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.
From time to time I play a thought experiment that involves reflecting on what it took to arrive at a certain moment in time in my life—the people, circumstances, choices, and opportunities that led to my doing something as routine as commuting to work or sending a text to a friend. Perhaps I owe this way of thinking to Carl Sagan’s comment, “If you wish to make an apple pie from scratch, you must first invent the universe.”
I found myself engaging in this experiment while walking among the crowds that had gathered in lower Manhattan on Friday, September 20 to bring attention to climate change. What has it taken for us to arrive at this point?
With a nod to Sagan, first we needed a universe--a Big Bang, and the creation of Earth 4.5 billion years ago. Fast forward to the appearance of Homo Sapiens 300,000 years ago, and in time the emergence of new technologies, from the use of fibers to make baskets, clothing, and bags 26,000 years ago, to pottery for food storage and cooking 20,000 years ago. The first city, Jericho, emerges 11,000 year ago. Cattle are first domesticated 10,500 years ago, and the first depiction of a wheeled vehicle appears 5,500 years ago.
Fast forward again to the industrial revolution, 250 years ago, and the rise of machine tools and manufacturing, chemical and metal production, factories, and steam and water power, which led to unprecedented population growth. It took over 200,000 years for the human population to reach 1 billion, and 100 years for it to reach over 7 billion, leading to increased urbanization and a growing appetite for ever more natural resources.
Metals, ores, petroleum--refined, purified, rarified, smelted, condensed for our use. Plants and animals cultivated and bred for our consumption. Land devoured for our agricultural needs, roads, and sprawling mega-cities. Styrofoam and other throw-away plastic containers replace bags and baskets made from woven leaves or strips of carefully selected and tended wood. Cars and planes replace travel on foot or horseback, and even in many regions by train. Our reliance on petroleum, derived from ancient decayed plants and all the carbon they harvested, now releases that same carbon into the air.
So how did we arrive at a moment when thousands of children all over the world would be protesting inaction against climate change? There are infinite strands that lead us to this point, and I have provides the lightest of sketches here. The bigger question is, "What will it take to change the course of this ever accelerating and alarming trajectory?"
This past weekend I had the privilege of guiding a forest therapy walk in collaboration with my friend and fellow guide Linda on behalf of Natural Areas Conservancy. The walk took place in Alley Pond Park in Queens. Alley Pond Park is the most ecologically diverse New York City Park. It includes salt marshes along Little Neck Bay to the north and forested areas to the south along Union Turnpike and contains the oldest living creature in New York City, the Queens Giant, a 350 year old tulip tree. The walk had a great turnout, including an appearance by local Council Member Barry S. Grodenchik, an advocate for local parks, a reminder that it takes a village to support our parks.
There are few organizations working harder or more comprehensively to support our local parks than Natural Areas Conservancy, “a champion of NYC’s 20,000 acres of forests and wetlands for the benefit and enjoyment of all. [NAC’s] team of scientists and experts promote nature’s diversity and resilience across the five boroughs, working in close partnership with the City of New York.”
What does it take to champion New York City’s Parks? With 20,000+ acres of natural areas, including more than 10,000 acres within NYC Parks (equating to half the size of Manhattan), there is much to do. Here are examples of just some of NAC’s work:
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.