November 18, 2018

The hidden powers of trees

By Luc Reid

Special to the Observer

Trees have hidden powers. While their most obvious benefits are fruits, nuts, maple syrup, wood for fuel and building, and their contribution to Vermont’s natural beauty, they also block harsh winds, help manage stormwater, moderate temperatures and pull carbon out of the atmosphere, among other good effects. Around the world, deforestation is one of the largest causes of climate change, while at the same time contributing to erosion, desertification and loss of animal habitat.

Even though that cutting and burning may be happening in faraway places like Indonesia and the Amazon rainforest, the forces that drive people to destroy trees start in developed countries, in cities and towns like Williston, where the products we choose help drive global markets. Fortunately, the solutions can start here, as well.

Palm oil

Our good choices can make a real difference for forests elsewhere in the world. Palm oil is a great example: it’s a key ingredient in an incredible variety of foods, yet it isn’t well known or well understood by regular Americans. Unfortunately, much palm oil comes from plantations in places like Malaysia and Indonesia, where tracts of forests containing enormous amounts of carbon have been burned clear to make way for palm trees. Yet boycotting palm oil does even more damage, because palm trees are a very efficient source of vegetable oil, requiring just a quarter as much land to be cleared compared to other oil-producing crops. The solution is to demand sustainably-produced palm oil. If you’re interested in the fine details, Greenpeace recommends palm oil raised according to the Charter of the Palm Oil Innovation Group. Another standard called RSPO is less stringent, but better than nothing.

Recycled paper vs. post-consumer paper

Recycled paper products are another key choice. Whenever possible, go for 100 percent “post-consumer” recycled paper products, which are made out of the kind of paper that families and businesses throw in their recycling bins. “100% recycled,” unfortunately, doesn’t necessarily mean “100% post-consumer,” and often means paper made from materials left over at the end of a paper manufacturing process. This doesn’t offer nearly as large an environmental benefit. Most office supply stores — including Staples in Tafts Corners — sell some 100-percent post-consumer recycled paper products. For tissues, paper towels, etc., you’re more likely to find 100-percent post-consumer recycled brands like Seventh Generation and Green Forest at co-ops and natural food stores — but beware of driving far out of your way to get sustainable products, since the gas burned for the extra travel can erase the environmental benefits of your purchases.

Wood for building and trees

Wood for building can be kept more sustainable by using wood certified by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC). These wood products are fairly easy to find and are usually clearly labeled.

Of course, one of the best ways to help trees help us is to plant more trees. Sustainable Williston hosts an annual celebration with sponsorship from groups like the town of Williston and Gardener’s Supply to give a free tree or shrub to families with newborn or newly-adopted children. If you have a new child in your family, you can sign up or learn more at sustainablewilliston.org/birthtrees.

This year’s sign-ups close within the next couple of weeks. The celebration will be Sunday, Sept. 25 at 2 p.m. at Gardener’s Supply, and all Williston residents are welcome.

Luc Reid is a member of Sustainable Williston (SustainableWilliston.org,) which works on issues like clean energy, water quality and planting trees. Meetings are the first Wednesdays of each month at 7:15 p.m. at the Dorothy Alling Library.

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