How to Plant a Christmas Tree


Tip O’Neil, former Speaker of the House of Representatives, once declared that “all politics is local”. The same might be said for climate change. While its consequences are global, its root cause is the greenhouse gas emissions each of us emits directly or indirectly from our vehicles, buildings and appliances.

If anthropogenic climate change is the result of the millions of energy decisions each of us makes in the course of our lives, then it stands to reason that the solution to climate change lies in making those decisions differently. Each of us must sign a treaty with ourselves, a personal Kyoto Protocol. Without that individual commitment, no international agreement to mitigate global warming will be worth the recycled paper it’s written on.

This point came home recently when I met a woman named Clare Dakin in London. Clare is the UK’s representative for a program called Project Green Hands. Its objective is to reverse the desertification of Tamil Nadu, the seventh most populous state in India, by planting 114 million trees within the next 10 years.

So far, six million trees have been planted by 1 million people in three years, including 850,000 in a single day, a Guinness Book world record. The people who plant the trees are volunteers who each pledge to care for a single sapling for two years.

Clare is evangelical about this work. “The project is rare in its beauty, its wisdom, its depth of understanding of people and nature and its immediacy, logic and global significance,” she says. “It is aforestation on barren farmland…to tackle water scarcity, soil erosion and community rehabilitation through mass education around sustainability and mass participation in planting and tending.”

So far, Clare says, 1,000 villages have joined the project. The goal is to increase tree cover in Tamil Nadu from 17 percent to 30 percent or more – and to do it in a way that can be replicated in other parts of the world. Continued...