In the Yucatan Peninsula of Campeche, Mexico, the “Plant Trees for the Earth” Foundation has planted more than 6.3 million trees. The first tree-planting area was located in a depression, which was submerged after the hurricane and many trees died.
Trees in the water
”Here is the first tree we planted in Mexico.” said the 23-year-old Felix Finkbainer. There are four whitewashed huts next to a clearing in the forest. The poster with the icon of the German “Plant Trees for the Earth” Foundation says “Welcome”.
The foundation decided to use tree planting to fight climate change. This was what Felix thought of when he was nine years old. With the help of his father Fridtjof, it gradually developed into a foundation with more than 30 employees, and more than 90,000 children were active as the foundation’s climate ambassadors. Countries. Five years ago, the father and son jointly launched the “largest afforestation project in human history” with the goal of planting 1 trillion trees in the world to prevent climate disasters. The media named Felix Finkbainer as one of the “100 most influential Germans”.
This is the southern part of the Yucatan Peninsula, 100 kilometers from the border of Guatemala, and 100 million trees are planned to be planted. According to Foundation data, one tree is planted every 15 seconds. “There are 1 million trees there.” Felix said, pointing not far away. I saw a small boat swaying on the surface of the water, and there were a few thin trees on the shore. The water sparsely protruded crooked branches, and all eyes were dead catalpa trees. This place that looked like a lake at the end of January this year was the foundation’s first tree planting area. It has been submerged for nearly half a year, and the water depth is about two meters. “After the water recedes, we can see how many trees are still alive.” Felix said. He worried that none of them would be spared. “Every tree means one euro donated by someone, and they should all survive. It’s really sad now.” The
flood also shook people’s trust in the foundation. It became known to the world that the trees that were planted died after the German “Times” reported on the flooded plantation in December last year. Before that, the “Plant Trees for the Earth” Foundation had promised donors that “the problem will be solved soon.” Questions about the foundation’s work continue to come and go, mainly focused on the founder’s family arbitrariness and violent decision-making. The theoretical and scientific basis of “tree planting to save the world” is weak, the tree planting process lacks professional guidance, and the tree planting results are difficult to verify.
Defects in the decision-making structure
There are currently about 24,000 legal foundations in Germany, and about two new foundations are established every day. This industry is so prosperous because people’s trust in churches, the state and other power institutions has gradually shattered. “The foundation has a sacred aura, and everyone believes that they are doing good deeds. Everyone knows that climate warming is a difficult problem. Suddenly someone expressed willingness to accept the challenge and said:’I know what’s going on. I will lead you out of the predicament.’ So people began to trust the foundation unconditionally. But this is wrong, because the people who do things in the foundation are still people.” Robert Bloom, who worked in “Planting Trees for the Earth” (Pseudonym) said.
The “Plant Trees for the Earth” Foundation was established in November 2011. Father Fridtjov is the founder and chairman of the foundation, and his son Felix takes over as chairman when he grows up. Apart from Felix, there are only two members of the board of directors-Nepalese activist Sagar Ayar and foundation donor Michael Durah. Durach is the largest mustard producer in Germany and a friend of the family. The only members of the foundation committee responsible for decision-making are Felix’s 25-year-old sister Francesca and their mother, Caroline.
”This family always has the majority and has the right to veto.” said Bloom, the former manager of the foundation. “In this way, there will be no discussion at all. They want complete power.”
Fritjov said, establishing such a leadership structure There is a purpose. “After I retire, the foundation is at great risk of collapse. Therefore, I must accompany it until it is full of wings. It is important for us to decide the direction. After all, there is a lot of our hard work here.” This leadership structure also complies with the law. “This may not be ethical, but Fridtjof knows how to make the most of the scope of the law.” Bloom said.
Felix Finkbainer stood by the flooded depression.
The founding document of the Mexican branch never mentioned Germany’s “Plant Trees for the Earth” foundation. “There is no supervisory committee at all, which opens the door to misuse of funds,” said Michael Stobel, a tax law expert. In particular, the club assets can be transferred to other nonprofit organizations without any reason.
Weak theoretical foundation
In his speech at the opening ceremony of the International Year of Forests on February 2, 2011, Felix called for the world to plant 1 trillion trees for the first time. Fridtjof said that they thought of the number “1 trillion” on the plane, “So first we must prove that so many trees can find their place on the earth.” The proof is British ecology. Tom Cruiser, he is currently a professor at the Zurich University of Technology, and his research focus is on microbiology. He used satellite images to scan the world, looking for trees and open spaces, and then released statistics, saying that there are enough places on the earth to plant another 1 trillion trees.
”That was the third most cited study in the world at the time, even before NASA’s study of water on Mars.” Fridtjov said, “Then we only need to prove how much carbon dioxide can be absorbed by 1 trillion trees. .” And this is also due to Cruther. The Finkelberger family helped him obtain nearly 1.2 million euros in funding from the German Federal Ministry of Economic Cooperation to study the carbon reduction potential of afforestation. After calculations, Cruther concluded that two-thirds of the current man-made carbon dioxide can be absorbed by these 1 trillion trees. Although the Federal Ministry of Economic Cooperation emphasized that afforestation is of great significance to climate protection and sustainable development, it still stated that the study has regrettable shortcomings-the potential of disposable land, the speed at which trees absorb carbon dioxide and the number of years they can survive are all obvious. Overrated.
