This week Jimmy Donaldson, most widely known by his YouTube handle MrBeast, launched the TeamTrees campaign asking his followers, fellow YouTubers and influencers to donate and help fund the planting of 20 million trees across the globe to celebrate his channel hitting 20 million subscribers. With one tree planted for every dollar donated, the Arbor Day Foundation will embark upon planting native species in high-demand areas of the globe. Only 5 days after the campaign was set in motion, the planting of over 10,000,000 trees has been funded. This is the largest scale tree-planting campaign led by a set of individuals ever. Such a movement is indicative of two recent shifts in society; namely, the shift towards widespread environmental activism amongst young people and the diversification of activist movements.
The recent rise of anti-expert culture has led to a broadening of avenues for change. As environmental activism continues to grow from school children to parliamentary lobbyists, Extinction Rebellion to YouTubers. Why is it that we are so quick to support the activism of celebrities, pop culture figures and influencers? The TeamTrees campaign had a global reach that many NGOs, lobbyists and policy-makers could only dream of in such a short period of time. The uptake is unprecedented in its ability to galvanise immediate action from a simple comment from a fan to the pledging of 20 million saplings and a $1 million donation from Elon Musk. It is fuelled by public figures and capitalised upon by influencers. Whilst such movements can forge hugely positive environmental progress maybe we’re too quick to endorse public figures lacking the necessary expertise.
Does it matter if other influencers are hopping on the environmental activism bandwagon for the sake of increased publicity? Does it matter if we are skewed towards listening to and following the advice of social media influencers rather than climate change experts? It is undeniable that the pledge to plant 20 million trees is a positive move and that it will make a small, yet important, attempt to offset some of the greenhouse gas emissions we contribute. However, Donaldson’s campaign has come under fire from a number of climate scientists. Dr Eike Lüdeling asserts that such campaigns can become futile if the saplings are not maintained and properly cared for. If these trees are to make a positive environmental impact they need to survive for 100 years, it is simply not enough to make the public pledge and rid ourselves of further responsibility. These projects require proper management and supervision. There are legitimate worries that such campaigns spark immediate, short-term action rather than long-term commitments. The Arbor Day Foundation has hence responded to such remarks acknowledging their duty and commitment to maintaining the trees planted.
It does seem that social media influencers and celebrities may be the most effective vehicle for communicating and galvanising mass engagement and action in schemes like TeamTrees: and this can be an incredibly positive consequence of contemporary celebrity culture. Recent studies show that young people are more likely to endorse political stances if they are endorsed by popular celebrity figures. However, we must not let this influence go unchecked. Collaboration between climate experts and the likes of Donaldson and his YouTube community is essential for making campaigns such as this as effective and positive as they can be. We need to listen to climate scientists and we need to utilise the scope of outreach available to social media influencers to galvanise lasting change.
Image: Remax Real Estate Blog