Our Urban World: ACTrees’ Nationwide Quest for a Healthier Future

Almost 80% of people in the United States live in cities and metropolitan areas. Our air and water systems, our wildlife, and our bodies depend upon the benefits that urban trees and plants provide. Cities across the U.S. and around the world have begun to create and maintain urban green spaces – New York City, for example, is famous for their dedication to preserving a natural, lush park in the heart of the city.

Air in urban areas becomes artificially warm due to excessive concentrations of paved surface, reflective surface, and population. This "heat island effect" can generate temperatures 2 to 10 degrees higher than more rural areas. Among other benefits, large parks like Central Park help to moderate artificially high temperatures from the "urban heat island" effect through shading and evapotranspiration.

Under NYC's Central Park canopy, temperatures can run about
13 degrees cooler than the rest of the city's air
One activist, through the power of Photoshop, asks us to imagine a New York in which all of the trees and leafy plants in Central Park suddenly disappear, and it is an awful sight.

Although it is impossible to predict exactly how hot NYC would become without its largest city park, it is estimated that large parks or tracts of urban trees can cool daytime summer temperatures by 10-12 degrees. Thus, we can assume that New York would be a much warmer city without Central Park's canopy.

Without our dedication to preserving existing green spaces in urban areas and creating new lush, leafy environments locally – in our towns and cities – the urban world that many of us call home would look (and feel) entirely different.

Without the cooling effect of Central Park's greenery, the city would be 
an estimated 10-12 degrees hotter year round
Planting and maintaining trees over time improves air and water quality and provides shade, beauty, health and general wellbeing for cities and towns. Click HERE for a list of other benefits of planting trees in our communities. Many individuals, groups, and organizations have dedicated themselves to the cause, and you can help!

Alliance for Community Trees (ACTrees) is a nonprofit organization “dedicated to improving health and livability of cities by planting and caring for trees.” They support tree planting in communities across the United States through their program, “Plant Our Future,”engaging a national network of local organizations and connecting with private partners. They believe that planting a tree today can create a greener, cleaner, and healthier tomorrow, and they provide opportunities nationwide for people to engage and make a difference.

Volunteers celebrating after planting a tree together
ACTrees provides a number of resources and opportunities to get involved in your local community and make a difference in a way that makes sense to you. Donate or volunteer in your local city or town, take action and support a local organization, or if you’re already working toward creating a greener, healthier world, connect with other like-minded individuals and organizations through one of ACTrees’ training events and conferences.

ACTrees are dedicated to making sure that everyone has an opportunity to take part in creating healthier, greener communities across the United States. You can help make a difference. It may take all of us to truly change the world, but it only takes a pair of hands and a kind heart to plant a tree.

Here are a few links to get started.

About ACTrees: http://actrees.org/about-us/
Resources: http://actrees.org/resources/
Donate: http://actrees.org/donate/plant-a-tree/
Sponsor an event: http://actrees.org/donate/sponsor-an-event/

Restoring the Earth's Environment

It’s crazy to think of the impact humans have had on our Earth.  Along with natural climate change, human use of fossil fuels, and cutting down forests the earth is in trouble. Over the past few decades the Earth has seen the warmest temperatures in its history.  PeaceJam is an organization that has taken notice of these alarming numbers and is trying to slow it down. 

PeaceJam’s goal is to educate the public on the seriousness of global warming by inspiring others and getting them to act.  One way this is done is by restoring the Earth’s environment. According to PeaceJam, “It is not too late to do something about global warming, if the world will act now. We must change our individual behaviors and the behavior of society at large. We must demand the development of new sources of energy and a giant reduction or even a complete end to the use of fossil fuels.” 

Once the Earth’s environment is destroyed there is no turning back. Restoring the environment does not need to be such a difficult task.  If we work together at all levels we can start to make the change that ensure the Earth’s sustainability.  

If you would like to learn more about PeaceJam and their goals about restoring the environment, check out their webpage at www.peacejam.org. With your help we can help our global environment one tree at a time.

Portland, Oregon: Green Building Practices Mandatory as of April, 2015

Portland—an urban leader in sustainability practices—passed policy on April 22 of this year mandating that buildings over 20,000 square feet track energy and carbon emission practices. The Portland City Council unanimously voted to implement this system, which will drastically reduce the city's carbon footprint and energy spending—and on Earth Day, no less! So, who will be required to submit energy use, how will this energy use be tracked, and what will this new policy mean for the sustainability efforts of Portland and other urban areas around the world?

What building types are covered?
Covered buildings include commercial offices, retail spaces, grocery stores, health care and higher education institutions and hotels.  Residential, parking structures, places of worship, primary and secondary education, warehouse and industrial buildings are not included.
Timeline for reporting energy performance
Reporting requirements begin: 
  • IN 2016 > for commercial buildings over 50,000 square feet
  • IN 2017 > for commercial buildings between 20,000 to 50,000 square feet 

Policy Requirements:
To reduce energy costs and carbon emissions, the City of Portland's new policy requires commercial buildings over 20,000 square feet incorporate the following practices:Portfolio Manager illustration
  • Track energy performance using EPA’s free ENERGY STAR Portfolio Manager tool.
  • Calculate an Energy Use Intensity (energy use per square foot), ENERGY STAR score, and carbon emissions.
  • Report this information to the City of Portland on an annual basis. 

The ENERGY STAR Portfolio Manager is "an online tool you can use to measure and track energy and water consumption, as well as greenhouse gas emissions," (sample charting page pictured above). A three-part training program for building managers, staff, and the general public is available fully online for free, through the City of Portland: Planning and Sustainability website, as are additional green building resources, designed, publications, and videos.

As outlined by a BPS News Release, the new policy will require over 80% of Portland's commercial space (about 1,000 buildings) to track and submit energy use and carbon footprint data. Of the buildings in Portland, only 100 of them had ENERGY STAR certification as of April 22, 2015. This landmark vote represents a drastic shift in Portland's sustainability culture, implementation, and practices.

Mayer of Portland, Charlie Hales, explains the importance of this new sustainability policy: “Portland has set a goal to cut carbon emissions 80 percent by 2050. To reach that goal, we all have a role to play — public and private, at work and at home. Reducing energy use in buildings is a critical part of that picture. Tracking energy use and investing in energy efficiency saves money for the building owners. And for the city as a whole. Last year alone, the city saved $6 million on its own energy bills.” What does the savings mean for Portland? It's not only reducing city spending, it's also reducing the city's environmental impact and contribution to climate change, freeing up opportunities for expanding Portland's sustainability programs.

  • Gives prospective buyers and tenants information to make informed decisions. 
  • Helps building operators track energy use and identify options to improve efficiency.
  • Provides market recognition for the most efficient buildings.
  • Reduces building owners’ energy costs by an average of 2.4 percent per year.
Portland is not alone is making urban building sustainability practices commonplace. According to Bureau of Planning and Sustainability Director Susan Anderson: "This isn't new. It's tried and true — and already has been adopted in 12 other U.S. cities."

  • The energy used to power buildings is the largest source of carbon pollution in Portland.
  • Similar to a MPG rating for a car, the energy performance policy allows potential tenants and owners to have access to important information about building energy performance.
  • Commercial energy reporting policies in 12 other U.S. cities have proven to motivate investment in efficiency improvements that save money and reduce carbon emissions.
What do Portland natives think of environmental sustainability, policy, and climate action? And what do these views contribute to global environmental awareness and implementation?

"I think that one of the things that makes Portland so great is that everybody wants to work together to make the best place for everyone in our community, and this is really a chance where we can have business, individuals, and government all working together."
"We need bold policy. We need bold action."
"It's a combination of the right policies to encourage the right behaviors, but also the right innovations that bring to the foreground the right solutions."
"We do have now practices, habits, and understanding that can lead us to be a global competitor in exactly what the world wants and needs."

