Atlanta BeltLine Trees: Hard at Work in the Arboretum
True confession: When I recently joined Trees Atlanta’s employee Book Club I envisioned long lunch-time discussions about the latest historical fiction, focusing on intricate plots and complex characters. Instead, I found myself engrossed in The Sixth Extinction by Elizabeth Kolbert. It tells the story of her quest to discover if the Earth is undergoing the sixth time that the majority of species on Earth are at risk, or indeed headed, for extinction. She makes a strong case that humanity is causing these extinctions by the manner in which human beings occupy and use the planet.
She explains that “Since the start of the industrial revolution, humans have burned through enough fossil fuels – coal, oil and natural gas – to add some 365 billion metric tons of carbon to the atmosphere. Deforestation has contributed another 180 billion tons. Each year, we throw up another nine billion tons or so, an amount that’s been increasing by as much as six percent annually. As a result of all this, the concentration of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the air today – a little over four hundred parts per million – is higher than at any other point in the last hundred thousand years. Quite probably, it is higher than at any point in the last several million years.”
Trees play an important role in keeping this CO2 out of the atmosphere for a long period of time (due to the long lives of trees). Trees breathe inversely to humans: they inhale carbon dioxide and exhale clean oxygen. This natural process provides the important ecosystem service of absorbing CO2 from the atmosphere and storing it in plants, animals, and the soil. More scientific minds know this process as “carbon sequestration”.
A small example of this role that trees can play in our own urban forest is found in the hardworking trees of the Arboretum on the Atlanta BeltLine. Based on a tree survey along a portion of the Eastside Trail conducted over the summer of 2015, and data from using USDA’s iTree program, our Arboretum sequesters an estimated 18,141 lbs. of CO2 along the Eastside Trail each year.
To put that in context, 18,141 pounds is 9 tons. That’s equivalent to the amount of carbon dioxide produced by driving a car with 40mpg around the earth 1.25 times. And that’s just a portion of the Eastside Trail. That number will only increase as the trees mature, as we plant more trees, and as we continue to restore and protect greenspace.
To date, Trees Atlanta has planted over 1,000 trees along the Eastside Trail and plans to plant 1,500 trees on the soon-to-be developed Westside Trail. Additionally, the thousands of shrubs and grasses on both trails will also help sink and store carbon dioxide. So, the next time you take a walk along the Atlanta BeltLine you can breathe a bit easier knowing that all these beautiful plants are working hard to protect our planet and our own beautiful city.