Science & Technology

The Internet bands together to save Earth’s forests

Many consider online influencers and the YouTube community to be a toxic cesspool of negativity. However, YouTubers Jimmy Donaldson, known by his online name MrBeast, and Mark Rober are challenging this view by bringing internet celebrities together to make the world a better place through their TeamTrees campaign

Donaldson and Rober created the campaign after fans challenged them to plant 20 million trees to celebrate the MrBeast Youtube channel hitting 20 million subscribers. The aim of the project was to plant 20 million trees globally by 2020. In order to make their dream a reality, the YouTubers partnered with the Arbor Day Foundation, a US-based tree-planting organization. For every dollar donated, the Arbor Day Foundation would plant one tree in a forest in need. The campaign garnered massive attention, with important players in the online and technology communities such as Elon Musk and celebrity YouTuber Jeffree Star donating thousands of dollars to the cause. 

The environmental benefits of planting 20 million trees could be enormous.

In urban areas, trees act like natural air conditioners while they photosynthesize,” Anna Hargreaves, assistant professor in the Department of Biology at McGill, wrote in an email to The McGill Tribune. “They mitigate heat waves, provide shade, increase property values, and make people happier. Reforesting […] can eventually provide more forest habitat and, depending on where you plant them, help connect patches of existing forest.” 

Planting trees is also a cheap and easy solution for reducing carbon dioxide levels.

“Trees sequester carbon out of the atmosphere, so [they] can counteract the carbon dioxide we emit from burning fossil fuels,” Hargreaves said. 

Trees have other restorative abilities. For instance, by removing pollutant gases, they aid in air purification. They also reduce evaporation from the ground and produce 200450 gallons of water each day through photosynthesis, thus contributing to water preservation. In terms of soil properties, trees help to reduce ground erosion, increase fertility, and help soil retain its moisture content. Planting 20 million trees could amplify such effects worldwide. 

Despite the potential benefits of the TeamTrees campaign, planting 20 million trees presents serious logistical issues and some unexpected consequences. 

Coordination and cost are obvious ones,” Hargreaves said. “Survival of those trees is another.”

The timing of tree planting could also have important consequences on the ecosystems that the TeamTrees campaign is attempting to protect. 

“Planting trees in grasslands is very controversial,” Hargreaves said. “When  you start reducing grassland habitat, it can change water balances [in the ground]. Recent evidence suggests natural grasslands can be more stable carbon sinks than forests.”

Planting trees in the wrong places can damage ecosystems, increase wildfire intensity, and actually worsen global warming. Some scientists believe that placing too much emphasis on tree planting can also distract people from cutting down on fossil fuels, the most important step in combating climate change. As such, the cultural emphasis on the TeamTrees initiative could have negative effects on the environment by diverting people’s attention from the many issues associated with the fossil fuel industry.

Still, by the end of 2019, MrBeast and his collaborators had achieved their goal. The trees will be planted between January of this year, continuing until December 2022

In a recent video, MrBeast urged his fans and fellow YouTubers to continue fighting climate change and join forces to raise awareness of climate-related issues, hoping to carry the spirit of the TeamTrees campaign into the new decade. Following this new medium of outreach, humanity may have a chance to reverse some of the damaging environmental abuses of the past two centuries.

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