City trees: a cure to dystopic summer temperatures…for the wealthy
Author’s note: Names have been changed for anonymity
Credit: Google maps, photos were taken at the same intersection, Bd de l’Acadie
Montreal recorded its highest temperature since over a century ago on August 21st, 2021. This is just one of many signs of a fast rise in global temperatures, causing heat waves throughout the planet. These temperature highs are concerning, since they have the power to bend human society to their will. As Alex, a resident of Anjou recounts, “On a hot summer day, as I was walking to get some ice cream near my house, I felt the soles of my feet start burning. By the time I made it to the store, I realized my flip-flops were melting.” Equally concerning is the heat waves’ ability to rob human lives, leading to 66 deaths in Montreal alone, just over the span of the last 5 years.
For now, there is one effective solution that has been offered to combat heat waves and hot spots: the planting of more trees, bushes, and greenery.
As this map of that August day by CERFO portrays, there are places in Montreal, in very close proximity to each other, that have big gaps in temperatures. The blue zones have a temperature of around 25°C, while the red zones, also described as “hot spots”, have a temperature of 32°C and more. In the blue zones, the trees and bushes shield sunrays, preventing the absorption of heat by the ground, which significantly reduces temperature.
Unfortunately, the location of these cool havens and hot spots is no mere coincidence. There is profound systemic injustice rooted in wealth and social class when it comes to canopy cover; We just need to look at the Town of Mont-Royal and Parc-Extension. Despite being right beside each other, these two towns have a 78,000$ difference in median household income and a shocking 33% difference in tree coverage, with TMR having nearly 6 times as many trees as Parc-Ex. This means that while people in TMR enjoy much lower temperatures during the summer, people in Parc-Ex do not.
Worse, not only are there significantly less trees in marginalized communities, but there is lesser diversity and maintenance of said trees, which aggravates the spread of disease and leads the little number of trees present to wither away, magnifying the suffocating heat in these regions. As Jay, a resident near Hochelaga expressed, “we used to have a giant ash tree in front of our apartment building that protected the house against direct sunlight, but it was chopped down because of a disease”. The termination of this ash tree left the residents of the building extremely vulnerable to the summer heat, which can reach a high of 35°C in Montreal’s hot spot areas, with a feels-like temperature of up to 45-50°C. This makes the fact that older establishments in Canada are terribly insulated so much worse, as it can create heat chambers as hot as the Grand Canyon desert.
The lack of foliage and diversity of greenery also equates to a drop in biodiversity. The lack of trees and diversity of greenery in marginalized communities creates a threat to different butterfly and bird populations, which play a crucial role as pollinating agents.
The Plante administration taking notice of these concerns is offering to reduce heat waves by planting 500,000 trees by 2030. Although this won’t solve the global rise in temperatures, it will reduce the impacts of heat waves by up to 12°C, which is necessary, especially within the city’s hot spots. Additionally, the trees will have a beneficial effect on Montrealers’ mental health by providing them with more beauty, shade, and opportunities to walk outside during the heated summertime. Despite not curbing our current problem of mass national deforestation, like seen recently in BC, there is some good news for the environment as well. According to a recent study by Boston University, urban trees are the superhuman counterparts of the regular joe forest trees: they’re supertrees. They grow at much higher rates and absorb larger quantities of CO2 than their non-urban counterparts.
Whether the Plante administration’s plan will be successful in actually providing heat relief to marginalized communities and in having a valuable impact on the environment depends greatly on their execution of the “Ville Verte” initiative. Currently, the Ville Verte plan has come under scrutiny for questionable decisions. There have been valid concerns of potential gentrification and poor execution, which will be explored in further detail in The Plant’s next issue.
Credit: Radio Canada