mental health in urban areas. Plus, trees can reduce noise, a relief between the honking of cars and bustling groups of people. And, of course, there’s the wildlife. In a landscape of concrete and brick, the occasional squirrel or bird is a welcomed sight (again, improved mental health).
So whether you own property or rent an apartment, start a conversation with your local government to plant more trees. Better yet, get your city to become an Earth Day partner by registering your city to commit to the environment.
Donate to the Canopy Project or even plant a tree yourself. You’ll have a healthier, cooler city, as well as an investment that will pay off for decades.