It’s time to stand up and take action – protecting forests is too important to wait

Julia Butterfly Hill

In the 1990’s I lived for 738 days in a 1,000-year-old giant redwood tree named Luna to save ‘her’ and the surrounding grove from loggers. From Luna I spoke to media all over the world and had the honor of addressing the UN, the US Congress, and government agencies worldwide.

This coming year is the 25th anniversary of my returning to the ground. And having watched our leaders at the latest round of UN climate talks, I feel this tugging on my heart that it’s important for me to speak out publicly again – after more than a decade away from the spotlight. The story that I’ve been blessed to be part of seems to have a life of its own. It is repeated again and again on social media because people care passionately about forests and feel overwhelmed by their destruction. It seems that my story also offers a sense of hope and belief that positive change can happen.

We need this change desperately. Since 1990, the world has lost about 420 million hectares of forest – an area roughly half the size of the US. By 2030, only 10% of the world’s rainforests may remain. This hurts my head and my heart. My heart because I remember feeling such deep devastation when I saw my first ‘clear cut’ – with the trees slashed and burned away. My head because it makes no sense; our species needs forests to survive. The livelihoods of 1.6 billion people depend on them, almost 80% of life on land lives in them, and protecting and restoring them would deliver a third of what’s needed to help meet global climate targets. So, if we can’t come up with a solution to deforestation right now – we are basically saying that future generations do not deserve the right to a healthy planet.

The good news is we have solutions, we just need to turn talking into action.

Even in Luna more than 20 years ago, I was talking about the potential of carbon credits to fund forest protection if done right. The idea, later backed by the UN, is that companies voluntarily purchase credits that represent emissions avoided by forest conservation projects. Today projects like this (known as REDD+ projects) protect over 3 million hectares of forest and reduce emissions by more than 63 million tons a year.

Seems like a win. But instead of celebrating, or at the very least allowing these projects to continue, extreme people drag the world back to just talking and attack the REDD+ system for giving corporations a ‘license to pollute’.

Corporations already have that license to pollute from governments, otherwise they wouldn’t be doing it. If people just want to point fingers and say that there should be no polluters period and anything else is a sellout proposition, then those people should be in the halls of governments lobbying to end pollution.  The sad truth is that for the foreseeable future, corporations are going to be polluting. So while that’s the case, let’s use the money to do something good – not only good but vital – for the future of our planet.

Corporations have even been attacked specifically for investing in REDD+ projects. It is said, no good deed goes unpunished. After all, people said terrible things about me when I began living in Luna, and I always thought – I’m here because I’m showing up for what I care about. What are you doing, besides attacking me?

So to those who have been criticized, I deeply hope you keep standing up for REDD+ projects. You’re doing great work that’s innovative and making a real quantifiable difference in the world. It might not always be perfect because nothing that’s innovative ever will be. But REDD+ projects mean less carbon in the atmosphere, trees stand, wildlife thrive, and some of the world’s most disenfranchised communities are on a pathway to a better life.

And to the “haters”,  if your only contribution to making the world a better place is attacking others, then you’re part of the problem. Some of you are behaving like nothing more than bullies on the playground. As for the rest of us, we can either let the bullies win, or we have to stand up and take action – protecting forests is too important to wait.

Julia Butterfly Hill is a prominent American activationist and author who played a pivotal role in the late 1990s environmental movement. Stepping away from a successful business career, she gained worldwide recognition for her tree-sit protest in California’s ancient redwood forests. From December 1997 to December 1999, Julia lived on top of an ancient redwood tree affectionately named “Luna”, from where she addressed both the United Nations and the US Congress. Her courageous action serves as a powerful statement against the unsustainable practices that threaten invaluable forest ecosystems.

Also as part of her call for action on deforestation, Julia has collaborated with Everland on an animation of her poem Where have all the humans gone? – written during her tree-sit.

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