Why Tree Planting is Essential for Cleaner Urban Air

Ainsley Lawrence
02/07/2024

Cities have a lot to offer. They have great amenities, can be hubs for workplaces, and are home to multicultural communities. Yet, sustainable city living can be quite challenging. After all, industry, a lot of vehicles, and a bustling populace tend to negatively affect the natural environment. One of the most pressing concerns is the impact cities have on air quality.

Thankfully, like many of the issues surrounding environmental threats, there are some practical solutions. More administrations and citizens are engaging in urban tree-planting projects as a way to establish cleaner air. Successfully engaging here requires knowledge and commitment to change. So, it’s worth delving deeper into why tree planting makes a difference and how communities can effectively adopt it.

Reducing Pollutants for Healthier Citizens

Pollutants continue to be one of the significant consequences of environmentally unfriendly human activity. Alongside the effect on the atmosphere, exposure to poor air quality carries health risks. The immediate problems can include exacerbated respiratory issues and irritated sinuses. In the long term, there can be more serious conditions, with breathing polluted air being linked to millions of deaths each year. Those from lower-income and urban areas are particularly at risk, which makes effective air quality management not just environmentally but socially vital.

This is where tree planting can make a real difference. Alongside taking steps to reduce emissions, trees are powerful tools for cleansing the atmosphere of carbon dioxide, because they take in CO2 and release oxygen. One recent study led by Jean-Francois Bastin of ETH-Zurich in Switzerland found that planting half a trillion trees worldwide could reduce atmospheric carbon by 25%. This may sound like a huge undertaking, but it speaks to the fact that finding as many places as possible to plant trees in urban communities can be invaluable for health and the environment.

It’s also worth considering that, alongside the physical health benefits of planting trees for cleaner air, there can be mental wellness advantages. Studies show that better indoor air quality can improve psychological health, as exposure to pollution has been linked to depression and anxiety, among other conditions. Planting more trees in urban areas can help because it lowers the potential for external pollution to enter indoor spaces via open windows and vents. Keeping indoor plants can also help with this.

Embracing Economic and Environmental Benefits

Using tree planting as a method to achieve cleaner urban air also results in economic benefits. Firstly, people in urban areas tend to use their heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) systems to minimize poor air that enters indoors. Unfortunately, HVAC systems can have a detrimental environmental impact. They use a great deal of energy, which is both financially costly and puts pressure on non-renewable sources. HVAC can also produce greenhouse gases and hydrofluorocarbons. Adopting energy-efficient HVAC systems can be part of the solution here.

However, natural alternatives can also be beneficial. Planting more trees in urban neighborhoods means that there are fewer pollutants in the area. They also provide natural shading, which reduces the heat exposure to houses and businesses. This means that there’s less reliance on HVAC systems, which in turn results in reduced utility bills and better resource use.  

Aside from cleaner air, planting trees in urban areas can also have an economic impact related to road use. Certainly, reduced exposure to pollution can have an indirect impact on commuting workforces, reducing physical and mental health-related absences or loss of productivity. Roadside vegetation is also great for preventing stormwater attenuation and extreme temperature exposure that can damage roads, reducing repair costs to cities and communities.

Encouraging Community Action

Tree planting to make urban air cleaner requires commitment and investment from communities. 

Some ways communities can engage include:

  • Raising awareness of the value of trees: Not all people in urban areas will have a good understanding of the difference trees can make to air quality and the environment. Getting involved in educational initiatives, holding town-hall-style meetings, and presenting easy-to-understand literature can help. This can encourage more people to get involved in direct planting initiatives and encourage businesses to invest in urban forestry.
  • Advocating for planting: Planting projects are often dependent on various parties. Even when communities organize to perform and fund planting themselves, they’re not always able to unilaterally claim spaces to plant in. Therefore, people can make a difference by advocating for planting opportunities. This may include petitioning local governments for access to publicly owned land. It could also involve identifying and contacting private land owners that have spaces around businesses or residential areas.

Community initiatives aren’t just ways to get trees planted and improve air quality. They also have enormous social value. People working together get to learn more about one another and recognize their shared environmental values. Indeed, projects that involve a diverse range of cultures and age groups forging positive connections are making their communities not only greener and healthier, but also socially stronger.

Conclusion

Planting trees in urban spaces is a scientifically-backed way to improve air quality. This sustainable action can have a health impact while directly and indirectly affecting the economy. It’s also important to remember that this isn’t a solution on its own. For the best impact, there needs to be a wider holistic approach to improving air quality, tackling the sources of emission in urban spaces alongside mitigating its effects.

Ainsley Lawrence

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