A living memorial: King Boulevard, twenty years later, a model for climate resilience action

A treeless and stark King Blvd. twenty years agoPictured at left is a treeless and stark Martin Luther King, Jr. Blvd. in Los Angeles, twenty years ago last week.

This photo was taken just before TreePeople helped organize a huge tree-planting event in honor of the great civil rights leader.  Volunteers at 1990 King Blvd. eventThe result is perhaps the largest living monument to Dr. King...but even more important, the fact that the trees are alive, thriving and beautiful today is a monument to one of Dr. King's key tenets:  sustained community engagement and action

The costs of inaction

World map of Kyoto Protocol SignatoriesThe nations of the world met last month in Copenhagen. Unfortunately, they weren't able to hammer out an agreement with binding pledges to reduce carbon emissions.

In 1997 nearly all of those same nations gathered in Japan to face up to the challenge of climate change, and most signed the Kyoto Protocol. This map from Wikipedia shows those who agreed (in green), those who abstained (in grey) and those who refused to consider the agreement (in red).

What has been overlooked are the costs of inaction. And make no mistake, we've been paying dearly.

A little rainwater turns out to be a LOT ( thrown away)

Rain slicked sidewalkSome rain fell in Southern California the last few weeks.

We had three storms and a few showers, totaling in the range of three inches; here at TreePeople we logged 3.75 inches.

That means 64,000 gallons of fresh rainwater flowed into our cistern.

Although last year was the third year of a state-wide drought in California, with a stage 3 drought emergency declared in Los Angeles, the little rain that did fall in Los Angeles actually filled our irrigation cistern by February, which allowed us to water five acres of newly-planted trees and shrubs. As Jim Hardie, our Park Manager says, it's a "wonderful system," and it carried us all the way from March through October without requiring us to call on the city water grid for irrigation at all.

We are now in an El Nino condition, according to the climatologists at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, which usually brings more rain than average to our region. But JPL's lead forecaster, Bill Patzert, recently warned that we shouldn't expect it to solve our drought problems.

"Wet or dry, we will still be rationing water next summer," he told The Orange County Register. "The drought is deep and there is no one big, wet winter fix.”

The California Department of Water Resources recently announced that they expect to deliver only 5% of the usual amount of water to southern California via their canals.

Hearing of drought and water stress troubles me to no end, because the same solution that works for us at TreePeople could work throughout Southern California.

Quickly and cost-effectively responding to climate change by valuing nature's services

The Climate Summit in Copenhagen will go down in history as among the world's largest ever to date: 119 heads of state and government representing countries that account for 89 percent of the world's GDP, 82 percent of the world's population and 86 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions.

Leaders at COP 15 opening



(Photo of Danish COP15 President Connie Hedegaard, Danish Prime Minister Lars Løkke Rasmussen, UN Secretary Ban Ki-moon, British Prince Charles, Director of the UN climate secretariat Yvo de Boer t the opening ceremony 15 December: Keld Navntoft/Scanpix)

As impressive as this attendance is, the truth is most progress in protecting the environment happens out of the glare of the media spotlight.

It happens because of the willingness of governments, businesses, and individuals to pay attention to --  and fairly value --  the natural world and the almost incalculable worth of its ecosystem services, such as clean drinking water.

International treaties matter, but so does action closer to home.

We at TreePeople have been advocating for trees, for urban forests and watersheds, for the value of ecosystem services for years. So it's worth taking note when a powerful government agency such as the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers vows to reform its practices to value the environment fairly instead of extracting value from it and often leaving it in ruins.

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