Thursday, June 05, 2014

Trees, Mental Outlook and Personality Disorders

A report released in Durham, North Carolina last year is often misinterpreted because the full story is just too jarring.

It notes that Durham is set to soon lose 13,000 of its hallmark street trees as they age out or finally surrender to butchering due to  anachronistic power lines.

The figure has occasionally been used as if this includes all urban canopy loss but it doesn’t come close.

Durham loses 18,000 to 36,000 trees on average every month to development.  That figure comes from taking the average number of acres per day developed over the last three decades and multiplying it by what urban forest researchers estimate as the number trees per acre.

Who cares, right?  Developers are sure to curb this desecration because research has repeatedly demonstrated the value of tree retention to home values, parking lots and commercial values, right?

Unfortunately, if some special interests have their way in the regressive-leaning state legislature here and tree ordinances are outlawed, trees may soon be something we only see in tree museums, otherwise known as public parks.

Speaking of mental illness, a recently published longitudinal study shows the remarkable ameliorating and lasting effect that more green infrastructure has on people with depressive disorders by looking at people who relocated to both more and less green areas.

The impact when people moved to a greener urban area with more trees, parks and greenways was that they experienced an immediate improvement that is sustained over the three years of the study.

Just one more justification for the societal value of tree conservation.

A similar boost occurs with marriage and other life changes, of course, but according to studies, that rapidly dissipates.  What makes green infrastructure so different is that the boost is sustainable over a much longer span of time if not permanently.

One of the tree conservation requirements a few state legislators want to outlaw are those that provide near-road buffers and screens.  An overview of their benefits was published recently,  co-authored by Dr. Rich Baldauf, a scientist doing research here in Durham.

Some in the legislature seem to only listen to whiners, unaware that the far greater number now known as “low impact” developers are far more successful because instead of whining, these developers, architects and site planners embrace and exceed these local green infrastructure conservation ordinances.

The 16-year old movement exploded more than a decade ago after a  case study was conducted on two developments south of Puyallup, Washington (southeast of Tacoma) comparing conventional development to “low impact” development” (LID.)

The LID approach saved over 20% on the cost of development while maintaining project density, reduced the size of storm retention structures and the need for eliminating catchments while preserving 62% of the site in open and green space, and lastly, achieved “zero” effective impervious surface.

One has to be pretty far along the scale for narcissism to be cool to the negative impact that wantonly sacrificing natural infrastructure creates on millions of other people.

Of course, having been a CEO for thirty-four year means that I, too, fall further along that measure than the general population.  So do politicians.

But you can spot those further up along the scale because they resist taking in new information, such as this essay, especially any information that is contrary to their prejudice.

But a new study shows that their low empathy for others “is not an inability or even disability,” it just “is not their default” response.  That their actions harm millions won’t break through that barrier.

As reviewed last Friday by Tom Jacobs in Pacific Standard – The Science of Society, the study sheds light on why some lawmakers here find empathy with one or two individuals who come to them with an isolated grievance, then seem to jump to universal solutions that instead harm millions.

Harboring petty grievances themselves, many elected officials seem to find it easier to accept anecdotal perspectives whenever presented with them.

The secret then is to help these policy makers take a more universal perspective.  Unfortunately, perspective-taking is one of the seven essential skills learned in childhood but far more difficult to grasp at later stages.

This may also be why Moral Mondays get under their skin.  The demonstrations put individual faces and stories to the large numbers of North Carolinians their actions harm.

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