September 3, 2020

20 Million Trees

by How to Save a Planet

Background show artwork for How to Save a Planet

Climate change is a big problem — and we’re going to need a big team to solve it. That means reaching people who might not think of themselves as climate activists. This week, we explore what the climate movement can learn from...YouTubers.

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Stafford Township, NJ

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Where to Listen


AYANA ELIZABETH JOHNSON: This is How to Save a Planet. I’m Dr. Ayana Elizabeth Johnson.

ALEX BLUMBERG: And I’m Alex Blumberg

AYANA: And this is the podcast about what we need to do to solve the climate crisis, and how we’re gonna make those things happen.


ALEX: So Ayana, I think you and I can both agree, the climate crisis is complicated, and is a big problem to solve.

AYANA: Agreed

ALEX: Agreed.


And in order to solve it, we’re going to need as many people as possible working on solutions, far beyond people who are already, you know, what we might think of as climate activists.


ALEX: And today on the show, we’re going to talk to someone who has assembled a truly unconventional army of climate savers.

AYANA: Yeah, this guy wrangled hundreds of thousands of people into a surprisingly successful climate action, but I doubt anyone would’ve ever called this guy an environmentalist or a climate activist before this moment. Previously, he was best known for stuff like this:


MRBEAST: In this video we will be eating a $70,000 pizza. Omg, this is incredible.

ALEX: [Alex laughs] How this man went from eating an extremely expensive pizza to leading a shockingly successful climate action. That is coming up on today’s episode…

BREAK (1:30)

ALEX: So Ayana, we heard about this person who got hundreds of thousands of people excited about a climate solution from our youngest and most online team member, Anna Ladd.

AYANA: Anna….

ANNA: Hello!

ALEX: Hello, Anna!

AYANA: What surprises do you have in store for us today? 

ANNA: So I'm going to tell you about the person responsible for this climate action... he is a person named MrBeast. I say this smugly. Do you know who that is?

AYANA: Uh, not, no, not really.

ALEX: I do not know who MrBeast is, no.

AYANA: Is that his given name?

ANNA: His given name is Jimmy.

ALEX: Jimmy Beast?

ANNA: Jimmy, Jimmy Donaldson.

ALEX: Okay.


AYANA: Okay.

ANNA: So, MrBeast is a YouTuber. At the time we’re recording this, he has 33 million subscribers. And based on like the comments on his videos and an endorsement from my 11-year old cousin, a good number of those subscribers are like pre-teen and teenage boys.

ALEX: 33 million subscribers?

ANNA: Yes.


ALEX: Holy moly.

ANNA: So, MrBeast makes these like challenge and stunt sorta videos. At first it was just him messing around with his friends, doing stuff like uh, wrapping himself in 100 layers of saran wrap, or um, microwaving a microwave. But as the channel grew, MrBeast upped the stakes a little bit and started doing these bigger challenges with huge giveaways. like this one...

MRBEAST: We built a revolving door. Last one to keep revolving wins $20,000 unless it’s Chandler. If Chandler wins this challenge, he gets $2,000...

ALEX: It's like a bunch of dudes, and they've got this like sort of revolving door setup in like a display stage

AYANA: It looks kind of like a merry go round except not.

ALEX: And these dudes are just sort of like walking around and around and around.

MRBEAST: It’s simple. Last to stop pushing wins 20 grand. LET’S DO ITTTTTT

AYANA This is gonna be out of left field, but this reminds me of when they used to have like endurance dance competitions...

ALEX I know.

AYANA ...during the Great Depression, and whoever stopped dancing the last won. And like people would just like for hours, like 24 hours or longer, they would have to keep dancing.

ALEX: Yeah

AYANA: I love that we go, um, our only frame of reference is like 100 years ago people had dance competitions, and now there are these dudes in a revolving door.

ALEX: I know. Well, this reminds me when I was...

ALEX: We would set the victrola playing.


ANNA As the closest thing this podcast has to a 12-year old boy, this reference does not land for me, I gotta say.



