Tree Hugger’s Anonymous

Tree hugger. What is a tree hugger? Who are they and what do they do exactly? Let’s examine the term. By definition, the Urban Dictionary defines a tree hugger as “an environmentalist or one who believes trees and all living things should not be cut down or harmed. Someone who works to protect the environment from destruction or pollution.” (1) It may come as a surprise to many that many environmentalists who embrace energy efficiency would opt to cut down trees on their property for the greater good. Yes, this does happen.

Recently, I saw a gentleman speak about politics and economics. This man, who I’ll call, “Ralph,” had a wide range of views about the state of the economy and where I should put my money. Ralph, isn’t a fan of Clean Tech or electric cars, and strangely enough, Ralph isn’t a fan of groups like PETA for hurting the development of windmill fields because of their harm of birds. “Interesting,” I thought to myself. Yet, and to my surprise, he went on to explain how he himself is a self-proclaimed tree hugger. It seems as if somewhere along the line there had be someone who had witnessed Ralph holding up traffic to let a family of turtles cross the road. I realized this joke must normally kill in stuffy, mothball scented conference rooms.

To call yourself a tree hugger for denouncing the deaths of imaginary birds or seemingly imaginary turtles may not be the best argument for swaying the investment decisions of your audience, but Ralph’s point made me question myself as a tree hugger a bit. I feel the definition of a tree hugger has become too convoluted. People who call themselves tree huggers need to think up a new term, myself included.

I’ve come to this conclusion because I’m devoting myself to becoming someone who lives off the grid one day. That is my dream for retirement. You can live on your yacht, I’ll live in my zero energy house. It’s a beautiful dream, and I know if I’m going to accomplish this I’ll need to rely on solar power and wind technology to make it happen. So if I wind up killing birds with my windmill, I’ll be sure to write PETA a check to cleanse my soul of the murderous rage of a tree hugger, and give the winged beasts a proper burial in a pet cemetery. Solar energy though, is something of a different animal.

I live in the Northeast, if you couldn’t tell by my literary accent that is. My town is Blue Bell, Pennsylvania in Montgomery County – a suburb of Philadelphia. As much as people like to say solar power is a waste of money in a town like mine, most of those people are just following the status quo – hang on to what we’ve got because change is the devil. Well, maybe not the devil, but close enough to raise some hairs. Solar power is alive and well here in the great Northeast. As a matter of fact, companies like, Solar City (2), are even installing panels for free plus a nominal monthly fee, which is offset by your energy savings, in exchange for the return on investment. If you want my opinion the return on solar investments called SRECS are hardly worth it since China entered the solar game a few years back, so the trade off from you getting zero to low cost energy compared to the 20+ year payback depending on SRECs is hardly worth the argument.

One thing you have to realize when installing solar is that shading from trees are the biggest issue. Just 10% of shade can reduce solar output by up to 50% or even shut down panels completely. This factor brings me back to my original statement that by definition, and even though I’ve devoted my life to living green, if I cut down trees to embrace the magic and mystery of solar power I may by default forsake my old friends with the beeswax crimped dreads. What a depressing thought. I’ll definitely get ignored at the next Phish concert. Mental note – don’t go to Phish concerts.

“According to American Forests, one tree stores about 0.5 metric tons of CO2 over its lifetime. We’ll assume that removing one tree lowers the net reduction of switching to solar by the same amount. Additionally, we also need to factor in the CO2 emissions involved in manufacturing the solar panels being installed. Producing a typical 5 kWh solar system emits about 10 metric tons of CO2, so the total CO2 emissions associated with removing one tree and installing a residential solar power system are about 10.5 metric tons.

For the removal of the tree to make sense, the net CO2 reduction will need to exceed 10.5 metric tons. That seems like a lot at first, but when you calculate the CO2 emissions you will offset by switching to solar from fossil fuels, it isn’t much at all. Your solar panels should generate at least 6000 kWh of electricity per year, and should last for approximately 25 years.” (3)

So yes, the math is there. If I cut down two or tree trees I can minimize my carbon footprint and begin my journey to live off the grid albeit sacrificing the love and respect of tree huggers everywhere. Now if I do need to cut down trees, what’s the best course of action and how much will it cost? I hit up my local friends and tree surgeons at Creative Design Tree Service to find out.

Their website has real information on the actual cost associated with a tree removal. Their online tree removal cost calculator takes into account not only the tree height and thickness but also the trees proximity to power lines, the percentage of the tree that hangs over a house or structure and the distance from the tree to the nearest place for a chipper truck. Creative Design gives you their tree removal pricing right online and you can even choose to have them come out and confirm the pricing (In Bucks and Montgomery Counties in Pennsylvania only). So if one of my readers in California or Brazil wants to know what to look for, the pricing factors shouldn’t change from one area to the next. The owner of Creative Design Tree Service, Tremaine, recommends you consider these factors when pricing for tree removal: Tree height, tree thickness, type of tree, power lines, overhang of structures (tree limbs over houses/sheds), distance to truck, time of year, recent storms/icing.

One thing I can suggest, in addition to the process of finding the right contractor, is maybe thinking about sending the trees to a mill. This is a good way to re-embrace Mother Nature and live by the rule established by our forefather Ben Franklin when he said, “Waste not, want not.” So hey in addition to solar panels, finding a reasonably priced tree surgeon and the banishment of a non-violent community of Phish fans, you can have yourself a fancy new banister or TV stand courtesy of that annoying oak tree that caused you to spend countless Sunday afternoons raking leaves. So by my count that’s a win for everyone.


  1. The Urban Dictionary. Tree Hugger by Rick. January 09, 2005.
  2. Solar City Corporation. 2014.
  3. Ralph Ralf J. Muenster. “Shade Happens”. February 2, 2009.

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