Last June, U.S. President Donald Trump shocked the world when he decided to pull his country out of the Paris Climate Accords – an agreement that unites 195 nations with the aim of decreasing greenhouse gas emissions and shifting to renewable energy. Environmentalists and city councils didn’t stand back though, they protested the decision by either taking to the streets or giving blunt statements denouncing the decision and refusing to comply. Trump’s environmental stance did not only provoke environmentalists inside the U.S., though; even before he made the decision in April, three environmentalists based in New Zealand decided to plant a worldwide “Trump Forest.”
“It makes people all over the world feel empowered to take a stand – symbolically – against Donald Trump’s climate ignorance,” one of the three co-founders of Trump Forest, Adrien Taylor, explains to progrss. “It lets people take a stand that has real tangible fix. We all know that planting trees [reduces] carbon and we all know Trump’s policy is going to pump millions of tons of extra carbon into the atmosphere, which neither planet nor humanity cannot afford [at] the moment.”
With the help of individual donors from more than 50 countries, Trump Forest has expanded to 530,653 trees in five months with a cost of almost $70,000. How the co-founders have managed to reach out to around 2,000 backers is just “one of the wonders of the internet,” as Taylor describes. They started their campaign with a few hundred dollars from each of their personal savings and the rest was sorted by the power of the internet and social media in getting the word out.
Trump Forest first started with a thousand native New Zealand trees. “New Zealand is a country that used to be lush with rainforests along coastlines. Unfortunately when humans came here, that changed the landscape over the decades,” Taylor tells progrss.
But the co-founders want to reach out to a broader audience instead of working with individuals alone. “What we’ve had now is the support of individuals all over the world; what we want now is the support of businesses, because businesses play a really important role in leading the transformation into a clean future. They can move more quickly than politicians. So we would like businesses to get on board and donate some trees as individuals have all over the world. We are willing to show our gratitude by having their logo on our website in return. ” So far they have been supported by Offcut, an environmentally-friendly baseball cap company that was established and is run by Price and Taylor.
The team is composed of the three founders, all of whom work full-time on top of running Trump Forest. “It’s actually sort of a full-time project on top of our full-time jobs, which is fantastic since it’s obviously captured the interest of people.” Besides running their own business, Taylor works in a marketing enterprising design firm, while Price is a climate scientist. The third co-founder, Jeff Willis, is an American PhD candidate studying in Christ Church, New Zealand at the moment. “And in terms of roles, we all do everything really, there’s no leader and there’s no role definition. We’re all co-founders and we all share the load.”
There’s a reason that the team chose to plant trees of all the environmental solutions out there. Although Taylor feels that all the initiatives encouraging individuals to use renewable energy are equally important, he finds that for everyday people, not everyone around the world is going to become a solar or wind energy expert overnight. “We really want to come up with something that people could feel like they’re contributing to this solution, towards climate crisis, toward Trump’s climate ignorance,” he explains. “We do not want them to be experts in renewable energy, I’m certainly not one myself, so this is something that we thought we could do in the comfort of our own homes in a corner of the world – in a corner of the planet – in New Zealand and anyone can jump on board and help us out.”
There are several tree-planting initiatives around the world, most prominently is the UN’s Billion Tree Campaign that has run since 2006, as well as Plant A Billion, an initiative that aims to plant a billion trees by 2025. While all of these initiatives might make it seem that the world is growing greener by the minute, but the truth is, it isn’t.
There are 130,000 square kilometers (almost 50,000 square miles) of forests cut down or burned every year to produce timber, and make room for growing cattle, soy, and palm oil, with the latter used to produce bio-fuels and cosmetics. Deforestation contributes 20 percent of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions.