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By Patrick McAuliffe

Generally, human activity negatively affects the Earth’s environment. Period. To what degree and how quickly are the subjects of hundreds of political and scientific battles over the last several decades, and I have no intention of finding the answers here. We just need this baseline established so we can see that government regulation or some sort of Green New Deal is impractical, unnecessary, and immoral, when actions by private citizens voluntarily coming together to better the planet’s environment are what really drive change.
Towards the end of October, famous YouTuber MrBeast hit the 20 million YouTube subscriber milestone. Fans on Reddit and Twitter, already familiar with MrBeast’s often exorbitant philanthropy, circulated the meme that he should plant 20 million trees to celebrate 20 million subscribers. So, on October 25th, MrBeast uploaded the video “Planting 20,000,000 Trees, My Biggest Project Ever!” to kick off his conservation effort #TeamTrees. The project was started as a collaboration between MrBeast and fellow DIY science YouTuber Mark Rober. Rober signed onto the project because mutual fans of the channels encouraged him to help MrBeast in his efforts, as he claims in his corresponding video on the topic, “Using Drones to Plant 20,000,000 Trees”. MrBeast hopes to plant 20 million trees by the start of 2020.
The #TeamTrees website,, is managed by MrBeast’s and Rober’s partner, the Arbor Day Foundation. They claim that $1 donated equals 1 tree planted. As of November 12th, the #TeamTrees tree counter stands at about 15.1 million trees (or $15.1 million donated to the Arbor Day Foundation). Notable contributors to the project are MrBeast himself (with two separate donations of $100,000 and $100,002 and captions that dare others to take his spot in the queue of most dollars donated); other #TeamTrees founder Mark Rober (with $50,000); PewDiePie (under the name poopiepie with a donation of $69,420); makeup artist Jeffree Star (with $50,000); CEO of YouTube Susan Wojcicki (with $200,000); and CEO of Tesla Elon Musk, captioning his $1 million donation with “For Treebeard”, spawning an outpouring of “Treelon Musk” memes. Although the project began as a YouTuber collaboration, and YouTube creators are the primary big donors, this is not to cheapen the hundreds of thousands of smaller donations from ordinary people that can be found under the “Most Recent” tab of the website.
I am blown away by this incredible effort of all of the participants. #TeamTrees is just one more example of how much people can accomplish with passion, organization, and voluntary cooperation. As of this writing, the project has only been active for a few days over two weeks, and the $20 million goal is 75% completed. However, I began asking myself questions about the specifics of the conservation effort. Where would the trees be planted? What will keep them safe into maturity so that they reach their maximum air-cleaning potential? Does $1 actually equal 1 tree planted? If the world is giving freely of itself for a cause, it is vital that the leaders of that cause do not take advantage of such massive altruism, as so many historically altruistic leaders of causes have done.
For the answers, we must turn to the Arbor Day Foundation. Founded in 1972, the programs sponsored by this 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization are vast and far-reaching, from corporate partnerships to the Tree City USA program to initiatives in developing countries for jobs in the coffee industry and rainforest rescue. Survivors of natural disasters can receive free trees to plant to regain some of their area’s former ecosystem. It may sound like something straight out of a hippie manifesto, but the ADF does important work both in the United States and around the world. This doesn’t mean I’m trying to get to first base with any trees in the near future; real just respects real.
What about $1 equalling 1 tree planted? I took a look at the ADF’s tax return for the 2018-2019 tax year to get a better idea of the money’s allocation. Last year, the ADF received about $41 million in revenue. All non-trustee senior officers of the organization receive compensation totalling about $2 million between the twelve of them. The CEO, Matt Harris, was only compensated $336,445. Independent contractors received about $16 million; from what I can tell, these contractors were primarily responsible for printing literature and tree planting in specific local areas. Much of the rest of the money goes to other salaries, grants to governments or organizations, and land or building expenses. I encourage a closer look on your own time.
So, does #TeamTrees appear to stand by its promises? From the allocation of funds, we can assume that, directly or indirectly, $1 will more or less get 1 tree planted. Most of them will be in the US, but ADF grants go all over the world. I can say with confidence that this is a reputable cause that will actually do what it sets out to do. I applaud MrBeast, Mark Rober, Treelon Musk, and all who have already given to the cause, and I look forward to a cleaner future brought to us by private individuals working together for everyone’s benefit, not through mandates or regulations.

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