Baal Shem Tov, or Besht — the founder of Chasidism —
The Giving Tree: A Way to Honor Our Vision for Israel
click here for the original political call for action
When we celebrate the New Year of the Tree, so many of people are inspired to plant trees through Jewish National Fund. The real time to plant trees in Israel is oourse a bit later in the year, but either way I'd like to ask you to imagine a new way to plant a tree in Israel. (This post was written in 2008, but it remains true in 2011, three years later.)
Right now if you give $18 for a tree, eight of those dollars go toward getting your paper certificate. The current alternative offered by JNF is to give JNF $10 for a tree through their "Go Neutral" campaign and forgo the paper.
The problem is this: "Go Neutral" isn't neutral: Their calculation for how many trees you should plant is 5 times less than what the responsible carbon offset organizations plant. Not only that, but many of the forests that Keren Kayemet LeYisrael (KKL-JNF in Israel) planted are unsustainable single-species plantations, providing little habitat for native plants or animals, and no meaningful offset for your carbon footprint. And you pay many times more per tree than other offset programs.
For example, if you go to Carbonify.com, you'll be asked to donate 100 – that's one hundred trees – to offset 20 tons of CO2 (the average per person in the US), all for less than $50. (Or buy 50 trees for $5, 10¢ a tree, here.) JNF GoNeutral will ask you to donate only 20 trees for the same offset, and will ask you for $200 dollars. (If you go the traditional JNF route, it will cost you $360!)
Part of that difference is the pay scale for Israel v. places like Sri Lanka. But the norm for carbon offsets is about $10 per ton. That's at least five trees, instead of JNF's single tree which for the same price is supposed to offset the same ton.
Why the difference? Even in the best forest, one tree can take 70 years to absorb a ton of carbon according to JNF-US –but it only takes each of us a year to release 20 or more tons. Not all trees will reach maturity. So every creditable carbon-offset organization requires 5 trees per ton. Since climate change is gathering speed over time, keeping a ton of CO2 from being released now could help the ecosystem much more than the same ton five or fifty years from now. And even if it all were equal, the effect of the long time for a tree to mature means that more than half of the CO2 we are supposedly offsetting now will still be in the atmosphere 30 years from now. Multiply that by the 70 years it takes to really catch up. You can see that even the estimate of 5 trees per ton may be too low. You would need to buy many dozens of trees to offset your yearly 20 tons of CO2 emissions in time to help things turn around.
That's assuming the best conditions: a healthy tree in a healthy forest. In the monoculture forests in some of the JNF land, that carbon goes back into the atmosphere much sooner, as other trees die off without reseeding themselves. Monoculture forests also reduce CO2 far less than a healthy forest ecosystem because they don't build up rich soil, which holds far more CO2 than a brosh pine forest. And KKL refuses to share information about which forests are sustainable and self-seeding so that you can make sure your tree is planted in one.
What should JNF be doing?
1) JNF should be creating a real forest habitat, one that can sustain native and diverse species for generations.
2) JNF should let its customers know which forests are better and only plant GoNeutral trees there.
2) JNF should be financing good clean energy that actually prevents carbon from entering the waste stream right now.
The way to do that is simple: JNF shouldn't charge $10 to plant a tree that won't offset any significant amount of carbon. Instead charge the normal $18 and put $9 of it directly towards the Good Energy Initiative of the Heschel Center for the Environment. GEI's work prevents CO2 from being released, instead of trying to reabsorb it afterwards and after decades. So even if the trees you plant don't make it to maturity, you'll already have locked in your carbon offset.
But you don't have to wait for the JNF to embrace this enlightened idea. You can donate to GEI directly to offset your carbon and make a difference in Israel right now. The Good Energy Initiative does things like replacing diesel generators with solar power in Bedouin villages living off the grid or helping poor Israelis retrofit for energy efficiency. A one-ton offset with GEI runs $9-15, depending on which project you donate too. It's also more than 10¢ a tree, but you're making a real difference in the lives of Israelis.
Choni, one of the great sages and miracle workers in the Talmud, wondered at an old man who planted a carob tree that would not bear fruit for seventy years. That man taught Choni a true lesson: we plant for the generations that follow us.
Let us restore the ancient forests, even though it takes lifetimes. Make a pledge to give a tree that will give for generations, that will seed its own descendants, shelter animals, and nurture people. Tell JNF you want more out of your donation: more green for Israel and more life for all of Israel's inhabitants, both for human beings, and for all the other species that make the holy land what it should be.
Let our planting, and our Israel, be one which survives generations. Let us plant not just for ten years but for the next seventy, for a hundred and twenty, and more.
Design in progress © Rabbi David Mevorach Seidenberg 2006