Environment

Seeds of Change: 23 Million Ethiopians Come Together to Combat Climate Crisis

Young ethiopians take part in a national tree-planting drive in the capital Addis Ababa

Schools closed, government employees got the day off, and foreign workers pitched in. Together, a broad swath of people in Ethiopia focused on one simple but effective way to counteract climate change: planting trees. By the end of that Monday in July, more than 350 million seedlings had been planted.

With so many bleak headlines about the effects of planet-warming carbon pollution, including wildfires, drought and extreme weather, the event in Ethiopia signals hope for action on a massive scale. Some 23 million people—more than a fifth of the country's entire population—participated in the effort, one official told the BBC. While some questioned the exact numbers, the effort was undoubtedly significant, drawing support from the UN Environment Programme and other international organizations.

Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s Green Legacy Initiative aimed to plant 200 million trees at 1,000 sites across the country. The July 29 effort exceeded that goal, according to a government website. Overall, the country is aiming for 4 billion trees total.

Ethiopia national tree planting
Young Ethiopian girls take part in a national tree-planting drive in the capital, Addis Ababa, on July 29, 2019. Ethiopia plans to plant a mind-boggling four billion trees by October 2019, as part of a global movement to restore forests to help fight climate change and protect resources. The country says it has planted nearly three billion trees already since May.
MICHAEL TEWELDE/AFP/Getty Images

Like many other countries, Ethiopia has grappled with widespread deforestation as trees are cleared for farmland, grazing and other purposes. Forest covered just 12.5 percent of the nation's land in 2016, compared with at least a third in the early 20th century. Church properties have served as some of the last remaining vestiges for forests.

Restoring forests—and protecting the ones that remain—is a critical hedge against the worst effects of climate change. The world has room for at least a trillion trees, one recent study found, and those trees could absorb and store hundreds of gigatons of carbon dioxide: That's "at least 10 years of anthropogenic emissions completely wiped out," said study author Thomas Crowther of Swiss university ETH Zurich.

0:00 / 0:00
Video Companion
Ethiopia Plants 350 Million Trees in One Day to Combat Drought

Ethiopia isn't alone in recognizing this potential. Just days later, India planted a reported 220 million trees. Soon after, Ireland committed to planting 440 million by 2040 as part of a climate action plan. Iceland, which lost its forests to settlers hundreds of years ago, has also been engaged in a decades-long effort to afforest its land, at least doubling the amount of forest area since 1950.

Standing forests don't just absorb carbon. They also offer shade, conserve water, prevent soil erosion and provide economic boosts in the form of tourism and wood products. Iceland began its effort to reforest not because of climate change, but because it wanted to maintain its own commercial forests for homegrown paper and lumber.

Of course, no one needs a government mandate to add more shady branches to the world. To start your own tree-planting effort, check out the Arbor Day Foundation and the U.S. Forest Service.

Share
Comments

Latest Stories

October 18, 2019
After a violent insurgence of illegal loggers decimated their lands, a group of 15 fearless Purhépecha women led a revolution that brought an indigenous Mexican culture—and its beloved wild mushrooms—back from the brink.
3 Min Read
October 15, 2019
The New York Public Library is bringing iconic literature into the 21st century, putting classics like "Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland" and “The Raven” into the hands of young readers via something that’s likely in their hands already: their smartphones.
3 Min Read
October 14, 2019
Tom Szaky has a revolutionary vision to solve the world’s disposable plastics problem—but it’s not by recycling things. It’s by not creating trash in the first place.
2 Min Read