Additional resources:

Earthquakes and Eateries

Seismic activity is a common occurrence in the Northwest. More often than not, most earthquakes go unnoticed as they rank low on the Richter-scale. The Richter-scale measures the amplitude (or in simple terms, the range) of seismic wave’s motion. This is how we established the magnitude rating system for earthquakes. In the article below from Michigan Tech, they describe how the different magnitude ratings affect people in an earthquake.

Based off the findings of Michigan Tech, until an earthquake reaches a magnitude 6.0 most people won’t know that anything happened. Now how does all this information apply to us. The last earthquake in the Northwest with greater than a 6.0 magnitude was in Seattle, WA in 2001. With the recent findings compiled excellently in an article by The New Yorker, it shows us that the Northwest is due for a massive earthquake. This earthquake is expected to be in the magnitude 8.0 range which will cause massive destruction and potentially a tsunami that may cause flooding near Portland.

Now, you may be thinking what can I do to prevent myself from being stranded and starving if flooding and destruction of buildings occurs. The best advice is to begin to find local, natural and sustainable alternatives to the products that you use everyday. Whether this is what kind of ketchup you use to the bottled water you get every week, transitioning to local products will greatly reduce the impact of the quake. For the die hards out there that can only have their Himalayan pink salt, it will be gone.

When and if the big quake does hit, it will destroy most bridges and buildings to the West of Interstate 5. This includes a lot of the building in downtown Portland, as most aren’t retrofitted for seismic activity. Most likely, cell phones and internet will be down as well as electricity. If we begin to slowly transition from our normal store bought products to local alternatives, we will both enable ourselves to be sustained when all infrastructure is destroyed, but we will also be supporting our local economy.

We Need Green Alternatives!

With every grain of sand, screw, and particle of silica enabling cities and communities continue to expand their concrete, metal, and glass reach - a proportionate ratio of rich soil, green leaves, and oxygen yielding trees are lost, lost forever.   Although buildings are remodeled and streets redesigned - rarely, if ever, are they replaced by the lush green grass, trees, and naturally flowing water once occupying the same unique place on earth.  The disturbing thing is that in many circles and for many people this expansion is considered progress, and in reality it is.  Take for example the new hospital complex in your community that replaced 100 acres of natural green space – the same hospital that, if not for its existence, could not have given life to your twin boys because of serious complications.  

Few can argue as our population continues to grows, so too does the need for critical services and the exploitation of all possible technology to make our lives healthier, longer, and easier.  However, all too often our unifocal approach to improving our lives lacks acute bifocal perspective.  In other words we are so busy being part of the picture we aren’t seeing the picture.  While ensuring we are talking care of humanity, we are unintentionally failing see the need to care for our planet and atmosphere; and I’m here to say, it is sick and it needs your help.

There are countless initiatives one can embrace; some as simple as tossing a plastic pop bottle into the recycling container instead of the trash – others as complex initiating a worldwide campaign on reversing global warming.  But one thing is certain - if we all stand-by doing nothing - all the medical advancements, technological improvements, and extended life expectancy will mean nothing because earth will ultimately be uninhabitable.  Our society is rich with power irrespective of which socioeconomic class to which one belongs.   This means everyone can help; everyone can make a difference.  All one must do is work to direct and leverage their energy towards realistically achievable goals within their sphere of influence – whether it be in their neighborhood, their entire city, or the entire world.

Below are a three initiatives, the concepts of which can be implemented on any scale; each has multiple facets and components.  I urge you to check them out, and the many other aspects of each which are available via a google search.

Snap a Photo! #Urbantrees_pdx

@urbantrees_pdx | #urbantrees_pdx 

A growing Instagram page is bringing together a community of photographers, businesses, tree & plant lovers, and much more! @urbantrees_pdx is local to Oregon and in collaboration with Portland State University’s Ecomerge Project. Although they have a focus on urban naturalization in Oregon, they hope to inspire participation and to inform their viewing publics about the many benefits of trees and plants. The Instagram platform allows @urbantrees_pdx to reach persons, groups, and communities all over the world. It also allows those very publics to find them, especially as the page continues to grow.

