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Plant peace. Plant hope. Plant a tree.

Written by Meighan Pritchard
March 31, 2014

If I knew that the world would end tomorrow, I would continue to plant my apple trees. —attributed to Martin Luther

As we learn more about climate change and the perils it poses for the planet, we can throw up our hands and give into despair. Or we can work to preserve rainforests that sequester carbon and plant trees to be managed sustainably.

One tree that is actually working against climate change is the palm tree used in making palm oil. In Indonesia, rainforests are disappearing at a record pace, giving way to palm oil plantations. Palm oil is an ingredient in thousands of food products on our grocery store shelves, but often the palm oil does not come from sustainably managed trees. The rainforests of Indonesia support many varieties of life, including orangutans, which have dwindled to an estimated population of only 60,600 worldwide as their habitat disappears. In recent years, palm oil has been added to biofuels, causing a spike in demand for this oil that makes biofuel a driving force in destruction of rainforests around the world. 

But planting other kinds of trees can make a huge difference to communities for environmental health of the landscape, for availability of wood for building and cooking, and for cash crops. In the Kenyan village of Kaiguchu, close to 9,000 trees were planted in 2013 as a result of the United Church of Christ’s Mission 4/1 Earth project. Four hundred of the trees are macadamia nut trees, which will provide a cash crop to the village. Another 8,000 trees were planted on a hillside that had been deforested; these trees will reduce erosion, help maintain high water levels, and provide fuel for cooking. 

Similar reforestation efforts are happening around the world, including projects by Global Ministries or partner organizations in India, Ghana, and elsewhere. In the Middle East, Global Ministries works with the YWCA of Palestine and the YMCA of East Jerusalem to plant 50,000 olive trees. These will replace some of the more than 250,000 olive trees that have been destroyed in an attempt to punish Palestinians and to make way for the wall that divides Palestinian territories from Israel. In Palestine, olive trees are symbols of peace and hope. 

We can throw up our hands in despair at the enormity of the environmental challenges that we face. Or we can take action. Wangari Maathai saw the effects of deforestation and founded the Green Belt Movement, which has planted over 51 million trees in Kenya. She wrote, “The Green Belt Movement asks individuals why they take for granted the bountiful resources with which the Creator has endowed them. Why do they cut down the trees, and watch the rain God has provided run off and wash away the soil that God provided for agriculture, into the streams or rivers that God provided, and then out to the sea, which God also provided?...The environment is, in effect, the fingers on the hand that God has been stretching out to them for decades, hoping that they will grasp it and lift themselves up.” [Wangari Maathai, Replenishing the Earth (Doubleday, 2010), 143-44.]

Plant peace. Plant hope. Plant a tree.

Meighan Pritchard serves as Minister for Environmental Justice for the United Church of Christ.

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