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Photo: Melanie Stetson Freeman/ Christian Science Monitor
Pruning trees in Baltimore helps to keep them healthy. “We are making a difference,” says Erik Dihle, arborist for the city of Baltimore. … “It ties into social equity, into climate adaption, everything.”

The value of tree canopies in cities is not a new topic at this blog. I’ve written often about efforts around the world to capture the physical- and mental-health benefits of urban forests (for example, in 2014, 2017, and last summer).

I’m not sure, though, that I ever knew how forward-thinking Baltimore has been, a city that was recently disparaged by a kind of leader unfamiliar with actual leadership.

Stephanie Hanes writes at the Christian Science Monitor, “From his headquarters office, Erik Dihle drives into what has become one of the most monitored forests in the United States.

“He begins to point out the trees: There is a tulip poplar, as big as the ones George Washington planted at Mount Vernon. There are the blossoming cherries, with a cotton-candy display that rivals their famous compatriots down the road at the Tidal Basin in Washington, D.C. And there is a white oak, Maryland’s state tree, with its branches gnarling horizontally for yards.

“ ‘This is a good-size one,’ he says, getting out of his truck to pace the area of shade created by the tree’s canopy. ‘I’d be surprised if it was less than 150 years old.’ …

“Mr. Dihle’s forest is in the city. He is the arborist and the head of forestry for the city of Baltimore, which means he monitors all the trees here – those growing in shady parks, in metal grates along busy streets, in backyards, and in relatively untouched forest patches dotting the municipality. Together, these trees make up what is called the city’s ‘urban forest.’ …

“With concern growing about climate change and rapid worldwide urbanization, city forests have emerged as one widely touted solution to a host of social and environmental challenges. Municipalities from Barcelona, Spain; to Melbourne, Australia; to Chicago have put urban canopy coverage at the center of their long-term strategic plans. Community groups focusing on planting, maintaining, and saving trees have blossomed across the U.S. In 2015, the World Economic Forum’s Global Agenda Council on the Future of Cities named increasing green canopy coverage as one of its top 10 urban initiatives.

“Yet at the same time, the U.S. Forest Service, which in the past decade has also upped its focus on urban forests, has found that American cities are losing trees – and quickly. … Urban regions showed a particular decline, along with an increase in what the researchers call ‘impervious surfaces’ – in other words, concrete.

“But not, it turns out, in Baltimore.

“Here, the net tree canopy coverage has increased. Not by a lot, Mr. Dihle is quick to point out – only from 27% of the city’s land coverage to 28% – and not because Baltimore hasn’t lost trees. It has. But overall the tree canopy here has grown, which means that Mr. Dihle has found himself presiding over one of the more successful efforts in the U.S. to preserve and improve the urban forest. …

“New technology has let researchers better understand the urban ecosystem – not just how trees thrive or fail in a city, but how they intersect with humans.

‘[Trees] impact work productivity, wildlife habitats, air pollution removal, carbon sequestration, energy use,’ says David Nowak, senior scientist with the U.S. Forest Service who authored the recent national report on tree canopy loss. … ‘We should be smart about this whole process and use nature to make our lives better.’

Much of the understanding of how, exactly, trees affect everything from climate to criminal justice stems from a technological breakthrough pioneered in Baltimore. …

“By the 1990s, satellite imagery allowed governmental agencies such as NASA to produce visible images of Earth and to show on various scales where trees existed. But there was a limit to those pictures, explains Morgan Grove, a scientist with the U.S. Forest Service who has worked in Baltimore since 1999. Because the data were recorded in pixels, not physical parcels, it was difficult to identify, say, the owner of a particular tree, or to compare what was happening from one city block to another.

“In 2006, though, the Forest Service, working with researchers from the University of Vermont’s spatial analysis lab, put together a new type of land cover map in Baltimore using a combination of aerial imagery, light-reflecting technology, and high-resolution landowner data. This novel approach not only allowed a closer look at trees, it also let scientists synchronize forest maps with other information that was also newly computerized and manipulable – everything from health records to census figures, crime statistics to property values.”

