Jack Payne: Trees are planet coolers.

September 5, 2019

Former FNGLA President Ed Bravo has come to realize he’s in the business of mitigating the effects of climate change. Trees are planet coolers.

This is especially so in urban areas. Concrete radiates a whole lot more heat than greenery. Tree nurseries like Ed’s should play a constructive role in how Florida responds to the climate crisis.

That’s why Ed’s participation in a recent forum on campus in Gainesville was so important. In fact, he asked one of the best questions of the day. He directed it at a University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences faculty member. But he got an answer from a congresswoman.

“Could you tell us how you’re working to improve the urban forests and the growing heat islands within our cities?” Bravo asked the director of the Florida Climate Institute.

It so happened the chair of the U.S. House of Representatives Select Committee on the Climate Crisis was in the room. Rep. Kathy Castor had recently visited a city in Virginia where heat mappers had revealed a correlation between neighborhoods with low income levels and areas with higher summer temperatures.

“That informs policy makers to say, ‘OK, of course we’re going to have to plant trees. We need some kind of tree equity initiative to capture carbon. We need the help of Extension and experts to tell us what kind of trees, where they should go, what would be important for water conservation,” Castor said.

In March, Castor’s committee will present a series of recommendations on how the nation can respond to the climate crisis to protect us from its worst effects. Ed’s question made the case for including production agriculture as a partner in this effort.

This is a small step toward changing the narrative that agriculture is a climate villain. By engaging in this process and getting the attention of people like Rep. Castor, Ed is doing important work. He’s acting mighty past-presidential if you ask me.

My urban forestry Extension agents – Larry Figart in Jacksonville, and Rob Northrop in Tampa – have been talking about the cooling contributions of urban trees for years. It was powerful to hear this coming from a nursery grower.

That’s why I formed the Florida Climate Smart Agriculture Group in the first place with the help of Solutions from the Land, a Maryland-based, non-profit organization which facilitates the kind of encounters Ed had with the congresswoman. We need discussion of climate change as it affects agriculture to be a producer-led discussion.

Scientists can only carry the climate message so far. We can talk all day about what should happen. Producers are the ones who can put it into day-to-day reality.

Trees aren’t the answer to climate change. But they can be one of many responses.

Ed’s question and his participation in the Florida Climate Smart Agriculture Working Group demonstrated leadership. He is out front on a growing movement among the state’s producers to assert themselves as the source of solutions.

Jack Payne is the University of Florida’s senior vice president for agriculture and natural resources and leader of the Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences.

Not an FNGLA Member?