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How You Can Make Choices that Treat the Earth Well
|The global consumption of fossil fuels is estimated to release into the atmosphere every year more than 22 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide (CO2) the key gas responsible for climate change. And the amounts are climbing. – Government of Canada|
Trees and Carbon
Most scientists now believe that the warming temperatures we are experiencing are due to human additions of carbon dioxide and other “greenhouse gases” to the atmosphere. But there is important help on hand. Trees, whose trunks, branches, leaves and roots are composed mainly of carbon, are important absorbers of carbon dioxide. Trees store carbon from the atmosphere as they grow. They “breathe in” carbon dioxide during the process photosynthesis, and then give off oxygen. Planting trees is therefore one way to reduce the amount of carbon dioxide in the air, and reduce the percentage of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.
Trees actually change the climate of a place where they grow. By providing shade, they shelter other green plants, maintain moisture in the atmosphere, and cool temperatures. When they are planted near human habitation, they have an important effect: they make buildings and properties cooler in summer, and act as windbreaks in winter, partially reducing heating needs.
In terms of the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, trees perform another task. They act as what scientists call “sinks,” or natural places for some of the carbon from the air to go to be stored for long periods of time. The government of Canada recognizes “afforestation” (increasing forested areas) as one method to deal with climate change through the capturing (or “sequestering”) of carbon.
Trees are very important carbon sinks. It has been estimated that over a life of 80 years, a single tree can capture one tonne of carbon. So planting and maintaining a healthy tree is one way of meeting the Canada’s Kyoto Protocol “One Tonne Challenge,” reducing carbon dioxide by one tonne per person per year. www.climatechange.gc.ca/onetonne/english/.
As individuals, as citizen groups, as schools, employees or with simply friends and family, Canadians can beautify the landscape and help slow the effects of climate change, by planting trees. There are now some organizations and municipalities that make trees available. Others help pay the cost of trees for people who wish to plant them. There are also opportunities to get involved in replanting formerly cleared or logged areas with trees.
Purchasing a tree from a nursery for planting around a home is an excellent investment in the future. Some schools with larger properties are even learning to grow trees from seeds. There is also much good advice available on selecting an appropriate tree for a particular location, and using good planting, mulching and maintenance techniques to ensure its continued health (see links below).
The Importance of Trees
|A study commissioned by the Friends of the Earth in Toronto determined that planting enough trees to shade 3,0% of Toronto’s residential buildings could reduce summer cooling use by 10% to 30% and winter heating by 15% to 30%.|
Trees are amazing plants in the ways they affect the places where they grow. When we look at the connection between trees and climate change, many of these features of trees are important. Some of the things trees do (that you many never have thought about before) are:
Trees save energy. A windbreak of trees near a house can reduce winter heating costs by as much as 10 – 15%!
In summer time, buildings shaded by trees are much cooler, and can greatly reduce their need for air conditioning.
- Trees not only remove carbon dioxide from the air through photosynthesis (using light to make their green chlorophyll), they help reduce the amount of fossil fuel needed to provide energy for both winter home heating and summer air conditioning.
- Trees hold down soil and prevent erosion. This keeps healthy soil in place, and lessens the need for commercial fertilizers on eroded areas. The production of commercial fertilizer requires large quantities of fossil fuels.
- Trees absorb some of the carbon dioxide produced by cars. The average tree can remove about 22 kilograms of CO2 from the air each year. (It would take about 500 full-sized trees to absorb the amount of carbon dioxide produced by an average Canadian car in a year).
- Trees absorb dust particles from the air. They act as filters to make the air, particularly importantly in cities, much more clean and pleasant.
- Trees are very effective insulation against noise (try to hear someone shouting in a forest).
- Trees make both people and animals happier. It has been observed that hospital patients with a view of trees heal faster, and that farm animals with shade trees in their feeding areas experience less stress and feed better.
You Can Get Involved in Planting Trees!
