Felix’s Challenge

Phoresta / 2018  / Felix’s Challenge

The fate of trees in this historical moment? Lights and shadows, as we will see.

These days, we have been very impressed by the images of the woodlands of Belluno razed to the ground by a windstorm. We could say ‘hard times for the trees’. But we also read about a German boy who managed to plant a billion trees. How did he do? Let’s go step by step. The name of the 9 year old boy is Felix Finkbeiner and he created an association called “Plant for the planet” with the purpose of planting as many trees as possible around the world.


An inspiring interview

On Tuesday, November 6, 2018 the Italian newspaper “Corriere della Sera” published an interesting interview which we’ll resume for our readers, perhaps also to encourage them a bit after the bad news on the catastrophe in Belluno. Felix Finkbeiner, who is now 21 years old, has been busy planting trees since he was only 9. His idea was (is) as simple as effective: since trees absorb CO2 and produce oxygen it is convenient to plant as many trees as possible. He got this idea when he was still attending the primary school.

An early child

Clearly Felix was a very early boy with clear ideas. He proposed to his schoolmates to plant a million trees. Why a million, asks the interviewer? Candid and honest reply: probably the biggest figure that came to my mind at the time. Perhaps also due to his charisma and leadership capabilities, he was immediately supported by his classmates and then by his teachers. Some of Felix’s older friends helped him create a web-site and quickly enough the operations of the association spread like wildfire. Several journalists interviewed Felix, giving way to a virtuous path with increasingly ambitious goals.

150 thousand planted trees

One year later, we had already planted 150,000 trees in Germany and in 2008 I was invited to introduce our initiative to the UN Assembly. In 2011 the first target has been reached: the millionth tree was planted in front of the Ministers of the Environment of 45 countries. Afterwards, a snowball effect started and now there are 15 billion trees planted all over the world, thanks to the association and its regional partners: NGOs and private companies that support our projects.

An important event

Another important event – again in 2011 – is the decision of the United Nation Environment Program to entrust the management of the “Billion Tree Campaign” to the association of Felix. Their campaign on the web is really well done, entertaining as well as informative. It has a dry and effective slogan: Stop Talking, start planting, as well as a very pragmatic approach. There are also some commercials where people speak to someone (perhaps an activist) covering their mouths with their hands. This gimmick (trick to memorize a proposal) was also used in various meetings, of course always in a playful and friendly way.

More and more ambitious goals

After 2011 our objectives became even more ambitious, we want to reach one thousand billion trees planted. The interviewer asks if the goal is realistic. Felix replies that it was born from a simple calculation: on the earth there are 3 million billions trees (according to an article of Nature and based on remote sensing) therefore there is space for another 600 billion plants, but we have to plant 1000 billion plants because unfortunately not all of them survive. And here we come to the most interesting point of the interview: “If we succeed” says Felix “the trees could absorb a quarter of the CO2 produced by man”. It looks like a fascinating challenge and perhaps they will succeed, since many governments, individuals and companies are supporting the initiative. We close by recalling a popular book of poems by Elsa Morante ‘The World saved by the boys’, that dates back to the 60s. What is prophetic?