You can make a difference to the hurt being caused by climate chaos and the great extinction event in your town or your city! How? Reuse, repurpose, and recycle this information. You can push your local politicians to act. It will make a difference!
This is the letter for week 115 of a weekly climate strike that went on for 4 years in front of San Francisco City Hall, beginning early March 2019. For more context, see this story. For an annotated table of contents of the topics for all the strike letters, see this story. Meanwhile…
STRIKE FOR THE PLANET
“I think that I shall never see / A poem as lovely as a tree”1
This week’s topic: You Can’t See A Forest Without Trees
SF needs to be planting more trees now! Why?
Trees are a Racial Justice issue
Formerly redlined neighborhoods are hotter than non-redlined neighborhoods. There’s a direct correlation between 1930s federal government Neighborhood Ratings2 and average neighborhood temperatures, with D (“Hazardous” or redlined) and C (“Definitely Declining”) neighborhoods up to 20° F hotter than B (“Still Desirable”) and A (“Best”) neighborhoods.3 Cities in the west, such as San Francisco, have the largest temperature differentials among such neighborhoods4, and the redlined/D areas in San Francisco (and many of the C neighborhoods as well) remain predominantly poorer and communities of color.5
What did redlining do to cause this neighborhood temperature differential? It kept trees out of the neighborhoods where poor and BIPOC people were allowed to live.6 This tree disparity is nationwide, enormous, and growing larger.7 In SF, the correlation between neighborhoods that were labeled D and C and lack of trees is clear and deadly.8 Why deadly?
Trees provide vital environmental services
We need trees. Trees provide shade, promote physical activity, form bio highways, store carbon, store and manage water, reduce water loss, reduce air pollution, provide food for native and migratory species and for us, calm traffic, create safer walking environments, promote mental health, provide positive community identity, cool air, make oxygen, increase property values, and much more.9, 10, 11
What is San Francisco’s tree policy?
SF’s tree policy is bad, broken, and making things worse
A city that values equity and justice and understands the importance of green infrastructure would be doing everything it could to increase overall tree coverage, especially in poorer and BIPOC neighborhoods. Yet San Francisco is actively reducing the number of trees citywide.12 San Francisco cares so little about the urban forest that there is no coordination whatsoever when it comes to trees.13
Not only are more trees being removed than are being planted, but the majority of trees being planted in SF are non-natives.14 Non-native trees take water from native ecosystems without contributing to those ecosystems.15 Non-native trees speed up the release of carbon from the soil into the atmosphere.16 And large swaths of the non-native trees in San Francisco are a substantial fire hazard.17
The solution is clear and simple
Because trees save energy18 and lungs, lower heat, increase soil moisture, support native ecosystems, store carbon, and provide precipitation nuclei19, we must plant and maintain an urban forest of majority native trees.
Your job is to find and enact solutions
If SF is going to survive, you must act.20 You are bound by the Precautionary Principle, so you must act. You fought for this job, so you must act. To do otherwise is to engage in necropolitics21, which is not a good look for a politician, and so you must act. You must act, you must act, YOU MUST ACT. The trees need you to, and so do we.
1. This is from Mad Magazine, circa 1970’s. It continues:
I only wish that there would be
Some trees left for me to see
A lumber firm from out of town
Has chopped the whole darn forest down
I know, I’ll show those dirty skunks
I’ll write a poem and call it Trunks.
2. David Zisser. “Say It Loud: Renters’ Rights are Civil Rights!” Shelterforce. 7 December 2017. https://shelterforce.org/2017/12/07/say-it-loud-renters-rights-are-civil-rights/.
3. Nina Lakhani. “‘Heat islands’: racist housing policies in US linked to deadly heatwave exposure”. The Guardian. 13 January 2020. https://www.theguardian.com/society/2020/jan/13/racist-housing-policies-us-deadly-heatwaves-exposure-study.
4. Jeremy Hoffman, Vivek Shandas, and Nicholas Pendleton. “The Effects of Historical Housing Policies on Resident Exposure to Intra-Urban Heat: A Study of 108 US Urban Areas”. Climate. 2020. https://www.mdpi.com/2225-1154/8/1/12/htm.
