The Inspiration Award

Introduction

History is full of inspirational characters. Emperors, Messiahs, Leaders, Scientists, Activists… The inspiration award is an award that is given to a person who succeed in life, accomplished the impossible, concerned only the good of the world, took no advantages for herself/himself and of course inspired people. The nominees of the inspiration award have to have planted hopes & dreams into people’s hearts. The nominees have to be known and have followers (not in a fanatic way). To sum up, the nominees have to be the persons that really did something to the world.

The nominees have to be idealistic persons. They have to have a goal for making the world a better place. They need to stick their goals no matter what. They need to overcome obstacles. They need to inform people about their goal and they need to raise awareness in society. They need to push society to take action for their own good. They have to accomplish their goals only for the good of the world.

I selected all the nominees according to the first two paragraphs of the introduction part. Although I took initiatives when I spot two close nominees. For example when I saw an old and a young nominee with the same success amount I’ve chosen the young one. Or when I observe, two nominees experienced the same amount of success but one of them was poor; I’ve chosen the poor one. Upon that I focused on nominees who lived in 20th or 21st century to be more accurate. Moreover I tried to found not quite well known nominees for becoming more different and informative. At first I’d say I would have chosen Elon Musk without a second thought. In the end I’m proud of my decision.

Felix Finkbeiner

Felix Finkbeiner is a German environmentalist and the founder of the international tree-planting and environmental advocacy organization Plant-for-the-Planet. This organization has planted more than 14 billion trees across the globe since 2007. The surprising things about this organization are its origin story, its success, its missions and its employees.

Let’s start with Felix. Felix was born in 8 October 1997 in Munich, Germany. His father Frithjof is a businessman, activist and a member of the “Club of Rome”. His mother Karolin is a textile engineer. He has two sisters. He established “Plant-for-the-Planet” when he was in fourth grade in elementary school. After since it was his priority. He attended Munich International School from which he graduated in 2015. After living in London for three years, he graduated with a BA in International Relations from SOAS, University of London in 2018. Since September 2018 he is a PhD student of environmental sciences at the Crowther Lab of ETH Zürich, where he studies the most effective approaches to forest restoration under Tom Crowther.

At the age 10 he spoke in the European Parliament and at the age 13 in the UN General Assembly. A decade later, he leads an organization with 120 employees internationally and 90,000 members in 75 countries. An organization that has planted more than 15 billion trees.

Plant for the Planet

It all started just with a presentation to the class. In fourth grade Felix has been asked to prepare a presentation to the class by his teacher. The theme was global warming. Fortunately Felix did his research well. When he was finding resources for his presentation, he encountered with a prominent name: Wangari Maathai. Wangari was a Kenyan social, environmental and political activist. She was the first African woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize. In 1977 she founded the “Green Belt Movement”. A movement that has planted more than 30 million trees in Kenya in order to stop deforestation. She brought peace and prosperity to Central Africa.

Wangari’s story influenced Felix. With all his preparations he presented his presentation to the class. He suggested that we should plant one million trees in every country on the world. In his current speeches he mentions that back then he didn’t even know how many countries existed. Yet the idea was incepted in his mind. From now on he is going to take steps to make his dream possible: One million trees in each country.

He also said in his presentation that “Adults, parents, all grown-ups are just saying stuff about global warming. But there’s no action. This is our problem. We have to take action. We have to stop talking and start planting. (Not in exact words)”. Today their motto is still the same: “Stop talking, start planting”. This was his mission since that presentation.

After four days since his presentation, he did what he said. With his classmates they went to a park and planted a tree. He defines the beginning of his campaign as that day. Luckily a local journalist heard about them and made a news about them. After that they have made this a tradition. The movement has spread quickly. In a short period of time other schools have joined. Due to that one of their friends created a simple website to track which school planted the most trees. It has turned into a competition. Which school planted the most… Thanks to all these, that year, they have planted more than 50.000 trees. I wonder what will happen if that journalist didn’t recognize them.

Although it was not just tree planting. It was also executing a vision. Some of their friends started to make seminars for raising awareness. “What is climate change, how can we stop it, what is trees’ share in the big picture?”. Some of them started to make presentations in their classrooms, schools. Some of them went to rotary clubs, mayors. Moreover some of them spoke with local governments, governors. Furthermore they have spoken in United Nations National General Assembly on 3 different occasions and in European Union Parliament.

Today, Plant-for-the-Planet has a program called “Youth for Climate Justice”. Felix has planted his first tree with his classmates. The seminars are being given by children. The organization has been directed by Felix, a child. Felix stated that, adults only talks, they take no action. As a conclusion he raised young climate ambassadors.

Felix’s vision included children. He believed that they are their only saver. Children are our only soldiers because they are literally fighting for their own future. In “Youth for Climate Justice” program children is being educated by children about climate change, forestation, trees… Today they have more than 1.600 academies in 75 countries. Children are encouraged for taking action for their own good. They are encouraged to speak about their future. Today there’s more than 90.000 children as a climate ambassador.

They have planted their first tree in January 2007. They have closed that year with their 50.000th tree. In 2008 Felix presented his idea at the UNEP Conference in Norway. 700 child delegates from 105 countries elected him to the UNEP Junior Board for 2008–2010. In October they have opened their first academy. In the end of 2008 Felix spoke in front of the European Parliament.

In 2010 they have founded the Plant-for-the-Planet Children’s Foundation, led by a Children’s council. The goal of the foundation is to support the worldwide student initiative in its goal that until 2020 at least a million children in 20,000 academies worldwide should become members of the global network and ambassadors for climate justice, committing themselves as citizens of the world to forming their future. After 3 months they planted their millionth tree.

