When we speak about “going green” as a society, we are usually referring to recycling, using cloth bags for groceries or taking five-minute showers. There is nothing wrong with any of these practices, but, as a society, we need to go green — as in making our world greener, literally.
As a student pursuing an environmental science minor, I know how complex environmental issues can become. The many facets of environmental science delve into the contours of issues ranging from habitat loss to fossil fuel emissions to the distribution of contraceptives in developing nations. However, I would like to acknowledge something we often overlook in our grand plans to save the planet — we can lessen the severity of many of the looming environmental issues through simply building more plants and trees into our human environments.
Unfortunately, many of our urban environments are still predominantly made of materials such as concrete. However, greenspaces are extremely beneficial from environmental, health and ecological perspectives. In fact, according to an article on the World Health Organization website, greenspaces can lead to lower rates of death among urban residents.
Trees and plants serve as a carbon sink, meaning they absorb and store carbon dioxide, one of the major greenhouse gases credited for climate change. Plants have also exhibited the ability to clean air, meaning they can mitigate the common problem of unhealthy air quality in urban areas. Greenspaces also provide relief from stress, which can improve human health in urban areas.
In addition, greenspaces can combat the urban heat island effect, a phenomenon by which urban areas become hotter due to the heat produced by human activities taking place on roads and around concrete buildings. Greenspaces create cooler surfaces in urban environments.
As we move into the future, we continue to innovate new ways to incorporate plants and greenery into how we design urban areas. For example, buildings can now feature green roofs, which include urban gardens and forests built on top of buildings.
We can also now use living walls, which are essentially walls covered with live, growing plants. These walls can be incorporated into architecture and can add new creative and aesthetic elements to how we design urban areas in addition to helping the environment.
We have all these elements available to us, but we need to implement them on a larger scale. If we would like to successfully push back the impact of major environmental concerns, we must learn to use the most basic tools of nature to help us achieve our goals. Sometimes the best solutions sit right outside our windows. We just have to use them.