Yes. An article about trees.
Hopefully I can inspire a similar perspective shift (or more like an amplification and rejuvenation of an existing perspective) in you as I just had.
A few things coincided recently which somehow just led me to a tree related moment:
I was watching a Blue Planet documentary which was pretty horrifying and all about the amount of plastic in our seas getting entangled in sea life and killing various species in various horrific ways. I then saw a programme about deforestation in Myanmar where the land was being re-used for palm oil plantations and the indiginous population (who happen to worship trees and treat them as sacred) were being displaced. Then I watched a TED talk on AI and something about renewable energy and efficiency.
I could talk (well, write) at length about any of these three things each of which were and are fascinating, but it’s these three things together that made me stop and think…
Just like that – it was no more than a passing thought, but something that I felt enough about to want to share because I think we could all do with appreciating trees a little more and perhaps stopping to reflect on all the qualities they actually have (hence not taking them for granted and instead championing them just a little).
I’m not going to talk too much about what it was from each of these things that led me to this moment because that would make for a long read and more time before getting to the point of the article – benefits of trees –
but suffice to say there were plenty of connections mostly to do with the way things are going on our planet, consumerism, industrialisation, globalisation, politics & attitudes which led me to that moment and which led me back to the one simple thought about trees.
The Efficiency of Trees as an Oxygen Producing Phenomenon
Imagine you could create something which takes our waste, the stuff we exhale, carbon dioxide – and use that to produce the stuff that we need to live – the stuff that we inhale, oxygen…
Now that is a pretty efficient and useful machine.
That’s a tree.
Trees as Protectors and Part of The Ecosystem
Trees provide shelter, they form a canopy in the forests and jungles of the world and their root systems provide added strength and structure to the earth they grow in. On hillsides or stream slopes, trees prevent soil erosion, they slow runoff and hold soil in place.
In a world without trees, we would be much more exposed to the suns Ultra-Violet rays which are known to cause skin cancer. Trees reduce UV-B exposure by about 50 percent, thus providing protection.
Trees shield smaller plant-life, birds, animals and wildlife from adverse weather conditions, provide shelter and camouflage from predators and provide a habitat for many species. Particularly in urban areas, larger trees such as the mighty Oak provide excellent urban homes for wildlife.
Pause for Thought – I’m no Tree-Hugger
I love nature and it saddens me to think of the fact that the most damage on our planet by quite some stretch is caused by us humans abusing it. Without making this a rant, I am quite into the idea that we as humans should be more mindful of our true nature and part in the world as animals co-existing with other species on the planet and respect and care for the planet and nature accordingly.
That being said, I just try and appreciate nature and believe that a lot of things in life are made much simpler, healthier and more enjoyable when we tend towards the natural state of things (e.g. whole foods, trusting & listening to the human body, observing animals and learning from them, generally living in the moment and being mindful etc).
As of yet, I have never actually hugged a tree. Though I did hug a pillar in a shopping centre a few days ago.
I feel like I could be getting pretty close though.
My appreciation of trees just magnified significantly recently.
The Healing Properties of Trees
This isn’t the first time we have mentioned trees on this website.
A few years ago, Isabelle wrote an article about the art of Shinrin-Yoku (Forest Bathing). This simply refers to the practice of taking a short visit to the forest for health benefits. The practice (or rather the recognition of the practice as a well-being concept) originated in Japan which is where the term Shinrin-Yoku comes from. When Isabelle wrote that article it came up in the top 3 searches in Google for the term ‘Shinrin-Yoku’. I just re-did the search and our article was nowhere to be seen. We’re not great at SEO and maintaining rankings but I think this is more to do with the fact that since writing that article some time ago many more people have written about this concept. Shinrin-Yoku is all over the internet!! Anyway, if you’d like to read the short article Isabelle wrote on the subject it’s here: Take a Bath… In a Forest! The Art of Shinrin-Yoku
In addition, studies have shown that hospital patients with views of trees outside their windows heal faster and with less complications. Exposure to trees and nature reduces mental fatigue and therefore helps concentration – children with ADHD show fewer symptoms when they have access to nature.
Trees vs Climate Change
So to elaborate a little on the point I made above, trees absorb carbon dioxide (Co2). They remove and store the carbon whilst releasing oxygen back into the air. Which, as I’ve already said is a pretty neat trick… but it’s not just our carbon dioxide that trees absorb. Excess carbon dioxide caused by many factors is building up in our atmosphere and contributing to climate change. In one year, an acre of mature trees absorbs the amount of CO2 produced when you drive your car 26,000 miles. The same acre of trees produces enough oxygen for 18 people. Trees also act as natural filters, they absorb odours and pollutant gases (nitrogen oxides, ammonia, sulfur dioxide and ozone) and filter particulates out of the air by trapping them on their leaves and bark.
Trees Look Good
Don’t you agree? Who wants to live in an Urban Jungle?
Often when designing high-tech business parks, these are done with an amount of greenery and trees planned into the design. This is no accident. Studies show that the more trees and landscaping a business district has, the more business will flow in. Plus we already talked about the effect trees have on people’s well-being which is obviously also good for anybody working in that area.
Trees can hide concrete walls, railway tracks, factories, motorways and car parks. They muffle sound from nearby streets and motorways and create an aesthetically pleasing, green alternative. Trees also absorb dust and wind and reduce glare.
