Climate Corner: How Would We Survive Without Trees?

by Katherine Krouse and Roy Thilly

When we talk about mitigating climate change, people often assume taking action will be expensive and burdensome. Nothing could be less true when it comes to planting trees. The benefits of trees are many, in addition to taking the carbon dioxide that is warming our planet out of the atmosphere.

Beginning in April 2016 to celebrate Earth Day, the Climate Change Coalition of Door County began partnering with The Nature Conservancy (TNC), the Forest Recovery Project and high school students from Gibraltar and Sturgeon Bay to plant different varieties of trees on TNC lands in the county, including in the Mink River Basin and around Kangaroo Lake.

In the spring of 2017, the coalition’s tree planting partners grew to include Crossroads at Big Creek, Celebrating Earth Week and students from Sevastopol. This September the Coalition and the Forest Recovery Project, with grants from the Lakeshore Natural Resource Partnership and a generous couple from Stella Maris in Fish Creek, organized a fall planting. This project brought in participants from the Boys and Girls Club of Sturgeon Bay, the Northern Door Children’s Center, Door County Rotary Clubs, the county’s faith communities and 75 county businesses. In total, more than 10,000 trees have been planted in this short 18-month period.

Before talking about climate change though, let’s look at all the other collateral benefits of tree planting.

First, of course, the kids who helped, from preschoolers to high school students, had a great time and learned a lot from the experts at TNC and the Forest Recovery Project. And they will get to see the results of their work grow over time.

Stepping back, we need to ask how would we survive in a world without trees?

The benefits of trees are too long to list here. They include:

  • Being the Earth’s lungs, breathing in carbon dioxide and breathing out the oxygen required for life
  • Providing essential bird and wildlife habitat
  • Cleaning our air of pollutants such as ozone, particulates, sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides
  • Preventing soil erosion and providing flood control
  • Enriching soils
  • Protecting groundwater and filtering drinking water
  • Reducing energy costs through windbreaks and shading
  • Providing wood for our homes, for paper and for so many other uses
  • Providing jobs in forestry, recreation and carpentry
  • Increasing property values and improving neighborhood’s quality of life

And there’s so much more. There is the beauty and the peacefulness of our forests, and the oak to climb and the branch for a swing.

Now for climate change. There are essentially two ways to mitigate the fact that average temperatures are rising across the globe causing rising sea levels, more frequent and stronger severe weather and drought. The first is to reduce the amount of carbon dioxide and methane emitted into the atmosphere, primarily from burning fossil fuels.

The second is to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and store it – that is, through carbon sequestration. This is what trees do. They take in carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and store it in biomass. Just a single mature tree can sequester approximately 48 pounds of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere each year, resulting in about a ton of carbon dioxide sequestered in 40 years. Ten thousand trees in Door County can remove as much as 40,000 tons of CO2 during their lifetimes.

Think of the multitude of benefits we would realize if we got together and planted 50,000 trees a year! And if every county in Wisconsin did the same? And every county in the Midwest? Planting trees can’t solve global warming alone. We also need to waste less food and eat a more local, plant-rich diet, eliminate unhealthy pollution from coal-fired power plants and save money by driving more fuel-efficient cars. Like planting trees, all of these steps will improve our quality of life.

The bottom line is that working together to help address climate change through carbon sequestration can be fun, educational and inexpensive, and the collateral benefits will improve the lives of our children and grandchildren in so many ways.

Climate Forward: A Road Map for Wisconsin

January Program of the Climate Change Coalition of Door County

Date:  Thursday, January 11, 2018

Time:  7 pm

Place:  Björklunden, 7590 Boynton Lane, Baileys Harbor, WI 54202

Speaker:  Chelsea Chandler, Environmental Initiatives Director, Wisconsin Academy of Sciences, Arts and Letters

Katie Krouse is the coordinator for the Climate Change Coalition of Door County and program coordinator for The Ridges Sanctuary. Roy Thilly is a member of the Coalition’s steering committee. The Coalition is a non-partisan group dedicated to increasing understanding of the science of climate change and the need to act.

The Climate Corner is a monthly column featuring a variety of writers from around the state and Door County addressing various aspects of the challenges and opportunities climate change presents. The column is sponsored by the Climate Change Coalition of Door County, which is dedicated to “helping to keep our planet a cool place to live.” The Coalition is always open to new members and ideas. Contact the Coalition at [email protected].

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