Apple is planting a forest in Cupertino, California. When the company’s new headquarters is completed later this year, 8,000 trees, transplanted from nurseries around the state of California, will surround the donut-shaped building by Foster + Partners. The trees are meant to beautify Apple’s 176 acres (dubbed Apple Park). But they will also absorb atmospheric carbon. That’s a good thing. Carbon, in greenhouse gases, is a major cause of global warming. Almost everything humans do, including breathing, releases carbon into the atmosphere. Plants, on the other hand, absorb carbon, turning it into foliage, branches, and roots—a process known as sequestration. That’s why, when architects, landscape designers, and urban planners concerned about climate change talk about their work, they often mention sequestration. These days, seemingly every project that includes greenery is touted as reducing atmospheric carbon. But how much carbon can one tree, or even 8,000 trees, sequester? I’ve spent a lot of time trying to find the answer. Among my sources is a 2016 article from the journal Landscape and Urban Planning titled “Does urban vegetation enhance carbon sequestration?” Its authors, several from the Singapore-MIT Alliance for Research and Technology, examine efforts to quantify the sequestration capacity of urban flora. For example, a study of a Vancouver neighborhood found that its trees sequestered about 1.7 percent as much carbon as human activities produced, while in Mexico City the figure was 1.4 percent. The results were worse in Singapore. Overall, the authors write, “The impact of urban vegetation to reduce greenhouse gas emissions directly through carbon sequestration is very limited or null.” Very limited or null. Another study seemed especially applicable to Apple. In 2009, researchers at California State University Northridge studied carbon sequestration on the university’s 350-acre campus. Students inventoried all 3,900 trees by type and size. Using data from the Center for Urban Forest Research, a branch of the U.S. Forest Service, they estimated the amount each tree was likely to sequester. The average was 88 pounds per tree per year. (By contrast, the average American is responsible for emitting about 44,000 pounds of carbon annually.) Then they compared total sequestration to the amount of carbon emitted by campus sources. (Those sources included the production of electricity to power campus buildings—but not transportation to and from campus.) The result: The trees sequestered less than one percent of the amount of carbon released during the same period. Put another way, the amount of carbon sequestered, at a school with 41,000 students, equaled the carbon output of eight average Americans. Are things better at Apple Park? On the emissions side, there is good news: The new building will rely largely on natural ventilation, reducing the need for air conditioning. (Note, though, that promises a building will perform a certain way often prove overly optimistic.) On the other hand, the campus is being designed with more than 10,000 parking spaces for some 12,000 employees, suggesting that the vast majority of employees will be driving to and from work. And those spaces are in garages that require lights and elevators. And the news gets worse. At Northridge, researchers looked at the trees as if they had always been there. But a reasonable approach to measuring the benefits of Apple’s trees would consider the carbon emitted in growing them off-site, bringing them to Cupertino, and planting them. Driving a flatbed truck 100 miles can release 100 pounds of carbon into the atmosphere—and Apple trees’ require thousands of such trips. And, since it wants the campus to be picture-perfect, Apple is using mature specimens. These are no seedlings; some are so large they have to be lowered into place by crane. And mature trees, because they aren’t growing much, hardly sequester any carbon. (Worse, when trees die, their carbon is returned to the atmosphere.) And keep in mind that many of Apple’s trees were already growing in other locations, meaning the carbon sequestered on the Apple campus would have been sequestered anyway. That suggests that any estimate of carbon sequestration at Apple Park should be reduced by at least half. In the plus column, grass and shrubs also sequester carbon, though not merely as much as trees, with their thick trunks and extensive root systems. So how much carbon will Apple’s trees sequester? The figures used in the Northridge study suggest that Apple’s 8,000 trees will remove some 700,000 pounds of carbon from the atmosphere each year. According to Apple’s submissions to the city of Cupertino, the new campus can be expected to produce 82 million pounds of carbon annually. That means that the carbon sequestered will be less than one percent of the carbon emitted. In short, Apple’s decision to plant 8,000 trees, whatever its other benefits, won’t have a significant effect on the amount of carbon in the atmosphere. The campus, even with a very green building at its heart, will emit more than one hundred times as much carbon as its trees absorb. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t keep planting trees. But it does mean that, as with so many issues related to global warming, there is no quick fix. Thinking there is could keep us from making the tough decisions climate change demands.