Next year in February 2011 thirteen years old Felix spoke at the United Nations for the first time. He called for planting one trillion trees. In his speech, he mentioned it again: “We children don’t understand why there’s so little action. We know that adults know exactly what challenges we have and they know the solutions to these challenges but we don’t understand why there’s so little action”. He also mentioned that the symbolic origin of his campaign is Wangari Maathai’s call for billion trees. In the very end of the year UNEP (United Nations Enviroment Programme) handed over it’s “Billion Tree” campaign to Plant-for-the-Planet. They renamed as “Trillion Tree” campaign.

Next year in January 2012 they presented the “Change Chocolate” at the ISM in Cologne. “Change Chocolate” is a chocolate bar for tree planting. It’s carbon neutral and the profit directly goes to the campaign. In December they’ve sold their one millionth chocolate bar.

Tom Crowther ,a scientist, has been asked to count all of the trees around the globe. He started a research that last 3 years. His goal was to determine how many trees existed on earth. How many more can be planted. After 3 years in 2015 he concluded his research. He made a roadmap for Plant-for-the-Planet. Also he is now Felix’s professor at ETH Zürich.

According to his research there were 6 trillion trees existed before the agriculture revolution which is around 12.000 years ago. Today the world has only 3 trillion trees. 10 billion trees are being lost annually. The important part of his research is there’s enough resource and space for planting 1.2 trillion trees more. After his research a trillion tree campaign prepared it’s detailed roadmap.

In May 2015 at the first Youth Summit in Tutzing, young people launched the “Climate Strike”. Young people stated their demands for their own future. Also in May the campaign received their biggest project: “Yucatán Restoration”. A project which still goes on.

They took the charge of 22.000 hectares of the destroyed and degraded forest in Yucatan Mexico. It’s the size of 50.000 soccer fields. Today they employed 100 employees there that plant on average 1 tree in every 15 seconds. That 6.000 trees a day and more than 2 million trees a year.

When Felix made a trip to Yucatan he realized that it’s not about the amount of the trees that has been planted. It’s actually about the survival rate. In field trips he saw that only a 22% of the trees has survived. Which means after the first year 78% of the trees have already died. They studied and developed a tree monitor system to overcome low survival rates. When they plant with tree-nursery and tracking systems the survival rate skyrocketed to 94%. The cost of planting one tree in Yucatan is no one Euro including tree-nursery, planting and tracking.

These trees are being funded by companies that want to contribute fighting climate crisis by voluntarily becoming carbon neutral. They use “AreGIS” system to make these companies transparent and show supportive companies online. Their goal is planting 100.000.000 trees in Yucatan Peninsula by 2030. But to reach 1 trillion trees, they need the help of millions all across the globe.

2 years later in 2017 they have opened their thousandth Academy. In March 2018 they launched the Trillion Tree Campaign together with Prince Albert II of Monaco. 50 people in power signed the “Trillion Tree Declaration”. One month after German federal president awarded Felix with the Federal Cross of Merit. Plant-for-the-Planet demanded that Germany must become climate neutral. They have planted their 3 millionth tree in Yucatan Mexico.

Crowther Labs. showed that one trillion trees can be restored. It was possible, one trillion can be planted. In 2019 the organization started the free platform “plant-for-the-planet.org”. For this, the Plant-for-the-Planet app was launched. It has presented at the UN Climate Summit — Global Landscape Forum in New York. Now anyone can plant trees with just a few clicks. They made a social network for only planting. Felix said that they tried to make it easy and fun as possible to engage with millions all across the globe.

In the web-site everybody can see that how many trees have been planted and their location with a survival rate. They really did a good job on transparency. In “trilliontreecampaign.org” everybody can donate to a forestation project they selected. After the donation they can see their tree in pictures. They can also see their tree’s location, survival rate and cost. Or people can just plant trees themselves and register it to Plant-for-the-Planet with it’s exact specie name and location. They can also add pictures.

Donations can be made in 80 different countries. Plant-for-the-Planet takes no share and forwards the entire donations to the projects. Every tree that the donated planted or donated are shown in their personal tree counter. They can also learn about what others are doing. They can view their friends, how many trees they have planted, their targets. They can follow each other. They can also give gift trees to their friends in order to make them catch their annually goals. To sum up, the organization has created a simple social media platform just to increase tree planting.

At the World Economic Summit in Davos 2020, Klaus Schwab announced the Trillion Tree Initiative (1t.org). Marc Benioff, CEO of Salesforce, appealed to WEF visitors to take responsibility and plant one trillion Trees. Felix’s idea has gone mainstream.

TreeMapper.App increased the transparency of restoration in 2021. Organizations enter geodata, number and type of trees planted and the time. Donors can track the impact of their funds and interested scientists can get involved to improve quality.

And lastly, Plant-for-the-Planet published the first transparency report in 2021. In the future, such a report will be released annually.

The Award Winner

According to my criterion Felix obviously passes. The thing that put him in front of other candidates is his vision, persistence and his story. As a nine year old kid Felix believed in a million trees in each country. A vision seen as impossible to accomplished. He basically made it.

In his Esri UC 2018 speech Jack Dangermond (The moderator) says that ” I met with this young man years ago. He said to me that their goal was to plant one billion trees. I’m going to be honest. I didn’t believed him that time. But we’re now here. Years after he accomplished not only one billion but 10 billion and he is saying one trillion now. I just want him to surprise us again. (Not in exact words)”.

This kind of vision and persistence brought an inspiring story. A nine year old kid starts a campaign that has planted more than 15 billion trees. Just a great story to tell about it. A great story to spread. A great transparency to check if it’s true or not and I can say that it’s true.

Felix Finkbeiner won this award for stopping talking and starting planting.

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Ali Nail Somuncu

Ali Nail Somuncu

Just an ordinary guy with a happy life perspective.