words by ethel & paul

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Trees and Outdoor Air

Trees are the most important component in any effort to provide healthful air. Neither humans nor other animals could live without trees to ingest carbon dioxide and provide oxygen. This is so essential it seems almost superfluous to mention the other benefits of trees: food and habitat for countless creatures; medicine and other familiar uses such as lessening the need for technological air cooling in summer and heating in winter. Finally, that most elusive benefit of trees--their beauty and their calming effect in abrasive human society.

Trees are truly green.

Sara Beth Gann notes in a major paper towards her Master’s in Forestry:

Urban forests can play a critical role in helping to reduce... atmospheric CO2, as well as provide...ecological services and amenities to communities. Trees store carbon (C) derived from CO2--the major gas contributing to global climate change, reduce peak cooling and heating loads on power plants, thereby reducing C emissions. (see footnote 1)

To get maximum benefits from the urban forest, tree types must be correctly positioned with regard to the sun; use of solar energy requires legislated protection of solar access. Could this be done through zoning?

As the great forests of the world are diminished, saving the urban forest becomes imperative. During the summer of 2004, we saw trees dying of thirst in Salt Lake City while water was draining away through non-use channels. (How get them together? Not an easy question.)

Trees have been (probably are) mutilated and killed to enhance the profit of a many-named power company. Salt Lake City has not done enough to protect its trees compared to actions of other places; the barriers are formidable. Plans to convert greenspaces to structures are reported in the press with frightening frequency. We do not watch television so we cannot say whether there are reasonable efforts to educate on the value of saving trees. Planting of trees fares better; maybe because that includes commerce. There is an emotional value (at least) in trying to save big-tree species, such as the Carolina poplars in rural Utah and the few remaining big trees in our City.


NASA did a study of plants (“houseplants”) as providers of “fresh air” in a closed environment. Various plants were tested and analyzed to determine which chemicals each one cleans from the air. The conclusions are in “How To Grow Fresh Air” by Dr. B.C. Wolverton. The book’s blurb reports “studies” have determined that Americans spend 90% of their time indoors. [How sad.]

The “sick building” syndrome is well known but apparently is not given much attention as a health threat. Wherever computers sicken the air and the operator, there should be a plethora of “house plants”. Perhaps restaurants, bars (see footnote 2), and public restrooms should be encouraged to add living plants. Certainly, the benefits of specific indoor plants should be more publicized.

Ethel C. Hale & W. Paul Wharton

footnote 1 “A Methodology for Inventorying Stored Carbon in An Urban Forest”, by Sara Beth Gann, found at http://scholar.lib.vt.edu/theses/available/etd-08052003-135647/unrestricted/FinalMFPaper.pdf  Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, Falls Church, Virginia, June 27, 2003. From the “Introduction”.

footnote 2  I, Ethel, support the right of bars (and restaurants) to be “smoking allowed”, provided they give prior notice to potential employees and clients/customers.