Girl Planting seeds

Trees, Their Power and Protection

Big_Tree_shutterstock_790465855By Deirdre Imus, 8-24-2018
Of the many things we take for granted in this life, it’s safe to say trees are at the top of the list. They are essential to human existence, absorbing carbon from the atmosphere and releasing oxygen back into it so that we may breathe. Numerous scientific studies have shown that living near trees improves human health both physically and psychologically. Trees offer us much-needed shade on a hot day, or a respite during the rain. They have and will continue to save us in myriad ways, as Shel Silverstein lovingly depicts in The Giving Tree, one of my favorite books.

Trees benefit the citizens of large cities, and of anywhere. As the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation notes on its website, spending time around trees can make us healthier by boosting the immune system; reducing stress; lowering blood pressure; improving mood and focus; and speeding up recovery after surgery. By absorbing carbon dioxide and reducing pollution, they also help prevent conditions associated with breathing contaminated air, such as heart disease, asthma, and cancer.

Forester and author Peter Wohlleben writes in The Secret Life of Trees, “If we want to use forests as a weapon in the fight against climate change, then we must allow them to grow old.”  And yet deforestation is a real and pressing threat that comes in many forms: fires; clear-cutting for agriculture, ranching, and development; unsustainable logging for timber; and degradation due to climate change. According to the World Wildlife Foundation (WWF), the Earth loses 18.7 million acres of forests each year, which is the equivalent of 27 soccer fields every minute. This reduces the number of trees that can soak up the carbon dioxide from the air (15 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions are the result of deforestation, per the WWF), and contributes to other problems such as loss of biodiversity in some of the world’s most valuable tropical rainforests.

Urban areas are another place where a lack of trees can lead to a rise in other problems. A study released earlier this year found that planting 20 percent more trees in megacities would double the benefits of urban forests, such as pollution and energy reduction. A megacity is one where at least 10 million people reside, and the world currently has more than 30 of them. And while “urban forest” may sound like a fancy term, it’s really just a big area full of trees (like Central Park in New York City) that are carefully cultivated and maintained.

Trees may also prove to be our protectors against a new form of emerging mobile technology called 5G, which will increase and improve cellular service by delivering 100 times faster broadband capability. But it will also bring users closer to cellphone tower equipment than ever before. A CBS News report from May indicated that as many as 300,000 new antennas would have to be installed around the country to allow 5G to operate, each one emitting radiation. We don’t know the exact health risks of this form of radiation, but we do know that exposure to it has been linked to cancer in lab rodents, and that some association between cell phone use and cancer has been observed.

So what do trees have to do with 5G? It turns out leaves may block 5G’s ability to penetrate a particular area, thus limiting its ability to penetrate our bodies. This leaves urban areas particularly vulnerable to the effects of 5G, and only emphasizes the need for more trees and green spaces in our cities. For more about 5G news click here.

One of my heroes is Wangari Maathai, a 2004 Nobel Peace Prize Laureate and the founder of the Green Belt Movement, which has planted more than 51 million trees in Kenya. She saw almost before anyone else the road to sustainability and peace through the planting of trees, and the empowerment of communities. She’s not a household name but she should be.

You might not be able to plant 51 million trees in your lifetime. But you can plant one.

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