Since trees offer so many advantages, planting them is one of the most effective actions people can take in reducing the effects of climate change. You can get involved in tree planting in many different contexts: as a member of a household or apartment building; with a school; as a street or neighbourhood resident, as an employee at an office or workplace; as a member of a group or an organization, as part of a city effort to maintain the “urban forest,” or even as a paying job.
The first step is to decide how to get the tree or trees for planting. It can be rewarding to do a bit of research and discover who is most interested in planting trees in your area. Local organizations, conservation groups, municipalities, and Îgreen communities’ often invite residents to volunteer to restore and replant open areas, ravines and watersheds in their town or community. For closer-to-home efforts, there are sometimes grants or subsidy programs to help pay for trees for backyards or for spaces in front of homes on city property. If you are interested in getting involved in planting trees, you might want to start by getting in touch with your city, town or region, and ask for information or leads as to what is available locally.
Here are some examples of types of supports for tree-planting.
L.E.A.F. (Toronto) Local Enhancement and Appreciation of Forests – A program to enhance the Îurban forest’ in Toronto, planting backyard trees, shrubs and perennials. www.leaftoronto.org
Evergreen (Toronto and Vancouver) – Canada’s foremost organization in supporting naturalization on public and school property. Good information and tips for garden planning, choosing trees and plants, videos, staff support, teacher learning resources, some grants programs. www.evergreen.ca
City of Orillia Tree Planting Rebate Programhttp://www.city.orillia.on.ca/page43_trees.html
City of Ottawa: Environmental Grants Directory http://ottawa.ca/city_services/grants/enviro/enviro2_c_en.shtml Lists sources of funding for projects such as park/school yard naturalization initiatives and urban and rural tree planting campaigns.
Clean Air Hamilton Tree Planting Program – This program includes a homeowner subsidy program. http://www.airquality.hamilton.on.ca/about/planting.asp
Earth Angels – Environmental Earth Angels provides indigenous trees free to participating schools. They also supply tree planting nstructions and documentation for developing the a tree plan. http://www.earthangels.ca/treeplanter.htm
Tree Monitoring and Maintenance
Association for Canadian Education Resources – “Citizen Science” for Biodiversity www.acer-acre.org
Trees planted on re-naturalizing areas have a far better chance for survival when they are given care and maintenance to ensure their long-term health. ACER offers programs for tree measuring and monitoring on selected one-hectare plots in Ontario. They have also planted a one-hectare urban restoration plot with young trees, to measure and observe the health of species during this time of climate change.
Trees for Neighbourhoods, Streets, Parks, Schoolgrounds, and the Countryside
Tree Canada partners with local volunteers across Canada to improve air quality and quality of life by planting trees. www.treecanada.ca/index_e.htm
Fascinating facts from Tree Canada. – www.treecanada.ca/publications/trivia.htm
Land Stewardship Demonstration Areas
Ontario Stewardship Centre: An impressive list of projects which help local communities learn to take care of the local land. – www.stewardshipcentre.on.ca/allDemoProjects/on_demoSearch.asp?sProv=on
Toronto Tree programs: Planting, maintenance, urban forests, and more
What tree planting programs does the City of Toronto offer?
The City of Toronto offers a variety of tree-planting programs. If you have space on the city-owned portion of land in front of your house, the City will plant a tree there for free! You can select the species you want from an extensive list. Planting usually takes place during spring and fall submit your request early to ensure you get the tree you want. The City also offers tree maintenance, protection, removal, and composting services to residents. For details on tree planting programs in your area check out the City of Toronto website. www.city.toronto.on.ca/parks/recreation_facilities/trees/index.htm
Benefits of Planting Shade Trees
Planting more trees is an adaptive response to increased temperatures in urban communities. Trees can directly shade buildings and cool ambient air. A study commissioned by the Friends of the Earth in Toronto determined that planting enough trees to shade 30% of Toronto’s residential buildings could reduce summer cooling use by 10% to 30% and winter heating by 15% to 30%. http://ottawa.ca/city_services/environment/1_2_7_en.shtml
Create your own activities.