When it Comes to Climate and Cities, Trees Keep Giving

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City leaders are constantly on the lookout for programs that can be implemented to improve the lives of residents in their communities. While cost restrictions, political considerations, and logistical constraints are always limiting factors, there is one simple climate solution that seems to bypass all such obstacles: trees. Increasing tree canopy coverage is a simple, low-cost solution that improves communities by enlisting residents to green their neighborhoods, while bringing health, economic, and environmental benefits to cities.

Why Trees

Trees are a simple way to improve city life in a number of important and unexpected ways. Research has shown that cities that have adopted tree-planting programs have seen coorelation linking more trees to decreases in crime. Tree-lined streets increase property values for residents, and communities with green spaces, gardens, and parks have been shown to reduce stress and anxiety—increasing the happiness and quality of life for residents.

There are also important health benefits. Trees help filter pollutants out of the air we breathe. Studies have found that trees, especially old growth canopies, can affect both local air quality and the quality of air throughout the region. There are also economic benefits to be had, such as decreased energy bills. Shadier cities can reduce the cooling costs for residents and business owners—especially in hot, arid regions where energy costs may be burdensome.

And perhaps most importantly, increasing tree canopy in cities is an effective climate solution. Lower electricity use due to increased shade, cooler temperatures, and less of a need to run an A/C drives down the amount of fossil fuel consumption. Trees, vegetation, and urban green zones help to catch rainfall and prevent rainwater runoff that can damage city infrastructure and clog storm drains. This is increasingly a concern as weather patterns change, and severe weather events become more common. Recent flooding in Louisiana provides an insight into just what the future may hold as the consequences of climate change become more pronounced.

To reap these benefits, cities must beef up their commitment to urban canopies. Research now suggests that nearly half of urban areas must be covered to enjoy the full scope of what trees can bring to communities. Fortunately, many cities are already pursuing bold new initiatives to increase the number of trees in their communities.

What Cities Can Do

For many cities, simply preserving their local forests and urban canopy can bring much-needed dollars to city coffers. In Oregon, for instance, the city of Astoria pledged to protect a 3,700-acre watershed as part of a statewide carbon credit program. By preserving the local forest//trees/…, the city was able to receive over $350,000 in their first year, and $130,000 for the next nine as part of the carbon credit program. These are dollars that can be put to use reinvesting in community development, infrastructure, and city services.


“Together, we’re building our better neighborhoods, and projects like this are how we do it.” Mayor Faulconer, San Diego


Cities can also promote and facilitate the greening of communities. The city of Seattle this year is relaunching its reLeaf program, which aims to increase the canopy cover from 23 to 30% over the next two decades. Already successful in planting 6,300 trees, the program also offers information on tree maintenance, care, pruning, and free trees and mulch for participants. Such programs are a relatively cheap and effective way to bring communities together with the shared purpose of beautifying their neighborhoods while implementing effective climate solutions.

Like Seattle, in Los Angeles, several public-private partnerships have sprouted to continue a program launched nearly a decade ago, Million Trees LA. Now, in an effort to bring the benefits of trees to low-canopy communities, groups like City Plants provide free fruit and shade trees to neighborhoods throughout the city. Educational opportunities including tree care, mulching and planting techniques are being provided by groups like Tree People—who focus on increasing green spaces and urban forests. Organizations like the LA Conservation Corps are training young Angelinos to be the next climate leaders through tree planting and more. These efforts enlist the help of residents, students, businesses, and nonprofits—reflecting the importance of community-based solutions to community problems.

Tree planting programs are simple climate solutions for any city. Whether run entirely by a city department, facilitated through public-private partnerships, or entirely left to the nonprofit sector, they bring countless benefits for residents. As a mayor or community leader, you can encourage and implement these programs by effectively communicating the benefits of increased canopy coverage in your city. You can begin by checking out the well-researched and tested climate communication techniques at ecoAmerica, or our 15 step guide at Path to Positive Communities.


This story was originally posted on the Path to Positive Communities blog on August 19, 2016

Posted on Thursday, August 18th, 2016

Lights… Climate… ACTION!

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Los Angeles has a well-deserved reputation as a trend setting city, a place that sets the standard on style, fashion, art, and music. At the center of all this influence is Hollywood and the film industry.

Some of the most iconic and reoccurring imagery in film features the warm yellow glow of streetlights in the dark City of Angels. So when LA recently began replacing these high-pressure sodium lights with cold, blue, energy efficient LED alternatives, fans and film buffs worried that the new lighting would drastically change the way cities are portrayed in film, forever.

But LA’s investment in LED street lighting is influential in a much more significant way than in the color palate of film.  As the largest such project in the world, LA’s leadership in transitioning to this new technology will set the stage—and expand the market—for similar investments by other major US and international cities.

