Climate experts say this series of “World’s Hottest Days” is likely to get another iteration soon, especially as countries around the world continue to experience record-breaking temperatures. The Southwestern U.S., Northern Mexico, parts of Europe, India, and China. Millions of people, all stuck beneath a thick layer of burdensome heat.
These heat waves—which feel more enduring than temporary—can be deadly. The Centers for Disease Control estimates about 700 people in the U.S. are killed by extreme heat every year. Globally, researchers believe the number of heat-related casualties has climbed past 356,000.
Acting as nature’s air conditioner, a tree can help reduce temperatures by up to 10 degrees Fahrenheit. That seemingly incremental amount can make an enormous difference in the context of human health.
Trees can help reduce the risk of heat-related illness and, in some cases, save lives.
This is especially true in our world’s cities. The large concentrations of pavement and buildings absorb heat, forming what’s known as an urban heat island. Trees can help break through these bubbles of high temperatures by shading the ground and lowering surface temperatures.
Extreme heat also creates other health risks. Inordinately high temperatures diminish air quality and increase ground-level ozone and particulate pollution. Exposure to those conditions can worsen chronic heart and respiratory health issues. The correlation has been repeatedly observed within communities of color and low-income neighborhoods where people are disproportionately exposed to extreme heat and poor air quality. But trees have the power to mitigate these effects. In one study, researchers found children in areas with higher tree density experienced a lower prevalence of childhood asthma.
While El Niño is certainly playing a major role in the extreme heat of this summer, experts say climate change is undoubtedly a factor. Our world is warming up dangerously fast. It’s an unfortunate reality, but it’s not unalterable. The stakes are high. This moment should not be met with inaction. We can help cool off our world’s hot spots.
Trees can be humanity’s shield against grueling heat and the effects of climate change.
Thriving forests in both urban and rural settings help establish a living barrier, designed to keep us safe. It lifts not only the burden of the heat but the burden of worry for the future. Hope is woven in the roots of trees. By planting and caring for them, we can breathe cleaner air. We can foster healthier homes and save lives in every corner of the planet.