Story at a glance
- Started by Felix Finkbeiner when he was just 9 years old, Plant-for-the-Planet has planted 13.6 billion trees in 193 countries.
- The group launched an app to make it even easier to participate.
- Felix and team hope to plant a trillion trees, which would soak up 25 percent of CO2 in the atmosphere.
The Amazon is burning, along with forests in the Congo, Indonesia and Siberia. Millions of acres have burned this year, emitting millions of tons of carbon dioxide (CO2). Another brick in the wall of our too-big-to-get-your-arms-around global climate crisis. And yet 9-year-old Felix Finkbeiner of Germany was convinced we could fix this, and he spent the last 12 years telling adults: “Stop talking. Start planting.” Trees are the cheapest way to remove CO2 from the atmosphere, giving us breathing space to eventually eliminate our fossil-fuel emissions, Finkbeiner argued.
Children listened first, selling chocolate bars to raise money to plant millions of trees. Then adults started paying attention, and today 13.6 billion trees have been planted in 193 countries under Finkbeiner’s Plant-for-the-Planet banner. Now there’s an app anyone can use to plant one or a 1,000 trees to help restore the landscape in more than 20 countries.
The app shows the details of 50 hand-selected reforestation projects in developing countries where trees can be planted. “All of the money goes to the tree planters minus any banking transaction fees,” Finkbeiner told me. “We wanted to make it easier to support great tree-planting projects,” he said.
Trees are not only good for the climate and nature, they are also a vital source of income for poor communities. Plant-for-the-Planet has its own project in the Yucatán Peninsula in Mexico, where a tree is planted every 15 seconds. The youth-led initiative has also trained more than 80,000 children in 73 countries about the climate crisis, global citizenship and how to organize planting parties, as well as give lectures and motivate other children to join in. And they’ll need all the help they can get to reach their goal of planting a trillion trees.
There is enough suitable habitat to plant a trillion trees without impacting existing agricultural or urban areas, a recent study published in “Science” determined. That number of trees would soak up 25 percent of CO2 in the atmosphere, putting levels back to where they were 100 years ago, the study estimated. However, it will take decades for trees to grow and soak up that much carbon.
Trees use the energy of sunlight and through the process of photosynthesis they take CO2 from the air. In the process of converting it into wood they release oxygen into the air. In addition to the CO2 that trees capture, they also help soil seize significant amounts of carbon.
Still, a trillion trees is a lot, and that’s where the app comes in. “I was incredibly surprised at how popular it was, even before the official launch at the end of September,” says Finkbeiner, now 22 and a PhD student in ecology in ETH Zürich, Switzerland.
“Apps like Trillion Trees can go a long way in boosting nature-based solutions for climate action, livelihoods and sustainability,” said Inger Andersen, executive director of UN Environment Program at the launch of the app during Climate Week NYC.
The app was built mainly by volunteers using open source code, says Sagar Aryal, the lead developer, who spent two years working on it. New versions of the app will show people exactly where their trees are planted using satellite imagery and how much CO2 has been sequestered. “We’ll need technical help to do this,” Aryal says. “I’m not a tech guy, I’m a philosophy student who’s going back to school.”
Aryal, who is from Nepal, became aware of climate change and its impacts on Mount Everest as a teenager. The thought that Everest could be without snow one day shocked him into action. He has been planting trees with Plant-for-the-Planet for more than 10 years now. “Kids know something is wrong with the climate, and we’ve come up with our own solutions,” he says.
How to Plant Your Own Forest
- Select your favorite project.
- Donate. The trees are planted for you.
The app also allows you to:
- See where all your donated trees were planted
- Add your trees to the World Tree Counter
- Register trees you’ve planted yourself with photos, locations and more
- Gift donated trees to others
- Start a tree planting competition among schools, with colleagues or friends
- See a list ranking people — and countries — by planted trees