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Climate and Environment

It’s A Race: Tree Planting vs. Global Warming

A rectangular patch of dirt is in front of a building with a yellow and magenta mural. The mural depicts Watts landmarks such as the Watts Towers and street signs for Central Avenue and Alameda Boulevard.
This is one of five patches of dirt created by tearing up asphalt and concrete at 112th Street Elementary School. Greenery is set to be planted here.
(Adolfo Guzman-Lopez
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The effort to plant trees and gardens in places where kids spend the hottest parts of the day got a boost this week from the California legislature. Lawmakers sent to the governor a proposal to allocate $150 million to plant trees and gardens in schools and non-profit child care facilities.

“School campuses are on the front line of extreme heat,” said Cindy Montañez, CEO of TreePeople, a 39-year-old, Lon Angeles-based environmental group.

She applauded the allocation and said the predicted extreme heat over Labor Day underlines the urgency of the effort.

“Kids are going to school in these prison-like asphalt-covered schools,” she said, “where there are no trees and where temperatures on the campus can literally be 145 degrees where there is asphalt.”

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If approved by the governor, the funding would continue and expanda state urban forestry grant program.

The funding is expected to allow TreePeople tocontinue its school tree planting projects. And that stands to benefit schools and neighborhoods in L.A. Unified campuses in Watts, Wilmington, Pacoima, Huntington Park and other areas.

TreePeople’s project list includes four campuses in L.A.’s Watts neighborhood. One of them is 112th Street Elementary School. Inside the campus, five quadrilateral patches are visible where asphalt has been torn out, one patch measures about 20 feet by 30 feet and the other four about 6 feet by 40 feet. The patches are covered with either wood chips or dirt. Tree planting is the next step in the coming weeks.

A roughly six foot by 40 foot patch on the ground is covered with wood chips. It's surrounded by concrete. It's on a school playground.
This patch is new at 112th Street Elementary School in Watts. TreePeople is coordinating the planting of trees and plants on it.
(Adolfo Guzman-Lopez/LAist)

Besides being good for hugging, trees do a lot of other things for humans and our planet. Trees eat the greenhouse gases that cause climate change — for breakfast. Mature tree canopies cool down city streets and as anyone who’s ventured into the San Gabriel Mountain foothills can tell you, a walk through a forest grove can calm and center even the most harried city dweller.

In this article, a NASA science writer proposes that planting half a trillion trees could cancel out about 20 years of worldwide carbon emissions. Not bad at all. But planting trees, according to the article, should in no way be seen as a long-term substitute for reducing fossil fuel emissions.

It’s going to take all the new, planted trees time to provide the cooling shade and other benefits that are so needed at these schools, and there is still a lot of asphalt on the 112th Street campus.

That may change through another effort. In the coming weeks L.A. Unified’s board is considering a policy to ensure that 30 percent of every campus is green space of one kind or another. For the last decade, the district has spent 5 million dollars a year on outdoor green space. This year, the district plans to spend ten times that amount on new greening projects.

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