A Disturbing Lack of Trees

I listen to the birds in our back yard every dawn with my mom. I used to hate getting up early, but ever since spotting a black naped oriole feasting on our fruit trees one morning, I found a new love in waiting for the birds while the sun rose behind our purple roof. It was relaxing. A moment of calm before the chaos of life in Metro Manila.

The fruit trees.

It’s obvious to me now, but back then I’d never really thought of how big a difference trees can make. Where I live there are a lot of trees, and the mornings are always full of bird song. The air is much fresher as well, and the air cooler even in the middle of the day.

Scientists have long since proven the many benefits of filling cities with trees. Each one is its own air purifier and natural air conditioning unit, converting carbon dioxide into fresh oxygen all throughout the day and dropping daytime temperatures by as much as eight degrees Celsius. Their boughs and branches provide shelter for birds, and each one allows natural ecosystems to return to the urban jungle. Plant the right kinds and trees provide an answer to food security, too. The city of Copenhagen announced early last year that they’d be planting fruiting trees along their streets, providing an almost ridiculously easy answer to good urban nutrition.

Beyond their practical benefits, though, trees have almost a spiritual effect on urban communities. Scientists have linked trees to lower blood pressure and reduced amounts of stress. People who live around trees seem almost healthier than those who do not, with improved physical and mental health compared to those from the depths of the urban jungle. Anyone who’s woken up on a sunny Sunday morning to birdsong and the smell of fresh fruits and leaves could probably imagine why.

Having trees around means being close to nature in a place where we would otherwise be very far from it. Only when there are trees can you wake to birdsong in the morning. Only then can you see the sun shine through the leaves and past the branches and cast long lines across the street. All other times it’s the blaring sound of heavy traffic and the murky gloom of tall buildings. Coffee must taste bland when all you’ve got to look at is grey wall and asphalt.

Today almost 2 billion people, myself included, live in bustling cities, disconnected from nature. Like a newborn severed early from its mother’s womb, we are far removed from that which gives them nutrition, both physical and spiritual. Our mornings are stress and dust, each day a sweaty slog and uncomfortable commute before we arrive home, sad and tired and perhaps feeling like something in our life is missing or incomplete.

I think what we’re missing is trees. If we had more trees, maybe life in the city would be a little more tolerable. Let’s plant some more.

Personally, I wouldn’t mind a couple more mango trees. It’d be nice to see more black naped orioles, too.

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