A colleague of mine recently completed a comprehensive urban forest management plan for the city of West Palm Beach. Included in the plan was a section on the ability of different species of trees to sequester carbon. Because of its geography, many of the species listed were specific to south Florida. However, several were trees are distributed statewide. Included in this list is the live oak, which traps 92 pounds of carbon annually; slash pine, 44 pounds; baldcypress, 38 pounds; and the cabbage palm, a mere one pound. This estimate is based on a 20-inch diameter tree at 4.5 feet above the ground.
Whether you believe in climate change or not, trees are remarkable “engines” for reducing carbon dioxide. Through the miracle of photosynthesis, trees utilize carbon dioxide and water to produce sugars and oxygen. Planting trees in and around cities helps replenish our atmosphere with oxygen. Some scientists believe we can completely mitigate climate change by the planting of 500 billion trees worldwide.
November brings us the Thanksgiving holiday, a time to reflect on our blessings and to give thanks to our God and others in our lives. Most of us take many of our blessings for granted, including yours truly. And I’m sure most of us take trees for granted. We drive by them every day and we have them in our yards. In addition to the carbon sequestration mentioned above, trees provide a multitude of benefits. Many of these are listed below.
- In the summer, we seek out their shade for parking or resting.
- In the fall, we enjoy the changing foliage (even in some places in Florida).
- Trees are natural air conditioners — the evaporation from a single tree can equal the cooling effect of ten room size air conditioners operating 20 hours a day.
- Trees cool our cities by up to 10 degrees by shading our homes and streets, releasing water vapor into the air (as above), and breaking up urban heat islands (large areas of pavement or reflected heat from buildings).
- Trees placed strategically around homes and office buildings can reduce summer air conditioning needs by up to 50%.
- Trees clean the air by absorbing odors and pollutant gases and by filtering particulate matter out of the air.
- Trees provide oxygen — in one year, an acre of mature trees can provide enough oxygen for 18 people.
- In one year, an acre of mature trees absorbs the equivalent amount of carbon dioxide of driving your car 26,000 miles.
- The American Forestry Association estimates that 100 million new trees would absorb 18 million tons of carbon dioxide and reduce U.S. air conditioning costs by $4 billion annually.
- Hospital patients have been shown to recover more quickly when their hospital room offered a view of trees. They also had fewer complaints, took fewer painkillers, and left the hospital sooner.
- Property values of homes with trees are 5-15% higher than those without landscape trees, and homes with trees sell more quickly than those without.
- Apartments and offices in wooded areas are known to rent more quickly and have a higher occupancy rate. Workers in offices in wooded areas report more productivity and less absenteeism.
- Evergreen trees can serve as a windbreak and reduce the loss of heat from the home in winter by 10-50%. Of course, this is much more significant in colder climates than here in Florida.
- A strip of trees 100 feet wide and 45 feet high can reduce highway noise by up to 50%. Less noise results in reduced irritability and aggressive behavior and lower stress levels.
- Trees provide food and shelter for a variety of birds and other animals such as squirrels.
- Trees reduce urban water runoff by absorbing water through their roots and interrupting the impact of rainfall with their canopy.
This is not even a complete list! But what would our lives be like without trees? So, this year, when you are saying grace at the Thanksgiving table, remember to add trees to your list of things to be thankful for.
Eric H. Hoyer is a certified arborist, a certified forester, a registered consulting arborist and a qualified tree risk assessor with Natural Resource Planning Services Inc. He can be contacted at email@example.com.