By Kelvey Vander Hart
Innovation is the key to fighting climate change. But nature has already provided the best innovation imaginable: trees. Here are five ways trees help to fight climate change.
Absorb Carbon Dioxide and Release Oxygen
The fact that trees absorb carbon dioxide and release oxygen is elementary. However, increases and decreases in the oxygen level do not just impact humans and animals breathing the air, but the climate we exist within. Places like the ocean are already forecasted to have major problems if our planet’s oxygen output remains the same. Increasing the number of trees that we plant and maintaining forests are simple ways to bolster the amount of oxygen being released into the atmosphere.
Help Store Carbon
Along with the constant cycle of absorbing carbon dioxide while releasing oxygen, trees also serve as natural carbon sinks. A carbon sink is essentially a reservoir where carbon is taken from the atmosphere, captured, and stored. The more trees there are across our planet, the more additional carbon is pulled out of the atmosphere, therefore lowering one of the factors fueling climate change.
Reduce Energy Usage and Temperatures
Well-shaded city streets are usually cooler streets, with the presence of trees reducing temperatures by six to ten degrees Fahrenheit. This helps combat the “urban heat islands” caused by climate change, where cities are several degrees warmer than their surroundings. Trees not only help lower actual temperatures but work to lower the need for energy consumption – strategic planting around structures can reduce energy usage by 30 percent.
Help Prevent Flooding
When trees are not present, soil can erode and run into bodies of water, raising the levels in those streams and rivers. Flooding is already a threat from climate change, so the last thing that is needed is continuously rising water levels. Trees work to keep soil in place while their roots absorb water – even the leaves of trees can help reduce soil erosion by filtering raindrops so they do not hit the ground as hard. A study has found that trees also work better than asphalt at absorbing rainwater, reducing run-off by 60 percent in cities.
Maintain Healthy Soil
Healthy soil actually holds a lot of carbon. Trees play an important role in keeping soil healthy, aside from the already mentioned erosion prevention. Rally for Rivers noted the role of trees in creating healthy soil:
“Trees also recycle nutrients by pulling them up from deeper layers of the ground and bringing them up to the surface through the decomposition of leaf and plant litter to form soil organic matter. Tree canopies…trap some amounts of nutrient from the atmosphere, a source of free fertilizer which is washed from the leaves to the soil by rain.”
Trees are one easy natural solution to fighting the effects of climate change. The simple act of planting a tree or even sponsoring a tree to be planted can go a long way in reducing excessive carbon in the atmosphere and promoting a healthy environment.
Kelvey Vander Hart is a native Iowan and a senior staff writer for the American Conservation Coalition.