@urbantrees_pdx has created the hash tag #urbantrees_pdx to allow their viewing publics to tag their favorite photos of trees & plants in the urban landscape for a chance to be featured on the page. With so many phones having cameras and instant access to Instagram, it makes it easy for potential followers as well as current followers to snap photos of their surrounding landscapes and to tag their photos with #urbantrees_pdx.

The first step in urban naturalization is becoming informed. @urbantrees_pdx strives to make urban naturalization a fun and interactive process. Tag your photos!

While you are Instagram be sure to check out: @rsa_nature, @Oregonexplored, @pdxavsquad, and @pnwonderland for some awesome nature and adventure full photos. Let us know if you would like more recommendations.

More About Trees & Cities!


As you have seen in an earlier post, trees are an important part of the urban environment. In fact, trees are one reason why the air we breathe is clear, especially in some cities. Imagine yourself going down city streets wondering why the air is so smoggy and bad. Then imagine yourself going down a city street that is mostly crisp and clear air (Now, that could have been because of a nice rain – but rain? In Oregon or better yet the Northwest? Please… when does that happen). You can guess which one likely has more trees.

 One group that is trying to create this change in cities to create better conditions is the American Forests group. This group not only works with forests, but also works in the urban environment to create a better environmentally naturalized city. This nonprofit organization is trying to increase trees in many cities in the United States. Oh, and Oregon lovers, we are on their site! They mentioned that Portland is trying to increase its tree canopy by planting 83,000 trees! Check them out, donate, help out, there are many ways you can get involved to make the cities you live in a better place. 

Environmental Reggae?

Can music and the environment be related in any way? I think so and heres why. Music has a unique ability. It can reach thousands if not millions of people all over the world. SOJA is taking that privilege and running with it.  SOJA is an eight-piece reggae band from Arlington, Virginia. Lead singer Jacob Hemphill was inspired as a young teen by Bob Marley, amazed at his ability to unite people of different races across different continents striving for peace. Hemphill tries to accomplish this with modern issues. One of the biggest growing concerns over the last fifty years is the issue of global warming or climate change. So like Bob did before him, Jacob wrote songs about the issues of the times.
In just the past few years, SOJA has sold over 150,000 albums. This is quite the accomplishment for an independent reggae band in an age of illegal downloaded music. SOJA has one of the most loyal, persistently growing fan bases in modern reggae music. Today SOJA is one of the worlds most successful reggae bands and has been Grammy nominated. SOJA is famous for writing conceptual albums such as their fifth studio album, Strength to Survive. Strength to Survive was SOJA’s first major album to have success outside of the reggae world. What made their success of this album interesting was its content. Strength to Survive is about the current problems of the environment and address what we can do to fix it. Songs like Strength to Survive, Everything Changes, It’s Not Too Late, Gone Today, Not Done Yet, and Don’t Worry have lyrics that strongly urge us to think about what we are doing to the environment. In an interview with Jacob Hemphill, he stated that the earth is in trouble. He goes on to state that we as humans have been progressing backwards, and that we were a lot smarter a couple hundred years ago when we were living in a way that was sustainable.  Now it is all about consumption and not preservation. It is not about longevity; it’s about how much can I get and how quickly can I get it. 
Hemphill has stated on many occasions that he was blessed with a unique gift. “I have the ability to reach thousands, if not millions of people. I want my lyrics to change the world. The only way I know how to do that is through my music.” SOJA’s lyrics on this album are quite powerful. The track with the most powerful lyrics is the title track, Strength to Survive.  Some of these lyrics include:

Does the dollar really matter when our whole world is gone?
Worry about yourself, while the world stills turns
Waiting until we watch it burn” (Hemphill, 2012, Lines. 6-8)

Just consume less, 
and giving back more, 
And I'll wait, if we don't 
We can kiss it goodbye
Our sun, our moon, our earth and our sky
Our world we will recover in a billion years
But if we're not living here (Hemphill, 2012, Lines 17-25)
SOJA has embarked on a mission to raise climate change awareness through their music. Every time you go to a concert or you listen to their songs anywhere you are, you are being reminded that the Earth is in trouble and if everyone can work together we have a chance. Jacob uses his stage presence during shows to take a moment and gives a speech on climate change and how we need to do more to fix it. Even if he only convinces a few people at each show to get involved, it’s a few more than there were at the start.  The environment cannot save itself.  It needs help, and a reggae band from Arlington Virginia is doing their best to help out.

