TREES AND YOUR ENVIRONMENT
Planting trees in your neighborhood really is one of the best things you can do for the local environment and for the planet. It’s no secret that trees help the environment, but you may be surprised by all the benefits that planting trees can provide. Besides producing oxygen and removing carbon dioxide and contaminants from the air, trees have many other social, economic, and environmental benefits.
Environmental Benefits of Planting Trees
Trees are like the lungs of the planet. They breathe in carbon dioxide and breathe out oxygen. Additionally, they provide habitat for birds and other wildlife. But that’s not all trees do for us! To see just how much trees are essential to the planet and to humans, let’s look at the following statistics:
CO2 is one of the major contributing elements to the greenhouse effect. Trees trap CO2 from the atmosphere and make carbohydrates that are used for plant growth. They give us oxygen in return. According to ColoradoTree.org, about 800 million tons of carbon are stored in the trees that make up the urban forests of the U.S. This translates to a savings of $22 billion in control costs. Mature trees can absorb roughly 48 pounds of CO2 a year. The tree in turn releases enough oxygen to sustain two human beings.
Trees also help to reduce ozone levels in urban areas. In New York City, a 10 percent increase in urban canopy translated to a reduction of peak ozone levels by around 4 parts per billion. (Source: Luley, Christopher J.; Nowak, David J. 2004. Help Clear the Smog with Your Urban Forest: What You and Your Urban Forest Can Do About Ozone.)
Trees reduce urban runoff and erosion by storing water and breaking the force of rain as it falls. The USDA reports that 100 mature trees can reduce runoff caused by rainfall by up to 100,000 gallons!
Trees also absorb sound and reduce noise pollution. This is especially important for people who live near freeways. In some cases, a well planted group of trees can reduce noise pollution by up to 10 decibels. (Source: New Jersey Forest Service.)
Additionally, trees shade asphalt and trees, reducing what is know as the “Heat Island” effect. The EPA has some great information on how planting trees and other vegetation can help to reduce the urban heat island effect.
How Trees Help to Save Energy
Planting trees can also help cool your home in the summer. The Arbor Day Foundation states that the overall effect of the shade created by planting a healthy tree is equivalent to 10 room-size air conditioners running 20 hours a day!
In the winter, trees can act as windbreaks for your home and will help you save on heating costs. The Journal of Horticulture claims that saving on heating costs can reach as much as 25 percent!
Trees shade buildings, streets, and homes. If enough trees are planted in cities, the overall microclimate improves and total energy use for heating and cooling is reduced. The EPA has some great information on how planting trees and other vegetation can help to reduce the overall high temperature of your city!
Social and Economic Benefits of Planting Trees
Health Benefits of Nature
Just being around trees makes you feel good. Can you imagine your community without trees? Trees, especially in urban areas, have numerous social benefits. For example, the addition of trees to a neighborhood or a business district can greatly improve the mental and physical health of residents and workers. In fact, the University of Cambridge did a study on job satisfaction of employees of business with a view of trees from their office. They found that these employees suffered from fewer diseases than workers without a view of trees. See here for more information on the study.
Another example is with children with learning disorders. As a form of therapy, children that suffer from Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) can benefit from the presence of trees and other greenery. Kids with ADHD have been proven to be calmer, more responsive, and better able to concentrate when in a space with lots of trees. (Source: Taylor, A.F.; Kuo, F.; Sullivan,W. 2001. Coping with ADD: The Surprising Connection to Green Play Settings. Environment and Behavior)
Trees and their Benefits for Neighborhoods
Additionally, have you considered that planting a tree can significantly increase your property values? As an example, the U.S. Tax Court recently calculated a value of 9 percent ($15,000) for the removal of a large black oak on a piece of property valued at $164,500. (Source: Neely, D., ed. 1988. Valuation of Landscape Trees, Shrubs, and Other Plants.)
Houses with trees are also more attractive to visitors, potential buyers, and neighbors. Neighborhoods with lots of trees also report less crime! (Source: Kuo, F.; Sullivan,W. 2001. Environment and Crime in the Inner City: Does Vegetation Reduce Crime? Environment and Behavior 33(3).) There is no doubt that if you plant trees in your community, people will see and feel the difference.
As you can see, it's clear that trees are essential to our life on the planet. The great thing is that we as humans can play an active role in planting trees to help offset deforestation and urbanization. Not only can you plant trees in your yard, you can also get involved in local tree planting activities on Arbor Day.
If you need more reasons to plant trees, the United States Department of Agriculture has a complete list of statistics regarding the environmental, economic, and social benefits of planting trees. Some of the statistics from this article are included in the PDF file referenced above, as well as many others.