Read the full story in the New Yorker.
Critics of President Biden’s Build Back Better Act have singled out for mockery two words in the two-thousand-plus-page, roughly two-trillion-dollar legislation. Seizing on the words “tree equity,” FreedomWorks, a conservative advocacy group, told its more than four million Facebook followers, “The Democrats want YOU American Taxpayers to shell out $3 BILLION for ‘non-racist’ trees.” House Republican Whip Steve Scalise tweeted, “Dems’ far-left spending bill exposed: $2.5 BILLION of American taxpayer money for ‘tree equity.’ RT so everyone sees! Don’t let them get away with sneaking this through.” Even the Times, ignoring its earlier reporting, didn’t seem to take the issue seriously, running the headline, complete with scare quotes, “From Electric Bikes to ‘Tree Equity,’ Biden’s Social Policy Bill Funds Niche Items.” The story characterized funding for the initiative as one among dozens of “obscure measures and special interest breaks.”
Although the term “tree equity” is far from “yes, we can” in terms of effective political rhetoric, it is a reference to research showing that more tree canopy can save lives. This summer, when a once-in-a-millennium heat wave enveloped the Pacific Northwest, shattering high-temperature records and ending hundreds of lives, people in neighborhoods with scant tree cover suffered the most. Five of the at least sixty-two people who died of hyperthermia in the Portland metro area, for instance, lived in the lower-income Lents neighborhood, where in some areas trees shade just ten per cent of the surface—compared with Marquam Hill, where trees shade more than sixty per cent of the surface and no one died.