The Jewish version of Arbor Day Tu B’Shevat is more relevant today than ever. Transformed from a general agricultural holiday into a dedicated arboreal conservation initiative in the early 1900′s, this celebration takes place towards the end of January during the Hebrew month of Shevat. This holiday addresses the travesty that trees previously revered by indigenous people around the globe have become nothing more than commodities in our modern consciousness, something to be grown, skinned, chopped and used in building projects.
But there are so many other reasons to value trees. Not only are they beautiful sentries that transform a flat and dusty landscape, and gracious hosts of important bugs, birds and sometimes mammals too, they also perform a variety of crucial environmental services that most of us don’t see. Followed is a list of five.
1. Trees Absorb Carbon Dioxide
It is relatively well known that trees absorb carbon dioxide. This environmental service also known as a “carbon sink” has become better understood as the discussion about climate change has gained momentum. Trees capture the same CO2 that is spewed from the exhaust of a car and factories and store it in their roots, bark and leaves, diverting harmful emissions from the atmosphere. If it weren’t for trees, life on earth would be significantly hotter, and yet in the last few decades we have managed to decrease forest cover by more the half. Researchers at the World Resources Institute predict that global demand for wood will double by 2050, putting trees (and therefore us) at deadly risk.
2. Trees Help Us Breathe
In addition to sucking up the pollution we unleash, trees produce the oxygen that we need to breathe. According to a website devoted to forestry, one tree produce the same amount of oxygen in one season that ten humans use in an entire year. And why does oxygen matter? Consider this: if we cut off the supply of oxygen to the brain for just a fraction of a second, we start to lose consciousness. In the prolonged absence of oxygen, we will experience respiratory failure and even death.
3. Trees Clean the Soil and Scrub the Air
In addition to absorbing CO2 and using it for food, trees scrub harmful pollutants from both the soil and the air. Remarkably resilient in the face of our pollutant blitz, they absorb pollutants in the soil and either store them or convert them into something useful and treat air pollutants in a similar manner. A world without trees would be hotter and smoggier.
4. Trees Prevent Water Runoff
As climate change escalates, global sea levels are expected to rise as much as 6.5 feet by 2100, according to the National Geographic, though some scientists believe that if the Greenland ice sheet melts, seas could rise 23 feet. If this happens, London and Los Angeles will vanish. In less dramatic circumstances, trees can absorb water runoff and prevent flash floods from destroying crops, homes and soil erosion. One Colorado Blue Spruce can absorb as much as 1,000 gallons of water, according to forestry experts.
5. Trees Block Wind and Noise
Have you ever driven down a busy highway with houses on either side of it and noticed some homeowners have planted either one or two rows of tall trees along the length of their property? Here’s the trifold logic behind such a choice: trees create a natural boundary and provide some privacy, but they also ward off noise pollution and act as a windbreaker. The latter quality can reduce heating bills by up to 30 percent and reduce snow drifts in northern latitudes.
We have barely skimmed the importance of trees in this post and not one of them has anything to do with profit; suffice to say that life without trees is no kind of life at all. So go plant one or two or three this Tu B’Shevat; your very existence is directly tied to theirs.