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Southern California group is planting trees to beat the heat

Residents of a historically Black and underserved area of Los Angeles are focusing on tree-planting as a way to limit the effects of climate change.
Southern California group is planting trees to beat the heat
Posted at 7:04 PM, Apr 20, 2023

When it comes to addressing climate change, the first step is sometimes using a shovel, and no one knows that better than the folks at TreePeople.

"We plant thousands of trees every year with thousands of people, so if you add that up for 50 years, it's a pretty big number," said Gemma Lurie, community forestry project manager at TreePeople. 

For 50 years, the environmental advocacy group has been planting trees across southern California with the goal of educating and inspiring others to take responsibility for their environment.

While that mission has remained the same over the years, the group has been increasingly focusing on urban areas such as Inglewood, California, in the southern part of Los Angeles County.

"You can't really afford to get into environmentalism when you're dealing with issues like poverty, housing insecurity, food insecurity, environmental justice and all of these things that systematically impact the communities that need the most support," said Talia Dotson, urban greening community organizer at TreePeople.

It's a reality that has become increasingly problematic in the face of climate change.

"You find the communities that have the least amount of green spaces are the most directly impacted by the effects of climate change," Dotson said. "When there's less tree coverage, there's less shade. So you find that the people who are most economically impacted also end up having to pay more in electricity bills because they have to cool their house even more in the hot times."

The problems don't end there.

"There's issues of air quality," Dotson said. "You find that people within the urban environment who don't have green spaces, they also have a higher suffrage of asthma and other respiratory related illnesses."

SEE MORE: How cities are using trees to combat climate change

That's why volunteer tree-planting days are so important to the folks at TreePeople throughout the course of the year.

"One thing we really love to do is we like to get the communities and the families involved, and so a really great aspect of that is allowing children to be a part of the planting. They love to get their hands dirty." Dotson said. "After we plant trees, we ask the folks to name the tree, and so it kind of gives you this ownership over the tree. And for children, they really remember it. They come back and check on it. They want to water it."

However, getting people to come out and volunteer can be hard at times.

"I think a lot of people don't take it seriously until they feel the effects. And they may not in their lifetime, but we're doing this to be preventative for generations to come," said Jenny Piulido, a volunteer at TreePeople.

It's important to note that it's not enough to just plant a tree; in order for urban forests to have any shot at surviving long-term, it's crucial that newly planted trees are monitored and cared for by their communities well after the shovels and buckets are gone and Earth Week is over.

"The only reason these trees are going to survive at the end of the day is if residents and neighbors are taking that personal action to take care of that tree, to make sure it's not leaning over, to water it, to make sure it's really established and going to live a strong and healthy life and a long life," Lurie said.

While it'll take time for these young trees to mature, those at TreePeople say their roots are already spreading deep into many streets.

"It's a beautiful thing to see afterwards too when you're walking down these streets that, historically, maybe didn't have any trees beforehand and seeing the new growth that's coming out, that it brings new life to the area and to the community. It's an amazing thing," said Jonathan Manikan, community forestry coordinator at TreePeople.

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