Today's Houston Chronicle has a great article about the huge value trees have to fight pollution in addition to creating a beautiful environment. Written by Laura Huffman, director of the Nature Conservancy in Texas, the piece additionally describes how trees and the parks they grow in play a role in getting children outside. She also pre-views a study out shortly by the Nature Conservancy and Dow Chemical that predicts massive reforestation near Dow's Freeport plan could reduce up to 200 tons of nitrous oxide over 30 years of operations.
Money Does Grow on Trees
If not, here are some key sections.
A full quarter of the world's forests are in cities and towns - very literally, in our own backyards. In the past several years, Houstonians have watched as millions of trees across the city, including more than 50 percent of the trees in Memorial Park, were devastated by record drought. Recently, trees removed during development projects at Woodland Park have raised important questions about the value of trees.
Are they just nice to have, or do trees provide other quantifiable value?
Traditionally, trees have been seen as pretty things that provide shade. Their value has typically been defined in terms of quality of life and as a great way to market cities for economic development.
The 15 cities that added the most people between 2011 and 2012 have a collective total of more than 481,000 acres of parks and green space. Houston contributes about 38,394 of those acres. With all those trees in all of those parks, trees can provide a wealth of benefits to our city.
Trees and the parks they grow in can play a role in making communities healthier and getting children outside. Research shows that children are less connected to nature than ever - only 10 percent of kids polled by The Nature Conservancy reported spending time outside every day. But increased exposure to trees and green space helps children reduce stress, increase their cognitive and motor skills, expand their imaginations and maintain an active lifestyle. Plus, the more children are exposed to nature, the more they understand and appreciate its value.
Trees are much more than just nice ways to beautify cities. They're more than a great way to market cities for businesses looking to relocate or expand operations. Science demonstrates that nature, including trees, combined with traditional infrastructure can solve important problems that cities face: making air cleaner, filtering pollutants from our water supplies and mitigating erosion and storm runoff.
The Nature Conservancy and Dow Chemical partnered to determine if nature actually could provide a way to clean air and defend a coastline near their Freeport plant. The science, which will soon be published, answers that question definitively: Massive reforestation could remove as much as 200 tons of nitrous oxide - a building block of smog - from the air over the next 30 years, all at a cost comparable to traditional smokestack air scrubbers. And that dense canopy of trees would create new migration corridors for area wildlife, provide shade and help reduce temperatures, and improve water quality in the surrounding area.
Each year, Houston trees remove an estimated 779 tons of harmful ground-level ozone, a gas created from emissions from industrial facilities, electric utilities, vehicle exhaust and gasoline vapors. It can cause throat irritation, congestion and coughing, worsen asthma and bronchitis, and do millions of dollars worth of damage to crops. We also know that a single acre of mature trees can absorb up to 26 pounds of carbon dioxide each year. That means a healthy tree canopy throughout just half of Houston could erase 5.2 million pounds of it from our air. Now imagine the power enshrined in Texas' 167 million acres of land.
Trees are one of our most valuable natural defenses. Planting more trees is a start, as is protecting and maintaining precious open space. And strong partnerships between business, industry and organizations like The Nature Conservancy can yield a powerful combination of strong science and market insight - which translates into tangible results. Imagine a Houston where all of these partnerships are at work and we're getting the full spectrum of the value of trees. Now imagine how much more enjoyable a walk in the park will be.