Street lighting can account for as much as 40% of a municipality’s electricity costs, and the old technology we all grew up with requires a much greater investment in routine maintenance to replace fixtures or correct “day burners” that waste energy. LA estimates it will save $7 million a year in energy and $2.5 million a year in maintenance with the switch to LED on all 141,000 of its street lights. The residents of LA will surely appreciate this, as will the residents of the hundreds of large and small cities that have made, or are beginning to make, the switch.

So, how did Los Angeles, a city known for its excess, smog, congestion, and dependency on the automobile suddenly emerge as a global leader in urban sustainability?  Slowly, but surely – and with the leadership of local elected officials and others dedicated to advancing urban sustainability, green and efficient energy, clean air and water, and transportation alternatives.

That leadership was on full display nearly a year ago, when ecoAmerica and its local partner, Climate Resolve, hosted Climate Day LA, a gathering of hundreds of local climate and sustainability leaders from across the faith, business, health care and public health, higher education, and local government sectors.

Participants came away with a better understanding of local solutions that all Angelenos can support, an assessment of progress made in Sacramento during the recent legislative session (as well as missed opportunities to achieve greater statewide energy efficiency and renewable energy commitments), a preview of the COP21 meetings in Paris, and fresh insights into how to more effectively communicate about climate solutions.

Once again, Los Angeles is setting the trend. This time, the focus is on advancing climate solutions at the local level that can save cities money, cut energy demands, and eliminate burdensome maintenance schedules. And while the uniquely warm glow of LA will certainly be missed, the city is shedding much needed light on a new legacy of climate leadership.


This story was originally posted on the Path to Positive Communities blog on October 21, 2015

Posted on Wednesday, August 10th, 2016

Success Story: Climate Resolve

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parfrey-portraitSpotlight On: Jonathan Parfrey, Founder and Executive Director of Climate Resolve

After spending decades in public service, spanning work in health, faith, community, and the environment, social entrepreneur Jonathan Parfrey turned his attention to climate change. To facilitate climate communication, Parfrey founded Los Angeles-based Climate Resolve, to develop “practical solutions to meet the climate challenge while creating a better city for Angelenos today and in the future.” Jonathan Parfrey and his team work to make climate change approachable and relevant on the community level, inviting citizens to get engaged in issues that directly affect them.

FACING A CHALLENGE


“While hard science and data are critical to understanding our climate future, it is not enough if we want to engage with all Angelenos and community members throughout Southern California.” — Jonathan Parfrey, Executive Director, Climate Resolve


Climate Resolve’s first project was in answer to the question: How can we increase awareness of Los Angeles citizens and climate change relevant?

FINDING A SOLUTION

In 2010, Climate Resolve began working with UCLA’s Department of Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences on a series of climate studies. By studying information about heat and precipitation predictions, they could provide predictions on anticipated climate change impacts on the local, and even neighborhood, level.

To make reading these studies more enticing, Climate Resolve launched a user-friendly web portal and blog, C-Change LA, which translated the findings of the reports into common language. To market the findings broadly, Climate Resolve recruited unique voices for a campaign, with human-centered stories that brought the reports to life.

The second study, released in June 2013, was in cooperation with UCLA and LA Mayor Villaraigosa, and featured a detailed analysis of the region’s predicted snowfall. Mid- and End-of-Century Snowfall in the Los Angeles Region includes data and opinions from the leaders of Protect Our Winters, a nonprofit of winter sports enthusiasts and CalTrout, a nonprofit that protects and restores wild trout, steelhead, salmon and their waters in the Santa Ana Watershed Project Authority. They coordinated the wide release of the reports to gain greater public and press attention. The report was covered by TIME magazine, LA Times, KCET, KCBS and more than 40 additional news outlets. Climate Resolve posted a robust media roundup on their C-Change.LA blog as a go-to source to access information.

KEY TO SUCCESS

Collaboration. By working with non-traditional organizations, Climate Resolve successfully broadened the public’s perceptions of climate impacts. Because of this unique approach, the organization’s publications led to a widespread discussion about the changing climate in Los Angeles. And by making climate change approachable and relevant on the community level, citizens have become more engaged as they see climate change directly affect them.  

Climate Resolve continues to expand work on climate change in Southern California and has become a formidable voice in the climate movement.

LESSONS LEARNED

  • Collaborate with others – Utilize the expertise of others and leverage your own strengths to deliver results.
  • Translate complex information – Make complex data relatable and accessible in ways that matter to people.
  • Localize – Find ways to break broader issues down to a local level and use stories about people to connect with your audience.
Posted on Sunday, July 31st, 2016
Path To Positive Los Angeles