Saturday, July 10, 2021

Trees and Climate Change in Des Moines

Many of us have a preferred way of dealing with climate change. 
Some think the entire world population needs to shrink, or at least the population of THOSE people over there. 
Some people think that we must obtain all of our energy from renewable resources. Other people think that it's too late for anything other than moving back to a pre-Industrial Revolution lifestyle right now! 
Some folks swear by veganism. Some people want to eliminate the internal combustion engine. Other people think that private homes are wasteful and we must all live in energy efficient apartment buildings. 
Some are fiercely hostile to private travel. They think that public transportation should not only be subsidized, but mandated. Some folks would ban air travel and outlaw vacations. 
Other people deny the existence of climate change. They also argue that if climate change exists it's (a) not our fault and/or (b) nothing we can do about at this late point anyway. 
People's ideal solutions (or lack thereof) tend to line up with their preferred social values, political ideologies, and economic interests.

If you earn your living from fossil fuel technology you might be skeptical of solutions that require forcible cessation of that technology. 
If you happen to prefer a larger activist and more intrusive government anyway, you might scorn fixes that involve free markets and lots of consumer or citizen choice. But what if part of the solution involves something as simple and as uncontroversial as planting more trees?

DES MOINES — The trees were supposed to stay.
It didn’t matter that the owners of the squat building alongside were planning to redevelop the property. The four eastern red cedars stood on city land, where they had grown for the better part of a century.
“There’s no way these trees are coming down,” Shane McQuillan, who manages the city’s trees, recalled thinking. 
“The default position for us is, you don’t take out big trees to put in small trees.”
Here’s why: At a time when climate change is making heat waves more frequent and more severe, trees are stationary superheroes. Trees can lower air temperature in city neighborhoods 10 lifesaving degrees, scientists have found.

“Trees are, quite simply, the most effective strategy, technology, we have to guard against heat in cities,” said Brian Stone Jr., a professor of environmental planning at the Georgia Institute of Technology. 
So, in Des Moines, Mr. McQuillan worked with the property owners and city planners to find a way to redevelop while keeping the trees. But one day several months later, he got word that a crew was taking them down.
Mr. McQuillan raced to the site, just a couple blocks from his office. One tree had already been cut to a stump, and another was almost down.

Planting in Des Moines will resume in the fall, focusing on formerly redlined communities most in need of trees. 
Around the country, racist policies have left these neighborhoods especially bare and hot. 
Leslie Berckes, director of programs at Trees Forever, hopes to get 1,000 trees in the ground by the end of the year, surpassing an agreement with the city. 

The crux of the problem, according to scientists and environmental planners, is that Americans, from everyday citizens to government officials, are often not fully aware of the benefits that trees provide.
In addition to reducing heat, trees filter out air pollution, suck up storm water, store carbon, nurture wildlife and even improve people’s mental and physical health.
“It’s hard for us to think of trees as actual infrastructure rather than an amenity, and because of that, we don’t allocate sufficient funds,” said Dr. Stone of the Georgia Institute of Technology. 
“If we think about it as actual infrastructure on par with investing in roads and sewers and everything else, those costs will become more acceptable to us.”
A tree’s shade, that sweet relief from solar radiation, is only part of its cooling power. Trees also evaporate water, pulling it from the ground and releasing it into the air through their leaves. 
That’s why walking through a forest, or just sitting in a playground surrounded by several large trees, feels more refreshing than the shade of a lone tree. LINK
Planting and maintaining more trees ought to be something that is acceptable to everyone no matter where they land on the ideological spectrum. More trees however will impede real estate "development". 
Society must decide how much sprawl is necessary. Society also needs to "regreen" urban areas where possible. 
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