How Do Green Spaces Reduce Carbon Emissions?

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Increasing the amount of vegetation in an area beautifies it and can also aid your fight against climate change. The lusher the environment is, the more effective it is in slowing global warming.

Learn about the five benefits of green spaces regarding carbon footprint reduction.

1. Capturing Carbon

tall trees
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Areas with vegetation are natural carbon sinks. They pull carbon dioxide down from the air and trap it where it doesn’t impact the planet.

If you recall your grade-school science, you’ll remember plants breathe in carbon dioxide and breathe out oxygen through photosynthesis. They store the carbon they absorb in their roots, releasing it back into the atmosphere only when they die and decay.

More green space means less carbon dioxide in the wild to intensify the greenhouse effect across the planet. There would be 123 billion more tons of carbon in the atmosphere if the Amazon rainforest didn’t exist. That’s why preserving existing vegetated areas matters. It complements efforts to slowly swap out fossil fuels for renewable energy sources to moderate global warming.

The problem is the world loses valuable tree cover in the name of development. The continental United States’ forests shrink by about a million acres yearly due to modernization.

More people are wising up to the role of carbon sinks in mitigating climate change. The growing public awareness of their merits can boost forest growth. Developing more green space or leaving areas with natural vegetation alone is instrumental in minimizing carbon pollution over the long term.

2. Reducing the Urban Heat Island Effect

two people standing near body of water
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An urban heat island is a portion of a developed area covered with low-albedo surfaces. Albedo measures a material’s ability to absorb or reflect solar radiation. The lower a surface’s albedo, the more sunlight it absorbs and converts into heat, increasing the air temperature and making the region hotter.

The urban heat island effect explains why cities can feel up to 20 degrees warmer than the countryside. This phenomenon worsens heatwaves, endangering the health and safety of urban dwellers — who account for 83% of the American population.

Unmitigated urban heat islands drive up air conditioning. The higher your cooling load, the more you use your AC to stay comfortable inside your house. If you connect to the grid and produce no or insufficient power using renewable energy at home, you indirectly contribute to climate change. Fossil fuels make up about 60% of the U.S. energy mix, so your electricity is more likely dirty.

Introducing more vegetation in public and private areas helps reduce the urban heat island effect. The presence of trees and plants cools the surroundings. This strategy can subsequently lessen properties’ cooling loads and carbon footprints.

Community parks can maximize one of the benefits of green spaces — shade. These public areas should include strategically placed trees to add canopies to walkways and seats, blocking sunlight where people usually are.

In case of space constraints, rooftop and vertical gardens are viable options. Having indoor plants can make a difference, too.

3. Promoting Outdoor Activities

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Green spaces encourage you to spend more time outside and pursue healthier activities rather than leading a sedentary lifestyle at home. Leaving the house has a direct positive impact on energy usage.

You can deviate from your heating or cooling system’s normal settings when you’re out. Turning your thermostat back by 7-10 degrees Fahrenheit for eight hours can reduce your utility bills by 10% yearly.

The more time you stay outdoors, the greater your energy savings will be. Reconnecting with nature for 120 minutes weekly or more to exercise or socialize is a healthy excuse to go outside. If you have children, letting them play outside benefits their well-being. It keeps them off electronic devices for a long time, causing them to consume less energy at home and drain their batteries positively.

4. Inspiring Carbon-Free Mobility

people jogging and riding bicycle along walkway
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A well-designed urban area with plenty of green space encourages you to conveniently walk or bike to reach your destination.

The transportation sector has been a considerable climate change gas emitter. About 4.6 metric tons of carbon dioxide yearly come from a passenger gasoline vehicle’s tailpipe. It also emits other greenhouse gases, such as methane and nitrous oxide. A faulty car AC can leak hydrofluorocarbons.

Driving an electric vehicle is eco-friendly because it releases no air pollution. However, it may run on dirty electricity, indirectly inflating your carbon footprint. It will remain the case until clean energy is ubiquitous and cheap.

Historically, many U.S. cities have been heavily car-dependent. Things may soon change, though. The growing popularity of mixed-use developments can give rise to more walkable and bikeable communities. These real estate projects are sustainable since global warming mitigation and climate resilience are becoming construction standards.

Urban planners can incorporate the benefits of green spaces into mixed-use community designs to promote a better work-life balance, attain energy conservation, decrease air pollution and minimize water pollution. More vegetation is the key to achieving these goals.

Green mixed-use developments may permit the use of private vehicles but won’t encourage it. Instead, they will put a premium on pedestrian and bike travel first and public transportation second.

5. Keeping Urbanization in Check

river near city buildings under cloudy sky
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Green belts can be farms, pastures, meadows, ranches, parks, forests, woodland or shrubland. They’re carbon sinks but play a more crucial role in sustainability. These green spaces exist to demarcate development expansion and protect undeveloped and agricultural areas from urban sprawl.

Urbanization isn’t necessarily bad. Cities serve essential economic purposes to create jobs and generate tax revenues. The downside is they encroach on animals’ natural habitats, disrupting ecosystems and displacing wildlife.

Green belts are tools local authorities can use to ensure real estate development doesn’t get out of control. Government units at various levels utilize land use designations or zoning ordinances to draft rules and regulate developers to balance urbanization’s economic advantages and environmental disadvantages.

Individually, urban dwellers have fewer carbon footprints than rural residents. However, city folk outnumber the people living in the country. Rampant urbanization can result in carbon emission spikes.

Leverage the Benefits of Green Spaces to Curb Carbon Emissions

The natural world has a way of sorting itself out. Vegetation is a reminder that the planet has answers to pressing environmental challenges. If amounts of atmospheric carbon dioxide are to drop exponentially, more green space is in order, not less.

  • Beth Rush

    Beth Rush is the green wellness editor at Body+Mind, a health and wellness brand. She covers topics like sustainable agriculture and plant-based recipes. You can find Beth on Twitter @bodymindmag. Subscribe to Body+Mind for more posts by Beth!

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