Trees: Nature’s Cure-All

I recently went for a hike with a friend of mine in woods local to where I live. We got lost, sort of, which was quite a feat since the woods are only about three square miles. The trails are fairly well maintained, but the map I was using on All Trails, was a little off. But regardless of our fumbling around the swampy woods, I was still in a fairly upbeat mood.

This is normally a situation that would lead to frustration. But the weather was pleasant, the company was good, and I was enjoying the outdoors. I’ve been doing some reading on how trees and forests affect our moods, and it may not only have been the company and quality of the weather that was altering my mood.

There have been many studies that suggest that spending time in and around forests and trees are excellent for our physical and mental wellbeing. The flora in our cities and neighborhoods is equally as important as well, for filtering the pollutants that are being emitted by the buildings and vehicles we use daily.

In the following I’ll be going over some of the benefits that trees provide us with, and why they are so important to maintaining a sustainable future for generations to come. Most of the information from this article was taken from four articles I read and will be listing them at the end of this piece.

Trees and Our Mental Health

There has been mounting research that suggests that walking in nature, specifically around trees may improve our moods by lowering levels of anxiety, depression and overall stress levels. Trees have also been shown to reduce symptoms of ADHD in children as well. This is quite the feat for these gentle giants.

The reason for these benefit still isn’t entirely clear to scientists, but the results continue to point towards spending time in nature leads to overall healthier mental wellbeing. And it doesn’t take long for the effects to settle in. All the more reason to take a hike in some local woods or go to a local park to enjoy the greenery.

Physical Health

Being surrounded by trees also brings with it a healthier physical being as well as emotional. The leaves from trees filter out pollution particles that affect our lungs and breathing. Mostly, they filter the particles that are emitted from vehicles emissions, or the burning of fossil fuels.

This is especially important in cities. Not only is this where a fair amount of the concentration of vehicles are located, but also the trees best scrub the air that is within 100 feet of where they stand. Trees scrubbing our air works by way of the leaves and needles, and the thousands of tiny pores on each leaf and needle. These pores take in the pollutants that would otherwise affect our lungs and breathing, holding them harmlessly in the body of their leaves.

So the more trees that are located in neighborhoods where more vulnerable populations live, the greater the health benefits could be. Unfortunately, neighborhoods in a lower socioeconomic status are most devoid of the much needed greenery. A catch 22 for sure.

Walking around trees has also shown to improve heart health. In this article by Greater Good, They talk about how walking in nature, specifically around trees as opposed to walking in cities, lowers cortisol levels, blood pressure, pulse rate, lowers the activity of the sympathetic nervous system and helps to activate the parasympathetic nervous system. According to the article, all of these are markers of greater cardiovascular health. And an overall healthier heart.

It isn’t clear as to why time spent around trees helps to improve health, but the data all points to spending time with trees makes a difference for the positive. There is also evidence that shows that being around trees also leads to better birth outcomes and a reduced risk of diabetes. The health benefits seem to be all encompassing. All the more reason to spend some more time in your favorite park or forest.

The health benefits of being in forests has made such an impact, that countries such as Japan and Korea have been championing forest bathing therapy. This practice is much as it sounds. The person will mindfully spend time in the forest, taking in the sensory experiences that the forest has to offer and receiving all the health benefits as well.

And if all of these benefits weren’t enough, taking in the company of trees also has been shown to improve immune system function as well as prolong life expectancy. And again, the reasons for this aren’t quite clear. There’s a theory that it may be related to aromatic compounds that trees release, but further research still needs to be done to provide an answer with some certainty.

Carbon Sequestering

It’s no surprise that trees help to sequester CO2, one of the major greenhouse gasses leading to the current climate crisis, but the rate at which they do is compelling. First, how they sequester carbon is worth understanding, so we understand why destroying trees, or even why only planting new trees without conserving the ones we have is dangerous.

Trees work to sequester carbon by taking it in from the atmosphere and using sunlight and water to turn it into wood, where the carbon is sequestered for the life of the tree. When the tree dies, is cut, burned or decomposes, the carbon is released back into the environment. This is why planting new trees isn’t the only solution to the carbon dioxide problem.

It takes decades for a young tree to meet the carbon sequestering power of older trees. One tree mentioned in an article by BUR, says that it has sequestered 22,049 pounds of CO2. That’s equivalent to 1,100 gallons of gasoline. This is something that modern science is still having issues reproducing and why pressurving the trees we already have is so important.

