DAY 16: Airbnb Solar Harvest home is the last stop on our Tree Tour! Providing 130% of the home’s energy needs, the system feeds extra energy to the grid and, once plug-in electric vehicles become available, will too power the family car!!
Notice the solar thermal panels up top (for hot water! An Al Gore-approvable heating system), the photovoltaic panels (converting sunlight to electricity!), The textbook passive solar overhangs (2′ for 40° N. Latitude that enables collection of winter sun and shade of hot summer sun!), Super-insulating walls windows and ceilings, a south-facing sunroom, and porous pavement!
The home also uses a geothermal heat exchange to heat the home in the winter. We talked R values of the building envelope. There is an impressive ventilation system!
Eric explained the all electric design allowed them to cap their natural gas line, which was of particular importance because of the environmental degradation caused locally by natural gas drilling and distribution. Carbon neutrality efforts extended from structure, to energy supply, and to finishes.
We must retrofit existing buildings! This is the suburban way to an efficient consumer-producing community net-zero electric grid!
(Disclaimer: Due to the variability of electricity source, home appliances and heating systems, I have not been calculating the carbon contribution of the lights, hot water or heating we use in the mornings or at night during the tree tour. We moved around too often, slept on too many couches, with too many end uses for those calculations to be feasible.) Happy our last two days of “building envelope energy” will be carbon neutral!
We have burned 7 gallons of gas since arriving in the Bolder/Fort Collins area 4 days ago adding 133 pounds to my carbon footprint! My total carbon footprint is 1.356 tons!
There’s something supernatural about New Mexico. We took a little break from our high energy “Tree Tour” to meditate, qi gong and yoga among the aspens and eagles. We NEEDED a break from the constant sharing and talking with businesses and individuals about how to offset carbon footprints with biodiverse rainforest trees!
We didn’t know where we were going – we just knew we wanted to be alone. We drove and ended up 8,528 feet above sea level at Eagle Nest Lake State park. WE were the only humans there… but WE were not alone. For many minutes that all feet like one moment, we watched the water and the clouds and the Ponderosa pine forest. There were two pairs of eagles flying higher than the clouds and hawks who flew much closer.
As the afternoon unfolded in bright colors of the high noon sun I knew it was time to get water! Jenny agreed to stay at our lake-beach-day-camp while Dea and I traversed to the mini van for water and rations. There was a large hawk hunting on the ground as we approached the deserted parking lot.
Then it happened. We were given gifts from aliens.
These were not just any gifts! What do all girls want? Purses and shoes! Yes, aliens gave us hand sewn leather vintage purses and quality platform shoes! The red bag came engraved with one word, “Salud”. Salud means health and good fortune. This all makes perfect quintessential sense. Yet! how strange to receive such TANGIBLE reminders of our purpose! The gifts were exactly what each of us needed.
When I saw the beautiful gifts, I immediately put on the shoes.
We brought the gifts back to Jenny!
The green platform shoes were for me. I’ve been looking for new shoes! These are the most comfortable and most green shoes I’ve ever owned. An obvious sign to get out there! Get going girl! I only ever buy flats, but with the state of the planet like it is, it’s no time to play it safe! The lovely vintage leather purses were for Dea and Jenny. Both needing the perfect bag to fill with good fortune to come.
Remember to slow down and take time for yourself. Remember to ask for what you need. Remember to listen to the music and dance of the trees. Remember to go into the desert. Remember to receive the gifts that are constantly given. Aliens are real. There is something sublimely supernatural about New Mexico.
Each planting season we collaborate with new Costa Rican host farm families to plant more trees on their degraded farms. To date, 21 families are collaborating with us to reforest pasturelands with more than 10,000 diverse rainforest trees. It is always a joy to move our tree planting work to a new host farm family in the Valley San Juan de Dios in Costa Rica. Maria and her husband Noah and their family are thrilled to be planting over 150 trees on their deforested land with your help this year 2016.
We toured Maria and Noah’s small farm with a group of agro-forestry students to decide what species to plant and observe any problems or challenges with the farm in general. There is a small stream at the foot of the hill exposed to the sun. So, we decided to plant large majestic rainforest trees perfect for protecting these precious waters and slowing evaporation for generations to come.
After a great tour and discussions of best land management practices, we all decided to plant at least 30 cocoa trees and many cashew trees mixed in so that the family could harvest these fruits and earn money in the future by collaborating with our cooperative group to make chocolate and other tree products.
A few days later, the trees were delivered and the whole family enjoyed admiring the over 45 species of hardwoods and fruit trees. The selection of tropical fruits include mammon chinos, guanabana, anona, breadfruit, oranges, lemons, caimitos, guavas, guayabas, cashews, almonds, karao, carambolas and more.
A crew of three women plus Alvaro planted the trees over a week of work and so far, every single tree is thriving. Our paid workers will be following these trees closely for the next four 4 years to achieve robust productive mature trees for maximum benefits.
The early months of every tree we plant are critical. We recently visited the newly planted trees with a touring group from another community interested in copying our community reforestation model. Seeing the freshly planted trees so healthy was rewarding for all.
The whole community benefits from paid tree planting work. The workers and neighbors producing and planting and caring for the trees enjoy being paid for their diligent work. Literally, we plant a grocery store on every farm where we reforest by including fruit trees, medicinal trees and lumber trees. The host farm family grows an abundance of opportunities for tree products.