VIDEO: I’m tired and busy.

ALEX: Oh my God, so we're down to like two people left. There's two very tired people [Alex laughs] endlessly circulating in a revolving door.

VIDEO: The whole world wants Chandler to win. Wait. He’s out. You won! [CHANDLER WINS]

ALEX: So now, MrBeast is like dishing out, dishing out like wads of cash five grand at a time to his friend Chandler.

AYANA: This is a whole new part of the internet that I didn't know existed.

ALEX: I know. And there's something, incredibly um, compelling and joyful about it. It's sort of like that moment where Oprah gave everybody a car, distilled, and sort of like doled out week by week.

ANNA: Yeah, I feel like he’s just like 2020’s version of Jackass, but slightly more wholesome and with a much bigger budget.

AYANA That is quite the tagline.

ANNA: Right, so now that you’re acquainted with the glory that is MrBeast. I would like you to imagine a world where he takes his millions and millions of subscribers and views and turns them towards something of just like slightly more consequence than which of his friends can last the longest in a revolving door...Perhaps something like the climate

ALEX: Right! The climate.

AYANA: Yeah. Literally that is why I'm here.

ANNA: Good because this is the real reason I'm telling you about MrBeast for this podcast. The thing he did for the climate started last year. Mr. Beast had been making videos for a few years, and his audience was growing pretty steadily, like one million, 10 million, a super casual 18 million…..

AYANA: Wow, okay.

ALEX: Nothing to brag about.

ANNA: And when his audience was closing in on 20 million subscribers, MrBeast asked all his fans what he should do to celebrate the milestone. And one fan posted this meme on reddit suggesting that MrBeast should plant 20 million trees for 20 million subscribers and single handedly save the earth.

[Ayana laughs]

ALEX: 20 million trees for 20 million subscribers. I like it.

ANNA: Let me show you the original post.

ALEX: Okay. It's a, it's a little meme. I mean it's a little, it's a little gif. It's not, it's not an animated gif. It's a gif. Do you say gif or jif, Anna Ladd?

ANNA: I say gif.

ALEX: Okay good.

ANNA: But I would wager that this is a jpeg.


ALEX: It's a jpeg of Lisa Simpson.

ANNA: Let me…

ALEX: It’s a jpeg.

AYANA: It's Lisa Simpson giving a PowerPoint presentation explaining how Mr. Beast can save the earth by planting trees.

ALEX: Yeah, exactly.

ANNA: And MrBeast’s fans saw the post and they were like sounds good. And they started posting all over his comment sections and tweeting at him until Mr. Beast basically said, “Okay. Like let’s, let’s plant 20 million trees.”

VIDEO – MRBEAST: You guys spammed me to plant 20 million trees on Twitter, Reddit all over my comments section. So I made it happen. Today we will be planting 20 million trees...

ANNA: But that is a lot of trees for MrBeast to plant by himself, so instead of doing it by himself, he partnered with the Arbor Day Foundation, which is this tree planting nonprofit that’s planted 350 million trees since the ‘70s. And they put together this fundraiser called team trees, which had a very simple premise: for every dollar a subscriber donates, the arbor day foundation will plant a tree. So if they want to plant 20 million trees, they need to raise 20 million dollars.

VIDEO – MRBEAST: People just keep making fun of our generation for retweet activism and not actually doing something, which is why we created with the help of the Arbor Day Foundation. This is our chance to show the world we care. Donate there or donate using the donate button below the video. Thank you.

ALEX: And then I'm looking at the views, 41,457,916 views.


That's amazing.

ANNA [00:05:59] And easily the best part about this is that all of the 12-year old boys get like stoked on planting trees. They become little tree-planting evangelists and then they make their own videos telling people to go support MrBeast and donate to team trees.

VIDEO: Hey, you. Kid. Who me? Yes, you. What are you doing with your life? Just playing with a yoyo.

[Alex laughs]

ALEX: Ok so there’s one kid is holding the camera and talking off camera and saying, “Hey you.” And there’s the kid who’s yoyoing saying, “Who me?” And it’s like filmed in the extreme verite style of a 10 year old where like the camera is pointing everywhere.

