Fires burn millions of hectares of forest each year and, as this summer has made painfully clear, forest fires are becoming stronger and longer-lasting.
That doesn’t bode well for the world’s trees, which are crucial in the global fight against climate change. Trees store carbon, strengthen soil quality, absorb the impact of natural disasters, and support vast ecosystems.
Along with the oceans, they’re the lungs of planet.
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But various activists are working hard to make sure trees don’t just disappear from the planet. Everywhere from Pakistan’s mountains to Florida’s coastlines, people are planting millions of trees.
Here are six of the world’s most dedicated tree planters.
1. Jadav Payeng, India
In 1979, Jadav Payeng noticed that extreme flooding and droughts had nearly wrecked the vegetation on Majuli, the world’s largest river island, according to the Daily Mail.
He was 16 at the time and he vowed to plant a tree every day.
Now, 40 years later, he’s turned a part of Majuli into a lush landscape larger than Central Park, home to dozens of animal species.
Payeng sells milk for a living, but he returns to the island every day to care for his trees and plant more. Over the years, planting the trees has gotten easier, he said in a documentary about his work.
The sense of duty that comes from protecting his trees, however, has grown over the years.
“Humans consume everything until there is nothing left. Nothing is safe from humans, not even tigers or elephants,” he said in the documentary. “I tell people, cutting those trees will get you nothing. Cut me before you cut my trees.”
2. Saalumarada Thimmakka, India
Saalumarada Thimmakka International Foundation
Saalumarada Thimmakka tried to conceive a child with her husband for 25 years. When she gave up, she turned to trees, and began to raise a family of massive Banyan trees.
Thimmakka planted 300 to 400 trees in rows in an arid region of Gubbi, India, and has been single-handedly caring for them ever since.
“As the trees she planted grew in height, her stature as well as a legend has grown,” Al Jazeera wrote in 2013.
Now 106, she has sparked environmental awareness throughout India.
3. Adrien Taylor, New Zealand
The administration of US President Donald Trump has embarked on a campaign of environmental deregulation and has even called for increased logging of forests.
All around the world, people have reacted with outrage. Adrien Taylor and two friends in New Zealand decided to do something good for the planet in response.
In March 2017, Taylor launched “Trump Forest,” a crowdsourced campaign for planting mangrove trees in Madagascar. The team reached 1 million trees earlier this year and shows no signs of stopping.
4. Theo Quenee, United States
My amazing little brother has been growing over 400 red mangrove shoots he collected after Hurricane Irma. Today, 7 months later, he planted over half of the seedlings in a coastal area that had been badly affected by the storm, and I really couldn’t be prouder. from r/pics
When Hurricane Irma struck the US last year, Florida’s coastline was shredded. Hundreds of mangrove trees, which are critical for preventing floods, were ripped up by their roots.
Theo Quenee, an 18-year-old Miami native, saw the damage and began saving the trees by replanting them in temporary pots.
After seven months of watering and care, more than 400 trees were ready to be replanted in the wild.
5. Imran Khan, Pakistan
Pakistani politician Imran Khan, chief of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party, addresses his supporters during an election campaign in Lahore, Pakistan, July 23, 2018.
The newly elected Prime Minister of Pakistan, Imran Khan, has a long history of promoting environmental regeneration. In 2017, his campaign to plant 1 billion trees in the province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa achieved its goal ahead of schedule.
Now Khan wants to plant 10 billion trees across Pakistan. As climate change bears down on the country, threatening heat waves and drought, the goal couldn’t be more important.
“It is now imperative to tackle climate change and reverse environmental degradation as Pakistan’s situation will only worsen as the economy grows,” Khan’s party, the Pakistan Movement for Justice, wrote in its 2018 manifesto.
6. Queen Elizabeth, United Kingdom
Sir David Attenborough’s documentary series Planet Earth has moved people around the world. But in an episode released this year, audiences learned that the Queen of England is also an ardent environmentalist.
The Queen announced that she wants to help protect the world’s forests after learning about widespread deforestation. The Queen’s Commonwealth Canopy was formed to plant tens of thousands of trees across the UK’s commonwealth of 53 countries.