Learn about the amazing array of data they were able to collect, how data helped the city prevent nascent problems like storm sewer overflow, and how the community has organized to protect and expand urban forest benefits, here.

By the way, I thought the photographer on this story, Melanie Stetson Freeman, did an especially good job capturing the faces of these tree huggers. It helps one understand that the individual and the things an individual cares about are what improve the world.

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Photo: Loren Kerns, Flickr
Many carbon offset projects reduce carbon in the atmosphere by protecting forests. Cool Effect offers other, carefully vetted offsets. The average American creates 17 tons of carbon pollution every year, so at $5 t0 $13 a ton, offsetting your footprint is a real deal.

When an arborist came to our house to remove a dangling limb on our big old tree, I was so sad to learn that the whole tree was diseased and had to come down. Not only was it beautiful, it was removing carbon from the atmosphere, which helps reduce global warming. I made a donation to the the Arbor Day Foundation, as an offset, but that’s not as good as keeping an ancient tree.

Here is what a recent episode of the radio show Living on Earth had to say about some good carbon offsets.

“Carbon-intensive activities, including global air travel, have been growing for decades. For individuals and companies interested in reducing their carbon footprints, carbon offsets promise to mitigate the damage caused by flying and other emissions sources through the investment in projects that either sequester carbon, like reforestation or forest conservation, or develop alternative energy infrastructure that reduce future emissions. Cool Effect CEO Marisa de Belloy discusses her non-profit crowdfunding platform that sells these offsets with host Bobby Bascomb.

“BASCOMB: [What] do people choose to offset with your carbon emissions offset program? …

“DE BELLOY: They’ll offset a flight, they’ll offset their trips to work; some will offset their entire year. The average American emits about 17 tons of carbon pollution every year. And so some people like to wipe that clean by offsetting that at Cool Effect. These are people who are committed environmentalists who are already doing what they can do in their daily lives, to reduce their impact. And that might be eating less meat, it might be traveling less often, it might be having an electric car or solar panels. …

“BASCOMB: [Give] me some examples of projects that participate.

“DE BELLOY: [Each] of these projects will have met the requirements of an independent standard, they’ll have been verified independently of us, and then we do our own very deep due diligence that lasts a couple of months on each project, to make sure that they’re doing exactly what they say they’re doing. …

“We have a project, for example, in Vietnam that installs biogas digesters, which is a very simple technology that takes animal waste, and turns it into clean cooking fuel for homes. We have a project in the United States that’s protecting the forest, or another one protecting grasslands; a project in Honduras that is providing clean cookstoves for families down there who were basically dying from air pollution from cooking over open fires. …

“They all are truly additional, meaning they’re truly having an impact on the planet and then they also all have their own set of co-benefits. [For] the cookstove project, it’s the health of the families. In some cases, it’s local jobs. In some cases, it’s protecting wildlife or a whole forest ecosystem and the people who live there. [The] key thing that underlies all the projects is that we have made sure that they’re actually doing the work of verifiably reducing carbon emissions.

“BASCOMB: And how do you actually verify that? I mean, how do you know that this project wouldn’t have been done anyway without this money? …

“DE BELLOY: [A] couple of different ways, but one is you have to understand what their financial model is, both when they started the business and currently. Is there a profitable way to do what they’re doing without the revenue from carbon offsets? And if the answer is yes, then the project is likely not additional. Another way to look for additionality is regulatory additionality. So, is there a law in place that’s requiring this business or this nonprofit to do what it’s doing? …

“BASCOMB: And then once you’ve identified a good project to work with, how do you guarantee the longevity of that? I mean, I saw that you have one in Brazil, protecting the Amazon, and Brazil is a famously lawless area, especially with the new president that really doesn’t encourage conservation. How can you be sure that those trees will still be standing 10 years from now, or that the landowner won’t take that money and then clear cut in a different area?