VIDEO: Why haven't you donated to team trees? There is a bunch of wildfires happening. So are you going to join and donate now? Sure. TEAM TREEEEEEEES. DONATE NOW.


AYANA: This is so good.

ANNA: And then all the kids and went out and actually planted their own trees too.

VIDEO: Ew my hands are getting super dirty, but it’s for the vid, guys. You better like and subscribe. These are going to take years to wash off.

AYANA: That tree is a little crooked.

ANNA: They’re doing their best, okay


AYANA: I'm completely charmed by this entire thing.

ALEX: Oh, my God.

ANNA: The craziest thing is that this actually worked. Team trees raised all 20 million dollars in just 55 days.

ALEX: 20 million dollars in 55 days is pretty unheard of right?

AYANA: That’s an extremely short period of time and an enormous pile of cash.

ALEX: An enormous pile of money, yes.

ANNA: For comparison, the most successful environmental campaign ever on kickstarter was for a little over 3 million dollars for a showerhead that wastes less water. So 20 million is like pretty crazy in crowdfunding dollars

ALEX: So MrBeast is clearly on to something here. He is really good at raising lots of money for the environment in very short periods of time. Better than maybe anybody I’ve ever heard of.

AYANA: Anna, thanks so much for telling us about him. It would be... it would be great to talk to him and hear his secrets.

ANNA: I figured you might say that. I sent MrBeast a number of emails, and I am sorry to report that he cannot talk to us right now. He is incredibly busy doing stuff like this.



ALEX: Oh God.

ANNA: But I was able to find us someone to talk to who might actually be even more helpful.

MATT FITZGERALD: My name is Matt Fitzgerald and yeah, I’m the campaign director for team trees.

ALEX: Yes, Matt Fitzgerald – the guy who actually ran the campaign. And Ayana you and I talked with Matt about this campaign and how it became so successful. And it turns out he’s not from the world of YouTube. He’s actually from your world, Ayana.

AYANA: Yeah, I met Matt almost a decade ago when he was doing some social media analysis around ocean conservation and I was working for a foundation that was funding his work.

ALEX: And you were, and you were the marine biologist on staff?

AYANA: I was the director of science and solutions.

ALEX: Director…


AYANA: This is what happens when you let me make up my own titles.

ALEX: That’s amazing.

AYANA: Yeah, so basically Matt was an environmental nonprofit guy. He was the communication director at, one of the most effective climate campaigns. And then he worked at this ocean conservation group called Upwell, which is when I met him.

ALEX: And while he was doing all this work at these nonprofits, Matt came to believe that environmental organizations weren’t taking full advantage of social media. So he started telling them, if you want people to pay attention, you have to go to where the people are.

AYANA: So if for example you're trying to get people to care about ocean conservation, you should figure out where and when people are talking about the ocean on the internet and go hang out with them. Which really just means one thing - shark week.

MATT: We went to the other ocean groups and said, like, “What are you doing for Shark Week?” And they said, “Oh, Shark Week. We don't like Shark Week. It's based on Jaws. It's blood in the water. Um and also, you know, we're, we're environmentalists, and scientists, and we don't even like television.” And I'm, I'm stereotyping a little bit.

AYANA: But basically that, yeah, more or less.

ALEX: But Matt and his team were able to do some research, which they wrote up and presented with fancy pie charts, that showed that when people were talking about Shark Week online, they weren’t always shark bashing.

MATT: It turned out they were either celebrating sharks, what we called yay sharks on our pie charts, or they were sharing shark science. So, you know, did you know that you're more likely to be um, bitten by a human being on the New York City subway than to be bitten by a shark?

[Ayana laughs]

MATT: True story.

AYANA: So it seems like this is a moment of realizing that we should not be ignoring popular culture and the things that people care about and are talking about on the Internet.

MATT: That's right. And I guess at this point, I would say that in the same way that shark conservationists and ocean scientists were ignoring television, I would humbly posit that nonprofits in general – as well as all sorts of environmentalists – are ignoring YouTube.