The trees bring a notable positive social impact to families like Maria and Noah, living in marginalized areas of Costa Rica. They regenerate what was previously deforested and unproductive land. Families like them along with our paid workers develop valuable opportunities in collaboration with growing the trees and creating a wealth of products from the long term sustainable management of the land and the trees.
This is story of one family who travels the world and offsets their carbon dioxide emissions to pass on an abundant plant to future generations.
They have already compensated 2,5x times their world tour emissions, but were looking at compensating 5 tons of CO2 a year for the next 10 years to get closer to COP21 objectives ahead of time…
They explain, “We therefore looked for a grass root NGO that would help us to do real Carbon Sequestration. Not just preventing future emissions (like we did with other programs), but really taking C02 from the atmosphere in the form of… trees!
Trees are indeed the only real Carbon Sequestration system that is working for now (even some industrial projects are starting to show some efficiency like CO2 injection into former geologic pockets of oil and gaz). That’s why it’s so important to protect forests wherever possible, but also plant trees and rebuild an ecosystem where it has been destroyed.”
It was a joy to host them in Costa Rica and partner with individuals seeking real solutions to climate change.
Recently, I had the pleasure of spending a few days with Jennifer Smith and her ACCT organization. My purpose was to witness the on-the-ground reality of ACCT. I had already read through the website and was impressed. Now I wanted to see for myself what is really happening. Can I, and others who want to offset their carbon footprint, feel secure that something real is happening in this area of Costa Rica? Is it making a positive impact? Are the newly-planted trees receiving enough attention so that they will thrive and grow? How does the local community feel about the program?
If you have studied the website, you have learned that it takes more than just going somewhere and putting a sapling in the soil to accomplish something of real and lasting value in the world of carbon offset. The question is whether the tree—or, really, the tropical reforestation project itself—will still be there, growing, and thriving twenty five or more years later. There are both short term and long term challenges that can threaten survival and, to meet those challenges, the groundwork must be done both figuratively and literally:
Geographically speaking, a workable carbon-offset project in the tropics—the place where reforestation has the most impact on the global environment—one must choose an area not subject to a high probability of hurricanes.
Politically speaking, one must consider whether the national and local government support and recognize the non-tangible benefits of re-forestation vs. the selling off land for short term gain.
On both of these counts, Costa Rica—especially the southern zone area near Dominical—scores very high.
There are also issues of tree selection, adequate fencing to keep out animals from destroying the young trees, healthy soil, and planting in places where there is community support. You can read much more about these and other important factors in other places at the ACCT website.
For a tree to thrive, it must spread its roots wide and deep (depending on the tree species). Similarly, a successful planting project must also go wide and deep into the local community and create win-win-win situations for all the participants: the family, the community, and the trees themselves. This must happen on other levels too: ecologically, of course, but also economically, and even psychologically—where people are empowered to become more self-sufficient and environmentally aware.
On so many levels, ACCT succeeds in all these ways. First of all, there is Jennifer herself who wears many hats in a single day. She inspires, leads, teaches, consults, talks to a great variety of people: the farmers, the local community members, the volunteers, the donors and people she might meet randomly at the market and many other places. With all these people, she is always talking up ACCT—whether it is brainstorming, problem-solving, expansion, the bigger picture of carbon offset, etc. That, of course, is in addition to the work that needs to be done including tending the nursery (where I witnessed a tremendous variety of very healthy looking tropical trees), delivering the trees, consulting with farmers and the community and, of course, the actual planting of the trees—and I have no doubt that this is a very incomplete list as I was there for only a few days.
The work is, in actuality, about community building and doing so with integrity. It starts with love of the earth and the people. It proceeds with a clear and pure intention of being of service to each. It builds momentum one relationship or even one brief encounter at a time. Just as a single tree is part of a greater whole, so too is the planting and the care needed for that tree a result of a much bigger community effort. It really does take a community to raise a tree and ACCT does build communities.
ACCT’s main project is in the southern zone of Costa Rica between Dominical and San Isidro in a place called San Juan de Dios. It is where the trees are being planted and where the micro businesses (read about these at other places on the website) are being created. This large area consists of eighteen family farms. On one of these farms there is also the tree nursery where a great variety of healthy looking tropical saplings are being lovingly attended to.
Everywhere on these eighteen farms spread out over fifty thousand hectares (ninety of which have been re-forested) is where win-win-win (for the farmer, the community, and the earth) situations are being created. This effort asks all the participants to raise themselves a little higher to see how doing things a little differently can have a positive effect on everyone including the earth.
In the meantime, while this is all taking root, Jenny and her volunteers must maintain a presence and so, like hummingbirds going from flower to flower, they go from place to place offering a helping hand and sharing words of encouragement, education, and inspiration; and, even more, they help in the grunt work of—for example—carrying saplings across rivers and digging into the dirt. Nothing can be overlooked, no relationship is too small, everything is related and so everything needs attention.
