, Heat Waves Are A Local Health Hazard: Firms Should Plant Trees In Poor Neighborhoods, The Nzuchi News Forbes

Heat Waves Are A Local Health Hazard: Firms Should Plant Trees In Poor Neighborhoods

, Heat Waves Are A Local Health Hazard: Firms Should Plant Trees In Poor Neighborhoods, The Nzuchi News Forbes

Many areas of America are confronting a heat wave. The recent issue of the National Geographic noted: “the temperature in Phoenix hit 118°F—four degrees hotter than the previous record for the day… as more than 40 million people endured temperatures above 100. According to the calendar, it was technically still spring.”

Trees can cushion urban areas from heat waves. As the EPA notes: “Trees and vegetation lower surface and air temperatures by providing shade and through evapotranspiration. Shaded surfaces, for example, may be 20–45°F (11–25°C) cooler than the peak temperatures of unshaded material.” This also means that trees reduce energy costs for running fans and air conditioners, a crucial issue for poor households that tend to spend a higher share of their household budgets on energy.

One might think that heat waves mostly hurt those who work outdoors. After all, the Center for Disease Control finds that heat-related deaths among farmworkers are 20 times those of workers in other occupations. However, heat waves have serious health consequences for urban residents as well, especially if they live in poor neighborhoods. The 1995 Chicago heat wave killed 1,200 people, mostly minorities.

Why does Tree Equity Matter?

American Forests has introduced the concept of “Tree Equity Scores.” The objective is to assess if a neighborhood has a sufficient number of trees given its demographic characteristics, health status, population density, unemployment levels, heat exposure, and the type of vegetation the area can support. After analyzing 150,000 neighborhoods, which account for 70 percent of the U.S. population, American Forests recommends that American cities need to plant 522 million trees in communities lacking tree cover.

For example, communities of color have 33% less tree canopy on average than majority-white communities. Redlined neighborhoods could be warmer by as much as 13°F in relation to the non-redlined areas. If one examines the canopy gap in terms of income, the picture is similar. Neighborhoods with 90% residents below the poverty line have 41% less tree canopy than neighborhoods with only 10% of the population living in poverty.  


How to Address the Canopy Gap?

, Heat Waves Are A Local Health Hazard: Firms Should Plant Trees In Poor Neighborhoods, The Nzuchi News Forbes

City governments should recognize that tree inequity exposes poor and communities of color to excessive heat waves. It seems their efforts to bridge the canopy gap remain insufficient. This is where corporations should step in. Many firms proclaim their commitment to climate action (and to racial justice). During the Trump Presidency, several CEOs urged that the U.S. remains in the Paris Agreement and committed that their companies would follow through on the Paris Pledge. In recent months, companies have announced their intention to achieve net-zero carbon emissions by 2050.

These are laudable steps but might seem remote from the lived experiences of many. We suggest companies undertake concrete local climate action as well. Specifically, they should commit to bridging the canopy gap in zip codes, counties, or cities in which their headquarters and facilities are located.

Let us briefly talk about Amazon, which aims to become a climate leader. In September 2019, it launched the Climate Pledge program obligating its signatories to meet the Paris goal of net zero emissions by 2040. More than 100 companies have signed on to this Pledge. Suppose Amazon announces that by 2025, it will eliminate the tree equity gap in all the zip codes where its 857 US distribution facilities are located. Further, it stipulates that Climate Pledge signatories do the same in their organizations. Imagine the palpable local impact on climate adaptation and equity these actions would have!

Could Others Contribute as well?

Every organization should work towards addressing the tree equity gap in their zip codes, counties, and cities.  As professors, we believe universities should lead by example. They are certainly thought and social leaders. Why not become action leaders in the climate field as well?

Moreover, this commitment should extend to the national and international bodies in which university researchers actively participate, especially, academic associations. We are members of several associations which host annual conferences that attract thousands of participants. These associations could levy a small carbon fee on conference participants and direct this money to address the canopy inequity in the city in which the associations are hosting their annual conferences.

People often ask how they can help in addressing the climate crisis. Well, here is an idea. For any occasion, instead of giving presents, why not give tree certificates that address canopy inequity? Perhaps, nonprofits, who work in these communities, can step in to offer this product (here is an example).

Climate challenge certainly requires global coordination, especially on mitigation issues. But climate resilience needs a local focus. Bridging the canopy gap helps both climate and social equity goals.

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