Remember the idiom about not being able to see the forest for its trees? Well, it happened, literally, to Sebastião Salvador, a Brazilian photographer who also worked as a journalist.
Sebastião had returned home one day, after several years working and traveling around the world as a journalist, to find the lush green acreage he regarded as home gone! The green patch of the jungle he was born in and had grown up in had been stripped bare of its tree cover, apparently by commercial interests in the area. Everywhere, as far as his eyes could see, was bare land. Even the exotic plants and animals he once shared his beloved jungle home with were gone. The man-made devastation left Sebastião depressed.
Sebastião painted the pathetic situation in a 2015 interview he had with the Guardian. According to him, his beloved land was ill. An approximate 99.5% of the forest patch’s tree cover was lost. So he himself fell ill. However, hope came for him and the land, in the gem of an idea his wife — Lélia Deluiz Wanick Salgado — had: replanting the forest! It was a daunting task no doubt, but husband and wife soon set about it.
The general plan was clear in Sebastião's mind. He would gather the region's native tree seeds and replant the forest with them so that the original species of plants that once thrived in the forest space would sprout once again. If the native trees repopulate the forest space again, then the native insects and animals of the land would find their way back. Sebastião and his wife ran with this plan.
And so, in a labor of love spanning twenty years, Sebastião and Lélia worked hard at and eventually achieved their dream of reforesting their homestead; planting two million trees in the process. The forest “came back”, along with its fauna and flora. The forest sounds came back too: the chirping, the hisses, the growls, the cawing; etcetera. Sebastião gushed in the aftermath of their accomplishment. According to him, he felt “rebirthed”, just like his beloved forest homeland.
The success of the reforestation effort inspired the couple to form Instituto Terra, a non-governmental organization that actively advocates for the environment; by working with like-minded “nature-aware” individuals and corporations. According to Sebastião, there was a need to keep sensitizing people to preserve as much of the earth or nature as is possible; usually by working with the natives who occupy and own the lands.
The lessons to learn from Sebastião and Lélia’s reforestation experience are three-fold.
One, individual efforts, no matter how piecemeal they appear, make meaningful impacts; if those efforts are well thought out. Think, two individuals planted two million trees over a twenty year period.
Two, even though individual efforts matter, the collective effort matters even much more. Think of the potential impact, if one hundred million individuals — 1.5% of the earth’s population — planted one tree every year for twenty years. That's an extra healthy two billion trees growing on earth!
Lastly, we should be thankful for the few amongst us — like Sebastião and Lélia — who take it upon themselves to help the earth or nature achieve it's sustainability goals.