Here, on these thousand of hectares in southern Costa Rica, a wonderful carbon offset project is happening and growing (this is in addition to 400 hectares of re-forestation on other private land). It is easy to see the community being created while the trees are being planted. I fully believe that this project—both by ripple effect and by carbon uptake—is having a positive effect on the world and this is cause enough for celebration. Still, the work almost demands duplication or imitation in other locations all around the equator. It is heartening to see the great work being done by ACCT and also to envision how wonderful the planetary transformation will be when the same is done in a thousand more places. I hope more “hummingbirds” will come to southern Costa Rica, witness this project, and then go out and do their own version around the globe.
Rainy season has begun in Costa Rica and that means tree planting season. With the support of donors like you, our reforestation work is able to expand to a whole new community in San Jose de Rivas, near Chirripo National Park. We chose this community for numerous reasons.
It all starts with a human connection because our reforestation work is socially integrated in order to assure long term maximum survival of every tree for future generations. The process started back in January when two leaders came to our nursery asking for assistance in reforesting some steep deforested areas around a water spring that nourishes the entire area with fresh potable water. Concerned for the future of their water supplies, we began investigating if the rest of the community would be committed to participating in efforts to replant and care for a wide diversity of trees in this zone. Jessica and Eduardo came to our biodiverse tree nurseries over the last six months to work and learn how we produce the baby trees as well as how to inspire the individual members of their pueblo to get involved.
After making a solid connection with the new community leaders, Jenny Smith offered an educational TREE TALK in the communal salon to gauge interest and commitment to the long term reforestation process. Because current employment only consists in coffee farming in the zone, fairly paid jobs are a huge incentive for many members of the community. So many people participated in the three hour conversation about biodiversity and the importance of trees to protect water supplies. All signs indicated YES!
Yesterday, we delivered the first of 450 biodiverse trees to a holding space in the community for acclimatization. Loading and unloading the trees is a great opportunity for everyone to connect and learn about the different species of high altitude trees we will plant in the beginning of July. Another delivery of 600 trees will be made in two weeks for a total of 1050 trees of 40 species to be planted this year. This weekend we are investigating the planting site with the 7 workers, men and women, who will be doing the physical labor of carrying the trees to the site, planting and maintaining them for a total of 4 years paid by your generous tree sponsorship.
Thank you for your continued support in our integrated work with communities in Costa Rica for the benefit of all of us!
At Community Carbon Trees, planting all different kinds of trees gives us plenty to harvest. We are growing sustainable business with rainforest reforestation in the center. The maximum positive impact to mitigate climate change on the planet is to reduce carbon emissions to lower temperatures and balances the water cycle. Trees on the Equator do all of this for us, and more. Planting new forests of trees with fairly paid local workers on their own farms creates a longterm commitment to rainforest conservation. Building a full circle of complementary entrepreneurial opportunities that empower women makes the reforestation work even more valuable.
For example, we plant hundreds of Theobroma Cocoa trees on every participating Costa Rican owned farm. In just four years, we have already begun harvesting the fruits. It all started when a cocoa chef from San Francisco Jay Holacek contacted us, seeking to participate with our active and organized community. Of course, we said yes. The local farmers all brought some of their cocoa harvest and we placed the beans all together inside a wooden box for fermentation for approximately one week. Often other fruit is also mixed in to accelerate the process. We learned to check the beans for good fermentation by cutting them in half and observing that no fungus has grown on the beans. This is key to flavorful, smooth tasting chocolate. The process is time-consuming and delicate. More and more, with the world demand for chocolate and dwindling resources, organic, wild crafted chocolate is a sought after delicacy. For now, we are happy to be learning the complicated process.
After proper fermentation, the beans must be dried. Most chocolate chefs prefer sun dried cocoa beans. They must be kept dry and for approximately three days and then stored in airtight dark place. We have learned that making chocolate is like making fine wine. Every harvest is different depending on the soils, the weather, the shade, the fermentation, and the drying and toasting process.
After the beans are dried, toasting the beans to the desired smooth flavor begins. On average, toasting takes about 30 minutes at 340 degrees. Then the shells are cracked open and the women roughly grind away the shells and break the beans into smaller pieces called “nibs”. Some people like to eat the nibs plain and we have already had success selling them at local farmers markets.
One the shells cracked away from the beans, we used a blow dryer to “winnow” away the shells from the cocoa “nibs”.
Now everything smells incredible and tasting begins in earnest. We used an old champion juicer to rough grind the toasted cocoa beans into cocoa “liquor”. This is a slow process. We ran the paste through twice to create a shiny, smooth liquor.
Now comes the sugar. But not just any sugar. Our chocolate is extra special because our ACCT community group grew and prepared the brown sugar too. Using traditional methods, the sugar was cooked down and poured into seasoned wooden molds. We toasted the grated brown sugar or “tapa dulce” to make sure it was dry before mixing in 35% sugar to %65 pure, cocoa liquor.
Our 1 kg batch of chocolate liquor was ground all night long with a fabulous machine that our chef loaned us. The next morning, we awoke to a completely homogenous and smooth paste, sweet, rich, flavorful and free of bitterness.
Stay tuned as we grow more opportunities from the trees you help us plant with your generous sponsorships. Thanks for your continued support. The more trees we plant the more chocolate we can make. The more businesses we grow from the trees, the more sustainable the rainforest can be.
Seems like no matter where you are, talk about drought is on the tip of everyone’s tongue. I was recently in California this past April and was surprised to see the all fountains, even the ones in Beverly Hills, completely turned off. Babylon is running out of water. How ironic because Babylon used to be known for its lush hanging hydroponic gardens overflowing with plenty of water and more than enough food for all. Now look at us.
