Let’s make tree-planting trendy


Climate change is a humanitarian crisis too.

Helping at an orphanage in an impoverished country and posing with underprivileged children on Instagram proves to others what a selfless person you are—and is sure to get likes. Unfortunately, even with the best intentions and organizations, short-term ‘voluntourism’ with children can have unintended consequences.

Some ‘profit orphanages’ in developing countries have been alleged to recruit and profit off children, intentionally making them look dirty and poor to increase donations. Many children living in orphanages worldwide have relatives, and 80 per cent have at least one parent.

Dodgy organizations aside, seasonal visitors can have negative impacts on the emotional developments of orphans. Frequently meeting new people and receiving inconsistent care from strangers can meddle with their attachment process. It may strain the long-term staff when large groups of visitors come and go as they’re the ones caring for the children all-year-round.

Donating to reputable organizations, like ReThink Orphanages, is more effective. Money can fill hungry tummies, keep a family warm, or help fix a roof.

But if you’ve got some time on your hands and really want to help, then grab some soil.

The climate crisis disproportionately affects those in poverty by extending droughts, killing crops, bringing extreme weather, and separating families. Volunteering to help the climate crisis is one way to slow global warming. 

On a large enough scale, doing something as simple as planting trees could have a sizable impact on climate, says Warren Mabee, associate dean and director of Queen’s School of Policy Studies. 

If seeding started trending, populations across the globe would benefit from less erratic temperatures or wild weather changes. 

Deforestation is second to greenhouse gas emissions as a culprit of global warming, according to Mabee. Trees aren’t around to ‘soak up’ extra carbon. It would take a lot of shrubs to offset the emissions of one person—about 1,500-1,600 per Canadian to cover the nation’s footprint. 

There are some tree-planting constraints, however. Countries like Canada might not have spans of unforested, fertile land, Mabee said. 

It’s also important the species are native, have adapted to wildlife, the climate, and soil, according to Ryan Danby, associate professor of environmental sustainability at Queen’s. Researching the proper species for the desired location and on local or Indigenous community rights is important, too.

Earth is home to around three trillion trees. They ensure the water cycle goes smoothly, act as a habitat for animals, and prevent soil erosion. The World Economic Forum (WEF) initiated a worldwide plan to plant, replace, and conserve one trillion trees, called the 1t.org project.

Planting trees is not enough alone. Danby says there are 20 pathways we need to take to reduce emissions by 30 per cent, which would stabilize temperature increases. Many are volunteer driven: supporting wildlife rescue, getting in the garden (like the AMS’s Lettuce Love Garden), upcycling materials, or hosting repair cafés.

Wetlands emit around 5 to 10 times the amount of carbon trees do, according to Steven Moore, commerce professor at Queen’s. Advocating to protect wetlands, industrial emissions, and fossil fuels all needs to be done alongside the reforestation of our planet.

Social media has the potential to have widespread influence on how we view our role in the climate crisis. If travel bloggers planted trees, foodies only ate local, and ‘that girl’ had a garden, we might start to all do our part.

Aimée is a third-year Commerce student and one of The Journal’s Assistant News Editors. 

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