ALEX: So when Matt saw this job posting, where this YouTuber, MrBeast, wanted to plant lots and lots of trees, he was excited. Matt usually worked with people who had an important campaign, but a pretty small audience to share that campaign with. MrBeast already had the audience baked in.

MATT: I remember looking at the view counts on some of his videos. It was staggering. I mean, if you do, if you do nonprofit video, and you get like 50,000 views on a video, like you've essentially gone viral.

ALEX: Uh huh. [Alex laughs]

AYANA: Alex, you laugh, but like this is legit the world I have lived in.

ALEX: No, I know. I know.

AYANA: I'm like, you guys, five people liked this and only one of them was my mom. Did you know who MrBeast was at this time? Had you heard of him before?

MATT: Is he listening to this?

[Alex laughs]

I'll, I'll be honest, I had not. But I definitely know now.

ALEX: Uh huh.


AYANA: During the job interview, MrBeast’s team told Matt they wanted to do an online fundraiser, a really big one. Matt’s first reaction to that was telling them they should maybe curb their enthusiasm because even with the enormous following they had, getting people to open their wallets, and in some cases kids asking their parents to open their wallets, was going to be extremely hard.

MATT: So I was like, “Look, you need people to like know that there's a fundraiser going on.” So that's like watch the video. They're pretty set there. But then you have to do something really hard. You have to get them to leave YouTube or at least to click a button on YouTube. And then they have to go and fill out some information on a form, and then they have to actually give you their money and click submit. And at each stage, you're going to lose people. Look, just basic napkin math, um, would show that you're going to need more people than already the significant number of people that you have if you actually want to raise an incredibly large amount of money, which was 20 million dollars, um, and you want to do it in a matter of months.

MATT: So I said, you're going to need a bigger team and instead of a team ocean, you're going to need like a team trees. And they said, “Oh, by the way, we got, uh, a URL for the campaign. It's We really like it. We don't remember where it came from.”


AYANA: Oh no!

ALEX: Yeah.

AYANA: So once Matt was leading this campaign, he reached out to hundreds of YouTubers to get them involved too, to build that bigger team.

ALEX: A huge and very humbling – for me – list of people who are incredibly famous that because I’m old I’ve never heard of. Folks like The Try Guys......

VIDEO – THE TRY GUYS: Plant 20 million trees! Plant 20 million trees.

AYANA: … and Guava Juice...

VIDEO – GUAVA JUICE: Yes, that means we need 20 million dollars to plant 20 million trees.

ALEX: And DanTDM…..

VIDEO – DANTDM: So it’s no secret that our environment isn’t doing too hot right now, but it’s not too late. We can still do something to save it.

AYANA: All these people agreed to join team trees and post their own videos about it on the same day as MrBeast. And between all of these YouTubers, there were hundreds of millions of subscribers watching videos about tree planting.

Alex: And, as we know, it worked. They raised the 20 million dollars in just 55 days through teamwork.

AYANA: Treem...Treemwork? [Ayana laughs]

ALEX: Treemwork. We’re the worst.

AYANA: I know we scripted this joke but it’s still funny to me.


MATT: Team trees is a, uh, a joyful enterprise that, um, opened new worlds to my activism. Um, but I, I'm still filled with kind of like, wonder that those worlds existed all around me without me actually knowing they were there.


ALEX: So, Ayana, you know what my main takeaway from talking with Matt was? Even the mighty MrBeast needs a team to help him accomplish his goals.

AYANA: Mmmm, can’t do it alone. Big problem requires a big team.

ALEX: Right! You know where I’m going with this, right?

AYANA: Well, we, you and I, Alex, have this awesome podcast.

ALEX: Right.

AYANA: And maybe we should build a big team too…

ALEX: Yes….

AYANA: And maybe we could start by getting people signed up for our brand spankin’ new newsletter.

ALEX: Right.

AYANA: So we can point them to all these awesome things that they can do to help solve this massive problem.

