Natural Areas Conservancy, a New York-based organization that works across the city to restore the city’s natural areas and to help New Yorkers discover the natural areas in their neighborhoods, recently hosted a symposium on “Forests in Cities: Nature-Based Climate Solutions”.
A range of speakers, leaders from academia, non-profit organizations, and government, discussed the important yet undervalued ways of urban natural areas addressing climate change in cities is significant but has been traditionally undervalued. Discussed the following topics:
Among the key points raised were that more than 100 cities in the United States are managing forests, and 1.7 million acres in urban areas are natural areas, more than twice the acreage of Yosemite National Park. These areas play a critical role in climate change mitigation, including by sequestering carbon, cooling temperatures, and mitigating flooding and storm runoff. The carbon sequestered by trees in urban areas is the equivalent of the emissions of 500,000 cars per year. Essentially, they area an enormous carbon sink.
The power of nature of provide climate solutions raises the question of how we will organize ourselves to leverage these benefits. Eighty-two percent of U.S. citizens live in cities. There is a need to mobilize around the issue of nature-based climate solutions. Yet, it can be challenging for people to care about nature if they have not experienced it. Thus, part of the change in the way we embrace nature as offering solutions needs to come from a change in people's relationship with nature.
Natural Areas Conservancy has been a leader in restoring New York City's green areas and connecting urbanites with local natural areas and has been a significant voice supporting policies that benefit urban natural areas. One such initiative is the Climate Stewardship Act, which was introduced into Congress in September, 2019. If passed, the Act will fund the planting of 4.1 billion trees by 2030 and 16 billion trees by 2050. The trees would cover nearly 64 million acres and would capture more that two years of the U.S.'s greenhouse emissions, 13 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide, by the century's end. Four hundred million of these trees would be planted in urban areas, resulting in a cooling effect in the event of heatwaves and, in turn, a reduction in energy usage associated with air conditioning.
Nature is at risk because of climate change--a nature offers solutions.
Dr. Yoshifumi Miyazaki spoke yesterday at the Japan Society, describing his findings about seeking wellness through nature. Miyazaki coined the term “forest therapy” in 2003 as a way to convey the essence of the Japanese term “shinrin-yoku” (forest bathing).
Miyazaki is generally considered the father of Forest Therapy. His key insight is that the human body is made for nature. Humans evolved over a 6-7 million year period; the time since the Industrial Revolution—that is, the introduction of the urban world—represents just .01% of that time span. Urbanization has led to overwork for our brains and bodies; nature offers a return to a calming normal state.
Miyazaki has supported this finding with abundant, seminal research, both in laboratory and field experiments. In one lab study, the presence of merely a bouquet of roses on a desk resulted in a calming effect on the brain’s prefrontal cortex activity. A similar effect resulted from the scent of air-dried wood chips. Similarly, a calming effect was identifiable when a subject viewed an image of forest scenery versus city scenery and when a subject’s hand ran over uncoated wood versus wood featuring urethane and other finishes.
Field experiments produced similar results. Parasympathetic nervous activity, which helps with relaxation and slows the heart rate, increases in forests, both from 15 minutes of viewing a forested area versus an urban area and from 15 minutes walking in a forested area versus an urban area. Likewise, the stress hormones Cortisol and Adrenaline decrease when humans view or walk in forested settings. Notably, these measures, as well as blood pressure and pulse rates, remain reduced for several days following a few hours in a forested area.
Miyazaki also reported on his studies of the impact of nature therapy for depressed and highly stressed people. There too, even a Bonsai tree or bouquet of flowers sitting on a desk had a favorable impact. The favorable impact was felt by healthy people (with a 15% improvement in parasympathetic nervous activity); however, in highly stressed people the improvement was nearly 100%.
Miyazaki's findings are a reminder that the benefits of Forest Therapy are available to almost everyone. While access to a park or garden, or of course a rural setting, is desirable, his research shows that significant improvements in physiological relaxation are achievable even with the presence of essential oils, recordings of natural sounds, natural wood products, and flowers and other house plants.
Interested in learning more about Dr. Miyazaki's findings and recommendations? Check out his book, The Japanese Art of Forest Bathing.
About this Blog
Hi! I'm Nancy Kopans, founder of Urban Edge Forest Therapy. Join me on an adventure to discover creative ways to connect with nature in your daily life, ways that are inspired by urban surroundings that can reveal unexpected beauty, with the potential to ignite a sense of wonder.