I have a confession to make. I, Andrea Sabelli, lifelong environmentalist and “tree-hugger” have never – or I should say had never – planted a single tree. I dedicated my whole graduate thesis to agroforestry and reforestation practices in the Amazon Basin, spent three years working on climate change vulnerability in the Latin America and the Caribbean and promoted “Ecosystem-based Adaptation” daily.
Ecosystem-based Adaptation can include several kinds of measures, one of which is tree planting, since it can reduce climate change vulnerability by enhancing soil fertility, water regulation, regulating the microclimate and contributing to livelihoods of vulnerable communities. Trees also absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and therefore help mitigate climate change. Sounds great doesn’t it? That I have always been an “advocate” for tree planting and conservation in general only makes my confession worse. I had never planted a single tree before.
That is, before I was lucky enough to be invited to participate in this year’s Corporate Environmental and Social Responsibility (CSR*) 1.5 hectares tree planting event. I flew to Kingston, Jamaica and spent two days in the office working with colleagues on CSR planning and training. On Saturday May 03rd 2014, about 40 IDB employees, their family members and myself, showed up to plant trees on what would be a very hot Saturday afternoon.
When we arrived to the site the forestry department gave us all a briefing on the environmental benefits of tree planting along with instructions on how to plant the trees to maximize their potential for long-term survival.
Once we started, everyone spread out over the site. Eventually I found myself alone. Alone with the seedlings. I knelt on the ground, dug out the whole, placed the seedling inside, filled the whole with dirt and covered it with mulch to ensure that the seedling would be protected and able to absorb sufficient water and hopefully grow into a full adult. And repeated this process 20 times, after which I lost count. It felt good. I felt close to nature and I felt that I was making a real contribution to the environment. I am also pretty sure that I wasn’t the only one that day who felt that way. After the planting we enjoyed a great lunch together as a team, and then drove back to the city, dirty, exhausted and happy.
Planting trees isn’t the “panacea” to our environmental problems; it will take much more than that.
I am also aware that the simple act of traveling to Jamaica contributed to climate change due to the greenhouse gas emissions from my flight and that the benefits from my tree planting in terms of CO2 may be null due to my travel. However, I think the actual act of planting is a great way for a single individual, or even better, a group of people, to make a small contribution to the environment while raising awareness about the need to “take care” of it. Hopefully that translates into taking further actions in our daily lives that can reduce our environmental footprint. I’m glad to say that, after all these years, last Thursday, on environment day I had a clear conscience. Not only do I work daily with environmental causes – I have planted many trees before.
*Every year, the IDB CSR program funds activities in the country offices that contribute to climate change mitigation or help to reduce the office’s environmental footprint. One of last year’s winners was the Jamaican Country Office, who proposed to reforest of degraded land under the Forestry Department’s “Adopt-A-Hillside” program.
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