The Power of Trees - Climate Matters
Wednesday, June 12, 2024

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Trees curb climate change directly by removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Through the process of photosynthesis, forests offset 10 to 20 percent of the country’s greenhouse gas emissions each year. Additionally, trees help protect against climate impacts such as flooding, which is getting worse with more locally heavy precipitation. By catching rainwater, reducing erosion, and creating more permeable soils, trees help prevent nearly 400 billion gallons of runoff annually in the continental U.S., which is enough water to fill about 600,000 Olympic-sized swimming pools.


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Trees are equally crucial for water and air quality, as over half of Americans depend on forests to capture and filter their drinking water. Tree leaves also absorb airborne pollutants and intercept particulate matter, helping reduce the throat irritation, asthma, and even premature death that these pollutants may cause. By annually removing over 35 billion pounds of these pollutants in the continental U.S., trees prevent over half a million cases of acute respiratory symptoms each year.

 A Trillion Trees - Narrated by Dr. Jane Goodall, DBE

Trees for Jane is an international grassroots campaign to protect and restore the world’s trees and forests inspired by Dr. Jane Goodall, DBE, the Founder of the Jane Goodall Institute and a UN Messenger of Peace. Protecting and restoring forests is one of the most effective ways to reduce the most severe negative effects of climate change, but half of all our forests are gone.


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People are experiencing climate change in diverse ways:  Climate change can affect our health, ability to grow food, housing, safety and work. Some of us are already more vulnerable to climate impacts, such as people living in small island nations and other developing countries. Conditions like sea-level rise and saltwater intrusion have advanced to the point where whole communities have had to relocate, and protracted droughts are putting people at risk of famine. In the future, the number of “climate refugees” is expected to rise.


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Every Increase in Global Warming Matters


In a 2018 UN report, thousands of scientists and government reviewers agreed that limiting global temperature rise to no more than 1.5°C would help us avoid the worst climate impacts and maintain a livable climate. Yet based on current national climate plans, global warming is projected to reach 2.7°C by the end of the century. The emissions that cause climate change come from every part of the world and affect everyone, but some countries produce much more than others. The 100 least-emitting countries generate 3 per cent of total emissions. The 10 countries with the largest emissions contribute 68 per cent. Everyone must take climate action, but people and countries creating more of the problem have a greater responsibility to act first.


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We face a Huge Challenge but Already Know Many Solutions: Many climate change solutions can deliver economic benefits while improving our lives and protecting the environment. We also have global frameworks and agreements to guide progress, such as the Sustainable Development Goals, the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change and the Paris Agreement. Three broad categories of action are: cutting emissions, adapting to climate impacts and financing required adjustments.


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Switching energy systems from fossil fuels to renewables like solar or wind will reduce the emissions driving climate change. But we have to start right now. While a growing coalition of countries is committing to net zero emissions by 2050, about half of emissions cuts must be in place by 2030 to keep warming below 1.5°C. Fossil fuel production must decline by roughly 6 per cent per year between 2020 and 2030.


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This Table Shows the Top Five Media Markets for Each of These Benefits


Not surprisingly, areas with more trees provide more benefits, like in the Southeast and Pacific Northwest. However, some benefits are higher in urban areas, which often have higher air pollution and flood risks. Trees in urban areas can also reduce the urban heat island effect and lower air conditioning needs as much as 30 percent by providing a natural shade. Urban trees reduce U.S. energy bills by over $5 billion each year. And since lower energy consumption means fewer carbon dioxide emissions, planting trees can contribute to a healthier planet while improving our daily lives.


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Methodology: 2010 county-level data is taken from the U.S. Forest Service i-Tree County Tool (more details here) and aggregated into Nielsen Designated Market Areas (DMAs). For cities located within a larger DMA, the benefits shown are from the county in which the city is located. CO2 equivalent includes CO2 and other greenhouse gases based on their relative warming potential. Measured air pollutants include ground-level ozone, PM2.5, PM10, carbon monoxide, nitrogen dioxide, and sulfur dioxide.