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Urban Forests Key to International Climate Responses

by Alex Aylett

A study released recently [press release] by Georgia Tech planning Professor Brian Stone recommends planting millions of trees to create extensive new urban forests as a key part of international climate response plans. That's one conclusion of his look at the climatic impacts of deforestation and urbanization.


Stone's key finding is that:

Across the U.S. as a whole, approximately 50 percent of the warming that has occurred since 1950 is due to land use changes (usually in the form of clearing forest for crops or cities) rather than to the emission of greenhouse gases.

That offers a strong argument for recognizing how key land use is to responding to climate change. It's also a call to recognize the importance of local governments:

As we look to address the climate change issue from a land use perspective, there is a huge opportunity for local and state governments...Presently, local government capacity is largely unharnessed in climate management structures under consideration by the U.S. Congress. Yet local governments possess extensive powers to manage the land use activities in both the urban and rural areas.

Coming a few weeks before the Copenhagen negotiations, this is a well timed report. Both land use related emissions and local governments have been slowly acquiring a greater profile in international climate change negotiations.

Strangely, most reports on the study are running under the title "Reducing Greenhouse Gases May Not Be Enough to Slow Climate Change." Eye-catching, sure. But not really accurate. The real strength of this report seems to be (I say seems because the full text is yet to appear on the publisher's site) that it has put solid, nationally specific, numbers behind an argument that has long been made about the importance of local land use planning.

And did I mention that green streets aren't bad looking either? (image:

This piece originally appeared in

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Alex, maybe not enough people think of the future. If we could get them to understand how they can benefit now through Biophilic Design it is a win / win for now and later. I would like to use your picture of the beautiful street on our website and pose a biophilic design question. Let me know if I may have your permission.

Posted by: Dale Ball on 17 Nov 09

Based on my experience on a condo board, and in a law office serving condo boards: many people don't like trees because trees require on-going maintenance. Roots buckle pavement; leaves fall. Trees often require periodic trimming to remove rotten limbs. Condos want to tear them out and concrete over the holes. Unless those trees cost homeowners NOTHING, then there's going to be resistance to tree-planting. City budgets would have to be bolstered to pay for gardeners for trees on public property. Property tax abatements for homeowners supporting trees might offset the costs and labor.

Posted by: Zora on 17 Nov 09

As someone who has devoted his career to urban horticulture and arboriculture I can't applaud this article enough.

Posted by: Dave Coulter on 17 Nov 09

To add trouble to the vision of a treed wonderland in Madison we have the recent arrival of a beetle they suspect came on oversees pallets. The beetle has the forestry and bug specialist panicking as they have the potential to kill off most of the urban tree stock.

Posted by: Chuck Learned on 17 Nov 09

It is also a cultural thing. In the UK, people love their trees: our streets are full of them, noticeably different from the USA. This is a useful link

Posted by: Clare Hall on 18 Nov 09

I've planted a Plane tree, an apple, a cherry, a pear and a plum trees. I'm raking leaves and bagging, pruning branches and sawing. I hang a net to catch mulberries and have a ton of them each July. Endless birds eat berries and sing in my mulberry tree. I don't need an air conditioner as one tree is worth 5 air conditioners. I watch the leaves turn and admire the bare branches in the winter and await each tree to sprout leaves and blooms in the spring, the fragrances divine. We all need trees in our lives, not least for climate control.

Posted by: I Whist on 18 Nov 09

I live in a neighborhood where major trees are planted along the sidewalk at intervals of 5-7 meters. The proximity makes a major difference in the overall feel, and the trees form an actual canopy. It's beautiful.

Posted by: Evan on 18 Nov 09

Until we stop the court house juries from blaming tress for accidents caused by speeding and drunk driving, we will be unable to get the state DOTs to let us plant trees along the roadways like they do in Europe. I wish we could turn the law around and sue the people that hit the trees!

Posted by: david on 19 Nov 09 in Portland, Oregon, is doing an amazing job at this very thing. Almost half of my friends have fruit and ornamental trees planted in their yards and parking strips from FOT. Their follow-up is phenomenal.

Posted by: THEKNOW on 22 Nov 09

Glad to see all these comments, and that so many people have had good experiences with urban forests. I've just been moving back to Montreal, so I've been neglecting my posts recently.

Dale -- I think more and more people are realizing that there is more space in cities for trees, plants and wildlife. Some of the later comments speak to that. The photo is from

Zora -- thanks for commenting. It is really important to understand the perceived problems as well as the benefits of trees. But it's also important to realize that trees aren't just a *cost.* As later comments point out, properly planted shade trees can reduce of replace the need for air conditioning.

As more and more municipalities are imposing storm water restrictions on new developments, trees also serve to help process rainwater on-site. Finally, trees can contribute to property value by providing a liveable, beautiful space (Evan brought that up, for example and streets in Montreal, Vancouver and Portland are other great examples). Those benefits outweight the costs - but you need to do it right.

If you are managing a large property, talk to professional urban foresters about choosing the rights trees, the right placement and the right maintenance schedule.

Posted by: Alex Aylett on 7 Dec 09

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