“DE BELLOY: [On] the trees still standing portion, that’s built into the methodology, so they will no longer be able to offer credits if those trees start disappearing. And each of the methodologies includes a certain buffer amount of trees, you know, because trees do die, and you can have natural fires and that sort of thing. And we take a particularly conservative approach to these projects, if there’s any doubt that, you know, the cook stove was in use, or the tree was still standing, or, you know, the animals were still having access to these grasslands, then a credit is not issued for that amount. So wherever there’s doubt, the credit is not issued. …

“[The cost for an offset] goes from about $5 to about $13 a ton. So if you think about the average American having 17 tons of carbon pollution every year, it’s a really reasonable amount of money to spend to wipe away that impact that we’re all having.” More from Living on Earth, here.

The best example I know of someone practicing what they preach is young Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg, who is traveling from Canada to Chile without using fossil fuels. Read this.

Photo: New York Times
So as not to use any airplane’s fossil fuels, Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg crossed the Atlantic Ocean aboard the Malizia II, a zero-emissions racing yacht.
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Photo: Doug Struck
Access to streams in Whitefish, Montana, was threatened by development, so the town used the increasingly popular strategy of buying rights to the forest.

People can change their minds.

That’s what happened in Montana as property-rights advocates began to see that their water bills would be cheaper if they let government entities buy rights to forests on private lands.

Doug Struck writes at the Christian Science Monitor, “When the appetite for high-priced housing threatened the water source of [Whitefish, Montana], the residents raised taxes and spent money on forests. Three years later, when rising tourism upped the summer demand for water, more money was raised to buy more forests.

“The equation used by local and state officials, nonprofit groups, and private residents was straightforward: It’s cheaper and easier to have the forests cleanse the water than to throw chemicals and machinery at the task.

“ ‘Protecting forests of watersheds makes economic sense,’ says John Muhlfeld, the mayor of this town of 7,000 nestled in Montana’s Rocky Mountains. ‘And it’s a much different way of traditionally looking at a public water supply infrastructure.’ …

“As town planners look at the high cost of building water filtration plants and operating them year after year, the thought of letting the trees do it becomes a budgetary no-brainer.

“And the trees do it well. The natural filtering process that rain and snow undergo in seeping through forest canopies and forest beds, slowly toward streams and lakes, is so effective that five major cities in the United States – New York, Boston, Seattle, San Francisco, and Portland, Oregon – can pump unfiltered water from distant pristine watersheds to customer homes.

“New York is the poster-city example in this country. Twenty years ago, the city engaged in a wrenching political battle over whether to build a $6 billion water filtration plant that would cost $300 million per year to filter water for the city. Instead it gambled and spent $2 billion to protect the forested watershed in the Catskill Mountains, 125 miles away, the source of 90% of the city’s water. It was a bold and controversial decision – and it worked.

“ ‘Here we are, 20 years later they have been meeting the safe drinking water standards through tropical storms and superstorms,’ says Paul K. Barten, one of the junior architects of the original Catskills program who now chairs a current National Academy review of the system. …

‘People are not necessarily doing it because they love trees. … ‘They are doing it because it’s a lot less expensive.’ …

“The state and national park programs that began to emerge in the U.S. 150 years ago, and evolved at the prodding of such visionaries as John Muir, Frederick Olmsted, Gifford Pinchot, and Teddy Roosevelt, now preserve 13% of U.S. land, according to the World Bank. Another 56 million acres are held by various forms of private or public ‘trusts’ that allow some use but prohibit development, according to the Land Trust Alliance in Washington, D.C.

“In the case of Whitefish, that meant keeping land for logging. The Haskill Basin northeast of town was forestland owned for more than a century by the Stoltze lumber company. …

“Over the years, development pressures loomed larger as Whitefish blossomed into a high-end, expensive resort town sprouting multimillion-dollar second homes. … Stoltze ‘could have gotten an offer that they couldn’t refuse,’ says Kris Tempel, a biologist at the Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks agency. …

“The Trust for Public Land … helped bring together $9 million from federal conservation funds. And Stoltze agreed to take a $4 million cut on the $21 million price of giving away development rights to its 3,000 acres in Haskill Basin. …

“That left a shortfall of $8 million. City residents had balked before about increasing the town’s ‘resort tax’ on restaurants, lodging, and retail. But in 2015, after a ‘Vote Yes for Water’ campaign by the mayor and others, residents gave an overwhelming 84% approval to a 1% tax increase. Late last year, the purchase of another 13,000-acre property helped protect a watershed for Whitefish Lake, a secondary source of water for the town.

