By Jad Daley
A MAP of tree cover in virtually any city in America is also a map of income and, in many cases, race in ways that transcend income. That means that our cities’ tree inequities are worsening other societal inequities, starting with public health. America urgently needs Tree Equity.
Why? Because having trees in your neighborhood is a life-or-death matter.
Neighborhoods with little to no trees can, on average, be 5 to 7 degrees hotter during the day and up to 22 degrees hotter at night than neighbor- hoods with good tree cover. Treeless neighborhoods also have worse air pollution because trees trap air pollutants and the hotter temperatures in these treeless neighborhoods help cook air pollutants into dangerous smog.
That’s one of the reasons why health experts project a ten-fold increase in heat-related deaths across America’s cities. In Dallas, for example, a recent American Forests study showed potential to reduce heat-related deaths 22 percent by planting more trees and better protecting existing tree cover, especially in low-income neighborhoods.
Achieving Tree Equity means that all neighborhoods within a city will reach a citywide standard of tree cover that is feasible and appropriate for each city’s unique climate and context. Given the immense consequences, American Forests sees Tree Equity as a moral imperative, offering a litmus test of our nation’s commitment to its ideals. This work is also an opportunity for greater economic equity because we can link people in marginalized communities into career opportunities, advancing Tree Equity across their neighborhoods and beyond.
Hopefully, based on American Forests’ work over the last year, this call to action feels familiar to you. During that time, we have launched a new national initiative to deliver Tree Equity across American cities. Right now, most cities fall short of this ideal. But we are seeing huge signs of progress and new commitment, including:
New visibility for Tree Equity: For too long, urban forests have felt virtually invisible in the media, especially when discussing climate change and other big issues. Not anymore. In just the last six months, the concept of Tree Equity, and its role in issues like climate response, have gotten major treatment from National Public Radio, New York Times, Washington Post, Chicago Tribune, Grist, Reuters, The Guardian, The Economist and many other influential outlets. American Forests has helped to feed this increased coverage by working with reporters, placing opinion pieces and driving social media through #TreeEquity. This increased visibility and awareness is translating into real action, such as mayors committing to Tree Equity and state and federal officials looking for ways to help.
Cities and states step up for Tree Equity: In Detroit, American Forests works with city agencies and local nonprofits to dramatically scale the city’s commitment to tree planting and tree care through the Detroit Reforestation Initiative. In Phoenix, we have formed a new long-term partnership with one of America’s most heat-vulnerable cities. At the state level, under the leadership of Governor Gina Raimondo, Rhode Island is partnering with American Forests on a push for Tree Equity across every city in the state. This comprehensive effort is demonstrating what city leaders and their partners can accomplish when fully backed with strong technical tools, funding and coordination.
Federal commitment to Tree Equity: After an intensive push with Congress, we have secured the first major increase in Urban and Community Forestry Program funding in more than a decade. But, this is just the beginning. We have helped introduce new legislation, the Climate Steward- ship Act, that would fund planting 400 million trees in cities through 2050, create a new urban wood grant program, and establish a Stewardship Corps to train underserved youth for careers in urban forestry. We are also helping to introduce the TREES Act, which will invest Department of Energy funding into tree planting as an energy efficiency strategy.
Career pathways in Tree Equity: For a year, American Forests has been connecting with people and organizations around the country doing soul-stirring work to leverage economic equity through Tree Equity, such as programs that link people coming out of incarceration into urban forest careers. To help feed this important movement, American Forests just launched a Career Pathways Toolkit with new mechanisms and best practices for these kinds of employment programs.
With your continued support of American Forests, we can make Tree Equity a must-have for all cities and provide the resources and partnership to make it happen. In this issue, you will learn much more about Tree Equity and new ways that you can get involved. Let’s create Tree Equity together.
For more news and updates from Jad, follow him on Twitter @JadDaley.