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In 2019, planting trees around the world became a popular trend on social media. YouTube stars Mr. Beast, Mark Rober, and more joined the campaign, #TeamTreesProject, to plant 20 million trees. While it was great to see trees trending online, environmental justice and tree equity should not be a transient fad. Trees not only provide shady nooks to relax under. They also protect public health, slow climate change and reduce energy demand. We partnered with American Forests - the oldest national nonprofit conservation organization in the United States - to plant a tree for every product sold. We support American Forests’ mission to explore trees' impact on local communities and how we all - yes, you too! - can get involved in education, conversation and action for equal access to the benefits that come from these powerful plants.
In the early 1990s, environmental justice became a part of the Presidential platform. Former President Bill Clinton signed Executive Order 12898 to focus federal attention on the environmental and human health effects of federal actions on minority and low-income populations. This came after years of campaigning by individuals like Dr. Robert Bullard who is recognized as the “Father of Environment Justice.” He and other climate trailblazers shined a light on the inequity of environmental protection in their communities and fearlessly campaigned for change well before global warming became a national movement. Unfortunately, environmental protection for all communities is still disproportionate throughout the United States, as most blatantly seen with the City of Flint’s water crisis. One example of this environmental gap is illustrated by trees. As American Forests reveals, trees are often sparse in socioeconomically underserved neighborhoods. The nonprofit has been paving the way in achieving Tree Equity to close this divide between communities.
You’re probably wondering - what exactly does Tree Equity mean? A phrase coined by American Forests, Tree Equity is the fight for equitable tree coverage in all cities regardless of race, color, national origin or income. Howard Center for Investigative Journalism found that Baltimore’s high-income neighborhood of Roland Park is two-thirds covered in canopy while the lower-income Broadway East has only 10% tree coverage. This lack of trees is detrimentally impacting the health of the people living in poor urban neighborhoods. First, trees are key to fighting the urban heat island effect, which is the “creation” of islands of higher temperatures relative to outlying areas due to the lack of trees. Since most disadvantaged neighborhoods have so few trees, they are hotter than their wealthier counterparts. In San Diego’s Paradise Hills, which has 91% minority homeowners, the residents see temperatures 38 degrees Fahrenheit above the city average. In return, these communities are experiencing a health crisis that is worsening at an alarming rate. Heat kills more Americans than all other natural disasters combined and with limited access to air conditioning, low-income families are struggling to cope. Heat-related illnesses like asthma and pregnancy difficulties are on the rise in these areas, and the situation is exacerbated by the fact that fewer trees also leads to increased carbon dioxide emissions that reduce the overall air quality.
To combat this disparity, you can petition your local city representatives to work with American Forests on calculating the city’s Tree Equity Score, which is an rigorous evaluation created by the nonprofit to identify where trees need to be planted in your community. On the federal front, petition Congressional leaders to support the REPLANT Act, which would fund the United States Forest Service’s planting of more than 1.2 billion trees over the next decade. You can also be an ally of this movement by simply planting a few trees on your property.
Everyone should have equal access to trees. Trees have such a positive impact on communities from reducing climate change, lowering temperatures and creating shady places for kids to play. Saving and incorporating trees into cities should not be an afterthought, but rather the first consideration. As the world continues to get hotter, this will become even more of an issue, so it’s imperative that people finally give back to the trees who have already given us so much.