When I heard of Warsaw’s invitation to plant trees to offset our carbon emissions from traveling to COP19, I envisioned planting a few trees in the city. Maybe a ribbon cutting and the delegates posing for more pictures than trees planted. But still, an interesting initiative and I wanted to check it out. I should have taken it as a warning sign when no one knew anything about it at the info desks in the conference. Instead, I got on the bus with no idea of what to expect. After we had clearly left the city, I realised my vision of the day was completely off base. Still, I told myself, it was a break from the abstract of all the meetings and was a concrete example of change! After one hour, we pulled up to an empty lot in the middle of a forest.
There had been talks of planting one tree for every person at the COP19 and I had become worried when there were only 15 other COP19 participants on the bus. Fortunately, Polish schoolchildren and forestry university students had joined us. After a few speeches in Polish we were given shovels, gloves, and a box of saplings. Once we started, I quickly saw there was more media than actual tree-planters. Everything we did was photographed, first “candids” and then staged photos.
I felt like a prop. Even more so when speaking with Polish forestry officials who informed us that this area had always been scheduled to be replanted, as it was on a rotating yearly schedule of replanting trees. It was completely just an act, as though this was some innovative event when in reality it was just a new name for an old project! At the end they lined us all up to take a picture proving they had done something positive. We were photographed amongst cheers of “we need trees!” and “trees are the future!” Of course, this seemed hypocritical as it was the same day that Poland was awarded “Fossil of the Day” by the Climate Action Network due to all their work against combating climate change. (Read more about it here: http://www.climatenetwork.org/node/3843)
As a Minnesotan, I do still have to say thank-you to the Polish government for their soup and gift bags and everyone was relatively nice (except for the excessive scoldings in Polish for what I assume was my poor tree planting skills). Ultimately though, I felt like a prop and was mislead about the intentions of this initiative.
Mary Katharine Phillips