Following on from my rather gloomy post earlier today, I wanted to highlight all the reasons why we should love trees. Or at least as many as possible – this is not a comprehensive list of reasons. Scientists are always finding out more about these wonderful, living organisms (do we sometimes forget they are alive?)
When I was a young woman, walking in the mountains of Japan, I would come across especially beautiful, large trees, with ropes, cut pieces of paper and red cloth tied around their trunks. They were usually near Shinto shrines, and I think the word for these special trees, considered to be not just the home of kami (spirits) but actually spirits, is yorishiro. Trees are an integral part of many cultures, of course, and revered in different ways – but I was always drawn to the idea that they are living beings.
So now I am going to cheat a little and steal from a great website I found, while thinking about National Tree Planting Day yesterday. It’s called treepeople.org and it’s California-based. It is volunteer-driven and it believes in “citizen forestry” – a concept I like, because it is action-oriented.
The page “Top 22 Benefits of Trees” – yes, 22! – is perfect. You shouldn’t need convincing after this! Please note: This may seem over-simplified, but if you want to explore the scientific studies, do your research. The links I have included can be a starting point.
- Trees combat climate change: We know that trees absorb and store CO2, the greenhouse gas. Scientists recently reported that tree planting is the cheapest, easiest way to fight climate change. The scientists estimate there are currently three trillion trees on Earth, but we are losing around ten billion annually. Go to the Crowther Lab website for more. Its report in Science magazine in July is here. If you love maps, you can see how they have figured out what a massive global tree planting could look like, and where.
- Trees clean the air: This is why urban forests are so important. Trees act as a filter for pollutants such as nitrogen oxide, carbon monoxide and so on – produced mainly by our beloved motorcars. In the U.S., cars account for about one-fifth of their total emissions and transportation (including airplanes) about one-third. If you think about it, too, air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions go hand in hand. In Jamaica, the Canadian Government and the United Nations Environment Programme are funding the Global Fuel Economy Initiative. We need to move towards electric vehicles.
- Trees provide oxygen: An acre of mature trees can sustain 18 people for a year with oxygen. One tree produces nearly 260 pounds of oxygen annually, according to the Growing Air Foundation (which also has lots of tree facts).
- Trees cool the streets and the city: All summer, city dwellers in Jamaica have been complaining about the extreme heat. Yes, with climate change temperatures are rising – but it does not help if we continually remove mature trees and replace them with concrete! Cities are “heat islands.” Trees can cool cities by up to 10° Fahrenheit. When water evaporates from the leaves’ surface, things cool down nicely. Our Emancipation Park is wonderful – but we need more parks. And especially in downtown Kingston, lots of rooftop gardens on those flat roofs.
- Trees help conserve energy: This follows on from the cooling. If you plant more trees around the house, it is cooler – and you can save money on cooling your home. You are also using less energy produced by fossil fuels!
- Trees save water: This is an important connection. Trees – especially mangroves – filter and clean water. Forests cause raindrops to form. Various studies are showing this. In Jamaica, we are anxious now to conserve our watersheds, because we understand this link all too clearly. Trees also store (and some studies say, share) water in their roots and can help in storms and floods by saving water runoff.
- Trees filter water: Yes, in storms, trees intercept pollutants like the chemicals that we use on our crops, preventing them from reaching the sea. Mangroves do a great job at it in Jamaica.
- Trees prevent soil erosion: Another critical issue for Jamaica, where we have a lot of steep hillsides. Trees can hold the soil in place and prevent landslides, while probably saving farmers’ crops. We do have an organic farming movement – for example, at The Source Farm in St. Thomas permaculture is practiced. Planting trees makes more sense than slash and burn on hillsides, too.
- Trees provide food: This is a “no brainer”! Agroforestry makes perfect sense. They provide food for humans, wildlife (and of course, birds). Check out the Trees That Feed Foundation, which works in Jamaica as well as several other countries. The Foundation is currently doing a survey of breadfruit production in Jamaica.
- Trees are healing: Several studies recently have shown that being in nature generally (of course, including trees) works wonders for your mental health. Hospital patients with views of trees heal more quickly; children with ADHD and other mental health conditions show fewer symptoms. I can attest to the fact that birdwatching (which involves a lot of trees!) is really therapeutic, quiet and focused and helps you concentrate. Trees also calm you down. There is less anger, violence and stress. Another reason to have more trees in cities! They are good for you.
- Trees provide habitat: We are not the only ones living on this Planet. If we don’t appreciate trees, numerous birds, lizards, plants, insects and other living things do. Our moringa tree constantly attracts vervain hummingbirds, woodpeckers and carpenter bees. So what, you may ask? Well, if those species and many others disappear, so will we, eventually. Increasing biodiversity is in our interest!
- Trees provide real “beautification” and enhance community: People gather under trees. Trees bring people together. You see this for yourself all over the country – in the city and the country. They provide shelter (but not in a thunderstorm!) and shade.
- Trees muffle sound and create privacy: They are comfortable. In harsh urban environments, they can soften the noise and provide a lovely, green screen between you and your neighbours!
So, there you have it. Support the organizations that support trees. Plant a tree today.
Grow to love trees. Spend time with them. Why, you might even end up hugging them!