Earth Week in Malibu is a magnificent time to celebrate trees. Let me tell you why trees are so remarkable.
Every tree in the world participates in many biological processes, but the most notable one is photosynthesis. Tree leaves absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, mix it with water, convert it into sugar using the sun’s energy and give off oxygen as a by-product. Carbon is stored in the wood during the process. In fact, trees are the greatest CO2 warehouses to have ever evolved on Earth. For every metric ton of wood created, 1.5 metric tons of CO2 is absorbed and 1 metric ton of oxygen is released.
Trees save each city on Earth tens of millions of dollars in storm water water runoff protection. Trees catch rainfall and billions of roots absorb water and regulate its flow to sewers. Mature trees placed strategically around homes, schools and factories reduce both heating and cooling costs by as much as 40 percent.
Moreover, mature trees improve urban air quality by filtering air; ravines and parks absorb 85 percent of the city’s air pollution. One mature tree produces enough oxygen in a year for a family of four.
Trees also provide a tremendous noise buffer and offer a habitat for a host of urban critters, including honeybees. They even help improve property values by up to 20 percent. Interestingly, studies show that consumers shopping on streets lined with mature trees tend to shop longer and spend more.
In the wild, our forests provide massive watersheds all throughout western North America that support 55 million people. Those mature subalpine forests help retain snowfall in the winter and slowly release melt-waters in the springtime that recharge reservoirs. Trillions of tree roots provide the most effective form of water filtration known to humankind.
Trees provide scrumptious spices including cinnamon — known to lower our blood sugar.
Trees grow incredible fruits like bee-pollinated apples, with apple skin being one of the highest recognized natural fibers that helps prevent colon cancer.
In California, trees provide us with bee-pollinated lemons, oranges and grapefruits; we grow more bee-pollinated almonds than anywhere else in the world. Almonds are an excellent source of protein and fiber. And let’s not forget that California is also a world producer of bee-pollinated avocados — rich in Omega-3s that help prevent coronary disease.
Trees produce potent medicines. From the South American cinchona trees, the drug quinine was derived to help fight the mosquito-borne disease — malaria. From the Pacific Northwest yew tree came taxol — the multi billion-dollar blockbuster drug that offers hope to those afflicted with breast, ovarian and lung cancers, coronary disease and even AIDS. From the Chinese Camptotheca trees, camptothecin is being trialed for breast, prostate, pancreas, ovarian, leukemia and lymphoma cancers as well as malignant melanoma.
The oldest single-stemmed tree is a Great Basin bristlecone pine named Methuselah. Methuselah lives in east-central California on the White Mountains almost two miles above sea level in an extreme environment. Methuselah is bombarded by high doses of ultra violet radiation. Methuselah is blasted regularly by 80 mile-per-hour winds and a growing season of about six weeks per year. Methuselah is 4,850 years old and witnessed more than 1.77 million sunrises. The tree rings that Methuselah lays down, almost every year, are a living window back in time assisting climate and tree scientists understand how life is attempting to adapt to unprecedented global warming.
Global warming is a citizens’ issue and, in fact, each of us is required to lend a helping hand. That means taking ownership of all our urban trees, including watering them during drier, hotter summers.
During this Earth Week in Malibu, make it a fun family project and plant an apple tree (or any other fruit tree) in your yard. It will provide an important source of nectar and pollen for the urban bees, and in return, delicious autumn bounty for your family, friends and neighbors.
Earth Dr Reese Halter is a broadcaster, biologist, educator and author of the upcoming book Shepherding the Sea: The Race to Save Our Oceans.