Water wars have begun whether you know it or not. Competition for this precious resource is going to become ever more fierce because we have altered our air composition and cut down way too many trees. Excess carbon dioxide is driving up temperatures which is, in turn, trapping in more water vapor.
Rainforests balance the global temperature and water cycles through recycling huge quantities of rainfall. Enormous amounts of water are continuously being elevated through the one-way, antigravity valving system of trees. Each canopy tree transpires some 200 gallons ( 760 liters) of water annually. For every acre of canopy rainforest, trees transpire about 20,000 gallons (76,000L) of water.  The tree feeds the rain-forming atmosphere by leaking atomized water out through its leaves while at the same time sucking in fresh water through its roots. Trees run the rainfall/snowfall system through their evapo-transpiration. So how do the trees recycle the rain?
Water evaporates from the sea and from the trees, first rising as water vapor and then condensing and falling as rain, a process referred to as evapo-transpiration. Some rainwater sinks into the earth and some rainwater drains away over the ground surface, depending on the temperature of the ground surface coupled with whether there are trees there or not. In forested areas, the trees cool the ground off with their shading branches and leaves. When the the ground is cooler than the falling rainwater, the warmer rainwater to easily penetrate the earth. Around 85% of the water runoff is retained, with 15% being absorbed by vegetation and humus and about 70% going to recharge groundwater, aquifers and underground stream systems.
In the full hydrological cycle like this, the trees recharge the groundwater table by sending it down through interconnected webs of tree roots. This is why biodiverse groupings of different species of trees, like those growing in a natural forest or highly diverse reforestation project, ensure that water is, in fact, penetrating the ground at multiple levels and actually nourishing deeper underground streams and reservoirs instead of draining them like in a monoculture or single species plantation.
In a healthy, full hydrological cycle, diverse tree root systems play another key role in regulation of the water cycle. Roots from all kinds of trees reaching down to all strata of underground levels draw water up from different layers of the soil and underground aquifers. This water then transpires through the tree leaves and rises as water vapor, cooling with altitude and condensing into clouds. Finally, the water aggregates into bigger droplets and precipitates as rain. Some say that water rising from trees is more highly charged and healthy water because it emanates from a living source, with mineral and trace element content much higher than transpiration from the sea, where many creatures have already absorbed the oxygen and carbon dioxide content leaving the water empty.
Now think about what happens to the water when we cut down the trees, particularly around the Equator where the majority of rainwater and oxygen is recycled on our planet. In deforested areas without tree cover, the temperature gradient of the soil is normally so hot that the cooler rainwater cannot penetrate it at all. Instead, the water runs off and just evaporates away. It’s just like when you throw water on a hot skillet and it sizzles and skitters sideways, just evaporating into thin air. Without the trees and cooling clouds to shade and protect and keep the soil cool, the rainwater cannot sink in.
The water vapor in the atmosphere at first increases and the rain spreads out over a much larger surface area instead. Sometimes the rainfall is excessive, then flooding occurs. At the same time, enhanced evaporation causes the atmosphere to become overloaded with water vapor and make the water fall somewhere else instead – sometimes far from the original source of the water vapor. By this process, devastating droughts can also result from the vicious cycle of rain created by a broken hydrological cycle. Yes, a flood in one region begets the next flood, and conversely, a flood can also be the cause of a future drought.
How can drought occur from too much rain? Critical consequence of the half hydro cycle is that there is no groundwater recharge. Think about it. Most of the water is staying on the surface because trees are not rooting the water down and transpiring the vapor upwards in a slow steady balanced process. Instead, the water is rising very fast, in large part as hot vapor and falling as rain without ever actually penetrating the deep levels of the earth. Often, if there aren’t enough trees to hold moisture in the soil, and the winds end up moving the vapor elsewhere which effectively removes the water from that local system.
Where there is no tree cover, the groundwater initially rises and brings with it underground salts, which contaminate the upper levels of topsoil. The plants are not able to metabolize these salts and vegetation and soils dry up and die. Over time the groundwater table will sink and disappear, because there is insufficient rainwater to nourish it and in turn, the supply of nutrients to vegetation from below the ground ceases.
Esteemed scientist Victor Shauberger calls this a biological short circuit which ultimately leads to widespread desertification. Why? The nutrients present in the upper zones of the groundwater table, which are normally drawn up by the trees to a level where they are accessible to the lesser plants are left below instead to sink with the falling ground water. The water table eventually drops to levels far beyond the reach of even the deepest tree roots, taking all soil moisture and trace elements down with it. No water means the desert reigns supreme.
When widespread desertification is the norm, not only is water lost in the deep bowels of the earth, but it also begins to be lost at the great heights of the heavens. The initial greater intensity of thunderstorms and storm activity at first raises the water vapor to levels far higher than normal, even as high as 40 to 80 km above the surface of the planet. Here the vapor reaches altitudes where it is exposed to much stronger ultraviolet and high energy gamma radiation, which break apart the water molecules by disassociating the oxygen from the hydrogen. Due to its lesser specific weight, the hydrogen molecule then rises while the oxygen molecule sinks. This way the water is effectively removed forever – gone gone gone for good.
