I have wanted to write an article about trees for quite a number of years but now I think the climate is ripe for this type of discovery and I will endeavor to share these insights from the ecological world. I have walked many a mountain pass, gully and wash bed and have studied very young and very old trees, evergreens & perennials, fruit trees and shade trees and I have heard their rhyme & rhythm, been whiteness to their song & dance, felt their life beneath my feet and in the palm of my hands. This contribution is about the importance of trees and the roles that they play in sustainable environments as well as their role in the cycle of life and ecosystem function. In addition, this article will also explore how we can integrate this knowledge into our culture and urban environments to create sustainable environments and communities within which we may all thrive.

Trees are the World’s Lungs

They say that very big old shade trees are the wisest in the forest. Not only are they wisest but they also produce more oxygen than any other tree. In October 2010 The Economist featured a 14 page special report called the World’s Lungs. This has by far been one of the most comprehensive and informative pieces of scientific data, research and analysis on trees that I have ever seen. The conclusion; “preserve what little we have left.”

Trees are Habitat for Ecosystems and Provide Vital Ecosystem Services

In the feature mentioned above, The Economist delved deep into a new form of Economics called Deep Economics that factors in negative environmental externalities into cost benefit analysis. These services that trees and forests provide are called ecosystems services which provide vital processes for ecosystems and human systems in order to sustain life. Some of these services include; naturally filtering water, taking in Carbon Dioxide and releasing oxygen (mitigating the impacts of climate change), holding the soil in place and reducing erosion, fixing nitrogen in the soil, creating mulch to improve soil fertility, providing shade to cool the earth, helps to circulate air flow, provide food and shelter, provide habitat for many organisms and so on.

Imagine quantifying these processes?

The outcome; a hefty bill that not even the richest countries in the world could afford.

The impact; the realization that preservation must happen even if it means changing business as usual practices.

To go one step further, countries, cities and states are realizing the need to bring nature back into their urban environments and have created programmes to facilitate this reintroduction. This change occurred right around the discovery and research into ecosystem services and their ability to mitigate flooding, the heat island effect and many other impacts caused by impermeable surfaces, rampant high impact development and climate change. Some municipalities in the US such as in California, Oregon & Washington, even have forestry divisions that practice urban forestry and monitor and regulate the planting, removal and reforestation of their urban environments.

Trees Help to Beautify the Urban Environment & Encourage Healthy Lifestyles

There are also an innumerable amount of health benefits associated with bringing nature back into the world’s cities. One of the major benefits of trees in cities is their ability to improve overall air quality by removing particulates, carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide and much more.  In addition, some of the greatest streets and heavily used urban environments have a healthy mixture of urban and ‘greenscapes’ to create shaded spaces for people. These kinds of spaces encourage alternative modes of transportation, such as walking and biking which do not impact the environment, and promote healthy lifestyles as people interact with their environment and community.

Scientific studies among the elderly and the sick show that exposure to green environments help to improve happiness and well being and increase the chances of recovery from illness and depression. Still more studies show that green environments and natural lighting improve productivity of employees, boost morale and improve happiness and well being. These studies prove that not only do trees provide significant ecosystem services they also improve health and well being for humans.

In contemporary urban planning paradigms terms such as ‘livability’ and ‘walkability’ are used and are scientifically proven to be essential to the sustainability of our cities and urban environments. ‘Livability ‘speaks to accessibility to basic human needs and sustainability for human living. ‘Walkability’ speaks to the inclusion of pedestrian infrastructure in our environments such as sidewalks, shade trees, bike lanes and connecting paths. Both terminologies rely heavily on trees as a requirement for sustainable urban environments. Please do your part and plant a tree for the future at your own home or office.

‘A wise man plants trees under which he will never sit’ – Chinese Proverb

About the Author

Lani Edghill
Lani Edghill -

Sustainability Planner & Organic Farmer