ALEX And Anna Ladd, who is young enough to actually understand how email works, will [Ayana laughs] um, will tell you how to get involved.

ANNA: You can sign up for the newsletter at I will send you one every week when we put out a new episode with calls to action and things to read and maybe some climate themed tik toks.

ALEX: Sign up for the newsletter and join our team. But there’s one more thing that we want to talk about in this episode that we’re going to talk about in the second half. This whole idea of planting trees as a climate solution.

AYANA: Can we just tree plant our way out of this crisis? That’s coming up after the break.



ALEX: Welcome back. So before the break we were talking about MrBeast and his giant tree planting stunt, and we promised you some science.

AYANA: To talk about the science of trees we brought in our most encyclopedic team member, science journalist and previously a climate reporter with the New York Times, Kendra Pierre Louis.

ALEX: And I’m particularly excited to welcome Kendra on this show because it will help me realize this secret dream that I’ve had for a while now about this podcast. Ayana, you know, you know those morning zoo style radio shows? You know what I’m talking about?

AYANA: Mhm, mhm.

ALEX: Where they have like Wacky Steve, and they have the sound effects, and it’s just sort of like it’s this big group of people like during your drive time radio, and they prank call people and they play songs.

AYANA: Uh huh…

ALEX: Secretly in the back of my mind I was like, can we bring some of that energy to this podcast.


AYANA: Welcome to the climate morning zoo.


ALEX: Exactly. So, Kendra Pierre-Louis, welcome to the Climate Morning Zoo slash how to save a planet. WAH WAH WAAAHHH!

[Air horns.]

[Kendra laughs]



KENDRA PIERRE-LOUIS: Wait, if this is a morning zoo, what animal am I?

AYANA: Oh, obviously a bear.

KENDRA: Yeah, clearly.


ALEX: I don't really think that's the way morning zoo radio shows work week. I don’t think everybody is assigned an animal.


AYANA: Wait can I be a giraffe? Can I please be a giraffe? Please?

ALEX: Yes, okay fine. You can be a giraffe. Okay, so Kendra. We have just one question for you. How powerful is planting trees as a climate solution?

KENDRA: So in terms of trees and their connection to climate, in many ways, they are climate change dynamos. The thing that you guys really wanna know about is whether or not they absorb carbon dioxide, and they do, a lot of it. According to the EPA, U.S. forests and sort of other lands generally pulls so much carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere that they offset about 12% of the carbon emissions that the country creates each year by burning fossil fuels.

AYANA: Trees are extremely legit.

ALEX: So, well, let me start here, how much carbon dioxide does a full grown tree absorb from the atmosphere?


KENDRA: Well there’s a lot of variation right because there’s lots of different kinds of trees, and depending on...

ALEX: Right, I guess that would make sense right. There’s big trees and little trees, yes of course.

KENDRA: And pine trees and oak trees and, yeah. So that’s a factor, and then where you plant it, trees behave differently in different temperature and water conditions. So, but this organization called Carbon Neutral, which helps companies manage their carbon footprints, estimates that 15 trees can absorb around 1 metric tonne of carbon dioxide.

ALEX: So, if 15 trees can do that, is there, there’s simple math, could you literally just sort of like, by just adding enough trees could we just suck all the carbon out of the air? Is there, could that work?

KENDRA: Um, well there was a study published last year in the Journal of Science that looked into it, and it came up with a number. It said that if we planted a little less than a billion hectares of trees worldwide – which is an area about the size of the United States – that they could absorb about a quarter of the co2 in the atmosphere.

AYANA: I remember that study coming out and there was definitely some pushback, some issues with that study.

KENDRA: Mhm, so, beginning with the fact that like they said that they were overestimating how much carbon trees can absorb, and that it involved planting trees in places that don’t currently have trees, so disrupting other ecosystems.

ALEX: Right.

KENDRA: That can alter the climate in ways that weren’t really accounted for in the study. And then there’s also the fact that trees can burn down either because humans set them on fire deliberately, which is what we’ve been doing in the Amazon, or because of wildfires that are made even worse by climate change.

