In the fight against climate change and deforestation, Ethiopia has become the latest country to turn to old familiar friends: trees.
As part of its Green Legacy Initiative, the country claims to have planted a record-breaking 350 million of these climate-change heroes in a single day.
The aim — according to Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, who advocated for the project — is to build enough forest cover to buffer the impact of climate change in a country that regularly sees devastating droughts.
The daunting task of counting the seedlings fell to Getahun Mekuria, the country's minister of innovation and technology. He tweeted his tally throughout the day, reaching about 353 million in 12 hours.
And it looks like he's going to have a lot more counting to do. The Green Legacy Initiative promises to keep planting until it reaches its sky-high goal of 4 billion by October, all of them indigenous trees.
"Today, Ethiopia is set in our attempt to break the world record together for a green legacy," the prime minister's office tweeted on Monday.
Easy on the eyes, and the planet
If there's one thing a growing chorus of scientific research seems to confirm every day, it's that good things come in trees. Whether you live near them, take regular walks among them, or even just have a view of trees from your window, the benefits to health and well-being are becoming increasingly clear.
But in the bigger picture, as climate change threatens the health of every being on this planet, we all may have to get our hands dirty — and get planting.
In one year, an acre of mature trees absorbs the same amount of CO2 produced by a car driven 26,000 miles. (Photo: Alex Indigo [CC BY 2.0]/Flickr)
Trees have a remarkable knack for soaking up excess carbon dioxide in our atmosphere. In fact, the United Nations' Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), recently suggested that by adding 1 billion hectares ( 2.5 billion acres) of forests, we could curtail global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels by 2050.
The planet will still get uncomfortably warm, but trees give us a better chance of mitigating the most severe ravages of a rapidly changing climate.
And Ethiopia — like Costa Rica and India — is taking that shot. It's the kind of effort that, if confirmed, could land the country in the Guinness Book of World Records. India is the current record-holder for most trees planted, having tucked some 66 million trees in the ground in just 12 hours.
"This truly impressive feat is not just the simple planting of trees, but part of a huge and complicated challenge to take account of the short- and long-term needs of both the trees and the people," Dan Ridley-Ellis, a professor at Edinburgh Napier University in the U.K., tells The Guardian. "The forester's mantra 'the right tree in the right place' increasingly needs to consider the effects of climate change, as well as the ecological, social, cultural and economic dimension."
To get there, as you might expect, Ethiopia is pulling out all the stops, marshaling a countrywide effort. Even staff from the United Nations, the African Union and foreign embassies got their hands in the dirt.
And, of course, a very important seed was also planted on social media, with the hashtag #GreenLegacy.