Trees really do save lives – The science bit

We’ve always known that trees are beautiful. But now their overall value is being measured, and it appears they are worth much more than first impressions might suggest.

In May 2014 research revealed how setting strong standards for climate changing carbon emissions originating from power plants delivers an extra bonus: cutting down on the air pollutants that make so many people and animals ill.

The scientists involved in the study mapped the potential environmental and human health benefits of tough power plant carbon standards, with heartening results: in a nutshell the more forests we conserve, the better the overall health of the planet and everyone living on it, human and otherwise.

Health benefits of trees quantified for the first time

Now, in the first ever wide scale analysis of the way trees remove air pollution, US scientists have quantified trees’ benefits. They have found that trees actually save over 850 human lives a year by actively preventing 670,000 “incidences of acute respiratory symptoms”.

$7 billion a year saved in healthcare costs

The research looked at four particularly nasty pollutants for which the US has established air quality standards, namely nitrogen dioxide, sulphur dioxide, ozone and “particulate matter” smaller than 2.5 microns across.

The scientists discovered that while pollution removal by trees improved overall air quality by less than 1%, the impact of that 1% is profound, cutting the bill for human health by a whopping 7 billion US dollars per year.

The findings demonstrate that strict carbon standards should have a beneficial effect on both air quality and public health. As Dr. Jonathan Buonocore of the Harvard School of Public Health at Harvard University commented, “This is an opportunity to both mitigate climate change and protect public health.”


Published on behalf of The Rainforest Foundation.

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