In January 2007, while preparing a school report about the climate crisis, I read about Wangari Maathai, the Nobel Peace Prize Laureate from Kenya, who planted 30 million trees in Africa in 30 years with the goal of reducing climate change.
I learned, while doing my research, that trees store carbon dioxide and so planting more trees, of course, reduces carbon dioxide. Trees will transform the CO2 gas into wood and release oxygen. As long as the wood doesn’t decay, the carbon will remain stored and negative climate change will slow down.
I realized that 1 trillion trees are only a small forest per person!While planting trees alone doesn’t solve the climate crisis, it gives us more time until we find a permanent solution. I learned that if mankind is successful in planting one trillion trees, then, according to preliminary estimates, the trees would extract approximately one fourth of the man-made CO2 from the atmosphere every year.
Inspired, I finished my report with the words: “Let’s plant one million trees in each country of the world!” My teacher liked the idea and sent me to the other classes at our school to present it, and eventually, to other schools. This was the start of Plant-for-the-Planet. “Now We Children Save the World” is a motto of Plant-for-the-Planet. We thought we would start with the polar bear as our first goal, as its numbers were in decline due to a warming environment. But soon, we understood that it’s not about saving the polar bear, it’s about saving our future.A crucial part of the organization’s model is that children teach other children. During the one-day academies, children who are current Climate Justice Ambassadors pass on their knowledge and experiences to new Climate Justice Ambassadors.
Climate Justice Ambassadors won’t passively accept the climate crisis. Rather, they accept responsibility at the global level and shape their future by becoming active in their own countries.
This has a crucial advantage. Children actually listen more closely to their peers than to adults.
There are now more than 55,000 trained Climate Justice Ambassadors in 53 countries, including China, Germany, India, Rwanda, Slovenia, Peru, Haiti, Thailand, Nigeria, Colombia, USA, Singapore, Italy, Mexico, Poland, and Switzerland. The children want to teach one million more children in approximately 20,000 academies.
When the children’s and youth’s initiative first took over at our current project site in Mexico, it was not encouraging. On that land all the trees and the land lay barren. Within only one year, Plant-for-the-Planet succeeded in making the area a vital carbon sink once again. Seventy-eight workers are planting, on average, 5,500 seedlings per day. Every 15 seconds a new tree was, and still is, added. They are placing and caring for eight different native tree species and achieve a 94 percent growth rate, which is more than four times higher than normal for the region (around 20 percent). Approximately 1100 trees grow per hectare. It’s possible for Plant-for-the-Planet to plant and care for one tree for only one Euro.
I was so happy when I saw the photo of our millionth tree planted in Mexico.
Through my work at Plant-for-the-Planet, I learned that many children were worried about the future of our planet. In 2011, I was invited by the United Nations to address the UN General Assembly. I asked the Assembly, “We children know adults know the challenges and they know the solutions. We don’t know why there is so little action. What effects will the climate crisis have? For many adults, that’s an academic question. But the children will still live in the year 2100. They will suffer from droughts, floods and wars.”
I never expected this to become a worldwide children’s and youth’s initiative: Plant-for-the-Planet. We plant trees, train each other and give speeches about the climate crisis. We children and youth can make a difference. Never forget: one mosquito cannot do anything against a rhinoceros, but a thousand mosquitoes can make a rhinoceros change its direction.
Photo credits: Plant-for-the-Planet
Additional Reading & Resources
Learn more about Plant-for-the-Plant
Learn more about Wangari Maathai and the Green Belt Movement
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