So what can we do to restore a healthy, full hydrological cycle for our planet? Planting bio diverse trees within 10° of the Equator is one of the best solutions. In badly deteriorated soils, pioneering species are able to handle the higher levels of soil salts and are critical to plant so they can provide some early shade and ground cover which begins to lower the soil’s temperature. Soil conditions slightly improve as the trees move rainwater deeper into the earth, taking the excess salt down with it. Meanwhile a mix of fruit and hardwood trees can survive in the regenerated soil thanks to the process of creating shade and more soil moisture. Eventually, the pioneer trees die off because the evolved soil conditions are now no longer suitable and the dynamic balance of nature is restored.
A little support goes a long way to inspire people to be their best. It is amazing how many direct and indirect benefits grow from planting rainforest trees with community participation. We are super proud to present our newest family of tree planters collaborating with our Sponsors to grow future rainforest now. Meet the Brothers CERDAS FALLAS from Project Eco Chontales.
Thanks to the support they have received from our Sponsors over the last 2 years, we are paying this family to grow 3560 diverse native trees on their amazing farm complete with a world class waterfall.
These 4 Costa Rican brothers and their families now feel empowered to reach even higher to get their eco tourism project off the ground. They are creating a paradise eco tourism project complete with education about the importance of tropical reforestation for the planet.
In another success story, the participating farm family feels that they have a better future planting trees and conserving their land than continuing to destroy it with cattle farming and herbicides and pesticides. They have chosen to cultivate long term sustainability by growing organic slow rainforest food for themselves, the tourists and the animals. We have planted all kinds of fruit and wood trees all along the trails that lead through this farm.
And if one walks just 10 minutes, a huge PRIZE is waiting to delight and amaze! This glorious waterfall for all to enjoy as it recycles massive amounts of fresh clean water right before our very eyes. This project is extra special because this waterfall serves as an attraction for tourists who end up learning how the rainforest trees keep the hydrological cycle recycling over 20,000 gallons of water per acre each and every year.
Jose and Rene, two of the brothers, did most of the planting work alongside our capable crew of women tree planters. The whole extended family is excited to follow the growth of these newly planted trees for the next 4 years with active paid maintenance for every tree including cutting away cattle grasses, vines and other suffocating regenerating plants.
We look forward to sharing more pictures of the growth of the trees and the families’ projects as a result of collaborating with our Global Giving community reforestation initiatives. With every sponsored tree, we are able to grow more rainforest for all the benefits they give to the planet like cleaning the air and storing excess carbon dioxide, producing fresh oxygen, creating biodiverse habitat for survival of species and regenerating healthy rain cycles and clouds to balance global weather patterns.
I used to wonder why the rainforest gets cut down. I must admit, I had even thought to myself , “Why don’t ‘those people’ just get out there and plant some more trees? ” I mused how they had the land and it seemed like they had the time, so why not just do it? Back then, I didn’t really realize how hard it was to reforest on a large scale. I had no idea how long term the activity was in order to make sure the trees survive. And, I didn’t realize that in my own self righteous and innocent ignorance, I was expecting the poorest people on the planet to protect our most precious and beneficial resource, the RAINFOREST. I guess I was just expecting them to do it for free. Thank goodness some humiliating experiences came to show me how I was wrong, ultimately changing me, my work and everyone around me. Each and every hard lesson uplifted me to forge forward in a better direction for being an agent of change. Here is a glimpse into our journey of creating Association Community Carbon Trees-Costa Rica.com.
Maybe you have seen my posts before where I basically beg for tree Sponsors. Yea, I know, it can be tiring for you. Just think how I feel? Most days, my posts are completely ignored, no one likes our page and even so called “friends” don’t even like our page. Much less sponsor a tree! If I let it get me down, it would. But I pick myself up, and try again because I have seen what ACCT is doing and how it works for all of us. You could definitely say I’m committed.
Maybe you find yourself thinking, “Why should I care?” Some people just are not interested in planting trees or climate change. Or at first glance, you might think there are enough rainforest trees out there. Like all of us, you understandably have other things to spend your money on like dinner and movie, a new pair of jeans, yoga classes, going to that awesome Festival or vacation, your kid’s college education, the mortgage. I get it. I really do. You might just think your single tree just won’t make much of a difference. So why bother? But every single tree does contribute to the whole forest. No one has to break their bank or become a total non-consumer to be part of the ACCT movement.
Sometimes seemingly “awake” people ask me why we have to help people in a foreign country, like Costa Rica, when their own country has so many problems and poor people in need? Other times, I get the “feel good” retort from well meaning folks, “Oh I’m sorry, I cannot give $25 for a campesino to produce, plant and care for a real rainforest tree for 25 years because I already donate to (fill in the blank with other philanthropic organization). Or, I get the back slapping permaculture crowd telling me they are already doing their part where they live. And so it is. More people than ever are acting on a local level. Awesome job folks! But what about the global scene? The rainforest is still being cut down faster than ever. We are still losing species at an alarming rate, droughts and floods are plaguing our planet and CO2 is out of control. No matter what we are interested in, we all need air to breathe, water to drink and food to eat. The rainforest gives us all of this.