ALEX: Like what we’re seeing on the news in California and all sorts of other western states where just a ton of the state is on fire, yeah.

KENDRA: Right, and all those burning trees emit a lot of co2.

ALEX: Right.

KENDRA: And so they’re kind of increasingly a tenuous form of carbon banking, I guess if you will just because of the landscape. I don’t wanna be a downer. I’m still clearly on the side of the trees, but we need to acknowledge, like, as much as I love hugging trees, and there are definitely photos of me hugging trees.

AYANA: Same.

KENDRA: Um, we’re not going to solve climate change alone by planting trees, unfortunately.

AYANA: So, what you’re telling us is that trees are good, like really good, but that there’s more to life and to climate solutions than just trees.

KENDRA: Right, but I’m not saying trees don’t matter. We, I think, generally, most people who want to live in the future want to live in a, like, adapting to climate change and slowing down climate change, we want to do it in a way that makes the planet more livable and not less livable.

ALEX: Mhm.

KENDRA: And one of the things that trees do is they make it more livable. Like there’s a whole bunch of literature around how beneficial natural systems are to human health and human well being.

ALEX: Right.

KENDRA: Ranging from like...studies suggest that sick people in hospitals who have views of green spaces like trees heal faster than people who don’t have those views, who are like maybe staring at a brick wall instead.

ALEX: Just like looking at a tree makes you heal faster than looking at a wall?

KENDRA: Yes. [Kendra laughs]

ALEX: That is crazy.

KENDRA: Right? And other studies have found that, you know, walking through a forest – in Japan they call it forest bathing – can lower your blood pressure, and to such a degree that what they know is at play is not just that you’re getting exercise. There’s something, some other factor that’s happening that’s not well understood.

ALEX: Wow.

KENDRA: And even, um like, where you live, if you have views of green spaces like trees, um, they found that those homes have lower rates of domestic violence than homes, identical homes but without those views.

ALEX: Wait, just being able to look at a tree lowers the rate of domestic violence?


ALEX: Do they know why?

KENDRA: No, I mean, it’s, they don’t. Their best be t is that there’s something about the way humans evolved that we’re very attuned to these sort of natural spaces and that we kind of need them in some way. And that absent those spaces we act out in a whole host of ways, and this is one which is like heightened aggression.

ALEX: Wow.

KENDRA: Which kind of makes sense intuitively because think about it in terms of home cost. Like we always, we’re willing to spend more for homes that have nature, right? Whether it’s a beach or whether it’s a forest.

ALEX: Right

KENDRA: There’s something about us that are just very drawn to those environments.

ALEX: Deep in our DNA we love trees.




KENDRA: So like it may not be on its own the climate solution. I don't think there’s one solution. But I think what separates it say from clean energy for example, or, um, some of the other solutions that can feel somewhat more technocratic is that it makes us feel better. It actually makes us feel better.

ALEX: Right. I was, going into this conversation with you, I was thinking that we were gonna be landing on the like, okay, this was largely a symbolic act when it comes to sort of like making things better and actually helping, you know, helping the cause of like fighting global warming. But coming out of this conversation I now believe that this was even um was just a pretty effective action on its own merits. Like more trees are better in very very real ways, and like they're not going to like single-handedly solve climate change, but they're good in lots and lots of ways, and so it’s a really effective action

KENDRA: Yeah, and also I think oftentimes the way climate change is framed is what we’re fighting against. And something that I think was really great about this action is what they were fighting for. So having that kind of positive association with climate change I think is rare in a lot of ways.

ALEX: Right.

KENDRA: Um, and so I think that beyond the efficacy, the long term efficacy of planting all of these trees, the fact that people associate acting on climate change with doing something good instead of sacrifice is a net good.

ALEX: Awesome. Thank you again [Kendra laughs] for coming on the climate morning zoo. WAH WAH WAAAAHHH.


KENDRA: Anytime. Alright you guys. Good luck.

AYANA: Thank you.