The beauty of trees can also increase property values, whether from trees in the street and surrounding areas or by trees and well-planted gardens as part of a property, trees have been shown to increase property values by as much as 15 percent.
Trees Slow Traffic – Preventing Accidents & Increasing Business
A tree-lined street will also slow traffic. This has the double effect of increasing the safety of a particular area and allowing drivers to look at the shop fronts, restaurants, advertisements and anything else a particular area has to offer instead of just speeding by.
Hey, wait a minute… I’m only just getting started.
OK. So, I did have a bit of a light bulb moment where my love for trees spiked, as I told you at the beginning of this article (tree hugger alert!) but since then I have given it some thought and done a little research and as a result there is a lot more I want to tell you about.
These are also just the key points. There is much more, so just so you know it’s not one of those lists where I’m trying to stretch out the numbers (I made a few double points above I could have stretched out if I wanted to do that). I reckon I could probably do 50 if I really wanted to. I’ll leave that to you if you want to go further than the stuff I tell you in this article the point is that there is an awful lot to trees that we probably take for granted.
I just wanted to get you to take a moment to think about this with me, that’s all. I think it’s worth it.
Bear with me, we’re about half way now…
Trees Cooling & Conserving Energy
In general, Climate Change is causing average temperatures to rise around the world (Global Warming). It’s no coincidence that this is happening as tree coverage has declined and the number of heat-absorbing roads and buildings has increased. Trees cool cities by shading homes and streets, breaking up highly urbanised areas (which may be otherwise prone to excessive heat with no protection) and releasing water vapour into the air through their leaves.
A few trees placed strategically around a single-family home can cut summer time air-conditioning needs in half. In half!!! Such a reduction in the energy demand for cooling our houses reduces carbon dioxide and other pollution emissions from power plants. Now obviously if you live in a cold area or have a house which doesn’t have air-conditioning, this doesn’t apply to you but plenty of houses around the world do have air-con and the resulting energy saving is obviously a bonus all round for our lovely little planet.
Trees and Water
Trees save water and help prevent water pollution.
Shade from trees slows water evaporation from thirsty lawns. Most newly planted trees need only fifteen gallons of water a week. As trees transpire, they increase atmospheric moisture.
Trees reduce runoff by breaking rainfall thus allowing the water to flow down the trunk and into the earth below the tree. This prevents stormwater from carrying pollutants to the ocean. When mulched, trees act like a sponge that filters this water naturally and uses it to recharge groundwater supplies.
Trees as Providers of Food & Raw Materials
Trees provide all manner of food for humans and also for birds and wildlife. Such food is 100% natural and therefore full of nutrients and vitamins that are good for us. The more trees we plant, the more food there is. Read this article for example to learn about all the goodness contained in the humble apple: Apples: Wonder-Food: The Apple – To be Eaten Raw, Unpeeled, Organic and Unbruised!
For centuries trees have also provided a key building material – wood as well as a key raw material for the production of paper for books and other by-products of the wood (e.g. oils). Selective harvesting of the trees allows us to use these raw materials. Mass deforestation for such purposes is obviously not something we are advocating here, as this would be counter-productive given the value and benefits of the trees that provide these materials (biting the hand that feeds, if you like).
Trees Benefit Communities
Trees reduce violence, bring diverse groups of people together and aid unity.
Barren homes and neighbourhoods have been shown to have a greater incidence of violence than comparable areas with more green space. Trees and landscaping help to reduce the level of fear.
Planting trees provides an opportunity for community involvement and empowerment which also improves the quality of life in the community. Green community projects involving tree planting can bring together different cultures, religions, demographics, ages, races, in fact any ‘criteria’ = trees are accessible to all. The great thing about such projects is that the trees grow and develop just as we do so such projects bring people together because it is something that has been done together from it;s inception, but also can be nurtured and monitored, continuing to provide a bond and common ground as the trees/tree related projects grow and prosper, continuing to involve those who made it happen in the first place.
There are some amazing trees up and down the UK and all around the world. these can be a source of great pride, provide people and places with a sense of indentity and encourage civic pride and a feeling of unity.
Trees as Economic Providers
Fruit picking is an industry in itself. Just harvesting the produce from trees provides a commodity that can be sold, thus providing income. Small business opportunities in green waste management and landscaping arise when cities value mulching and its water-saving qualities. There are many more jobs and economic opportunities connected to trees, for example agricultural and horticultural training for people interested in farming or for those interested in green jobs is also a great way to develop economic opportunities from trees.
Wise Old Trees
Trees can also be teachers and playmates. Did you ever want a tree-house when you were a young child? Did you have one? Did you make shelters and camps in or under trees? Play on a rope swing? Whether as houses for children or creative and spiritual inspiration for adults, trees have provided the space for human retreat throughout the ages with countless possibilities for fun and also for development and education.
If you’re still with me, many thanks for reading through what I concede ended up being another relatively long article.
Who would have thought I’d end up writing so much about trees (and I could have easily written a lot more).
If you have gotten this far then maybe you agree with me that there is a lot about the tree that merits our admiration and appreciation.
If this article served to have you pause for thought just as I did, and perhaps renew your love for the humble tree as it has mine, then it has served its purpose.
Now go and give one a hug!