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Trees — and urban trees in particular — provide enormous benefits. For starters, they’re responsible for producing oxygen and removing CO2 and other pollutants from the air. Urban forests in the U.S. remove an estimated 75,000 tons of air pollution per year. They reduce the impact of falling rain and encourage that water to soak into the ground, reducing flooding and erosion as well as preventing pollution from entering waterways. And the shade they provide isn’t just good for picnics; trees absorb heat and release water vapor that cools the surrounding air. The U.S. Forest Service estimates that trees reduce the energy consumption needed to cool homes in the U.S. by more than 7 percent.
To find out just how much one tree can do, you can even estimate the value of the benefits of a specific tree near you using a calculator developed by a collaboration of tree experts and nonprofits.
The trouble is that these benefits are not equitably distributed. “Nationally, there’s a trend for trees to follow wealth,” said Leslie Berckes, director of programs for Trees Forever, a nonprofit environmental group that works with communities across Iowa and Illinois to plant and care for trees. She said wealthier communities tend to have more trees for a variety of reasons, including racist housing practices. “Redlining left a lot of scars on communities, one of those being less green space, less tree cover,” Berckes said.