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Wednesday, April 12, 2023

Plant a Tree for a Longer Life

Trees are vital to our health, according to recent studies. Especially in urban environments, planting more trees may yield considerable health benefits. 

Spring is coming to a nation that has seen record snowfall, cold, and storms this winter. What better way to welcome the season of renewal than by planting a tree for the future? As it turns out, trees are linked to multiple benefits, especially if you are a city resident. The more trees, the better it is for everyone around them.

A study led by US Forest Service researchers in Portland, OR found that the more trees in a neighborhood, the longer people there lived. For thirty years, the Portland nonprofit Friends of Trees planted a variety of oaks, dogwoods, and other trees – more than 50,000 of them – around the city. The trees grew to shade sidewalks, muffle traffic noise, absorb pollution, and provide a pleasing visual display.

How to Plant a Tree Anywhere  

If you want to increase your impact, or if you just aren’t the type to feel comfortable with a shovel in your hands and dirt on your boots, a nonprofit may be just what you need. Visit the Arbor Day Foundation to help them reach their goal of planting 500 million trees by 2027. This group plants trees all over the world, with more than 50 years of experience. It’s a great place to shop for trees and get expert advice or send them a donation and they’ll do all the work.

What was unexpected were the health gains the arboreal species made in the neighborhoods where they were planted. After controlling for race, income, age, and education, it turns out that in these areas, fewer people died. For every 100 trees put in, researchers discovered there was about one fewer death due to non-accidental causes. 

Trees As Healthcare

“Urban trees are an essential part of our public health infrastructure, and they should be treated as such,” said Geoffrey Donovan, the Forest Service researcher who led the study that was published in the December 2022 issue of the journal Environment International.

The effect blossomed as the trees grew, spreading their limbs and casting shade, providing habitat for birds and animals. Or as Donovan noted: “Bigger trees, bigger impact on mortality, which is what you would expect.”

Previous studies have found that plants in the environment can lower blood pressure, reduce rates of depression, and increase physical activity. Conversely, when the emerald ash borer decimated trees from Minnesota to New York, researchers found higher rates of cardiovascular and lower-respiratory-tract illness in counties where the ashes were hardest hit. 

Throwing Shade to Save Lives

Stifling summer temperatures take lives every year. A recent study published in The Lancet medical journal estimates that 2,644 lives (more than a third of those lost) could have been spared across 93 European cities if tree cover had been increased to 30%. 

Urban heat islands (UHI) are caused when pavement and buildings absorb the sun’s heat, raising temperatures by up to 3 degrees in high-density areas. Greening cities can reverse this trend, cutting down on energy use as the need for air conditioning lessens. 

The 2022 World Economic Forum looked at the economics of preventing nature loss, such as avoiding urban sprawl, which threatens 44% of global GDP. The report found a return on a $583 billion investment would be $1.5 trillion with a potential for creating 59 million jobs. 

The World Economic Forum’s UpLink initiative aims to plant a trillion trees by 2030 in forest and urban environments. On a more practical level, you can help expand green initiatives where you live. Join a group that adds trees to local sidewalks and parks or plant a sapling in your backyard. To find free trees, usually available around Arbor Day on April 28 this year, go here.

There is joy in watching a tree grow, nourishing it while its branches lengthen and spread. Perhaps it will bear fruit or provide a show of blooms to welcome springtime. It’s a gift to you and generations to come.