Posts tagged with "Trees":
With major cities running short on affordable housing, local residents have adopted unique measures to air their grievances. In New York, the Brooklyn Anti-Gentrification Network (BAN) held a sign outside a real estate summit in Brooklyn last year, asking car-driving attendees to honk if the rent was "too high." Earlier this year, students at the University of Cape Town in South Africa erected an iron shack on campus to decry the lack of housing available to poor students around the city. For people living in Munich, the solution was simple but proactive. Leerstand089, a citizen group in the city, listed all vacant parking spaces to shame the authorities into building more affordable housing for residents. The plan worked, with a 120-unit apartment complex now slated to replace a parking lot once used at the 1972 Munich Olympics. The area is surrounded by large gardens with trees, a modest soccer field, and a swimming pool. To prevent the rent prices from rising, the apartments will be economically built to keep them within Germany's rent stabilization threshold. Leerstand089, which stands for vacancy and Munich's area code, has notched up several other successes with a number of buildings being earmarked as housing sites. The most recent is a 5,700-square-foot building now designated as a public housing cooperative that will contain 11 rental apartments. The group's basic action plan encourages everyday citizens to call out neglected buildings. If the building is being left unattended, they will report it to the city so it can be put to better use.
In New Zealand, it would appear that buildings grow on trees—or, rather, trees grow into buildings. After years of careful maintenance, Barry Cox, tree aficionado, has created a lush chapel and garden in Waikato, just south of Auckland. Three-acres of greenery includes endless outdoor space that safeguards a masterpiece that Mother Nature could have coined herself—a tree-recycled church. Four years in the making, the concisely named TreeChurch is canopied by cut Leaf Adler, is composed of a Camelia ‘Black Tie’ lower border hedge, Acer ‘Globosums’ perched up on either side of the gateway, Thuja Pyramidalis and then closed off by Copper Sheen walls. The wrought iron windows were made by Barry himself, using leftover metal from his workshop, while the gates of the church were recycled from his family’s barn in Shannon. The altar, made of Italian marble, also comes from his hometown. It precedes over rows of wooden benches accommodating groups of 100 people. Outside the church, a line of Himalayan birch leads to a large labyrinth that Cox landscaped after the walls surrounding the ancient city of Jericho. Throughout the land, Cox scattered pieces of vintage gardening tools and placed them precariously by tree trunks for an aesthetic boost, not that nature’s beauty ever needed boosting. The decision to create TreeChurch and its surrounding gardens was not immediate but the development of such an idea began on the road. His religious upbringing and love for nature led him to tour around New Zealand, Europe, and the United States, meandering through the streets on a motorbike and all the while observing each church steeple and wooden archway with as much fascination as the 10 year old head altar boy he once was. His travels encouraged his desire to keep working with trees and later founded Treelocations, a business specializing in tree transplanting, removing, or relocating. Treelocations is one of three businesses in New Zealand that uses a "tree spade," a crane-like machine that digs deep underground to scoop up all parts of the tree, including the root ball, thereby leaving it completely unharmed. After devoting much of his time serving Mother Nature’s voiceless mighty oaks, he then decides his next project: renovate his backyard. “I walked out my back door one day and thought, ‘that space needs a church,” he told New Zealand Gardener. In piecing together TreeChurch, he cross-pollinated his two loves and, not intending to do so, created a beautified marriage between landscape and architecture. Cox opened the TreeChurch Gardens to the public in January and is now available for public viewing and private events. [Via MyModernMet.]
