Victory Trees & Gardens: Summary of Complete Paper
Note: There are 2 forms to this article. This is the condensed summary version of the paper. There is a more complete version and detailed version.
There are many solutions that have been proposed to address the climate change crisis. The first solution that is part of this series by EcoAlliances is entitled Victory Trees and Gardens: A framework for action.
Cost-Effective Solutions to Global Warming (Part I)
Victory Trees & Gardens: A Framework for Action
Summary of Full Article
October 19, 2014
The Global Warming Crisis
Over the past several decades there was much debate over the reality and extent of human induced global warming. There is no longer any question that global warming is upon us and we are just beginning to witness the potentially severe climactic changes (McCarthy 2009). As can be seen in Figure 1 (Scripps Institute of Oceanography, 2014), current levels of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide (CO2) are at nearly 400 parts per million (ppm), levels not seen for at least 800,000 years. It has been estimated that 350 ppm of CO2 may be a “safe” level, however, we are way beyond this level and the levels are continuing to increase (Hansen et al., 2008). CO2 levels may have not been at current levels for the last 15 to 20 million years (Tripati et al., 2009). At that time sea levels were 100 feet higher than today and there was little ice anywhere on the planet.
An analogy for “safety” of the greenhouse gases and earth temperature levels is an automobile temperature dial depicted in Figure 2. Our “car” (or the earth) has been operating at CO2 levels between 200 and 300 ppm for over 800,000 years (and possibly many millions of years). In only 250 years, since the beginning of the industrial revolution, CO2 levels have risen dramatically and rapidly to near 400. Our “car/earth” is now just beginning to experience the negative effects of operating at these high levels and they continue to increase every year. We may already be past the “red line” danger level and it is critical that we take control of the situation if the “car/earth” as we know it does not begin to “break” down.
A 2014 international scientific consensus report by the Intergovernmental panel on climate change (IPCC, 2014) stated:
- The levels of greenhouse gases are the “”the highest in history.”
- “Warming of the climate system is unequivocal, and since the 1950s, many of the observed changes are unprecedented over decades to millennia…The atmosphere and ocean have warmed, the amounts of snow and ice have diminished, sea level has risen and the concentration of greenhouse gases have increased.”
- “Without additional mitigation, and even with adaptation, warming by the end of the 21st century will lead to high to very high risk of severe, widespread and irreversible impacts globally.”
Despite these warnings there has been little effective action by the global community to stop the rise in greenhouse gases. The purpose of this series of papers is to present cost effective solutions to the climate change problem and to develop a framework for introduction of interventions.
Urban and Suburban Reforestation
1. Reforesting Parks and Public Areas
With just a cursory survey it is very obvious that we maintain vast areas of manicured lawns in our communities. This can be observed in many of our parks, houses and highways. Harbor Island Park in Mamaroneck, NY is utilized as an example. Figure 3 shows the extensive lawn predominance of the park.
The lawns make up approximately 75% of this area of the park. Other than some isolated trees, there are 2 areas that are maintained in a natural state that make up approximately 25% of the park. One of these is a small “nature preserve” near the water and another is a small area where trees and natural vegetation are allowed to grow (Figure 4).
Lawns absorb only a fraction of the carbon dioxide that trees and natural environments take in. The reason for this is that trees and the supporting natural vegetation have vertical depth. Carbon dioxide is absorbed from the top layers of the trees all the way down to the grasses and shrubs forming the base layer. Manicured grass, on the other hand, is intentionally kept short and only has a thin horizontal layer that is able to absorb carbon dioxide. At Harbor Island Park large gasoline powered lawnmowers are utilized for the frequent lawn care required. In addition, lawns often require fertilizers and pesticides. These chemicals are formed by energy intensive processes and also have potential toxic effects. In the case of Harbor Island Park, if the amount of natural vegetation was increased from 25% to say 75% of the park, the carbon dioxide absorption would increase dramatically and rapidly. The cost of the extensive lawn care would decrease considerably if a majority of the park was developed into a natural “nature preserve.” In addition, there would be decreased environmental toxins.
Another factor favoring natural environments and trees is that they act as a natural barrier in times of storms. These storms are now increasing in intensity and frequency due to the rapid climate changes. Since Harbor Island is a coastal park, the surrounding homes and businesses are particularly vulnerable to high winds and ocean wave surges. As shown in Figure 6, the small naturally forested area of the park serves as a first line of defense, absorbing both some of the force of the high winds as well as excess water. The houses behind can barely be seen behind the forested cover. On the other hand, another set of houses several hundred feet away have only scattered trees, offering minimal protection.
An urban park that serves as a well integrated more ecologically friendly model is Central Park in midtown Manhattan. As can be seen in Figure 7 there is a much greater concentration of vegetation throughout Central Park in comparison to Harbor Island.
There are extensive examples of the lawn predominance pattern all around the world. Our nation’s capital shows a predominance of well kept lawns around the Washington Monument, Ellipse as well as the White House as shown in Figure 8.
It might be argued that a wide expanse of manicured lawn is a more attractive design compared to one with a higher tree and shrub density. This is, however, a matter of taste. Whatever the aesthetic preferences, the lawn predominant designs may no longer be a sustainable design and far too costly to maintain.
2. Reforesting our Homes and Communities
A survey of homes and community environments was conducted in another part of Westchester NY, the county where Harbor Island Park is located. The same lawn predominant pattern was observed in the homes as at the Harbor Island Park (Figure 9). Although there are some trees and shrubs they generally make up only a small fraction of the lawns.
