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Plant a Tree

by Andrew Scales | August 31, 2010

Global warming is a highly debated political issue these days. Many people wonder what one person can do to help. Planting trees can play a powerful role in cleaning up the local environment, but they're disappearing from cities across America.

Cities in the United States have lost more than 20 percent of their trees in 10 years. Richard Smardon, Ph.D., is an Environmental Planner at SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry in Syracuse, New York, attributes the disappearing trees to more construction around the country. Dr. Smardon says one huge benefit of trees is that they store so much carbon, which is good for the environment.

He explains, "The more carbon we store in the tree, the less goes into the atmosphere." Dr. Smardon and forester Allan Drew, Ph.D., have found the perfect mix of trees for Syracuse, New York, a combination that packs a hefty environmental punch. Dr. Drew says they are working on changing one city at a time. He told Ivanhoe, "We are making a conscious effort to produce communities that have better air quality and better health for the people that live there."

In a year-round venture, Dr. Smardon and Dr. Drew found 31 trees that are high performers in the region, like the sycamore. Their goal is to get people to protect and plant those trees in their neighborhoods, so everyone can make a change. Dr. Smardon says it's easy, "It's like using solar cells on your roof or driving a hybrid car. It's something the individual can do so they know they are making a difference."

Trees absorb and store greenhouse gases. A USDA study shows the trees in New York City alone remove 1,800 metric tons of air pollution from the local atmosphere. They provide shade, which also reduces how much energy we use.

During photosynthesis, trees remove carbon from the atmosphere and store it away in the tree's wood. This process is known as sequestration, and it reduces levels of carbon dioxide in the air. Trees also provide shade and lower air temperatures, reducing the amount of energy that buildings use and, therefore, the amount of work required -- and carbon dioxide released -- by power plants. Trees with denser wood, such as hawthorn trees, are most effective at removing carbon dioxide from the air. Other trees emit volatile organic compounds, which contribute to the formation of ozone. Ozone in the upper levels of Earth's atmosphere can have a protective effect, but particles of ozone in the air we breathe are considered pollutants.


Global Tropical Forests Threatened By 2100
By 2100 only 18% to 45% of the plants and animals making up ecosystems in global, humid tropical forests may remain as we know them today, according to a new study led by Greg Asner at the Carnegie Institution's Department of Global Ecology.

"For those areas of the globe projected to suffer most from climate change, land managers could focus their efforts on reducing the pressure from deforestation, thereby helping species adjust to climate change, or enhancing their ability to move in time to keep pace with it. On the flip side, regions of the world where deforestation is projected to have fewer effects from climate change could be targeted for restoration."

Tropical forests hold more then half of all the plants and animal species on Earth. But the combined effect of climate change, forest clear cutting, and logging may force them to adapt, move, or die.