Remember all those dated movies and TV shows featuring a stereotypical “tree hugger “and how those poor souls were shamelessly criticized? Flash forward to the present day. Making fun of tree-saving efforts should give us reason to pause.
As trees grow, they absorb tons of harmful pollutants like carbon dioxide and greenhouse gases. They produce the very oxygen we rely on to breathe. Moreover, any common yard tree or forest canopy blocks out the sun’s rays during the day and holds back nighttime heat, allowing for a flow of cool breezes. Add in the fact that we’re able to sit and enjoy shade today because someone planted a tree long ago.
Each year, approximately 46 to 58 thousand square miles of forest are lost. Picture 48 football fields gone … in a matter of hours. Not long ago, three states – California, Oregon, and Washington – were ravaged by historic wildfires with more than 3 million acres burned in California alone. In 2018, Hurricane Michael passed over Tyndall Air Force Base near Panama City, Florida, snapping 12,000 acres of pine trees in half.
Our forests need our help. One acre of trees provides enough oxygen for 18 people for one year. Even birds, insects, and wildlife depend on them for healthy habitation. The wildfires that ravaged Australia recently displaced millions of animals, putting many species at risk of extinction. Trees help prevent erosion, improve water quality by stabilizing soils, reduce noise pollution and increase residential property values.
Research shows that this planet has achieved a startling global average warming of roughly 1.2 degrees Celsius since the 1880s, due in large part to human activity. COVID-19 lockdowns did, however, result in the largest drop in greenhouse gas emissions in recorded history. Nevertheless, lockdowns aren’t forever and fewer trees mean that more climate-changing gases get released into the atmosphere.
We each can do our part to re-establish forest cover, improve our air quality and beautify our lands. Ways to help include donating to organizations such as One Tree Planted and Arbor Day Foundation, or volunteer your planting skills with Plantabillion.org, for example. Through the National Forests Foundation, one native tree can be planted in a National Forest in need of regenerating for as little as $1; that also supports wildfire recovery and climate change mitigation. While some websites do list “planting events,” COVID-19 has brought about some restrictions, so be sure to stay current on updates. There are also non-profit community tree-planting groups like Releaf Michigan which is dedicated to rebuilding the state’s rural and urban tree canopies. These groups often conduct workshops on the importance of our green infrastructure.
Trees are a calming presence in a topsy-turvy world. According to several studies, being around trees reduces the stress-related hormones cortisol and adrenaline, lowers blood pressure, and improves mood. Notice how the average walking trail is surrounded by trees and not by traffic.
From their colorful foliage, majestic heights, and inviting branches to the bounty of their leaves, needles, or bark, trees offer so many natural gifts for our pleasure – and survival.