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Palm trees are the iconic imagery of warm coastal cities like Los Angeles and Miami. In fact, in Miami, palms make up over 55% of the city’s total tree population. Yet climate change and rising global temperatures are forcing city leaders to rethink the prominence of the palm.
Why This Matters: Trees can do a lot for a city — they can improve the air quality, store carbon, absorb rainfall, and reduce urban warming. Palm trees are not as effective as other trees in benefitting city denizens; for example, a sabal palmetto palm would absorb 2.7lb of carbon dioxide, 1.7oz of ozone and 81 gallons of rainfall per year, while an oak of the same dimensions would absorb 510lb of carbon dioxide, 20oz ozone, and 725 gallons of rainfall.
Trees with bigger canopies are also more adept at preventing cities from overheating. A lack of trees in the city causes a phenomenon called urban heat islands, where a dearth of shade causes concrete to absorb more heat, making the atmosphere around the concrete hotter as well. This could have dire consequences — heat has killed more people than any other type of weather event.
Even incremental efforts to reduce heat in these cities is important as by the middle of the century, LA is expected to get three to five degrees warmer and have triple the number of extreme heat days. Meanwhile, a study conducted in West Palm Beach this past August found a heat-index temperature of 122 degrees downtown.
Replacing the Palms: Planting new trees will not be easy, because there isn’t an infrastructure in place to support larger trees. West Palm Beach is spending over $9 million dollars making over three blocks on Clematis Street, and using part of the money to create planting structures that could allow shade trees to grow downtown.
But there still is a place for palms in our cities. Elizabeth Wheaton, the environment and sustainability director for the City of Miami Beach, wrote in an email to the Miami Herald: “Expanding shade canopy will enhance the city’s brand and quality of life. Palms will continue to be a focal point along the city’s roads, green spaces and parks.”
Ray Caranci, a landscape planner for West Palm Beach, told WUSF: “There will always be a place for palms; each site has to be looked at specifically. It’s not canopy trees at the expense of palms, it’s where can we find and provide more tree canopy.”
Why this Matters: The West has had seasons of drought throughout its history, but with climate change and a boom in population growth, an increase in water demand could make the West even drier as we confront the reality of climate change.
by Amy Lupica, ODP Staff Writer On Monday, Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers signed an executive order declaring a state of emergency due to rampant wildfires consuming 1,400 acres of land in just the first three months of 2021. As historic (and maybe permanent) droughts move further east, Wisconsin finds itself in a perilous situation. Nearly the entire state is at a […]
by Larry Selzer, President and CEO, The Conservation Fund Climate change threatens every life support system we rely on—food, water, and biodiversity. The things that keep us alive are at risk, which means we are at risk. We recognize that climate change is the most pressing global challenge we have ever faced, and we must […]
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