Getting Involved: How to Help

So with all these health benefits that trees are providing for us, the question remains, what can we be doing to help save the forests and trees that are so healing to us? There are plenty of organizations that are out there doing good work in this area. Volunteering time, or donating money to these organizations are a few ways to help preserve them. I’ll be listing a few of the organizations below, so hopefully you can find something that matches your lifestyle and personal taste.

The Sierra Club

The Sierra Club is an organization that advocates for not only the environment, but also social justice movements. One of their initiatives is to conserve 30% of public lands in the United states by 2030. Currently, only 12% of public lands are protected from being developed from drilling for oil or monocultures like soy or wheat.

Conserving these lands will help to keep the old growth forests that have already done so much in sequestering tons of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Developing these lands would most definitely be a major blow to climate change for the worse.

And on a positive note, if these lands are protected, then there’s a chance that these public lands could be transformed into public parks, to be enjoyed by generations of people and woodland animals to come. Sequestering carbon dioxide and building new places to enjoy the outdoors seems like a win win. The Sierra Club has a lot of projects that they are working on. So if this one sparks your interest, head on over to their site and check out what they are working on.

The Nature Conservancy

This organization is dedicated to protecting our lands and waters from being developed. One of the ways they are doing this is by carbon markets. Essentially, carbon markets work by paying a landowner who may have had plans to clear cut a section of their land for a use that would be detrimental to the environment, to keep the trees on the land intact. This way, the land is protected against being developed and the carbon remains sequestered.

They are also engaged in helping to keep the biodiversity of our planet from collapsing by way of species extinction. By protecting the habitats that these species live in, they are working towards keeping the safety of these species ensured. So saving the land and habitats of plants and animals will help to ensure their survival and hopefully they will thrive far into the future.

Rainforest Action Network

This organization also helps to conserve land but by focusing on the companies that are profiting off of the destruction of the environment. One of their initiatives is to call for a stop to the burning of the rainforest to grow food crops to be sold at market.

Farmers in the Amazonian Rainforest have been burning large parcels of land to produce foods for the Agricultural industry for a long time. The downside to this, asides from the carbon being released into the atmosphere, is that the land is not very fertile, and the destruction of the forest is taking away what has been called the lungs of the planet from scrubbing the air we breathe. If companies like this aren’t stopped, the consequences could be dire.

It’s Not too Late

You can still get involved and help to do your part. These organizations have places on their sites where you can lend a hand. Maybe donating money is more your speed, or maybe you want to march in the next protest that aligns with your worldview. Whatever your motivation or prefered method, make sure you get out there and make a difference. There’s a lot of work to be done. And there’s no better time like the present to help. The planet needs our help. Be the change you want to see in the world. Peace, and thanks for reading : )

Greater Good Magazine

US News

WBUR

The Nature Conservancy

Healing Forest

Image Credits: “Forest” by CECAR – Climate and Ecosystems Change Adaptation R is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Environmental Self-Audit: Assessing How Green Your Habits Are

I’ve been posting a lot about emotional topics lately so I thought this one would be a little less heavy. I’ve been wanting to do a home audit, something that’s been in that back of my mind for a while, so I thought I’d check them out and let you guys know what I came up with.

The first thing I realized is, there is not a lot of people in this field, doing this work. The first search yielded results mostly from Canada, and a company from Illinois. This makes me a little sad, knowing there aren’t more people out there doing this type of work. With environmental concerns only getting more acute, it seems as though there should be a glut of these types of companies and places to get this type of work done.

Though this just isn’t the case. The sites I had looked at mostly focused on the energy that is being used in the “house envelope”. This basically means that any system that is working in your house, the plumbing, electrical, HVAC systems, that are all working in conjunction with one another and in a closed space. Like an envelope. So an audit basically adds up to an assessment of how efficiently these systems are working.

I’m not sure how well a self audit would work for assessing the workings of more technical systems, like HVAC, but for habits you keep in your day to day household upkeep, you can easily see if things could use a change for the greener. So in this post I’ll be looking at some ways and habits we can keep to make our lives a little greener.

