Trees Role in the Environment

by blackspanielgallery

Trees can impact the environment, and in a positive way. Planting trees and preserving those that are already there can be a start at reversing global warming.

Now that most people agree that the Earth is warming, the question has shifted to what can be done to reverse the process. But many people do not realize that trees can impact the climate, and in a positive way. In fact, trees have multiple ways to affect our climate. The one of most interest is the slowing of global warming. And, as polar caps melt with the sea level rise associated with the event, trees offer one way anyone can make a positive impact. I am referring to a reduction of global warming and making the situation better, not just not making things worse.

The Way the Energy from the Sun Works

Greenhouse effect

The energy from the sun that is absorbed by the Earth is shared molecule to molecule.  So, light energy which is not heat is converted to molecular movement, which is heat.  The earth normally would emit this energy back to space as inferred rays, and cool back down.  But, some gases in the atmosphere absorb the inferred rays, and prevent the energy from leaving the earth, thus building up a hotter planet.


Trees Remove a Greenhouse Gas

Carbon Dioxide Reduction

Trees take in carbon dioxide, use the carbon to build the tree, and give back the oxygen.  The reduction of carbon dioxide reduces one significant greenhouse gas from the atmosphere, thus making the situation better.  In fact, as carbon dioxide levels go up trees may take in more carbon, and in the process eliminate carbon dioxide from the atmosphere at a greater rate.


The Albedo of the Earth

Reflecting Sunlight

The albedo of the Earth is its ability to reflect light.  Fresh snow reflects most of the incoming light, so the Earth does not heat as much when there is a fresh snow cover.  Bare ground absorbs much of the incoming energy, and green trees operate at a reflectivity in between.  So, trees can reflect quite a bit of light back to space before it is converted to heat.

Water Vapor

A Short Term Gas

Water vapor is the tricky part.  Trees take moisture from the ground, and give it back out through the leaves.  But, water vapor is itself a greenhouse gas.  Fortunately, this effect is not as great as the carbon dioxide removal.  Also, the water is then available to condense into clouds, which reflect light before it reaches the ground.  So, water has both a positive and a native effect on global warming, although more transient than carbon dioxide does.

Types of Trees

Trees are grouped in two types, deciduous and evergreen.  Deciduous trees lose their leaves during the winter, while evergreen trees remain green year round.


Choosing a Tree

Another positive impact of a tree is to shade homes, which reduces air conditioning in the summer.  But, allowing sunlight to heat the home in the winter may be important.  Deciduous trees allow sunlight to be blocked in the summer, and pass in the winter.  So, a tree on the side of a home that gets the sun might be best if a deciduous tree is chosen, whereas a tree opposite the sunlit side might be better as an evergreen.  


In the tropics land is often cleared completely to get to certain trees for lumber.  The problem is in the jungle the canopy of leaves is so thick that nether sunlight nor rain fall to the jungle floor.  Once cleared the organic material that has been layering on the floor is subjected to sunlight and rain, and increases in decomposition.  Decomposition releases greenhouse gases to the atmosphere.


Also associated with deforestation is that the albedo of the Earth changes, and the result is less reflected sunlight.  More sunlight is absorbed by the cleared ground.


Still another problem is the unwanted trees and other plants are usually burned, converting the carbon the trees have taken from the atmosphere over years of growth, and releasing it in a short period as carbon dioxide.


Solar Panels

Where Sunlight Is Needed

If shading your home with trees, do not interfere with the solar panels if you have them.  This means you may have to use shorter trees on the sunlit side of your home.  Even if you plan future solar panels, take that into consideration when selecting trees.

Updated: 08/02/2015, blackspanielgallery
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MBC on 08/25/2015

Yes, trees are key! We are killing the Amazon and so many trees need to be planted now!

frankbeswick on 08/21/2015

I expect to soon be a member of a committee covering Trafford allotments, and your community's project has given me an idea for taking forward the production of food in our borough. We are short of land, but there could be something done to produce community orchards.

blackspanielgallery on 08/20/2015

Your community is indeed wise. Not only have you trees, but in allowing picked fruit you have avoided packaging, another plus both for the landfill and often as a reduction of plastic wrap, which requires oil. Once multiple benefits occur it is difficult to fine problems that offset all of the good. And I bet the fruit is neither waxed to look better not have chemicals, thus avoiding chemicals in the diet.

Veronica on 08/20/2015

Our local council has been planting trees but as Community Orchards where the community can go along and pick the fruit when it is in season and all FREE. This has a positive effect on climate but also provides healthy fruit for us free of charge. The orchard closest to us has Apple trees, Damson, trees, Plum trees, Pear trees , Cherry trees and wild blackberries. Today we went down and picked 1lb of blackberries and 3 apples.

blackspanielgallery on 08/20/2015

Indeed, we must respond in some manner.

sheilamarie on 08/20/2015

These issues are indeed more complicated than we think. We all need to do what we can, but even with our best efforts, we cannot "reverse" global warming. We have gone too far to do that. What we can do is lessen its impact on our small part of the world, realizing that changes in temperature may undo even the little positive things we try. But try we must.
As far as lawns go, they are a poor use of resources. There are some ground covers that may grow in some places. I know people who plant vegetable gardens where there used to be lawns. Vegetables require some water, though, but we can at least eat the results.

blackspanielgallery on 08/07/2015

Thanks again for your meaningful insight.

frankbeswick on 08/07/2015

That is short sighted, for they should realize that climate is changing. Here in Britain we realize that climate change is altering weather patterns. Northern and western regions are ending to suffer more winter storms, some severe, while the more southern and Eastern regions are have drier summers. The National Trust, which is the custodian of the nation's cultural heritage, is having to do some serious thinking about how far it will be able to save the lawns in some of the great country houses that it preserves. They were made in an age when there was sufficient rain, but in certain areas of this island sufficient summer rain cannot be relied on in future, and as lawns are water intensive, and changes might have to be made.

Shallow rooted trees, such as beech, may suffer in drier areas as their roots do not reach deep enough for the deeper ground water.

blackspanielgallery on 08/07/2015

In California they are just letting the lawns die, and bare earth is the replacement. Green grass is more reflective than brown earth. Images on television of those not complying show green amidst brown bare earth. Colored stone would be better, but apparently people are takin the position the several year long drought is temporary.

frankbeswick on 08/07/2015

An interesting point about reflectivity and lawns. Why is a lawn more reflective than what is replacing it? Would this be so in every case or in just some cases? I ask this because there is ecological pressure in South East England to replace lawns with other forms of garden. Some people are going for stone surfaces, but others want drought resistant plants. Certainly Mediterranean gardens do not have lawns, because of the dry conditions in the Mediterranean.

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