There is a strip of lawn in front of all houses that is maintained by the town. On the entire block there are only 6 trees on the 34 strips (17.6%). One need only go to the end of this block to observe a house that overflows with CO2 sequestering trees. This single house has 15 trees on one side and 7 trees around the corner, for a total of 22 trees in all (Figure 10).
This single house has more than 3 times the total of all the trees on the outside lawn strips maintained by the town. The trees are well manicured and offer a unique and attractive look in addition to their climate moderating role. They also provide privacy to the household as well as noise reduction and a pollution barrier to the passing road traffic.
Westchester is well known for its dogwood, Japanese maple and other decorative trees. These trees blossom in the spring, as the house selling season starts in earnest. More ornamental trees would not only help with global warming but could have economic benefit to the community in potentially increasing property values. Thus by addressing the global warming problem with increased trees there may be other benefits to the community. These are also relatively small trees so there is not problem with power line interference or home damage during storms.
3. Reforesting our Highways and Byways
Many of the nation’s highways also show the same extensive lawn dominant pattern in many areas. The 333 mile (537 kilometer) divided Interstate Highway 87 in NY State has extensive room for vegetation in the center strip between the roads as well as on the sides of the highway. In many areas there is lush vegetation. In other areas, without clear reasons other than design preferences, manicured lawns are the rule. The lawns sometimes go on for many miles without interruption, then change abruptly to forested areas. This pattern can be observed in Figures 11, 12 and 13.
Since there is so much room for increased vegetation on this single highway, the potential for increased carbon absorbing capacity with reforestation is great. The amount of maintenance and regular cutting of the lawns required to maintain the lawns is considerable. Many millions of miles of roadways are lawn predominant throughout the nation as well as globally. Substantial redesign of these roadways to a more natural state could result in very significant reforestation, decrease in chemical toxicity as well as very large potential government maintenance cost savings.
Barriers to Action
There are numerous initiatives for reforestation of the urban landscape by major organizations such as the US Forest Service and US Department of Agriculture (Urban Forests and Climate Change; Climate Change Resource Center http://www.fs.usda.gov/ccrc/topics/urban-forests), university academic departments (Urban and Community Forestry Program; University of Florida http://www.sfrc.ufl.edu/urbanforestry/program_objectives.html) as well as major municipalities (NYC Million Trees Initiative www.milliontreesnyc.org). Yet these initiatives have not had the wide-scale global recognition and impact needed to develop truly meaningful change and climate change. Lawns continue to dominate our landscape.
Victory Trees & Gardens: A framework for action
Effective community mobilization initiatives should include the following:
- An easy to understand message of a threat or concern
- An empowering and rallying message
- A sense of hope that something can be done to help to limit or neutralize the threat with actions
- An easy to understand action plan that the individual and/or local community can carry out
- Minimal costs in money and time
- Clear benefits that may accrue to the individual and/or community
- A sense of achievement, pride and group cohesiveness if the action is taken
- Encouragement of individual and community ideas and input to advance the program to new and more extensive levels
A very successful historical initiative fits these criteria very well. During World War I and II there was a critical need for increased food production to feed the troops abroad. Household members were asked to start their own “Victory Garden.” This campaign was enormously successful with a very high participation rate. Victory Gardens provided for 30-40% of vegetable production in the US during the Second World War.
By using the term “Victory Trees & Gardens” the theme of the successful World War theme can be transferred to the re-greening of the earth. Anyone can easily contribute to the initiative, just by planting a single “victory” tree or bush an individual could make a difference.
The proposed logo for Victory Trees and Gardens is depicted in Figure 15 and integrates the spheres of the natural world in Earth, Water and Sky. This is surrounded by the Plants and Animals that depend on these natural systems. A person in the form of a “V” shape is supporting and nourishing the varied ecological and life systems.
There are many ways to involve the larger community and motivate people. Contests could be held in a community for the best Victory Gardens. A donation program could be started to plant a Victory Tree on the birth of a child or on birthday dates. It would be a present to the child preserving their future. To become a truly successful initiative a nationwide response would be required. Uniting the many already existing organizations for the re-greening of urban and suburban environments around the theme would be needed.
Summary and Conclusions
Human induced global warming and serious climactic change is now upon us. We are rapidly moving into uncharted waters as greenhouse gases at current levels have not been observed for hundreds of thousands if not many millions of years.
The purpose of this paper is to outline what is believed to be an easily observable climate change issue dominating our urban and suburban communities. Lawns that form the predominant design of our community landscapes are re-labeled as deforestation. Several communities are used as examples of the extensive predominance of lawns as well as the ease by which they could be converted. Despite the clear cost savings from some of these interventions as well as the many organizations involved in urban redesign and greening, the urban re-greening movement has not been accepted globally in a manner that would result in a significant positive climate impact.
A successful climate initiative would have to be able to ally individuals, communities, organizations and governments to act in a more ecologically responsible manner. In order for initiatives to be successful, the barriers to unified action must be effectively addressed. A framework for action is advocated which addresses the hurdles to effective action. By using Victory Trees & Gardens as a unifying theme, the successful World War Victory Gardens campaigns can be re-invoked.
The world is at a critical juncture in its history. We are just beginning to feel the impact from escalating temperatures and dramatic climatic changes. Without unified mitigating global action, the costs and burdens of these changes can only increase. We must act now and implement globally acceptable cost effective solutions to this problem. It is hoped that the concept of Victory Trees and Gardens could serve as the type of model or framework needed to launch effective initiatives to combat the increasingly negative impact of global warming and dramatic climactic change.
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