The United Kingdom has a big ol’ green plan for the New Year, and it’s a brilliant one. In 2014 (and 2015…it’s gonna take a while) the government is planting four million trees to create over 500 acres of new woodland. England has, for a long while, been pretty much the least wooded/green nation in Europe, with only about 10% coverage…so it’s a smart move for so many reasons economic, eco-conscious, and aesthetic…and it is wise planet stewarding for the future. While this is an outstanding program to launch, there are versions and proposals circulating among government offices that call for more than twice that amount of planting and new woodland creation (5,000 hectares, which is about 12,000 acres), so hopefully cooler heads will prevail and they will up the ante.
In the New Year, let’s emulate the Brits and get some new plants into our ground as well. Don’t wait until Arbor Day (April 25 this year) to plant. If your ground is not frozen solid by the Polar Vortex, pull out the shovel this weekend and invest in a growing future. If you’re an apartment dweller or don’t have a little soil of your own to till, volunteer for some of the fantastic urban greening organizations all around the country. Future-You will look back and thank you. (To make it easy on your wallet, join the Arbor Day Foundation and you will get ten free trees to plant).
Photo: Tree People
Based in Los Angeles, Tree People is an environmental non-profit working to green up our urban landscapes. In addition to planting trees throughout L.A. they also run educational programs for school kids to foster better eco-understanding, offer sustainable solutions for urban ecosystem problems, work with government agencies on critical water issues, and run a beautiful park in the hills. Tree People has coined a phrase I’m fond of: Functional Community Forest, intending that every neighborhood in the city create an environment and green spaces that function like a healthy forest, using local residents and businesspeople to spearhead the transformation. Citizen foresters will revitalize areas with plantings, mulch, water catchments, gardens and green trenches, permeable paving so rainwater can soak in instead of coursing over streets and walkways, and drought-tolerant planting. It’s a pretty lofty ideal, and I’m completely buying in on the concept!
Tree People runs with the help of legions of volunteers: dive in and get your hands pleasantly grubby as you help plant trees, care for existing plantings, help in the headquarters, inspire the community and schools, photograph and document projects, or distribute fruit trees around town. When they first started pumping water into this desert to make a city, they may not have imagined it could ever grow beyond an arid state…but it certainly has (notice this season’s purple Jacaranda blossoms–one of my very favorite LA details), and greening it up more and more only makes it better…and more hospitable.
I have lots of friends experiencing the growing sense of dread that comes each year as summer wanes. Back to School sales begin and wallets hemorrhage cash and plastic, nests continue to empty, teachers ready themselves for the battlefield, and kids of course are in mourning (while as a kid I was usually pretty bored by the time school started, I still hated to close the door on the possibilities summer laid at my feet). This year I know a few families sending freshly graduated young adults off to college out of state. That situation is, of course, fraught with all sorts of extra layers of drama for parents and kids, so it adds insult to emotional injury when you, as a new college student or new college parents, have to spend arm, leg, and internal organs for textbooks. What a huge scam college textbooks are, and the pricing is akin to highway robbery. When I was at my university, as soon as a booklist came out we tried to get to the campus bookstore and prayed we could find used versions for at least somewhat of a discount (how they justify those prices I’ll never know. The pages are the same paper and the cover the same hard or soft stock as every ten- or twenty-buck bestseller in the pleasure reading sections).
I was pleased to learn about Chegg this year. Chegg is an online textbook rental resource so you rent the books just like a Netflix account. They are mailed to you for flat rate postage, and your return postage at the end of the semester is free. You can also sell your used textbooks to Chegg if you got roped into buying list price books. The best part? For each rental transaction, Chegg plants a tree—over 3 million planted so far by this upstart company daring to do it differently. That’s 4,000 acres of trees already planted, and thus far, hundreds of millions of dollars saved by students (there’s a counter on the website that runs a tally…and it’s rising pretty quickly).
So it takes a bit of the sting out of school and budgets, and reforests the United States. Actually cracking those books before midterms is something nobody can do for you.
Sometimes, all you need is a great idea, and you can change the world.
The Help Kenya Project
brings donated computers from the United States to Kenyan village learning labs and schools. They also deliver donated clothing, and provide teaching and tutoring in English, computer work, and programming. In exchange, the children and young adults receiving the donations plant trees in and around their village to try and reverse the damage done in previous generations by indiscriminate cutting that led to terrible erosion and degradation of the earth. New trees provide shade and keep the earth from washing, or blowing, away.
Volunteers can travel along with the project founder, Kenyan Jude Ndambuki, to deliver equipment, do computer repairs in the Westchester, New York program center, and help load the shipping containers as well as helping collect donations of gently used technology, new school supplies, and clothing (and donate your own).
Not a lot of effort. Not a lot of time. And it completely rocks the world of a whole bunch of people.
DO you have an idea like this? Share it, and until then, add your energy to other projects that help.
To all of my Estonian friends–and I must sadly admit there aren’t huge numbers of them…yet, I must also admit, head hanging even lower in embarrassment, that I don’t often think of the city of Tallinn…but when I do…I don’t think dense and verdant forest.
So when I learned that the winners of a Europe-wide competition for innovation in student-created companies was a tree planting, carbon offsetting wonder company, I dug that. Touch of Green won the early July contest in Rotterdam for their inspired idea to allow people to purchase tree planting services to allow them to offset their carbon footprints. As opposed to basic “Sure—we’ll plant a tree for you” companies elsewhere, Touch of Green calculates precisely how much carbon your planting can counteract, and gives you exact coordinates for where your particular tree(s) are planted…so you could, next time you’re in Estonia, go visit your oak or pine or cypress or…
It’s a nice touchstone for an esoteric concept. People generally want to reduce their carbon footprints…whatever that means…and it’s nice to see the results. And nice it was developed by students. The young team from Estonia beat 31 other European nation representative teams.