Friday, December 4, 2020

Talking About Trees

Tweet of the day, for me at least, is this one: 

Why counting trees is important for environmental justice. 

Posted by Grist, which, according to Wikipedia, is: American non-profit online magazine that has been publishing environmental news and commentary since 1999. Grist's taglines are "Gloom and doom with a sense of humor" and "A beacon in the smog".

The first step to bridging the urban ‘canopy gap’? Counting and mapping trees., Joseph Winters,

We’re big fans of trees here in Columbia/HoCo. I must admit I sometimes feel that there exists a vocal contingent that will use the prospect of the removal of even one tree as an excuse to protest some change that will render Columbia less valid than their formational memories of it. They have a sort of amorphous “tree police” which seems ready to pop up at a moment’s notice to shoot down new ideas.

But trees, in and of themselves, are vitally important to the health of a community. This article by Joseph Winters addresses how the American Forests non-profit is zeroing in on the many benefits a healthy tree canopy provides residents.

Trees bring enormous benefits to the communities where they grow. For example, they scrub pollution out of the air and counter the urban heat island effect — in some cases lowering ambient air temperatures by up to 9 degrees F. Having trees nearby can potentially help homeowners save on energy bills and prevent excess mortality from heat waves.

Now look where those trees are located. Wealthy, white communities? Yes. Poorer Black communities, constrained by racist red-lining policies? No.

Something as basic as a healthy tree canopy provides long term economic and health benefits for residents and the pattern with which they are dispersed throughout the country is alarmingly inequitable. That needs to change. Read the article. It’s not long and it’s well-documented. Take a look at the American Forests website to see what they are doing on this issue.

Pondering this issue immediately brough to mind this year's notable local initiative from the Horizon Foundaton in the area of Equity. Through their 2020 Vision for Health in Howard County  and their Covid Equity Voices Project they have been making the connections between disparities in attitudes and policies which negatively impact Black and Brown communities and raising concrete suggestions to transform and improve care through an equity lens. 

Stealing from myself here a bit:

I’ve seen some folks online asking why people are pushing forward on racial equity issues now during a pandemic. They see it as completely irrelevant, a distraction to “the important issue” on the table. When you read about how an issue of environmental concern, like trees, is truly an issue rooted in racial injustice it reinforces how deeply, deeply interconnected all of this is.

You might be interested to learn of a local connection to the work of American Forests. Howard County’s own Candace Dodson Reed, Chief of Staff to the President and Executive Director of the Office of Equity and Inclusion at the University of Maryland Baltimore County (UMBC), has recently joined their Board of Directors. She states:

The climate crisis and issues of equity and inclusion remain some of the biggest challenges we are facing. AF plays a critical role in addressing both and I am honored to contribute in such a meaningful way as a board member.

I’m looking forward to following the work of American Forests and perhaps seeing if there are local implications for our own communities.

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