” ‘The public support is a change in a place where encroachment on private land is viewed with suspicion, says [Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks resource conservation manager Alan Wood]. ‘Twenty years ago there was a lot of opposition’ to these proposals.’

“But this deal ‘gave everyone what they wanted,’ says Mr. Wood. The town kept its access to clean and cheap water. Stoltze can keep harvesting timber on the land, employing an average of 110 workers.”

More at the Christian Science Monitor, here.

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Photo: Ville de Paris/Apur/Céline Orsingher
The trees in this rendering of Paris’s Opera Garnier would take the place of an existing bus-parking area. Big ideas are necessary if the city is to meet its ambitious greening goals, part of the international Paris Agreement to tackle global warming.

A January article by Feargus O’Sullivan at CityLab, showed artist renderings like the one above as part of a plan to bring more trees into Paris. The announcement came before Notre Dame burned, so I hope plans are still going forward. Here is the concept.

“Some of Paris’s most treasured landmarks are set to host the city’s new ‘urban forests,’ ” writes O’Sullivan.

“Thickets of trees will soon appear in what today are pockets of concrete next to landmark locations, including the Hôtel de Ville, Paris’s city hall; the Opera Garnier, Paris’s main opera house; the Gare de Lyon; and along the Seine quayside.

“The new plantings are part of a plan to create ‘islands of freshness’—green spaces that moderate the city’s heat island effect. It also falls into an overall drive to convert Paris’s surface ‘from mineral to vegetal,’ introducing soil into architectural set-piece locations that have been kept bare historically. As a result, the plan will not just increase greenery, but may also provoke some modest rethinking of the way Paris frames its architectural heritage. …

“[Such plans] are necessary if Paris is to meet its ambitious greening goals. By 2030, city hall wants to have 50 percent of the city covered by fully porous, planted areas, a category that can include anything from new parkland to green roofs. ..

“The city imagines turning the square in front of city hall into a pine grove, while future springtimes will see the opera house’s back elevation emerge from a sea of cherry blossom. The paved plaza at the side of the Gare de Lyon will become a woodland garden, while one of the two former car lanes running along the now pedestrianized Seine quays will be taken over by grass and shrubs.

“Such plans will require more than sticking saplings in the ground. Creating the new opera house cherry orchard will mean displacing a current parking lot used by tourist buses, a process that the city plans to repeat elsewhere. …

“Intriguingly, the urban forest plans are a slightly different take on the classic Parisian aesthetic. Sites like the areas around the opera and Hôtel de Ville don’t need beautifying — they are already grand, charismatic showcases for the elaborate, even fanciful historic buildings that they host.

“In the past, however, they have been left bare, or at most … fringed with small lines of trees that have been rigorously pruned and trained until they form a narrow, wall-like rampart. …

“Given how charming the designs appear, this seems unlikely to be controversial, but it does suggest a more rustic, quasi-natural approach to greenery than has previously been the rule in Paris.”

There is more information here. And maybe when blogger A Pierman Sister returns to Paris, we will get an eye-witness account of the city’s progress on its plans.

 

 

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Photo: BioCarbon Engineering
Drones can have a peaceful purpose. These are fighting climate change by “bombing” seeds into places that need trees. Trees are essential for decreasing carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

Drones can have peaceful purposes. Some folks use them for photography or research on birds. Others have tapped drones to plant the trees our planet needs to reduce carbon dioxide and combat global warming.

Leo Shvedsky writes at Good, “Technology is the single greatest contributor to climate change but it may also soon be used to offset the damage we’ve done to our planet since the Industrial Age began.

“In September 2018, a project in Myanmar used drones to fire ‘seed missiles’ into remote areas of the country where trees were not growing. Less than a year later, thousands of those seed missiles have sprouted into 20-inch mangrove saplings that could literally be a case study in how technology can be used to innovate our way out of the climate change crisis.

