Think Globally, plant locally

Tip O’Neil, former Speaker of the House of Representatives, once declared that “all politics is local.” The same might be said for climate change. While its consequences are global, its root cause is the greenhouse gas emissions each of us emits directly or indirectly from our vehicles, buildings and appliances.

Since anthropogenic climate change is the result of the millions of energy decisions each of us makes in the course of our lives, then it stands to reason that the solution to climate change lies in making those decisions differently. Each us must sign a treaty with ourselves, a personal Kyoto Protocol. Without that individual commitment, no international agreement to mitigate global warming will be worth the recycled paper it’s written on.

This point came home recently when I met a woman named Clare Dakin in London. Clare is the UK’s representative for a program called Project Green Hands. Its objective is to reverse the desertification of Tamil Nadu, the seventh most populous state in India, by planting 114 million trees within the next 10 years.

So far, six million trees have been planted by 1 million people in three years, including 850,000 in a single day, a Guinness Book world record. The people who plant the trees are volunteers who each pledge to care for a single sapling for two years.

Clare is evangelical about this work. “The project is rare in its beauty, its wisdom, its depth of understanding of people and nature and its immediacy, logic and global significance,” she says. “It is aforestation on barren farmland … to tackle water scarcity, soil erosion and community rehabilitation through mass education around sustainability and mass participation in planting and tending.”

So far, Clare says, 1,000 villages have joined the project. The goal is to increase tree cover in Tamil Nadu from 17 percent to 30 percent or more — and to do it in a way that can be replicated in other parts of the world.

Other parts of the world aren’t waiting. Project Green Hands is being replicated globally by the Plant for the Planet: Billion Trees Campaign, launched by Wangari Maathai, winner of the Nobel Peace Prize in 2004 for her work promoting tree planting in the Green Belt Movement. The billion-trees effort is coordinated by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). Its goal is to plant 7 billion trees by the end of 2009. More than 2.6 billion trees already have been planted and 4.2 billion more have been pledged.

“Globally, forest cover is at least one-third less than what it once was,” says Achim Steiner, executive director of UNEP. “We need to plant trees and in doing so send a signal to the corridors of political power across the globe that the watching and waiting is over — that countering climate change can take root via one billion small but significant acts in our gardens, parks, countryside and rural areas.”

Tree planting should be a priority in the United States, too, where extreme weather, drought, insects and wildfires are destroying millions of acres of forest land vital not only to carbon sequestration, but to wildlife, recreation and other important ecological services. One of the organizations working to replant these areas is American Forests.

All three organizations need and accept donations of money, but also of time. You’ll find instructions for giving both at the web sites linked from this post.

If you’re in the giving mood this holiday season, consider trees. Plant them yourself, empower others to do so, or both. When it comes to climate change, every tree you help plant is a gift to the planet and to your children.

6 Responses to Think Globally, plant locally

  1. And thank you JRomm, because implicit in all local acts is the knowing of how important it will be. Spreading information is key.

  2. paulm says:

    The media is failing humanity – not one sizable mention in the majority of editorial papers in the UK in their summing up of 2008.

    The editors and owners need to be put on the rack too.

  3. Marc Hudson says:

    Sorry, potential breach of protocol/etiquette here, since my response is to paulm rather than about the posted story (inspiring though that is)

    Paul- would you write up something on that and guest post it on a blog some of us run- If willing, please email

  4. Roger says:

    Yes, planting trees, and other local actions are all important, as are political leadership and media stories to help close the huge gap that Jim Hansen speaks about. Example: a media story today mentions that millions of trees will be destroyed by insects. Why? Because the warmer temperatures allow the insects to live further north, and the long drought weakens the trees. Missing, for most readers, is the further link to how our burning of fossil fuels leads to the warmer temperatures and drought.
    Of course the trees are just a tiny tip of the iceberg in terms of the thousands of subtle impacts that climate disruption is causing every day–so painfully obvious to some–and totally lost on so many, many more…

  5. Dennis says:

    So how do you accomplish this? What goals does one have? To have as small an effect as possible or to have a small enough effect? The 2000 watt society is an interesting idea. Though it aims to have 2000 watts consumption for everyone as that was recently near the world average. Doing that in developed countries is quite a challenge. Trying to meet it personally is also, but should those sacrifices be made? If we already average this for everyone on the planet, well even this is too much.

    Planting trees, and switching to CFL bulbs are good steps in the right direction, but nowhere near enough to halt our climate problems. I haven’t posted here before, but am a regular reader. It looks to me like this has gone too far to be halted soon enough to matter. Bottom line I think is we have too many people. I think the climate changes will reduce the number of people. How much progress we make, and how soon will determine how many are effected and how detrimental the effects will be. But it does not seem likely we can reduce energy consumption enough quickly enough to prevent a huge calamity.

  6. David B. Benson says:

    The single most important thing you can do is eat less red meat.

    Helping, somehow, to plant not millions, but billions of trees each year is also important.