A healthy urban forest in San Diego can conserve energy - A proposal
by Holly Duncan
ne purpose of today's Rules Committee meeting is to further address California's Energy Crisis and look for local solutions that will aid in achieving one of Mayor Dick Murphy's stated goals, Goal #9: Pursue energy independence.
Today I propose to this committee that planting large, broad-canopied trees in the city's rights-of-way would be one of the most cost-effective activities the city could undertake to advance the mayor's goal.
Our grandparents, lacking the modern day creature comforts of central heating and air conditioning, used trees to modify and regulate the climates of their homes; and with far less environmental damage than today's modern conveniences (Weather-Wise Gardening; Ortho Books; 1974,1978; pg.3).
As USDA researchers state in their brochure Save Dollars With Shade:
Incontrovertible, scientific studies prove that trees in communities do this. Here's how:
Trees planted in large quantities in a carefully planned and scientific manner in cities are the most cost-effective tool a city can employ to mitigate what scientists refer to as the Urban Heat Island (UHI) phenomenon. Scientists studying this phenomenon believe that billions of dollars are spent each year just to compensate for the increased heat of an Urban Heat Island. We shall see why.
Urban heat islands
As many residents can tell you, cities can be very hot places during the summer. The air in a city can be 6-8 degrees F hotter than the surrounding countryside. Scientists call these cities Urban Heat Islands. Their causes are:NT>
Scientists have been tracking the warming of cities for decades. It is estimated that half the US population lives in heat islands and, as the chart below shows, San Diego is fast becoming a serious one. We are heating up at the same rate as Los Angeles.
Urban heat islands cause:
Fiscal impacts of urban heat islands
In the Los Angeles research pilot project, scientists assigned a dollar value to these impacts. The Los Angeles Urban Heat Island impacts were projected to be:
QUESTION: What are the fiscal impacts of San Diego's urban heat island?
ANSWER: The exact figure is unknown, but you can assume mega-bucks.
While we have documented the costs of L.A.'s UHI, other pilot cities studied showed similar results. It is safe to assume that San Diego's UHI is generating significant fiscal impacts to your constituents; easily in the many millions of dollars.
Mitigation of urban heat islands = cool communities
Measures to cool Urban Heat Islands are simple and have been known to human beings for ages: reflective surfaces and trees. The scientists recommend:
Incontrovertible, scientific evidence exists to document that use of these two simple measures will:
As we have seen from the Los Angeles research pilot project, lightening up and reforesting can produce Big Bucks Savings for cities.
In 1997, heat island scientists stated that Americans are paying dearly for this extra heat. One sixth of the electricity consumed in the United States goes to cool buildings at an annual power cost of $40 billion (Painting the town white and green, MIT's Technology Review, Feb.-March 1997, pg 3). On page 5 of the same article they continue: ...implementing these cool community measures [in Los Angeles] would lower the need for peak electrical generating capacity by about 1,500 megawatts - equivalent to two to three large power plants. [emphasis added]
A 1998 Newsweek article quoted Dr. Hashem Akbari, principal investigator of the heat islands project at DOE's Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory thusly: ...a 4-degree temperature drop in summer temperatures could be achieved in L.A. by planting trees over 5 percent of the city's area - about 10 million trees - and replacing dark roofs and blacktop with lighter-colored materials.... A more aggressive program could have an even greater impact. 'Cooling LA by 4 degrees,' says Akbari, 'would have the same magnitude effect [on smog] as turning all of the on-road vehicles into electric cars. This is so huge, nothing else compares.' [emphasis added]
In another publication, Dr. Akbari indicated that in mild climate areas, such as San Diego, it is possible that all air conditioning requirements could be obviated through UHI mitigation.
If the cheapest and cleanest energy is the energy we don't use, then clearly the Cool Communities mitigation program is a winner!
Thus far, we have concentrated on Los Angeles. For comparison, let's look at the results of another project city: Chicago. It is believed that Chicago's UHI played a role in the many deaths in that city during a heat wave in the early 90s. Their mitigation, primarily focused on tree planting, revealed these interesting results:
In addition to the demonstrated energy/air quality/water benefits provided by a thriving urban forest, there are ancillary benefits as well, which include:
These benefits appear to directly or indirectly address additional goals of Mayor Murphy:
Planting trees to conserve energy is not new knowledge. As already stated, our grandparents had this knowledge. In recent decades, however, this subject has been the focus of intense scientific study by the US Department of Energy, the USDA Forest Service, the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, and the US EPA.
It is interesting that, during the OPEC energy crisis of the 1970s, the California legislature passed a bill titled: The Urban Forestry Act of 1978 (Ca. Public Resources Code Sect. 4799.o6 - 4799.12) which declared city trees to be energy conserving valuable economic assets to cities. More recently, in 1993, based upon more research, the California legislature passed Government Code 53067, which states: As canopy cover increases the public benefits increase.