AYANA: We are officially, I think I can reveal this to our listeners, we are a pro-trees podcast.

ALEX: Yeah, I mean more trees is better than fewer trees.

AYANA: Indisputably.

ALEX: Right like 20 million more trees is better.


AYANA: And the part I like the best is that team trees found this new way to get people to care about climate solutions. They got hundreds of thousands of young people excited about planting trees, actually digging holes and putting saplings into the ground, and raising millions of dollars to get the rest of the trees actually planted.

ALEX: And it made us wonder has this experience changed the way Matt Fitzgerald, the campaign director of the team trees challenge, has it changed the way he thinks about our ability to tackle climate change because he’s been working on climate change for over a decade, and he said he’d never seen anything work as well as team trees worked before. So we asked him this question that we’re asking lots of people, almost everybody who comes on our show.

AYANA: So, when you think about climate change how screwed are we? 

MATT: I’m…I see progress, I guess, and I have to be hopeful, um, that that progress will, will turn into something that’s sufficient. Because I just don’t know any other way to, to live my life. Um, and you know, I have my moments and my whiskey, but um, taking a step back, you know, I think we’re screwed, but I don’t choose to live my life that way. You know, you sort of put a small sweet step in front of, in front of the last one, and I think there's a lot of joy in the fight and being arm-in-arm with people who are also, you know, acting on their deepest held values to try to make the world better than they found it


AYANA: Matt we’re with you on that for sure. It’s why we wanted to make this show in the first place, and also why we are starting our brand new newsletter!

ALEX: Call back!

AYANA: [Ayana laughs] As a way to help all of you find your thing to get excited about.

ALEX: That’s right, at the end of every episode we share ways for you to get involved in meaningful climate actions. And on this episode it’s pretty simple, sign up for our newsletter. By going to

AYANA: And after you sign up for our newsletter, you could make me extremely happy by doing one other thing this week. Plant a tree!

ALEX: Plant a tree!

AYANA: Plant a tree!

ALEX: Of course! But I do have a question.

AYANA: Yeah? Ask me anything.

ALEX: I have no idea how to go about planting a tree, so we should probably give some people some pointers


AYANA: Ah hah. Well, lucky for you, and everyone else who doesn’t quite know exactly the right way to plant a tree, there are tons of tree-planting resources. Dare I call them treesources…

ALEX: Do not dare. Do not dare.


AYANA: I should not have dared. But there’s lots of information out there about how to make sure your tree survives. So first, um, to find the right kind of tree for the place where you live, check out the national wildlife federation’s plant finder. That site is It’s basically like a tree matchmaking site.

ALEX: And then once you’ve found the tree of your dreams, you still need to know how do you plant it and how do you take care of it. And for that you can go to

AYANA: Also some cities like LA and Denver will actually give you a tree to plant for free. And we’ll link to some of those initiatives in the show notes too.

ALEX: And finally, if you live, like you and I do, Ayana, in an apartment without a yard where you can’t really plant a tree yourself, your city might have an adopt-a-tree program. I know that NYC where we live does, there’s lots of other cities that do as well, where you can just sort of take care of a tree in your neighborhood, and we’ve listed some of those programs in the show notes as well.

AYANA: And if you happen to want to email us pictures of the trees you’ve planted that would make me extremely happy. [Alex laughs] Or tag us on Instagram and Twitter with pictures of your saplings.

ALEX: Pictures of you hugging your trees. How about that?

AYANA: [Ayana gasps] You know how I feel about literally hugging trees. I am strongly in favor.


ALEX: Alright, so before we wrap up this episode, though, we wanted to do one more thing. Listener mail! We’ve been getting a lot of listener mail. You’ve written us about how much you like the show, you’ve shared additional information for us around the topics we’ve covered so far, you’ve had lots of great ideas for future episodes. And you’ve had some questions and notes.