A total of five experts published critical comments on Cruther’s argument in the journal Science, claiming that it was scientifically wrong, harmful and misleading. “Using such a simple and less controversial measure to correct most of the consequences of industrial development for more than two centuries sounds like a dream.” said Stefan Ramstorf, a professor at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Consequences. “Climate protectionists who dream of not harming anyone’s interests naturally welcome this. Unfortunately, this kind of good thing will not be true.”
Ramstorf also supports tree planting and believes in the significance of afforestation, “but here, the positive impact of tree planting is greatly overestimated. Some experts involved obviously have little understanding of the carbon cycle of the earth system.” Climate researchers believe that this is “wrong thinking, overly optimistic, overly exaggerated, and dedicated to creating a sensational effect.” He gave an example: “A tree has the potential to store carbon emissions for 50 years. Many trees have fallen before that, becoming victims of drought or small bugs.”
In this regard,he said: “Whether one trillion trees to absorb carbon emissions by a third or two-thirds of which are donated human gift to mankind buffer of time.”
In the subject on After fierce criticism of the scientific foundation, the “Plant Trees for the Earth” Foundation reduced its propaganda efforts on the impact of tree planting and afforestation, calling it “one of the most effective tools to combat climate change.” “Every time I speak, I say that it won’t work without reducing emissions,” Felix said. But of course, he can’t live without his tree. He wanted to plant 100 million trees on 22,344 hectares of project land in Mexico, but local forest experts said that this is not a “degraded forest” as claimed by the foundation, but most of it is already planted with trees.
Large companies are willing to invest funds in the “Plant Trees for the Earth” Foundation, and through donations to obtain the foundation’s carbon reduction icon, to achieve “green whitewashing” and escape public pressure. Mexico has a dedicated donor forest. German supermarket chain Rewe donated 1.5 million trees there, organic food brand Alnatura donated more than 1.05 million trees, and chocolate brand Ritter Sport donated more than 270,000 trees. The foundation also issued a carbon reduction certificate, realizing the transformation from an organization to a business. For example, it purchased a climate protection project certificate certified by the European authoritative testing organization TüV to prove that its work has achieved emission reductions. Some of these projects have installed biogas generators, and some have replaced kerosene lamps with solar lamps in India. Each ton of carbon dioxide reduced is equivalent to one euro on the certificate. Companies can think that they have achieved carbon neutrality by paying.
The questionable location
About half of the 22,344 hectares of project land invested by “Planting Trees for the Earth” in Mexico was purchased, and the rest were leased from the “cooperative farms” of the farmers’ union with land use rights. All the land is located in Campeche State and is part of the local nature reserve. One is Baramku, a national reserve, and the other is Karakmur, an ecological sanctuary recognized by the United Nations, which has the best-preserved forest on the Yucatan Peninsula.
The foundation originally planned to use Mexico’s land as a forestry economy. “After 17 years, the first trees can be harvested and processed into furniture materials.” In 2013, the foundation said so. For the climate, it makes perfect sense to harvest the tree before it dies, because the decayed tree will re-exhaust the carbon dioxide it has absorbed back into the air. But this plan could not be realized, because although Fridtjov believed in this idea, Felix decided not to cut down a tree because it was difficult for a tree planting organization to explain to the donor.
Raul Cedina, chairman of the Mexican branch, said that in fact, the low-lying woodland that was submerged by water not long ago should have become a demonstration area. They deliberately selected this piece of land to show the contrast before and after the tree planting in the pictures, but no one expected a big hurricane that would put this place under flooding for eight months. “If there were no floods, there would not have been such an uproar and the foundation would have caused such criticism,” Saidina said.
What the “Plant Trees for the Earth” Foundation promotes to donors in Germany contradicts what they actually do in Mexico. One of the best examples is “America 3″. This land of more than 10,000 hectares is the largest of all the land of the foundation, accounting for nearly half of the total project area. The 2019 tree planting report stated: “The afforestation project is expected to start in 2021.” In fact, the organization commissioned forestry engineers to formulate a plan for harvesting usable timber after purchasing the land in 2015. On the contrary, it has not yet applied for it. Permission for tree planting.
”They can’t get permission to plant trees.” said Joseph Morales, head of the Calakmul Ecological Game Reserve. “This is the highest-level protected area. Everything is determined by the Mexican government. It is never possible to plant them casually. Any tree, let alone cut down a tree. Everything here must be handed over to nature, the grass and trees must grow freely, and the forest can only be used for research and teaching at best.”