5. Meg Anderson. “Racist Housing Practices From The 1930s Linked To Hotter Neighborhoods Today”. NPR. 14 January 2020. https://www.npr.org/2020/01/14/795961381/racist-housing-practices-from-the-1930s-linked-to-hotter-neighborhoods-today.
6. Erum Salam and Aliya Uteuova. “How America’s treeless streets are fueling inequality”. The Guardian. 28 June 2021. https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2021/jun/28/houston-trees-shade-heat-temperatures-race-class.
7. Katharine Gammon. “US needs 30m new trees to combat shade disparity, study finds”. The Guardian. 29 June 2021. https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2021/jun/29/trees-america-cities-study-disparities/.
8. Go to the Tree Equity Score, put in San Francisco, and then mouse around. The Canopy cover goals are far too low to deal with climate chaos but, even so, SF is failing to meet even these goals in communities of color. https://treeequityscore.org/map/#10.96/37.7401/-122.4363.
9. Dan Burden. “Urban Street Trees: 22 Benefits, Specific Applications”. Glatting Jackson and Walkable Communities, Inc. August 2006. https://www.michigan.gov/documents/dnr/22_benefits_208084_7.pdf.
10. “Building greener cities: nine benefits of urban trees”. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. 30 November 2016. http://www.fao.org/zhc/detail-events/en/c/454543/.
11. “11 Benefits of Street Trees in Urban Spaces”. Reliance Foundry. Accessed 6 July 2021. https://www.reliance-foundry.com/blog/11-benefits-street-trees.
12. Jaya Padmanabhan. “SF has lost thousands of trees—and it affects communities of color”. San Francisco Examiner. 27 June 2021. https://www.sfexaminer.com/news-columnists/s-f-has-lost-thousands-of-trees-and-it-affects-communities-of-color/.
13. Robyn Purchia. “Now is a good time to hug a city tree”. San Francisco Examiner. 12 May 2021. https://www.sfexaminer.com/news-columnists/now-is-a-good-time-to-hug-a-city-tree/.
14. Visit https://www.sfpublicworks.org/plant-street-tree to see the mess that SF provides instead of useful and easy-to-follow tree planting information. If you manage to navigate to the list of recommended trees (not easy to do), you’ll find the overwhelming majority of trees are non-natives. For more information on the native trees that we should be planting, please see the Strike letter for Week 27.
15. Stein Tree. “Tree and Plant Health Care: Non-Native Plant Impacts on Local Ecosystems”. Stein Tree Service. Accessed 6 July 2021. https://www.steintree.com/tree-and-plant-health-care-non-native-plant-impacts-on-local-ecosystems/.
16. Lauren Waller and Warwick Allen. “Planting non-native trees accelerates the release of carbon back into the atmosphere”. The Conversation. 15 June 2020. https://theconversation.com/planting-non-native-trees-accelerates-the-release-of-carbon-back-into-the-atmosphere-139841.
17. Liza Gross. “Eucalyptus: California Icon, Fire Hazard and Invasive Species”. KQED. 12 June 2013. https://www.kqed.org/science/4209/eucalyptus-california-icon-fire-hazard-and-invasive-species.
18. Michael Kuhns. “Planting Trees for Energy Conservation”. Utah State University Forestry Extension. Accessed 6 July 2021. https://forestry.usu.edu/trees-cities-towns/tree-selection/plant-trees-energy-conservation.
19. Julia Mitchell. “The Truth About Trees”. Resilience. 29 November 2010. https://www.resilience.org/stories/2010-11-29/truth-about-trees/.
20. Richard Procter. “San Francisco Knows How to Stop Global Warming — Will It?” SF Weekly. 11 September 2019. https://www.sfweekly.com/news/san-francisco-climate-change-emissions/.
21. Namrata Verghese. “What Is Necropolitics? The Political Calculation of Life and Death”. Teen Vogue. 20 March 2021. https://www.teenvogue.com/story/what-is-necropolitics.