Today is World Environment Day, designed by the United Nations to encourage “worldwide awareness and action for the environment.” Here at TreePeople, we strive daily to create spaces and programs in which Los Angeles community members can participate in creating a sustainable, thriving city.
Last month, Michael Zucker, author of the “A Sustainable Conversation” column on the Culver City News, wrote an illuminating article about the role of trees and TreePeople in the community. In celebration of World Environment Day, he’s given us permission to share it here.
The Giving Trees Need a Two-Way Street
As I turn the corner onto my block, one of the first things I notice is the trees. Arching gracefully over the roadway they invite me home through a beautiful and calming canopy. Sitting in our backyard, I’m often enthralled by a majestic Pepper tree with its dozens of branches spreading over four different yards.
Among the longest living things on earth, trees seem to beckon us with the wisdom of the ages. Slow down, they say, ignore the “noise” – everything you need is right here in front of you.
That wisdom, it turns out, also answers some of our most pressing environmental concerns. As the good folks at TreePeople remind us, trees help nature heal our urban environments and help us create a sustainable future.
TreePeople has been educating, inspiring and helping Southern Californians to plant and care for trees and create urban forests (sustainable ecosystems that function like a healthy natural forest) for 40 years. Along the way more than two million trees have been planted and an estimated two million children have received environmental education. In 2013 alone, TreePeople held 808 educational and volunteer events, planted 9,868 trees and guided 430 student service learning projects.
Among the deeply rooted benefits of planting trees and creating urban forests:
- Trees combat climate change and provide oxygen. In a year, one acre of mature trees absorbs the amount of carbon dioxide produced when you drive a car 26,000 miles, and can provide enough oxygen for 18 people.
- Trees can cool our streets and city as much as 10 degrees Fahrenheit by providing shade and breaking up urban “heat islands.”
- Trees clean the air by absorbing pollutants and filtering particulates out of the air by trapping them on their leaves and bark.
- Trees help prevent water pollution by reducing runoff and the amount of storm-water carrying pollutants to the ocean.
- Trees help us conserve water and alleviate drought. When it rains, a mature tree can capture thousands of gallons of rainwater in its canopy and root zone, sinking that rain into the aquifer instead of allowing it to run off into storm drains and the ocean.
Skimming TreePeople’s list of “The Top 22 Benefits of Trees” brings to mind the book The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein, about a friendship between a boy and an apple tree. As a child, the boy visits the tree every day, joyfully climbing it, swinging on the branches and eating its apples. But as he grows up, the boy visits less and less often, and asks the tree to give more and more each time. The boy keeps asking, and the tree keeps giving happily – apples to sell for money, branches to build a house, its trunk to build a boat – until the tree is reduced to nothing but a stump and can offer the now old man only a place to sit down and rest.
There is much debate about the book and its meaning. But through an environmental lens one message is clear; if we only take from the trees, eventually they have nothing more to give us.
In TreePeople’s view, by contrast, giving back and taking care of trees not only ensures us benefits, it also unites and sustains us. Tree plantings bring together diverse groups and help build and empower communities. Local residents and businesspeople work together to maintain those trees and create urban forests that improve the quality of life in our neighborhoods.
Maybe it’s a sign of the times – The Giving Tree was recently released in digital format for the first time. I think I hear the trees whispering in the gentle breeze. “Finally,” they say, “no more trees were harmed in the telling of this story.”
Many thanks to Michael for sharing his column with us. This World Environment Day and beyond, join us in giving back and taking care of the trees across the city. What are you doing to celebrate?