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Don’t Forget Arbor Day

Don’t Forget Arbor Day

Unlike Earth Day which celebrates tree planting, this holiday has its roots in localism and stewardship.

The promise of fertile land and new opportunity drew thousands of Americans westward in the 1800s. As these pioneers put down roots in what we now call the heartland, they found themselves missing one thing: trees. It is important to remember the tradition that this desire gave rise to.

While the Great Plains are beautiful by themselves, pioneers discovered that trees on the East Coast provided many practical and aesthetic benefits. The shade of the trees and shelter provided by the winds, as well as protection against soil erosion. That’s why in 1872, J. Sterling Morton ,, a Nebraska newspaper editor, spearheaded a campaign for a contest to plant trees. It was called Arbor Day.

On April 10 of that year, it is estimated that Nebraskans planted more than one million trees in celebration of the first Arbor Day. Now, Arbor Day is a national holiday that is even celebrated internationally, with tree-planting events taking place all over the world. The Arbor Day Foundation estimates that it has distributed nearly 500 million trees since its beginning 50 years ago. Arbor Day, a lesser known celebration of Earth Day that falls on the third Friday in April is nationally recognized. The Arbor Day celebration is celebrated in America by communities planting trees, and teaching citizens about the value of trees to human well-being. No matter where you live, trees have always connected us to nature: they provide food, shelter and materials for our daily lives.

But, America is a country with few frontiers and few pioneers, so it seems like we’ve lost the spirit of Arbor Day. The simple beauty and function of trees is now taken for granted.

Today, while we claim that we care for the environment, the environmental environment we actually care about is global and abstract. It’s no surprise that Earth Day, a product of the revolutionary fervor of the 1970s, has supplanted Arbor Day. An annual Hallmark holiday now celebrates beauty and hardwork. Environmentalism is now commercialized. The environmentalism is now a performative act that can be packaged and distributed worldwide via social media. To combat pollution, we now block traffic.

The great tragedy about the disintegrated environmental movement is its inability to prepare us for the greatest environmental challenge of our time: climate change. The global challenge of climate change has left young Americans feeling helpless, anxious and angry. The challenge seems too large for them and too small. The spirit of Arbor Day is the simple act of planting trees. This provides a way to solve the problem.

One tree can store one ton of CO2 over its life. One-third of human greenhouse gas emissions could be prevented by planting one trillion trees HTML1. Furthermore, the act of planting trees gives a local solution to climate change’s abstract problem.

This is the core of Arbor Day. Earth Day was created by activists. Arbor Day was founded out of a love for nature and the desire to plant something beautiful and useful for future generations. The passion of one man for trees inspired many people to plant thousands upon millions of trees. Contemporary environmentalism shouldn’t be about cutting off the tree it sits on. It should instead be grounded in proud historical roots. Climate activists shouldn’t be marching on the streets. They should get their hands dirty.

America is a different country than it was when J. Sterling Morton established Arbor Day 150 years ago. While Morton didn’t have to face climate change or the danger of an eroding Amazon rainforest, he knew a fundamental truth. Everyone is responsible for protecting the environment. We should all remember that even a small action like planting one tree will make a difference in the future.

Quill Robinson is the vice president of advocacy at the American Conservation Coalition (ACC).

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