Originally published in Meeting of the Minds
Carbon credits for forests have been around for more than 25 years. Why hasn’t anyone developed credits for our city trees?
Aren’t our city trees valuable, yet declining in number? Don’t the city forests need funding so that our cities can be sustainable?
The answer to all of these questions is: Yes.
That’s the number of trees lost per year in urban and community areas in the U.S., according to a peer-reviewed study published in 2018.
That’s the number of acres of tree cover lost in urban and community areas. The total land area of tree cover lost from 2009-2015 is greater than the combined land area of New York City, Boston, Miami, Atlanta, St. Louis, San Francisco, and Seattle.
The only reason we don’t walk into cities like Seattle and see them clear-cut, is that tree loss in cities is death by a thousand cuts. A tree here, a cleared building lot there, a new playfield cleared in a forested park, a downtown tower that replaces mature trees with a few straggly saplings.
This tree loss is occurring just as our cities need trees the most. City forests:
- Reduce storm water
- Improve air quality
- Cool cities in hot weather
- Store carbon
- Stabilize slopes
- Provide bird and wildlife habitat
- Provided social benefits like crime reduction
- Promote human mental and physical health
Researchers have documented the inequity of tree-canopy distribution in many cities, with far fewer trees in disadvantaged neighborhoods.
The aggregate benefits of our city forests in the U.S. are staggering:
- They store over 900 million tons of CO2
- Annually reduce electricity use by 38.8 million MWh ($4.7 billion), heating use by 246 million MMBtus ($3.1 billion) and avoid thousands of tons of emissions of several pollutants valued at $3.9 billion.
City trees are like utilities. If they didn’t exist, we would invent them. And give a Nobel Prize to the inventors.