President Trump may notice more leaves and fewer fronds as he rides through West Palm Beach to and from Mar-a-Lago this weekend.
The immediate cause is a pair of 2018 city ordinances, Sections 94-442 and 94-443, that mandate a minimum concentration of shade trees while limiting palms in all open spaces.
The impetus behind the arboreal regulations is a larger concern, one that should be foremost at all levels of government, city, state and federal.
The concern is climate change, and Trump's continued blind denial of scientific fact for the sake of corporate profit is an abrogation of duty that dwarfs whatever he did regarding Ukraine to get impeached. He doesn't even fiddle while Australia burns and climate change becomes climate derangement.
The city of West Palm Beach not only recognizes the danger, but is also doing whatever a small municipality can to counter it.
“Rethinking paradise, today, tomorrow, together,” the city’s sustainability slogan goes.
That includes mandating the planting of shade trees, which have a cooling effect not imparted by palms. A shade tree can absorb more than 90 times the carbon a palm can.
“We are the ultimate tree huggers,” says Penni Redford, resilience and climate change manager at the Mayor's Office of Sustainability, City of West Palm Beach, a title for which there is no equivalent in the Trump administration.
Under Redford’s direction, the city is on track to give away 10,000 shade trees over the next decade. The city is also installing special sidewalks that have underlying structures allowing a tree to extend its roots into an underlying layer of what she calls “real soil… good dirt.”
The regulations governing the city’s open areas say one shade tree must be planted every 1,000 square feet around single dwellings and duplexes. A minimum of 75 percent of the trees in parking lots have to bear leaves, not fronds and most be spaced so way to provide maximum shade for vehicles.
At the same time, the city has been seeking to make the streets more pedestrian- and bicycle-friendly.
“We’ve been treating to get people out of the cars, on bikes and walking,” Redford told The Daily Beast.
Back in 2016, the city inventoried its greenhouse gas emissions and established a multifaceted plan to reduce it to net zero by 2050. The city has in the meantime been saving millions of gallons of water with a conservation plan that includes—yes, Donald—reduced shower flow and high efficiency toilets.
“Does your property qualify for a free toilet?” a city online flyer asks.
The need for it all only became more apparent at the end of 2019, as the wettest September there in 125 years was followed by the warmest December on record.
“Things are a little topsy-turvy and we’ve got to pay attention to that,” Redford told The Daily Beast.
Meanwhile, overnight temperatures in the city have risen an average of five degrees in the past decade. Some of that is believed to be due to heat absorbed by sun-baked expanses during the day and may be offset by an increasing number of shade trees.
But such matters seem to be of no concern to our president, who has called climate change a “hoax” concocted by China. And he need not worry about seeing a dwindling number of fronds once he crosses the Intercoastal Waterway from West Palm Beach to Palm Beach and his new official home address, Mar-a-Lago.
The Town of Palm Beach did for a time consider requiring a certain number of shade trees, perhaps one every 5,000 square feet, with a maximum of eight, whatever the size of the open space. But even that modest requirement was nixed.
“Staff has reviewed the topic of shade trees and has researched how other upscale south Florida municipalities address shade trees in their development code,” the town reported in December of 2018. “For the communities that do require shade trees, the intent is to bolster a community’s tree canopy and to limit the number of palm trees per property. Staff believes that the Town has a very healthy canopy condition, well in excess of the requirements of the studied municipalities, and that the limiting of a property’s palm trees in not in the interest of the community.”
Even so, the town did commission a ”Technical Review of Proposed Coastal Management Program” in 2013 that found “certain considerations apply to Palm Beach as a whole,” including “sea-level rise and climate change planning and adaptations.”
“Since significant portions of the Island are presently vulnerable to storm damage and flooding, and rates of sea level rise are expected to increase in the future, the Town should initiate a planning process for adaptation to coastal climate change,” the study found.
The planning seems to involve pumping sand and maybe building a sea wall or two. But this richer-than-rich town is too busy luxuriating in paradise to rethink it. And its most talked about resident is a self-imagined Caesar who makes Nero look proactive and responsible.
Whatever Trump did with Ukraine, he continues to place the whole planet at risk.