By the end, you just may want to hug a tree.
Trees are no joke.
Despite our lust for logging, trees aren't just an abundant well for our material needs. Although, if we're being honest, trees do make for some pretty sweet stuff.
Paper? Cabins? Musical instruments? Grandma’s chair? Half your pins on Pinterest?
(Remember to hug a tree.)
Yes, wood is a super-useful material. But trees are actually really amazing when they're living and in the ground, too.
But here are five more subtle ways trees make our lives better:
1. Trees make us happier, more relaxed, and better learners.
Studies from Canada to Spain have found that living near a lot of trees can have a positive effect on our mental wellness, attention, and memory.
It's hard to say whether that's mostly attributable to exposure to fewer pollutants because of the trees, but some researchers are confident there's more to it than that.
"Why do people experience flagging morale and fatigue and higher absenteeism in ... windowless environments? Why are they far far more likely to try to ... incorporate some kind of organic quality — they’ll have a Sierra Club calendar, they’ll have a potted plant. ... A lot of this is retrieving things that we’ve done in the past, intuitively, and instinctually.
2. Trees are the best recruiters for the neighborhood watch.
A 2012 study in Baltimore found that, even when controlling for factors like race and income, areas with more tree coverage report fewer crimes. And while that observation was true for both public and private lands, it was 40% greater for public areas, which is good news for everyone.
That sounds contrary to what we might think — that trees provide cover for people who want to make bad decisions. (Watching too many crime thrillers, perhaps?)
But in reality, trees are like whispering crime-fighters. More trees in your community means more people on the streets enjoying the shade, the cleaner air, the comforting rustle of leaves — and making it harder for criminals not to be seen.
3. Trees make us less lazy.
Our psychological attraction to trees also benefits our physical health. A study in Toronto discovered that people who live in areas with high tree density are more likely to be outside and physically active than their tree-deficient neighbors.
The way the researchers present their findings is pretty fascinating. They calculated the number of trees that need to be added to a city block to yield the health benefits possible with either a hefty raise at your job or even a reversal of time:
"Having 10 more trees in a city block, on average, improves health perception in ways comparable to an increase in annual personal income of $10,000 and moving to a neighborhood with $10,000 higher median income or being 7 years younger. ... Having 11 more trees in a city block, on average, decreases cardio-metabolic conditions in ways comparable to an increase in annual personal income of $20,000 and moving to a neighborhood with $20,000 higher median income or being 1.4 years younger."
4. Trees may not grow money, but they save it.
The shade from trees can cut your energy bill by a significant margin. A 2002 study in the journal Environmental Pollution says well-placed trees can cut the energy we use to cool and heat our homes by 25%.
Trees can also save the country billions of dollars in health care costs. Research by the U.S. Forest Service found that trees' modest impact in air quality improvement (less than 1%) had a massive impact on public health, saving almost $7 billion nationally on treatments for acute respiratory disorders.
5. Lastly, trees are just beautiful. And more natural beauty is never a bad thing.
Go ahead. Get an eyeful.
Like I said — trees are no joke.
They cover almost a third of the land on Earth. But in places like the Brazilian Amazon — the "the lungs of the planet" and home to over half of the world's species — trees are getting dropped like a bad joke. That's bad for, well ... everyone and everything.
Wanna hug some trees? Here are a couple of ways you can do it: buy sustainably produced products that don't involve harmful deforestation, and support reforestation projects happening in your community and around the world.