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From One Tree to Many

Felix Finkbeiner is on a mission to get young people around the world to plant trees.

© Plant-for-the-Planet

Felix Finkbeiner planted his first tree when he was 9 years old. Now 25, he’s on a mission to get young people around the world to do the same.

Currently, there are about three trillion trees on the planet—about half as many as there once were. That’s a problem. Trees release oxygen and take in carbon dioxide—a major ingredient in the climate crisis. They also provide cooling shade, slow soil erosion, and help control flooding.

Finkbeiner’s organization, Plant-for-the-Planet, encourages and empowers children and young adults to help restore the world’s trees. Finkbeiner, who grew up in Germany, was inspired to take on tree loss after reading about Wangari Maathai, an activist from Kenya who led a movement to slow deforestation that resulted in the planting of 30 million trees.

When he was in fourth grade, Finkbeiner gave a presentation in front of his class. He told his classmates that kids in each country should plant one million trees. On March 28, 2007, he and his classmates planted a crab apple tree in front of their school. Soon after, Finkbeiner launched Plant-for-the-Planet, and within three years, the organization’s tree count had reached one million. 

Finkbeiner says one reason Plant-for-the-Planet caught on was that it was created by a kid, and therefore received a lot of media attention. When kids around the world heard about it, they wanted to help—and they started planting trees. 

Trees are among the best tools we have to take on the climate crisis, Plant-for-the-Planet says.

Did You Know?

Satellite views of a lush green area and the same area with much of the green cleared away.

NASA/GSFC/METI/ERSDAC/JAROS and U.S./Japan ASTER Science Team

These satellite images show the same area of Brazil before and after part of the Amazon rainforest was destroyed.

Researchers estimate that more than 15 billion trees are cut down each year.

Buffalo Soldiers

Black and white photo of five uniformed soldiers on horseback in a forested area.

National Park Service Historic Photograph Collection

These buffalo soldiers helped protect Yosemite National Park in California.

Some of the earliest protectors of America’s forests were the buffalo soldiers. Made up of all-Black army regiments, the buffalo soldiers were in existence between 1867 and about 1950.

By the 1890s, the U.S. government had begun setting aside pieces of land as national parks. These lands were to be preserved so that their wildlife would be protected and so that visitors could enjoy their natural beauty. 

In 1891, the government decided that army soldiers should protect national parks. Buffalo soldiers were the sole caretakers of California’s Yosemite National Park and Sequoia National Park in 1899, 1903, and 1904. Their duties included constructing roads and trails, fighting wildfires, curbing poaching (illegal hunting) of the park’s wildlife, and ending illegal grazing of livestock on park land. Among the natural resources that the soldiers protected were California’s giant sequoia trees, many of which are thousands of years old. 

Since 1916, the National Park Service has cared for Yosemite, Sequoia, and all of America’s other national parks. But before then, the buffalo soldiers were crucial to the protection of some of the United States’ greatest treasures, including its ancient trees.

Wangari Maathai

Mockup of a smiling woman among illustrations of trees.

Mark Garten/UN Photo, © Siarhei Nosyreu/Dreamstime.com; Photo illustration Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc.

Felix Finkbeiner was inspired by Wangari Maathai, a biologist and environmentalist whose work led to the planting of millions of trees. Find out why Maathai was a champion for women, as well as for the planet, at Britannica School.

WORD OF THE DAY

reforestation

PART OF SPEECH:

noun

Definition:

: the act of planting tree seeds or young trees in an area where there used to be a forest 

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