AYANA: And a topic that came up in a few of your notes about our “The Witch of Wind” episode was how wind turbines affect birds. I was super curious about that too, so I dug in and here’s the scoop on that. Yes, sometimes birds fly into wind turbines, and sometimes they die. Around 600,000 birds die annually due to collisions with wind turbines across the U.S. But that number is for turbines on land. For offshore turbines, which are located several miles from the coast, there are way fewer birds flying around out there. There isn’t yet much published data for offshore wind farms but according to expert Dr. Scott McWilliams at the University of Rhode Island, very few birds are killed by offshore turbines, and to his knowledge, there hasn't actually been a single bird death directly associated with the Block Island Wind Farm.


Also there are a few simple ways to reduce the number of birds that die from turbine collisions both onshore and offshore:

  1. First, on land, we can simply make sure not to put turbines in places where construction would damage key bird habitats.
  2. Number two, generally just don’t put them in the middle of migratory flyways. And both of these issues can be addressed during the permitting process for wind farms that determines where they’re allowed to be built.
  3. And number three, my favorite: paint one of the turbine blades a dark color! This makes them easier for birds to spot – compared with white blades which kinda blend with the clouds – and this alone can reduce bird collisions with turbines by over 70%!

ALEX: Which is like, the opposite of a high tech solution. You just literally need to make a trip to Benjamin Moore.

AYANA: Like a few cans of paint.

ALEX: Yeah, exactly.

ALEX: And also like, Ayana, I’m glad you brought this up, because a pet peeve of mine is when in stories like this there’s this big number presented but it’s not put in any kind of context, so for example you said 600,000 birds are killed by wind turbines in the United States each year, and of course that sounds like a lot, and it is a lot, but we should put all of this in perspective. How big a threat are wind turbines really compared to all the other threats that birds face?

AYANA: It’s super important to put that number in perspective. And I found a paper in the Annual Review of Systematics that pulled together all the research that’s been done in the U.S. and Canada about what does kill birds —

●     Agricultural pesticides kill somewhere around 3 million birds a year in Canada

●     In the U.S.: Power lines kill around 30 million birds a year

●     Automobiles kill around 200 million 

●     Buildings – the glass windows in particular – kill around 600 million birds every year!!!!!

●     And cats kill around 2.5 billion birds every year in the U.S. alone.

ALEX: Cats?? Like house cats?



ALEX: Oh my God.

AYANA: So, hot tip if you are concerned about birds: please keep you cats inside or get them a bright collar so birds can see them coming and escape. And, the comparison that I actually think is much more important to make in this context is not between turbines and cats but between doing something about climate change and not doing something about climate change. And on that point, research by the National Audubon Society — which cares a lot about birds — shows that 64% of North American bird species are at risk of extinction due to climate change, but their research also shows that if we address climate change and protect their habitats, there is a lot we can do to dramatically reduce that risk.

ALEX: Thank you, Ayana, for the bird facts.

AYANA: You are so welcome, Alex.

ALEX: And for listeners, please keep your notes coming. We love getting them. Email us at


And now, we have made it to the credits. And, you know, we have this thing we do when somebody on our team first debuts on the How to Save a Planet podcast, they get a special reward.

AYANA: And that reward is to read the credits.


ALEX: To read the credits. Anna Ladd

AYANA: Anna Ladd

ALEX: Take us away.



How to Save a Planet is a Spotify original podcast and Gimlet production.


You can follow us at how 2 save a planet, with the number 2, on Twitter and Instagram, and email us at

How to save a planet is hosted by Dr. Ayana Elizabeth Johnson and Alex Blumberg.

Our reporters and producers are Kendra Pierre-Louis, Rachel Waldholz and me, Anna Ladd. Our senior producer is Lauren Silverman. Our editor is Caitlin Kenney.

Sound design, mixing and original music by Emma Munger, with additional music by Billy Libby and Catherine Anderson.

Our fact checker for this episode is Claudia Geib with help from Fiona Pestana.

Special thanks to Eddie Junsay, Charlie Jiang, May Boeve, James Carville, Jonathan Foley, Bill Ulfelder, and Charlie Ladd.

Thanks for listening. We’ll see you next week!

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