For me, such conversations with people who resist planting even one rainforest tree can be disappointing and discouraging, to say the least. It’s hard to explain why the rainforest affects all of us, how every single person has a carbon footprint no matter where we live which can be erased by planting trees on the Equator. In general, I guess people have enough problems and do not want to think about how we are relying on the poorest people to protect and regenerate our most beneficial natural resource. Out of sight, out of mind. Today, I try to inspire and encourage myself by remembering my own learning curve when I first started doing reforestation and conservation work for private clients over 15 years ago. So, I want to share a true story with you that helped me to open my eyes and my heart and learn to be the change.
One of the most notable and humiliating reality checks was handed to me back in 2007 while I was the President of a local conservation group in the southern Pacific zone of Costa Rica. The real estate frenzy hit our area bringing with it the development of new roads and ocean view homesites. Cultural norms were changing all over the place and the once quiet, simple Costa Rica “Pura Vida” lifestyle had given way to a hotbed of realtors and speculators looking to buy their piece of Paradise. But who was I to judge? I had come to live here myself back in 1998 to establish a “for profit” reforestation company and, in so many ways, I understood the allure of the lush green jungles, slow pace and laissez fare. But push did come to shove and people started calling me to seek help when the chain saws screamed and the tractors rolled damaging irreparably ecosystems at every turn. Since most foreigners did not speak enough Spanish to deal with the local authorities, who often were corrupt and accepted bribes from developers to turn a blind eye, I took it upon myself to be the one to prosecute people who cut down trees without proper permits.
My self created “job” was not popular with some folks. It was not usually fun nor lucrative. But I knew someone had to do it. I was bold and strong and knew how to cause a ruckus. I could swing a big chain and I carried a big stick. I was ready to stand in front of a tractor or chain saw and fight for the forest. Word got out, more and more people called, and little by little, good people were seeking pre-construction assistance so they could respect Nature in the process of building their dream. We offered free environmental law seminars and the room was packed every time. People were hungry for the information and I was willing to share as much as I could. We cleaned up and kicked out some of the corrupt local resource MINAE guards and SETENA began to take notice and realize that real environmental impact studies were necessary to protect this last stretch of rainforest prime for development in the southern Pacific zone. For a while, we could see that we were making a difference. I knew the high impact self proclaimed “eco” developers were feeling the pinch when one of them flew in one afternoon on his helicopter to meet me. After complaining that I was ruining job opportunities for Costa Ricans, ( janitors, maids etc.), he proceeded to tell me I was despicable. I laughed. I could live with that accusation. I had already won over 20 cases with my big lawyer stick. I possessed a whole lot of good intentions and felt ridiculously invincible. Unbeknownst to me, my good intentions had paved my own road to hell. So many rich investors were still doing whatever they wanted while their equally “well off” neighbors came to me expecting free legal work to fight them. And the Costa Ricans were now wise to the game and ready to cash in on it too. It was only fair. Something was wrong with the bigger picture. I had so much to learn.
When the student is ready, the teacher appears. One day, I came head to head with a local Costa Rican man who happened to be my neighbor. We had always been on good terms. Just a few months before he had explained to me in a friendly conversation how his late grandfather had been paid by foreign government subsidies to burn the rainforest down in the 1970’s. I just couldn’t believe it. So, like any good lawyer striving to be an eco-warrior, I began to research. I found out quite easily in the Library of Congress that Costa Ricans were indeed paid to cut down and burn their forests in favor of producing cheap beef for export to foreign markets, particularly the United States. Wendy’s and Burger King were two of the primary consumers. I began asking every Tico I came into contact with about how their land came to be deforested. I always got the same story. The land was too steep to even pull out the wood for personal use or sale. Poor farmers did not have tractors or trucks and were understandably looking for the easiest and cheapest way to convert their forest to cattle land. And so, they burned it down. It appalled me that on top of the obvious destruction of ecosystems, all the carbon dioxide stored in these giant Tree beings had been toxically released into our atmosphere.
I am a dirt lover. I could touch, see, smell and feel just how fragile and thin the topsoil is in the tropical jungle. Covered by trees, the soils are a bastion of biodiversity important in countless ways to the overall health of the biosphere. But when the trees are chopped down and the soils exposed to months of blazing Equatorial sun, followed by 8 months more of torrential rain running on steep terrain, it spells dirt disaster. Within just 7 years of cutting down a forest, the once fertile dirt is degraded. Dead soil full of cow poop runs off into rivers, causing sedimentation and nitrogen pollution which then flows downstream polluting estuaries and heating up oceans. Over time, landslides threaten and destroy communities, even killing people as a result of unstable, deforested land. Water springs, once healthy, dry up and rivers evaporate under the sun. No animals, no food, no water is left. And the cow business? A total flop. They are skinny and tough and require concentrated GMO foods to put on weight. Farmers lose money on top of destroying their land. No one wins.
But I digress from my story. One pleasant morning, I went on a brisk walk, enjoying the peace and quiet, marveling at the Nature all around me. I looked up out of my reverie to see a sleek, black Jaguarundi stealthily leap across my path. I gave thanks and wondered why it is said that a black cat crossing your path means bad luck. Uncannily, seconds later, I heard a nearby chain saw whirring. Before I knew what was happening, I heard a vicious CRACK and wood SPLINTER, then an eery “KABOOM” echoed through the area. Monkeys were screaming wildly and dogs were barking all around me. One after the other, huge tall trees were falling and branches were flying. I could feel the desperation of the animals in the air. It was contagious. My mind was racing and I kicked into reaction mode, running toward the mayhem. A million thoughts flitted through my brain as my blood pressure rose.
