December 17, 2012 The Role of Urban Trees and Urban Forests in Fighting Global Warming
Address that I gave to a United Nations congress on World Habitat Day October 1, 2007
I come from California to address the United Nations on World Habitat Day on behalf of the trees. There are over 80,000 species of trees on Earth.
In my right hand I hold a cone from the largest living tree on the globe — General Sherman, a giant Sequoia. He’s the fastest growing tree on the planet adding the equivalent volume of wood in a tree 1.5 feet thick and 60 feet tall every year .
In my left hand I hold the cone from the oldest living tree in the world — Methuselah, a bristlecone pine. Methuselah is over 4,700 years old. He’s witnessed over 1.6 million sunrises. His tree rings and other dead standing and fallen bristle cone pines give us a very detailed look at the climate on Earth over the past 9,700 years.
In a way this London plane leaf, that I am holding up, symbolizes all trees in cities; life under difficulties, growth against the odds, sap-rise in the midst of concrete, and the steady reaching for the sun.
Urban trees reduce heating and cooling costs by 40 percent. Urban trees and forests help filter smog and air pollution. Urban trees and urban forests help filter our water – the life-blood of planet Earth.
Today much of the energy we use comes from 200 to 300 million-year-old forests. Coal, oil and gas are releasing carbon dioxide. In fact globally we are now emitting (2006 data) 32 billion tons of carbon dioxide. Our ocean can absorb 2 billion tons and our forests about 1.7 billion tons. We have a rising deficit of 28.3 billion tons. Rising carbon dioxide is causing wild weather and it’s predicted to get a lot worse. Many cities and millions upon millions of their inhabitants are at risk
Our current problem boils down to how we, globally, source our energy. We depend upon fossil fuels but when fossil fuels are burned they release carbon dioxide and coal releases mercury. Mercury is toxic and it is accumulated at unprecedented levels in the Arctic.
Cities around the globe use 75 percent of all energy. Cities emit 80 percent of the carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases. About 3.25 billion people live in cities (half Earth’s population). By 2030 it is predicted that at least 60 percent of the human population will live in cities.
Mayors around the world have joined forces to fix rising carbon dioxide levels.
Leadership from Mayor Bloomberg is adding 1 million more trees to NYC 5.2 million trees and all 13,000 yellow cabs in the “Green Apple” will be hybrid and (or) smart cars by 2012.
Mayor Livingston of London is spearheading the C40 (top 40 cities in the world).
Mayor Miller of Toronto has already added an additional 500,000 to the 7 million trees and Toronto will be adding another 6 million trees in the ensuing decades.
Mayor Daley of Chicago has added 500,000 trees to his city and since greening the roof of city hall in 1999 Chicago leads America with over 300 green building roofs.
Mayor Nickels of Seattle started the U.S. Mayor’s Climate Protection Agreement some seven years ago and now there are over 600 cities across America representing almost 70 million people who are working to reduce carbon dioxide levels 20 percent by 2020 and then 30 percent by 2030.
Now we have over 750 cities around the world reducing carbon dioxide levels and more and more are joining each day.
In come our trees. Trees Across America is planting 285 million trees – one for each citizen – with the assistances of the Student Conservation Association. Plant for the Planet and its billion-tree campaign is at its half way mark.
Tens of millions of school children from around the globe are planting trees. Boy scouts and girl guides are also planting millions of trees.
Once all cities reduce their carbon dioxide emissions the trees will help stabilize the carbon dioxide levels by mid century. Global warming is a citizens’ issue. We all need to reduce how we spend energy at work at home and will we travel.
The model-T disrupted the horses and buggy, the personal computer disrupted the type-writer industry and now clean alternative energies like wind, solar, wave and geothermal will disrupt the 19th century fossil fuel industry.
Seventy-five years ago polio and small pox threatened our species and we cured it, in the late 50s Sputnik was the first satellite into outer-space but Americans were the first to walk on the moon. Someday soon we will put somebody on Mars. If we can do that, then we can think our way out of causing rising carbon dioxide levels.
Trees and children, children and trees – that’s our future.
We know what’s causing climate change, so together let’s solve it.
Earth Dr Reese Halter is an award-winning broadcaster and distinguished conservation biologist. His latest book with Chris Maser is Life, The Wonder of it All
Text © by Dr Reese Halter 2014. All rights reserved.
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