New research indicates that increasing the number of trees in cities could significantly reduce the amount of heat-related deaths.
According to the study published in The Lancet, doubling tree cover in European cities from its current level of 15-30% would result in a 40% reduction in premature heat deaths from urban heat islands.
“Our results showed the deleterious effects of [urban heat islands] on mortality and highlighted the health benefits of increasing tree coverage to cool urban environments, which would also result in more sustainable and climate-resilient cities,” the study’s authors wrote.
Urban heat islands occur because the materials that cities are made out of — such as concrete and pavement — absorb heat, while the huge number of air conditioning units operating in buildings push even more hot air outside.
The result is that urban areas are often 15-20 degrees Fahrenheit hotter than they would otherwise be, with devastating health effects for vulnerable populations such as the elderly and people without air conditioning.
The continued overheating of our planet, driven by our reliance on dirty energy sources such as gas and oil, has exacerbated this problem even further. Urban heat islands are more widespread and affect more people than you might think, too — according to Climate Central, 80% of the United States population lives in areas that are affected.
That’s why it is crucial, as the study in The Lancet suggested, for cities to invest heavily in trees and other green spaces.
“Planting urban trees offers an important opportunity to mitigate high temperatures and, compared with other strategies, is relatively simple and cost-effective to implement,” the study said.
Trees provide cooler temperatures via shade and by releasing water vapor, in addition to helping to clean the air that we breathe.
Another recent study further suggests that living close to green spaces could add 2.5 years to your life — so the more trees, the better.
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