Reconnecting with Nature in South Africa: Greenpop’s “Treevolution”

People living in cities all over the world have begun to lose touch with the concept that it is the earth that provides for us and sustains us. We live in environments built by humans, for humans. Amidst the demands of the urban world, many of us have forgotten how important it is to maintain a connection with nature.

When westerners think of Africa, we imagine desert expanses, lush jungle environments, and untamed natural beauty. While much of the continent is still largely untouched, there exist urban areas in desperate need of a restoration of tree and plant life, and a rekindled connection to the natural world. This is particularly true in poor, densely-populated areas surrounding larger metropolitan cities. Below is an example from an area outside of Johannesburg, South Africa.

An under-greened township outside of Johannesburg
Many have begun to recognize the need for urban naturalization in these areas, and are doing something about it. Greenpop (headquartered in Cape Town) has started what they call a “Treevolution,” aimed at reviving these communities through planting and caring for trees and other native plant life.

Greenpop recognizes that there is a disparity between “leafy, privileged areas and barren, under-privileged areas” and have made a commitment to take action to restore a culture of planting trees in under-greened areas to provide environmental and social change.

They are dedicated to planting indigenous and fruit trees at schools in urban, under-greened areas and taking action toward reforestation in more rural areas, to benefit local communities and communities around the world.

Volunteers and students celebrate after planting trees at a school in Cape Town.
Greenpop is making a difference – and you can help! They provide opportunities to gift trees to the cause or intern or volunteer in South African and/or Zambian communities. Get involved, and help to make a difference!

Here are a few links if you’d like to help or get involved:

Greenpop’s Homepage: http://www.greenpop.org/
Gift a Tree: http://www.greenpop.org/give-trees/
Volunteer: http://www.greenpop.org/volunteers-and-internships/
Subscribe to Newsletter: http://www.greenpop.org/newsletter-sign-up/

Don't Trash My Mood

Most of us, if not all of us, have seen disturbing images of ocean life being devastated and destroyed by plastic rings, bottles and other pieces of litter.  It seems obvious that plastic and other pieces of trash can harm oceans and its inhabitants.  However, new research shows that trash on the beach also takes a toll on the human psychology.  
Over the years, nature and nature-walks have been useful tools to help the human psyche.  A study done by Kayleigh Wyles of Plymouth Marine Laboratory in the United Kingdom has tested the effects that trash and litter have on the human mind. According to Wyles, ‘restorative’ is defined as the sense of helping unburden the brain by relieving stress and re-energizing the person. Overall, it helps us feel positive (Mooney,2015).
Ms. Wyles conducted three separate studies where researchers showed individuals photographic images of beaches and other oceanic environments.  Each individual was asked to rate the image as being restorative or not.  When no litter was present, the subjects rated the images as very restorative.  However, when litter and trash was added, the scene had strong negative impacts on the initial assessment (Mooney,2015). Since the Wyles study, subsequent studies showed that even small amounts of litter can have an impact. Researchers have varied the amount of trash seen in the images to as little as 7%. Often the participants say they are disturbed by the liter and it interferes with the pleasantness of the image (Mooney,2015). 
So next time you’re walking along the beach and see some trash, pick it up and throw it into a trashcan or recycle bin.  If you don’t do it for the marine life, do it for yourself; after all it’s only your psyche.

Mooney, C. (2015, July 8). Ocean trash isn't just bad for the environment – it’s bad for your state of mind. Retrieved July 9, 2015.