“ ‘We now have a case confirmed of what species we can plant and in what conditions,’ Irina Fedorenko, co-founder of Biocarbon Engineering, told Fast Company. …

“According to Fedoranko, just two operators could send out a mini-fleet of seed missile planting drones that could plant 400,000 trees a day — a number that quite possibly could make massive headway in combating the effects of manmade climate change.

“The drones were designed by an ex-NASA engineer. And with a pressing need to reseed an area in Myanmar equal to the size of Rhode Island, the challenge is massive but suddenly within reach. Bremley Lyngdoh, founder and CEO of World Impact, says reseeding that area could theoretically house as many as 1 billion new trees. …

“For context, it took the Worldview Foundation 7 years to plant 6 million trees in Myanmar. Now, with the help of the drones, they hope to plant another 4 million before the end of 2019.

“Myanmar is a great case study for the project. In addition to the available land for the drone project, the nation has been particularly hit by the early effects of climate change in recent years. Rising sea levels are having a measurable impact on the population. In addition to their ability to clear CO2 from the atmosphere, healthy trees can also help solidify the soil, which can reduce the kind of soil erosion that has been affecting local populations in Myanmar.”

Adele Peters at Fast Company explains, “The drones first fly over an area to map it, collecting data about the topography and soil condition that can be combined with satellite data and analyzed to determine the best locations to plant each seed. Then the drone fires biodegradable pods — filled with a germinated seed and nutrients — into the ground. For the process to succeed in a mangrove forest, several conditions need to be right; if the tide comes in unexpectedly, for example, the seeds could wash away. In tests, Biocarbon Engineering has looked at which species and environmental conditions perform best.

“If drones do begin to replant entire forests, humans will still play a critical role. That’s in part because some seeds don’t fit inside the pods. But people living nearby also need a reason to leave the trees standing. ‘The project in Myanmar is all about community development and enabling people to care for trees, providing them with jobs, and making environmental restoration in a way that it’s profitable for people,’ says Fedorenko. ‘The forest didn’t vanish by itself—the forest was cut down by local people.’ ”

More at Good and Fast Company.

Hat tip: Maria Popova on Twitter.

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Photo: Alfredo Sosa
The newest solar farm of Florida Power & Light Company [FPL] is equipped to generate 74.5 megawatts of power, enough for approximately 15,000 Florida homes.

Large numbers of Americans are not as concerned as I am about fossil fuels and how they hurt the planet and until recently have not supported sustainable energy. But as the cost of renewable power comes down, many of them are giving wind and solar a new, pragmatic look.

Eva Botkin-Kowacki writes at the Christian Science Monitor, “There’s a new crop sprouting in southern Florida. Amid fields of sweet corn, squash, and okra dotting the landscape outside Miami, rows and rows of solar panels now soak up the Florida sunshine. …

“Despite being the Sunshine State, Florida has long lagged when it comes to tapping into the abundant rays overhead. But now that is changing as utility companies in the state have begun to recognize solar power as a vital component of a diverse energy future. …

“As solar has become more economically viable, the state’s utility companies now see opportunity more than competition in the technology Florida utilities’ newfound embrace for solar power echoes trends seen across the country, as the renewable energy source has shifted from a fringe indulgence for wealthy environmentalists to becoming a conventional part of power production. …

“With abundant sunshine, Florida ranks ninth in the United States for solar potential. But as recently as 2015, just one-tenth of a percent of the state’s power came from the sun. …

“Solar is still a bit player in Florida. At the end of 2018, solar power made up just 1.07 percent of the state’s energy portfolio, according to the [Solar Energy Industries Association] reports. But the rapid acceleration reflects a broader shift happening nationally. …

“Some of the ways Florida stands out among states make it a particularly good indicator of the renewable energy’s newfound status as mainstream. Many leading solar energy states, such as Massachusetts, Vermont, and California, have installed solar as part of a legislative push to diversify the energy sector in pursuit of emissions reductions. Policymakers in Florida, however, have not set specific renewable energy requirements or even aspirational goals. …

“The utilities want to maintain their control over the market, says Professor Fenton of the University of Central Florida. In 2016, they fought to amend a law that required them to purchase the electricity generated by customers’ rooftop panels at the net retail rate. … The recent foray into solar is a testament to the increasing economic viability of solar power. …

“ ‘[In 2016], the price point was just becoming right for us to be able to have it make economic sense for our customers for us to go and begin building large solar energy centers,’ FPL spokeswoman Alys Daly says.” More here.