With Detroit bankrupt and under the authority of a state-appointed emergency manager, all options for the city's future are on the table. But not all news out of the infamously depopulated city is about cutting back. A new park downtown broke ground this week, and plans surfaced for a massive urban forest on Detroit’s southeast side. Construction began this week on a downtown park, the future site of Mini Campus Martius. DTE Energy has cleared a parking lot and two small buildings on a roughly triangular patch of land near its “West Downtown” headquarters. Meanwhile, after five years of preparation, a plan to transform 140 acres of vacant land on the city’s southeast side into an urban forest got approval from the state and Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr. Hantz Farms, a venture of financier John Hantz, will buy the land for more than $500,000, clear 50 abandoned structures, maintain the property and plant 15,000 trees in the coming years. Clearing the land could cost another $600,000. That’s money the people behind Hantz Woodlands hope to recover in time. “This is designed to be a for-profit enterprise,” Hantz Farms’ President Mike Score told The Atlantic Cities. “I can assure you we have a business plan and we don’t have any anxiety about achieving our goals.” That plan begins with building trust among community members, before Hantz gets to planting apple orchards and shrubbery. Score said the transition from blight to burgeoning urban forest should take four years.
Last fall Hurricane Sandy swept through New York with a vengeance, knocking down more than 8,000 trees city-wide, and over 300 in Brooklyn's Olmsted-designed Prospect Park alone. But now, Brooklyn Botanic Garden has teamed up with tree house architect Roderick Wolgamott-Romero to give a hand full of these damaged trees a second chance at life. The New York Daily News reported that Wolgamott-Romero plans to build a 200-square-foot tree house, which he has dubbed the "Sandy Remix," out of 10 oak trees salvaged from the Botanic Garden grounds. Raised 5-feet off the ground, the tree house will be located in the southern area of the Garden. Wolgamott-Romero said they have already built the brackets and foundation, and expect to be finished by April. When completed, the tree house will serve as a classroom for schoolchildren for a period of 18 months. A number of celebrities have commissioned Wolgamott-Romero to build his sustainable tree houses including Sting, Julianne Moore, Darren Aronofsky, Val Kilmer, and Donna Karen.
Over the past week, news of one allegedly-very-old tree cut down on the University of Louisville's campus where a wHY Architecture-designed addition to the Speed Art Museum is being built has tree experts in Louisville counting rings on a stump. Students creating a map of all 2,500 trees on the University's campus as part of Dr. Tommy Parker's Urban Wildlife Research Lab had estimated the tree was over 300 years old, generating an impassioned oped in the student newspaper. The Speed and local news sources looked further into the mysterious tree, using the stump and historical photos of the museum (above) to determined that the tree was really only 60 years old. Steven Bowling, Director of Marketing and Communications at the Speed Art Museum, also wrote in with this statement about the tree's removal:
As part of the Speed Art Museum's long planned expansion, the Speed and its architect, wHY Architecture, carefully analyzed the site and its space constraints. The goals were threefold: to protect the Museum's 1927 historic building to accommodate the Speed's growing audience, to link the expanded green spaces of the Museum with the University of Louisville Campus and to seamlessly integrate art and nature on the 6-acre site. During the planning phase, the Speed, together with the architects, reviewed several possibilities in consultation with landscape architects and an arborist to expand the Museum’s footprint with minimal interruption to the historic building, the surrounding area, and trees within the Museum's footprint. In the final plan, the tree needed to be removed. Removal of the tree, which the arborist determined was 60 years old, allows the site to be re-graded and expands accessibility for all visitors to the Museum and its grounds. While both the Museum and the architects regret the removal of that tree, the new Speed Art Museum which will re-open in 2016 will provide students and visitors with expanded green space that includes an art park and public piazza, as well as the planting of more than 40 new trees.