Some Green Habits

When it comes to thinking and acting a little greener, there are a few areas we can focus on. Anything from systems in the home to personal perspectives we hold that we can shift. These are among a few things we can all be doing to help keep things running a little more environmentally friendly. I’ll go through some ideas and habits I’ve been keeping in this post, and maybe help r inspire you to keep your home as green as possible : )

Composting

Composting is a great way to help keep food waste out of landfills or incinerators and in the food cycle. Even if you don’t have a garden, composting is still an option. Even if you’re living in a city, or a place without land. Let me go over the ways to compost, and how you can get involved.

One way to compost, if you have the space and a garden to use it is, a bin composting system. With this system, you can purchase a bin, or convert a container such as an old plastic garbage bin, into a composter. In these systems, there needs to be air circulation, water and an absence of light to let the bacteria grow and convert food waste into useable soil. You can also use a three bin system, where you place the beginnings of your compost in the first bin and move it to the second halfway to promote quicker growth. Finally the third bin is for the finished compost, to be used in your garden.

If you don’t have land or use for compost, there are companies out there picking up people’s food waste to compost it for commercial uses. The company that’s local to my area is Black Earth Composting. They pick up your food waste in a small container they give to you, much like a tiny garbage can, for a small fee. You can then get a voucher for compost from a local nursery, or donate it to one of the projects they are working with.

Where’s the Meat?

Go vegan! Or maybe eat less meat? This graph from “Climate Central” shows not only how many more resources are used by the production of livestock for consumption, but also the amount of greenhouse gasses that are produced by them. Eating less meat is one way to make a dent in your personal carbon footprint.

If you’re not ready to make the plunge into going completely meatless, maybe think about eating less meat during the course of your week. Try adding a meatless Monday to your week. Every little bit helps, and if you are looking for some inspiration, head over to my Community page where you’ll find a link to The Minimalist Baker’s website. There, Dana has loads of tasty, mostly meat free recipes where you will surely find something suited to your taste.

Be a Man by Challenging Tradition

In this article, The Good Trade explains the link between our traditional views of what it means to be a man, and how they run counter to the ideas of what it means to be an activist for the planet. They explain how certain types of socially created norms can seem unrelated to the current climate crisis, but may share a connection. This is called intersectional environmentalism, and one of the examples is toxic masculinity.

The idea is, at its most basic level, that caring for the environment is seen as feminine, and therefore rejected by those who value the tenets of toxic masculinity. Among them being dominance and competitiveness. Caring for the environment and “environmental stewardship is nurturing and cooperative. It’s inherently at odds with internalized, problematic perceptions of masculinity and feminine” writes Zach Thomas of The Good Trade.

This makes a lot of sense to me. As a product of the 80’s, My young mind was molded to the shape of, real men take what they want, use violence to get it, and anything that was seen as feminine in a man was considered “gay”. It took me a long time to come to terms with these harmful lessons that were handed down to me. And it wasn’t my caregivers fault, they were trapped in the same type of narrow thinking that had been perpetuated by society at large.

And though I recognize that it wasn’t their faults entirely, I will say that they could have come to terms with how they felt about the type of violence they were perpetuating. Forming their own ideas and opinions of what was happening around them, based on the information they were receiving. But instead they chose to take the path more traveled and pigeon hole people into certain categories, creating a great deal of suffering along the way.

This takes a whole lot of willpower, to break the binds of what we’ve been taught that may be harmful to ourselves, others and the environment. But it’s possible. Never give up hope and always question whether what you’re thinking and how you’re feeling may have been shaped by those around you growing up.

Carry a Water Bottle

This one is especially pointed. I’m not sure where the need to keep bottled water on hand came from. This article from The World Counts suggests that it comes from a fear of drinking contaminated tap water. I’m not sure where this fear first took root, but another concerning fact in the article says that, “An estimate 1,500 plastic bottles end up as waste in landfills or thrown in the ocean every second”.

This was a shock to learn for sure. But all the more reason to take action. If you drink water, or plan on doing so (which you def should, it’s great for your health in so many ways), carry a water bottle. I don’t believe I’ve ever been in a place or situation, where I was in civilization, where it was unsafe to drink the tap water.

There are also chemicals that can leach into the water you’re drinking, from disposable plastic bottles, that can be hazardous to your health. If you’re looking for an alternative, I like Hydro Flask for their design and ability to keep their contents hot or cold for a longer time than conventional bottles. They’re also made of metal, steele. So you’re bypassing most plastic when you’re filling up your bottle.

