Climate Change, Trees, and You

Observed U.S. Temperature Change Map - Contiguous U.S.. Source: National Climate Assessment 2014, NOAA.

If you live in Southern California, you may have noticed that we are red hot…and not in a good way. We are one of the red-colored zones experiencing the most severe impacts of climate change on the map (above) of the lower 48 released as part of the recent National Climate Assessment.

Not only have we had numerous record-breaking, or near record-breaking, hot days in the past few years, but we are in one of the worst droughts since California became a state in 1850.

Feeling helpless? There’s plenty you can do, and it starts with planting and caring for trees. Lots of them.

Trees are key to better water management

When it rains – and it does rain, even in a drought – trees help infiltrate the water into the soil, where their root zones clean and store water, releasing it further into groundwater. When you remove trees and put in concrete and asphalt in their place you get scorching cities, polluted runoff, and increased need for costly and polluting water importation. A mature tree can capture up to 66% of annual rainfall while preventing pollutants from reaching local waterways. Conserving water in other ways (such as removing lawns and planting climate-friendly plants) saves water to ensure that trees survive.

 

Trees are key to cooler, livable cities

Tree canopy protects us against the heat island effect, in which paved surfaces and roofs can make the city up to 10 degrees hotter than natural areas. And trees save energy. In hot, dry climates, a tree planted strategically can cut energy use for cooling (like running your air conditioner) by 30%. Plus, on hot days, trees protect our health and safety.  Anyone walking down a burning-hot LA street can tell you that it’s cooler – far cooler – to be in the shade. The difference of a few degrees can prevent heat stroke, something of concern for our more vulnerable populations such as children and the elderly.

 

Trees absorb carbon dioxide

Trees absorb carbon dioxide and release oxygen as part of their respiratory cycle. They take greenhouse gasses out of the air. Each year an acre of trees absorbs the same amount of carbon produced by driving a car for 26,000 miles. The cooling power of California’s 177 million existing urban trees lowers our energy consumption by about the equivalent of more than seven 100 MW power plants. Trees in cities are part of the solution for climate change: they help prevent new changes and lessen the impacts of those that are already occurring.

 

Trees: Multi-tasking superhero partners

Andy Lipkis, TreePeople’s founder, calls trees our “multi-tasking superhero partners.” Join us in the critical work of planting and caring for trees for a verdant and viable Greater Los Angeles at www.treepeople.org.

Caryn Bosson has been a TreePerson since 1984. As TreePeople’s Director of Strategy, she helps the organization play a leading role in transforming Greater LA into a healthy, viable environment. She loves trees, and California native oak trees most of all.