I had fought so many other battles on behalf of other people in defense of trees, mostly for free. Even though I had recently vowed to stay out of “these kinds of fights”, the fact that it was happening in my own “backyard” spurred me onward. Something would not let me walk away. Little did I know how that black cat foreboded a warning that I am ultimately glad I did not heed.
My Costa Rican neighbor had begun to illegally deforest the rest of his land which was partially covered at the time by a Mayo Colorado forest. This type of tree forms a natural monoculture and serves its own unique purpose. A Mayo Colorado tree forms a network and basically does not allow any other type of tree to grow. They are home to countless pollinating bees and understory plants and upper story epiphytes and bromeliads. It felt like a cathedral under those trees. They shaded the nearby water stream and protected the healthy soil. They were central to the natural, healthy ecosystem that was thriving there.
I approached the crew of men still wielding their murderous chain saws faster than I could gather my wits. No one even looked up at first. It was Sunday, perfect for illegal cutting since there were no MINAE resource guards available until Monday. No one was scared of little ole me. I wish I could say that I was cool, calm and collected. No way. I was wild. Looking back I see how ineffective I was because my emotions had gotten the better of me. Seeing the trees ooze their bloody cellulose while birds searched for their fallen nests was just more than I could handle.
I confronted Sergio, the land owner and stood in front of a giant tree next in line for the killing frenzy. My once neighborly friend began waving his sharp machete at me, convincingly threatening my life and scaring me half to death. He had major back up too. Men with chain saws. I was all alone. I knew I was terribly outnumbered. I tried to reason with each of them, but all of my pleas were falling on deaf ears. I ran home and cried my eyes out and began to formulate a plan to get the MINAE guards there the very next morning. Somehow, I knew it was going to be too little, too late.
The destruction was done, acres of forest were cut down in a single day. Yet, the lesson would take months and years to germinate and take root. My neighbor became even more angry at me when the MINAE guards came out a few days later to investigate and issue the Denuncia to begin the lawsuit. Everyone in Costa Rica, whether a citizen, a resident or a tourist, has standing to defend trees, rivers, and animals who do not have a voice under Article 50 of the Costa Rican Constitution. This was one of the things that truly impressed me about Costa Rica early on. I had witnessed superb rulings by the Sala IV or Constitutional Environmental Court made up of brave judges, willing to enforce the environmental laws in favor of protecting Nature. I felt like I was on the right side of the fight.
But Sergio felt equally justified in his actions. He began to enlist other neighbors to threaten and harass me. I did not feel safe. My adorable new German Shepard puppy dog mysteriously turned up dead. One gentle man came to my house a few days later to counsel me. He told me no matter how much he understood and even agreed with me, I should back off or end up dead in the ditch. I called my Mentor who immediately told me I should be careful too. When he said I did not have to worry about the people who threatened me to my face, I felt a little better. But then he told me that I SHOULD worry about the people who did not say it to my face. My heart nearly jumped out of my chest. How many peoples’ buttons and pocketbooks had I already hit? I thought I loved what I was doing. I thought I was right. I did not want to go back to the USA and be a lawyer in an office. I was conflicted. I lost a lot of sleep.
In due course, my wise life partner from Argentina, Juan Angel, drew a very bright line in the sand for me. “Quit or I’m leaving”. I knew he was thinking about my physical safety and peace of mind. He knew more about how things work in Latin America and understood my unique weakness as a woman alone in a strange land. His stern words convinced me in no uncertain terms that I had bitten off way more than I could chew. I withdrew the complaint and resigned as President of ASANA the very next day.
In the coming weeks and months, Juan and I got into some deep discussions about conservation and equal justice. I read voraciously. I meditated. Through a myriad of examples, we explored how social justice is key to being successful in any realm, conservation included. While Juan is not a “tree hugger” per se, he did share my revolutionary spirit and search for justice. He knew my heart and how much I had given up for the “work” and how much I wanted to be truly effective. Although he believed in what we were doing with the private reforestation work, he challenged me to look at it from a new perspective. He asked me bluntly, “Why are you working so hard to fight battles for rich people developing their ocean view lots? ” He admonished, “Wake up Girlfriend!” He showed me the shallow roots of my work. He quipped, “Why are you running around fighting poor Costa Rican people who are just trying to survive Jenny?” He went on, “If you are going to work so hard, for free, and you really want to make a difference, why not get out there and work with the poor people who are struggling to survive while protecting the forest in a positive way.”
All of his questions and comments shed new light on my worn out path. I had to dig harder and set more solid roots that would grow to support me and everyone and everything I cared about. I wanted to be a force for environmental AND social justice. My abiding LOVE for trees and forests and wild spaces and clean rivers and clean air had been driving me all along. It was time to change. It was time to work in the positive, and move on from the negative.
After a few weeks, I began to try to make amends with Sergio. I requested a meeting with him. I reached out to community members. I ate a lot of crow. Sergio resisted. I eventually knocked him off guard by asking him for his forgiveness for the scene I had created, the problems I had tried to cause him and his family. I swallowed my pride and released my anger about the dead trees, the dead dog, all of it. I wanted to move on. I wanted to understand and evolve.