Take Public Transportation or Walk/Ride a Bike

With so many cars on the road, this one should be a no brainer. I’m not suggesting that you sell your car. Only to take a closer look at your driving patterns. Where are you going? What are the nature of the trips you’re taking? Is there another way to get to where you need to be?

For me this is an easy one. I work at a place that is a nine minute walk from where I live. It’s also on a public transportation route. So if I needed to, I could take the bus instead. Where are your destinations? Do you work or go to school in an area that has a robust transit system? Maybe instead of taking your own vehicle, you could share a ride with thousands of others, and do your part to lower the creation of the greenhouse gasses that come with burning fossil fuels.

These commutes can be ideal times to catch up on your favorite podcasts or reading. Writing if that’s something you’re in the habit of, or meditating, as I did on my way into work when I worked in the city. Also, this isn’t a call to get rid of your car, only to utilize it with more care.

For example, if you have children you may need to drop them off at school in the mornings, or pick them up in the afternoon. Also, grocery shopping can be difficult if you don’t have a way to bring your groceries home at the end of your shopping trip. You’ll need to rely on your car for certain things, just not for everything.

I don’t have a car, and still manage to get all the things done on my list. I walk to work or when I worked further away, I took public transit which was very reliable. When I go grocery shopping, I take public transit to the store, and take a Lyft home. Of course, I only need to take care of myself. If I had a family that relied on me, I would most likely find another way to provide for them. This is where a car would come in handy. But what I’m suggesting is, to think of different ways to get your needs met when it comes to transportation.

If you live close to a commuter rail station, or subway or bus stop, consider taking them to your workplace instead of driving. Or maybe carpooling with a co-worker who lives close to you. This will help you to save on gas, while using a service that is already running or share a ride with someone who is going your way. Reducing your carbon footprint even further. Do you live close enough to walk or ride a bike? Consider these carbon neutral ways of greening your commute time.

Donate Time or Resources

Are you an avid hiker? Do you use the beach frequently? These are great hobbies to cultivate and ways to relax and destress. But there won’t be many places that are left pristine for our enjoyment the way things are headed now. What to do about it? Find a place to volunteer or donate to that are in line with your interests.

If you enjoy going to the beach, why not join an organization that is cleaning the surf at your favorite place. Can’t find one? Start one. Organize your friends and family, maybe some coworkers. Throw a party on the beach you’re cleaning, but spend some time first cleaning the beach. Then you can all enjoy the the fruits of your labor while cooking out together.

The same idea can work for a particular park or reservation you enjoy hiking. In both cases, it may be best to get intouch with those who are incharge of the maintenance of the place you plan on cleaning. There may be efforts already taken in that direction. Then you could invite people and go instead of organizing something new.

And if you’re short on time but have resources to donate, try finding an organization or charity that is in line with the type of activities and activism you enjoy doing. I’ve donated to 4Ocean, and the Appalachian Mountain Club in the past. If you’re looking for ideas on where to donate time or resources, this post from The Good Trade has a bunch of ideas on where to get started. Also, check your local community. Maybe on social media, or your city or town’s website. There could be something happening already, locally that you can get involved with, taking some of the pressure off of you to organize.

Get Involved

As an old co-worker of mine used to say, “it’s no easy”, and as another co-worker used to say,”that’s how it be sometimes.” I quote these people, not to make light of the situation we’ve found ourselves in, but to bring a shared sense of struggle and hope. We’re not in this alone. It’s good to remember those who have helped us along the way. The people who have lifted our spirits when we felt totally overwhelmed by a situation. Or those who have given us the wisdom to help get us through to the next project or path when we feel depleted. But there’s still work to be done.

I’ll be looking into green, house assessments in the future and if you have any insights I’d love to hear about them in the comments section below. But for right now, there is loads of work that needs to be done. Find something that sparks your interest and get involved in some way. Even if it’s something small to start, at least it’s a start. You’ll feel better about being part of the solution, but also connect with like minded people along the way, maybe making some new friends to boot. So get out there and lend a hand. You’ll be glad you did. Peace : ) and thanks for reading.

Image Credits: “A poem behind my green living room…!!! Un poème derrière mon salon vert…!!!” by Denis Collette…!!! is licensed under

      CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
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