Fritjof silently retracted his declaration of planting trees on this land in 2019. “We know this is a nature reserve. We never planned to plant trees here.” He said that he wanted to make this a model of forest protection, and “protecting forests is more important than planting trees.” He also enthusiastically proposed that in the future, the rich should put more emphasis on the size of the forest area they invest, rather than the amount of wealth. “We should create a’Forbes Forest List’ to encourage the rich to actively invest in the future of mankind. ”
Seedling Cultivation Center of the “Plant Trees for the Earth” Foundation
Absent professional guidance
Climate activists and forestry scientists posed many questions to Fridtjof via email and made them public on Twitter. Why did the “Plant Trees for the Earth” Foundation choose Mexico? Why is it in the southern part of the peninsula where the country’s forests are best preserved? In this regard, Fridtjov did not give an answer. “I don’t know anything about trees. I’m a businessman, I only know how to manage money.” Fridtjof said. He sent real estate expert Raul Negrete to take charge of the site selection. Negrete painted the outline of Mexico and the border between Mexico and the United States on a piece of paper. “For safety reasons, we decided to go to the south.” He said, “the further north, the more rampant drug cartels are.”
”There are hundreds of thousands of hectares of deforested forest in the northern part of the peninsula, which is very suitable for planting trees, but the foundation selected It is the most unsuitable area for afforestation.” Bernd Neugebauer, 69, was surprised by Negrett’s explanation. Neugebauer taught at the University of Freiburg for many years and now manages afforestation projects in Mexico for the German Association for International Cooperation. His project base is located about 300 kilometers north of the “Plant Trees for the Earth” Foundation, with the highest forest in the entire peninsula. Thirty years ago, he had planted the first batch of mahogany at a Maya site. Currently, he is training leaders for the Mexican afforestation project “Sown Life”, and hundreds of thousands of farmers across the peninsula can benefit from it. Neugebauer wondered why Frittjov and the “Plant the Earth” Foundation never contacted him. “We knew each other in Germany, and they knew where I was. However, they avoided professional guidance and obviously wanted to work alone and did not want to be supervised.” The forestry scientist said, “Forest experts familiar with the local situation will remind them, If swales are the first choice for planting trees, you may have to face raging floods and long periods of drought.”
Negrete sent Elder Cruz, a former employee of his construction site, to supervise the tree planting. Frittjov himself said: “Like me, Elder doesn’t know anything about trees.” Negrete needs someone he can completely trust, and he can’t understand why he should consult an expert. He said: “Who would have expected that we would encounter six hurricanes and so much rainfall a year?” In the
face of criticism, Fritjov said: “We have been grateful to learn and strive to find the right path. You have to allow us to make mistakes. Now you are lashing at us vigorously. Not only us, but the entire tree-planting campaign will be destroyed.”
In recent decades, Neugebauer has clearly seen how the Mexican government’s tree planting measures have failed step by step, because the whole process emphasized only planting trees in the soil. He estimates that the survival rate of trees is only 2%. Alberto Nava of the National Forest Commission of Mexico said that in Campeche alone, as many as 22,000 hectares of forest are illegally logged every year, mainly for pasture. “Forests can survive only if the interests of the local people are taken into consideration,” Neugebauer said. “Farmers must be able to live on the forest, otherwise they have no interest in protecting the forest.”
The foundation originally set a goal of planting 1 trillion trees by 2020. At present, Finkbainer and his sons have postponed it to 2030. The goal of planting 100 million trees in Mexico by 2020 is still far away. According to their own count, more than 6.3 million trees have been planted there. As for how many trees are still alive, it is unknown.
After all, who would count those trees? Who has the money, time, and manpower to verify the results of tree planting? Bloom said that he knew about this issue early on. Once, when the two-year short-term plan was approaching, the foundation remitted more than 100,000 euros to the principal of a primary and secondary school in Malaysia. “Then he will declare the corresponding number of trees, send a photo and a voucher signed by the village chief.” Bloom said. And news like this from afar is always released by the Foundation as a tree planting result. Fritjov also admitted that he has been troubled by this problem for many years, but he does not know where to get the real data. However, making the data verifiable should have been the clear goal of the “Plant Trees for the Earth” Foundation.
1. Felix (left) checks the seedlings. 2. Raul Negrete selected the site for the afforestation project in the southern part of the Mexican peninsula, where the forests are best preserved.
Bernd Neugebauer, who also planted trees in Mexico, expressed doubts about the way the “Plant Trees for the Earth” Foundation acts.
In this regard, Felix said: “Maybe we will soon collect more than 1 euro for each tree.” “Plant Trees for the Earth” Foundation Ambassador and Prince Albert II of Monaco asked him to plant trees for afforestation projects. Each tree in the collection receives a donation of 6 euros in order to produce credible data and replant the dead trees. Some foundation members even asked for donations of up to 69 euros for each tree.
At the same time, there are more and more afforestation organizations in the world, and “planting trees for the earth” has to compete with them for donations. If reputation is damaged and trust is lost, the foundation may face an existential crisis. In order to maintain their image, some large donors have decided to withdraw funds and focus on other environmental protection projects. How the “Plant Trees for the Earth” Foundation eliminates its many ills and wins back trust is still an unsolved problem.