[Editor's Note: Following the publishing of this story, the Speed Art Museum and tree researchers studied the tree, determining that it was, in fact, not three centuries old, nor a Valley Oak. The tree in question is now believed to be a 60-year-old English Oak. Read the update here.] The Speed Art Museum in Louisville, Kentucky, is currently closed to visitors until 2015 while a dramatic stacked-box addition is built to the north of the institution's original 1927 neo-Classical building on the University of Louisville's Olmsted-designed Belknap Campus. The $50 million expansion, designed by Culver City, CA-based wHY Architecture with Reed Hilderbrand Landscape Architects, who were later dropped from the project, will triple the museum's gallery space and add to the already robust arts scene in Louisville. This week, one alert writer at the student newspaper, The Louisville Cardinal, noticed something missing at the construction site: the University's oldest tree. The approximately 309-year-old Valley Oak had been cut down when the site was cleared late last year. Only a stump now remains behind the construction fence. The author, Wesley Kerrick, noted the tree pre-dates not just the University, but the city, state, and country in which it resides, as it sprouted sometime in the late 17th or early 18th century. Kerrick expressed frustration over the fact that the tree couldn't have been saved. Dr. Tommy Parker, Director of the Urban Wildlife Research Lab (UWRL) at the University of Louisville, has been observing the University's urban forest for the past several years. The University's 309-acre Belknap Campus contains over 2500 trees, which Parker and his students have been studying and mapping to build a Tree App that geo-locates every tree on campus with information on each tree's species, age, height, environmental contribution, and even monetary value. The mapping project has documented 1,140 trees on campus so far. "This project is useful for understanding wildlife habitats," Parker said. "It allows for real-time analysis in the field." Dr. Parker and his students first collect measurements of each tree, feeding the information through a computer program that estimates its age, value, and environmental benefit. Next, teams geo-locate each tree, finding the exact coordinates using a GPS device. The mapping process helped Parker and Kerrick recognize the Valley Oak's history and that it had been removed. "She was a beautiful tree. I just happened to come in one day and it was gone," Parker said of the three-century-old tree. He lamented the loss of such a historic tree, but noted, "I didn't have a problem with removing the tree. Just that there was no conversation about it. That was the only problem I had." Parker explained that, like other living things, different tree species have different lifespans, and at the end of their prime they can become susceptible to root rot and disease, sometimes requiring removal. "Many people think all trees are like Sequoias," Parker said, "but most trees have a distinct lifespan." For instance, Oaks and Maples, Parker said, can readily live to be 200 to 250 years old, depending on the region in which they're growing. In a southeastern city like Louisville, trees can grow even older. Parker estimated that if the Valley Oak had not been cut down, it could have lived for decades to come. "It was in good shape," Parker said. "That tree could have lasted easily another 50 years." In human terms, Parker said the tree would be about 50 years old given an average human lifespan of 72 years. To replace the old tree with new young trees of the same species and maintain what Parker called the tree's "environmental services" (it's ability to absorb cardon dioxide), the University would have to plant 35 new two-inch-diameter trees. The old tree's diameter measured 51.5 inches, but Parker said the real benefit of such a large tree is its crown, where the leaves are scrubbing the air. Still, Parker is less concerned with the loss of one iconic tree and is helping to push a tree-planting campaign to keep the University's urban forest healthy. In the past two years, the University added 380 trees to its campus, and Parker said it's on target to plant another 300 this year. "We need to think of tree turnover and plan for the next 50 years," he said. "We can't have ten or 15 year gaps in the tree canopy" from trees dying and no new trees being planted. He hoped the loss of the Valley Oak might inspire others to get involved in taking care or and expanding Louisville's urban forest.
Even as Berlin loses green space, the city remains Europe’s greenest with more than 400,000 trees. One of the grandest, a 100-year-old chestnut tree towering over Montbijoupark, was the center of Tree Concert, a public art project that took place in September to bring light, literally, to the city’s diminishing greenery with a glowing LED sculpture circling the trees trunk. The project was a combination of audio and visual elements. As chestnuts fell one after the other onto a series of internally lit shapes covered with polymer membranes placed around the tree, ambient sounds emanated from hidden speakers creating a symphony for park goers. Tree Concert was put on by the ad agency Proximity BBDO Berlin and the environmental organization BUND for Environment and Nature Conservation Germany, inspired by recent years when more trees have been cut than planted. The groups also wanted to draw awareness that trees are not being properly maintained because of a lack of funding. Thus they created an easy way to donate through text messages from passing visitors. The design was executed by Gang of Berlin with music from Ketchum Pleon PR.