How sad that the City of San Diego appears to have not heard these important messages.
San Diego's urban forest
Like all major metropolitan cities in the United States, San Diego has been losing its urban forest at alarming rates over the past 25 years. But unlike other major urban areas in California that appear to have understood the message of the importance of tree stewardship contained in the Urban Forestry Act of 1978 (as evidenced by their membership as Tree Cities with the National Arbor Day Foundation; in many cases for almost 20 years), San Diego appears to have missed the boat. San Diego is anything but a Tree City.
In 1993, People For Trees, with assistance from SANDAG, prepared a State of the Urban Forest report for the San Diego Region. In this report one learns:
Also reported, as of 1993:
Sadly, we learn that San Diego's canopy cover in 1993 was, at best, only 19% of this standard, while a minimum of 40% overall is the recommended percentage. Further:
That was in October 1993. Monthly tree removal lists from the City's Street Division for District Six for the recent several years reveal that District Six is losing anywhere from 200 to 300 trees annually, all by itself! This raises the following questions:
If the current budget is anything like 1993's with regard to trees, then it is possible that the only tree-planting (UHI mitigation; CEQA mitigation) occurring in the City of San Diego is that done by citizen volunteers working with the nonprofit People For Trees, funded only by grants and donations. It is disingenuous to say that this approach to stewardship of San Diego's Urban Forest (defined by statute as valuable economic assets) on the part of California's second largest city is an appropriate and serious effort. Further, it is doubtful that such a tree-planting program will be a resounding success. The 1994 Clairemont planting is a failure. As a taxpayer, ratepayer and mother of an asthmatic, I assert that the City of San Diego's current tree policy inflicts a grave disservice on your constituents.
The current situation, whether as a result of either ignorance or bad policy, borders on the criminal. Flushing many millions of dollars of your constituents' hard-earned money down the toilet for expensive fixes to problems known to be caused by clear-cutting urban forests qualifies to be classified as (in the now-famous words of a former San Diego council member) felony stupid. Therefore, the city's current approach to tree stewardship is unquestionably unacceptable and is long overdue a remedy.
If we can agree that a city's urban forest can be a source of tremendous civic pride on the part of a community, as it was when nearly the entire city turned out to plant trees in Balboa Park before the opening of the 1915 Panama California Exposition, then the profound loss of that same urban forest, as is being witnessed in San Diego, can only be described as an indicator of a form of civic disease. As with all diseases, the cause of this disease must be discovered, and a cure immediately secured. To that end, I have attached a list of specific proposals [see page 6] to: (1) Halt the decline of San Diego's Urban Forest, and (2) Mitigate San Diego's Urban Heat Island. I request this committee embrace these proposals TODAY! BEGIN THE REMEDY NOW!
As I have attempted to demonstrate, Urban Heat Islands endanger the public, both physically and fiscally. Implementation of the Cool Communities mitigation measures recommended by the experts and presented here today would set the City of San Diego on an appropriate course of action for providing healthy ecosystems and communities, creating neighborhoods we can be proud of, moving constituents toward energy independence, thereby enhancing the quality of life for both residents of and visitors to San Diego. It would, indeed, present the possibility that by the year 2020 we might all agree we are living in a city Worthy of Our Affection.
Should the City of San Diego decide not to implement the Cool Communities programs outlined today, deciding on the basis of the usual sunny town mentality that none of this applies to San Diego, preferring instead to continue on its current path of default tree stewardship, thereby subjecting constituents to higher electricity bills and increasingly degraded air quality (soon rivaling that of Los Angeles or Houston; this can be readily documented by the San Diego County Air Pollution Control District), I suggest they owe their constituents a detailed explanation as to precisely why more than one million residents of the City of San Diego should be required to forego the scientifically documented, irrefutable benefits of living in Cool Communities.
You might also wish to explain your plan for ensuring that, by the year 2020, San Diego will be a city Worthy of Our Affection.
3838 Mt. Blackburn Avenue
San Diego, Ca. 92111
To Learn More about Urban Heat Islands and Urban Forestry
State of California Urban &amp;amp; Community Forestry Coordinator: Eric A. Oldar
Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory - Urban Heat Island Group
Center for Urban Forest Research - Pacific Southwest Research Station
American Forests - www.americanforests.org
National Arbor Day Foundation - www.arborday.org
Landscaping For Energy Conservation [Residential]:
California Public Resources Code Sect. 4799.06 - 4799.12.; California Urban Forestry Act of 1978 [Passed by the State Legislature during the 1970s Energy Crisis.]
California Government Code 53067 (Tree Pruning Standards); passed 1993.
California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), commencing with Sect. 21000 of the Public Resources Code.; 1970.
You can contact Holly Duncan via email to: hollydznet.com