One thought: As my friend Jean, of the environmental-education nonprofit Meadowscaping for Biodiversity, reminds me, it’s important not to cut down trees for solar arrays. Trees help the environment even more than solar energy. We need to keep the big picture in mind.

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Large-scale solar “farms” are becoming the norm across the country. It’s best to put them on places that are already treeless. We need trees to absorb carbon and give us oxygen.

There’s an organization I follow on twitter, @ecorinews, that has made me more cautious about the renewable energy I advocate. I love that people are using more solar energy, but it should not be at the expense of trees, which are also important in controlling climate change. There are plenty of buildings and already empty spaces where panels could go.

Still, it’s heartening to see communities embracing sustainable energy, and I liked a story from Vermont about strange bedfellows getting the message and working together on solar — on a landfill.

Matt Hongoltz-Hetling wrote about the collaboration at the Valley News in September.

“As Vermont’s ever-shifting energy landscape continues to shake up the renewable energy sector, a community solar array coming online this month will showcase a new twist on existing financial models.

“ ‘This is a hybrid,’ said Dori Wolfe, whose company, Wolfe Energy in Strafford, has purchased two shares — at a cost of $2,784 each — of the 185-kilowatt array, which is sited beside a closed landfill site just off Route 113 in Post Mills.

“Community solar arrays — those which serve multiple customers, some of whom might not have solar-friendly homes — are nothing new in Vermont. …

“The nearly finished ‘Thetford-Strafford Community Solar’ array is designed to generate 230,000 kilowatt-hours of electricity during its first year, enough to power about 35 average Vermont homes.

“But it differs from projects in neighboring towns because it will be the first solar farm to serve a mix of customer sectors — the array is a partnership between residential customers, a commercial farm, and the town of Thetford itself. …

“Wolfe said that, among the 25 member-owner shareholders, the commercial entity — Dave Chapman’s Thetford-based Long Wind Farm — acts as the anchor, and purchased enough of the roughly 185 shares on offer to create a critical mass that allowed area residents to buy into the entity, ‘Thetford Strafford Community Solar LLC.’

“The shareholders (who live in Thetford, Strafford and Norwich) expect to recoup their investment and then some through reduced electric bills — about 85 percent of the electricity produced at the site will be sold to Green Mountain Power through the state’s net-metering program, which guarantees customers a minimum rate for feeding solar energy back into the grid.

“The remaining 15 percent of the power will be sold to the town of Thetford at 90 percent of the normal utility rate, which Wolfe said will exert downward pressure on the property tax rate. …

“Wolfe said she hopes that the Post Mills project will lead to a second phase in which more solar is installed on top of the adjacent landfill.

“Though having more solar options is expected to help more Vermonters access renewable energy, a report released earlier this summer by the Energy Action Network suggests that more regulatory action will be needed to get the state on pace for its ambitious goal of achieving 90 percent renewable energy by 2050.

“The state has made progress — in 2017, Vermont energy use was 20 percent renewable, up from 12 percent in 2010. But it is significantly off pace. … In 2017, the rate of newly added capacity was down 30 percent as compared to 2016, and new wind generation has seen an even steeper decline, according to the report.

“There are several reasons for the slowdown. … A new, 30 percent federal tariff on solar panels produced overseas [has] affected pricing, leaving solar projects looking for new ways to make the numbers work.” More.

If you are interested, click here to see what Rhode Island is doing to encourage siting of solar arrays on developed lands, like the landfill used in the Vermont story.

Does your community have a policy to spare forests from being taken down for the otherwise worthy purpose?

Photo: Tim Faulkner/ecoRI News
The Office of Administration, featuring the solar array below, is one of three Rhode Island government buildings to join the Lead by Example initiative.

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