By Katherine Wagner
Fall is the ideal time to plant a tree and the myriad of benefits might surprise you.
Widespread environmental degradation is real.
Human-caused climate change is real.
The exact mix of naturally occurring and human-caused climate change may be up for some debate, but really, that discussion is tangential and a distraction.
To some extent, even the argument about how long we have before the human-caused climate change becomes irreversible is peripheral.
Whether it’s 10 years, or 20 or even 50, we’re facing a crisis within our lifetimes and, if we don’t act now, it’s only going to get worse and more difficult to counteract.
Summer used to be a season of relaxation, outdoor activities and vacations. Increasingly, summer brings an onslaught of news about immediate and looming environmental disasters. This year, that included hurricanes, earthquakes, heatwaves, ocean pollution and wildfires.
According to the World Meteorological Organization, worldwide temperatures in July 2019 matched, and perhaps marginally exceeded, the hottest month on record which was July 2016.
The effects of environmental degradation are well documented. What is less understood is the effect all this bad news is having on mental health. Fear, stress, grief and anxiety are increasingly common responses. Collectively, this is referred to as eco-anxiety.
Unfortunately, for many, this mental distress can result in fatalism, overwhelming feelings of helplessness, and resignation. We turn away, or deny, because it’s too distressing to do otherwise.
In 2007, Glenn Albrecht, an environmental philosopher at the University of Newcastle, coined the term solastalgia. The word encapsulates the distress experienced in the face of environmental change and is more relevant each year.
The American Psychological Association published a 2017 updated report Mental Health and our Changing Climate: Impacts, Implications and Guidance. The authors suggest communities support green initiatives which residents can participate in part because they help “curb the stress, anxiety, and other mental illnesses incurred from the decline of economies, infrastructure, and social identity that comes from damage to the climate.”
Mental health experts recommend that instead of focusing on the fear of environmental disaster, we should focus on what we can do to make a difference.
Sometimes, local issues are dwarfed by world news, but it is locally that individuals often have the greatest impact.
The benefits of urban trees are well documented, but we are losing trees to development, disease, storms and landowners who find them annoying.
Food security, agricultural land protection, and tree and forest protection could benefit from more attention from residents and cities.
The environmental benefits of trees are indisputable. They filter our water and clean our air by absorbing carbon and pollutants. Trees provide habitat for wildlife, and food for humans and fauna. Their shade reduces air conditioning costs and the heat from asphalt and concrete surfaces. Tree roots offer erosion control and their leaves and needles are excellent mulches.
Trees and other plants have a calming effect, are good for your mood and nourish your soul.
Protection and renewal of our urban canopy should be a priority. This involves all of us as 60 to 80 per cent of urban trees are on private property.
A September 2015 presentation to Maple Ridge council highlighted a study of the tree canopy of the Silver Valley neighbourhood.
From 1994 to 2011, the canopy just in this one area, was reduced by 12.5 per cent, and given the rate of development in the area, that number has likely increased significantly.
Maple Ridge adopted a comprehensive tree bylaw in 2016, but bylaws are only as good as their level of enforcement.
Other municipalities are taking it a step further. Vancouver’s Urban Forest Strategy set a goal of planting 150,000 trees by 2020, and they are currently at 125,854. That number will jump this month with the next installment of the Vancouver Park Board tree sale. Suitable varieties of trees are for sale for $10.
We don’t need to wait on government. We can all take action in small ways and the result is cumulative, rather like voting in elections.
An example of an individual taking initiative is West Vancouver resident Susan Bibbing who launched The Sequoia Solution.
She’s promoting sequoia and Italian cypress seedlings as more drought- and heat-resistant alternatives to western red cedars which are succumbing to climate change.
Plant a tree, feel better and help the environment. Whether you are looking for a shade tree for a patio or a container plant for a balcony, local nurseries offer great advice.