When he was ready to talk, I listened intently to Sergio’s side of the story. Although he could not read or write very well, he was intelligent in so many ways that I was humbled and embarrassed for my ignorance despite all of my book and forestry training. This amazing man explained to me that the only way his family could eat was to cut down the last bit of forest left on his land. He could not grow any food on the previously deforested areas because the dirt was dead. He intended to plant all kinds of fruit trees in place of the forest he cut down, plus pineapples, black beans, yucca, ancestral corn and sweet potatoes. He was not going to graze any more cattle on the newly cleared land because he had already learned what a losing proposition this was over the last 25 years.
I could tell that Sergio genuinely shared my sadness for the plight of the fallen forest and the displaced animals. We shed tears together. It was cleansing for us both. He told me again about his tragic childhood memories watching his grandfather and their neighbors burn down the forest for the cows in promise of a better life that never came. He even admitted to agreeing with me that it is a crime to cut down the forest. He felt he had no alternative. All of his water springs had dried up in the previously deforested areas and now he had to pay for water from the aqueduct. The rest of his cows would die without plenty of water. The rest of his soil was dead and eroding away year after year with no solution in sight. Every rainy season he feared landslides during the hardest downpours. He did not have a job, he had no hope of a job, and he was angry and depressed because he could not adequately care for his family. There was no social welfare and no soup kitchen to go to and he was desperate. He made it clear to me that if the Gringos could cut down trees for mansions with pools, there was NO WAY that I was going to tell him that he could not cut down trees to grow food. I did not argue with him.
So many experiences, at once so humiliating and yet uplifting, contributed to my growing understanding that planting trees on land owned by “rich foreigners” or “big nonprofit conservation corporations” was not going to be enough to stop deforestation. No matter how many hundreds of thousands of different kinds of trees we planted for private clients on their own land, no matter how many jobs we created for poor people on “other people’s land”, little by little, I saw that we were not going to save the rainforest without getting deeply involved with the the local people in rural communities. On the ground experience over a decade taught me that both local men and women needed paid alternatives to stop deforestation.
I began to gnaw on the agony of what, at first, looked like defeat. This experience, and many others, was pivotal in changing my dense “first world” self important attitude and approach to saving the rainforest. I became driven to invent something that could really work for everyone. I poured my heart and soul and energy more than ever into seed collecting, tree production and private planting projects with a new found vigor. I went back to Sergio’s humble wooden house the next year in June 2008 to give him 15 diverse fruit trees to plant on his newly deforested land. It was the least I could do to thank him for the lesson. Then it hit me like a bolt of lightening. If I felt so much joy and happiness and satisfaction from planting trees, then I should focus here. I began questioning how could I share this good feeling? Wouldn’t other people like to feel this way too? What if I could figure out a way to pay Sergio to plant and maintain these 15 trees long term? What would such an endeavor look like? Would anyone participate?
Having already planted over 450,000 diverse native trees with private projects over the previous 10 years, I knew how much long term, hard work was necessary to successfully grow the trees. It had become clear to me how unfair it was to ask poor people like Sergio to work for free. If we all relied on people just like this man and his family to stop deforestation, did they have to go hungry and be angry to do it? What did a life affirming alternative look like? It needed to be esteem building work, not charity.
So, I ran the numbers backwards and figured out how much money we needed to be able to produce the trees and pay the farmers over the first four years to take care of them on their own farms. ($25). I hated monoculture tree farms and wanted to produce high diversity saplings. This was a critical component of the model. We needed money and resources and time to seed collect and build nurseries. I needed lots of help and had no money. I wanted to help educate children, adults and tourists too. All this played into my plan to create a way for other people to get involved and put in their time and energy and money. I got inspired. I dreamed big. I went out on a limb and put up our simple, (but of course, long winded ha ha ha) Website in late 2009. And to my sweet relief, slowly, other people crawled out there on that limb with me. People sponsored ACCT trees. Thank you. We are still out there today!
Five years later we have planted over 5000 diverse native trees on 16 different participating family farms. To date, 3497 trees are sponsored and we have 8 recurring monthly individual donors. We’ve recently built a Reforestation Partnership for business who want to offset carbon dioxide. We are growing alliances with Festivals like The Envision Festival. We are working with professional athletes like snowboarders DCP and Jeremy Jones. We are allies with other non profit climate change orgs like Protect our Winters. We were awarded a small United Nations grant to build two huge community tree nurseries. We just received a Peace Corps volunteer to help our burgeoning Women’s group of over 35 women who are building sustainable businesses including fertile soil compost , chocolate, and coconut oil. We employ over 25 Costa Rican tree planters, tree maintainers and nursery workers. We produce over 20,000 trees per year. We have hosted over 60 different volunteers from around the world. We give great educational eco tourism opportunities. We have hosted more than 60 Kids’ Nature Day educational activities. I speak at conferences around the world. I am a trained Climate Reality Leader. We still have very low overhead. This is what ACCT is all about. I will forever be humbled by the trust and support shown to me and our growing community of farmers. A seed must go through complete destruction and total transformation to germinate. And with time and nurture, it grows, blossoms and gives ripe fruit. And so it is with Community Carbon Trees – Costa Rica.