For many nine year-olds the future of the world might not be one of their most prominent concerns. Felix Finkbeiner, however, is the exception. This now twenty year-old, originally concerned with the livelihood of his favourite animal, the polar bear, stumbled onto a life’s mission far greater than what he bargained for when he started researching a fourth grade school assignment.
After being steered away from his polar bear angle toward another Tree Hero story about Wangari Maathai, he soon realised – “[I]t’s not really about the polar bear, it’s about saving humans”.
It’s eleven years after Finkbeiner came to this realisation and eleven years after he planted his first unimpressive crab apple tree, near the entrance to his school. Now, the environmental group he founded, Plant-for-the-Planet, is backed by world leaders as they collaborate to plant more trees in the hopes of fighting against climate change. His “humble” childhood goal of planting 1 million trees has since escalated to numbers beyond anything that he could have dreamed.
This is very lucky for us, because studies have shown that 10 billion trees are lost each year and if his foundation was to make a dent in the environment they’d have to upscale their goal to match the loss.
Plant-for-the-Planet now aims to plant one trillion trees! Those trees could absorb an additional 10 billion tons of carbon dioxide every year; Finkbeiner says that will buy time for the world to get serious about reducing carbon emissions.
Plant-for-the-Planet now has an army of over 100,000 “climate justice ambassadors,” who have trained in one-day workshops to become climate activists in their home communities. Most of them are between the ages nine and twelve.
There’s no denying that this young adult deserves to be among our already chosen tree heroes. While grown ups ignore the many calls to action, Finkbeiner still has hope for the future.
“We’re going to be the victims of climate change. It is in our own self-interest to get children to act,” he says. “At the same time, I don’t think we can give up on this generation of adults and wait 20 or 30 years for our generation to come to power. We don’t have that time. All we can do is push them in the right direction.”