Confused on How to Help the Environment? Try the 10:10:50 Rule

a desert with some dead trees
Desertification is an increasing problem, and one most assume can’t be fixed.

We are more distracted now than at any other point in our species’ history, so it’s easy to ignore that our planet is dying.

4.2 million people die each year from air pollution [1], species are going extinct 1,000 to 10,000 times faster [2], and 46% percent of the world’s forests have disappeared [3], leading to a myriad of global issues.

Along with our distractions, comes confusion. Even if we want to help, we don’t know how. We can recycle, use responsibly sourced products, keep up with environmental news and laws, ban plastic, save the seas, and much more. With the overwhelming list of possibilities, it’s no wonder why we have no clue on how to help our planet.

Through much speculation, and YouTube videos, I’ve searched for the most viable and transparent way to help.

I’ve looked at marching on the government, boycotting the companies that are causing harm, and even saving a soon-to-be cutdown tree by camping on it with Portia De Rossi.

And… Those weren’t for me. I have much admiration for those who do these things, but I’m a firm believer in seeing what I could do, rather than forcing others to change. It’s a path of least resistance kind of thing. And for me, the most viable solution that came out of those many videos and Reddit searches was one of the most simple: planting trees.

Why Trees?

a forest with a walkway in the middle

The reality is, there aren’t two extremes; “help save the trees with every waking second of my day, or don’t do anything at all”.

We all know trees are vital for taking carbon out of the atmosphere (as carbon dioxide), and storing it as carbon (tree trunks, branches, and leaves). This helps offset the amount of carbon dioxide we pump in the air. We also know that the byproduct of this exchange is oxygen.

It’s exactly the opposite of what we do as humans; inhale oxygen (for our cells), and exhale carbon dioxide (from the breakdown of food and energy) [4].

So, humans and trees are in balance. A Yin and Yang of sorts. And this balance needs more attention.

yin and yang symbol
Yin and Yang can be described as “complementary forces that interact to form a dynamic system

Arguments Against Protecting Our Home

“Our generation didn’t cause these issues, it’s not up to us to fix them”

“We can just move to another planet by the time our planet is dead”

“I’m only one person. I don’t have enough influence to stand up to the government or corporations.”

The trouble is, when everyone thinks this way, that “I’m just one person” becomes true. People can have all the passion they need, but it won’t help because they are prematurely defeated. Sometimes before they take any action. You know, other than posting a thing or two to social. And they then give up and distract themselves with all of the distractible things we have in life. I know because this is me.

The reality is, there aren’t two extremes; “help save the trees with every waking second of my day, or don’t do anything at all”. This linear way of thinking is what’s perpetuating this mess. There are many people out there creating change without devoting their lives to it.

Small, Medium, and Large Influencers

Small Influencers

3 men sitting on a wall

When my grandfather was young and done with work for the day, he would help out his friends and neighbors. This often meant painting, plumbing, car washing, and–gardening. When gardening, he’d help plant flowers, bushes, and trees in their lawns, backyards, and apartment communities. He didn’t get paid–he just did it because he cared about others. And through it, he connected with people and made positive changes in his community.

Planting a few trees, bushes, or flowering plants for yourself or others may be a small task, but don’t discount it. It’s still extremely meaningful, and often in more ways than you know.

Medium Influencers

someone helping another to summit a mountain

Writing blog articles, ahem, for others to see and inspire them to take action works as well. If the article has a large enough audience, hopefully, some of the viewers will be inspired enough to make a change.

Check out this recent story by the Guardian about growing your own forest.

Remember, action, inspiration, and motivation are circular, and not linear. You can create your own motivation and inspiration by first taking action [5].

action, inspiration, and motivation in a cirlce

Large Influencers

a large group of people with hands raised

Forest

The productivity app, Forest, has helped plant 547,323 trees at the time of this writing [6]. The focus of the app is productivity, but as a give-back, and a USP, their in-app virtual coins lead to planting real trees.

Afforestt

Afforestt started in 2011, and they have planted 450,000 trees in 144 locations across 50 cities [7]. Their Miyawaki method for growing forests is just astounding and worth the watch.

The Takeaway

The amazing thing is this could be you, tomorrow. And you don’t need to start at the “large” stage. And you probably shouldn’t. Generation X and Y are notorious for biting off more than they can chew. Like quitting their job to start Internet companies without any real knowledge or direction. Calling themselves “entrepreneurs” when they’re just between jobs. Again–this is me. 

If you’re creating change at the small stage and see a clear path and motivation for accelerating your payments back to nature, then, by all means, grow to medium or large.

However, if you want to create lasting change, the best way forward is not only starting at the small stage but maybe even staying at small forever. If your motivation is for helping the planet, and not to get publicity for it, then staying in this smaller space shouldn’t matter to you. And here’s why it can help more than you think.

The 10:10:50 Rule

The 10:10:50 Rule: 10% of people, planting 10 trees a year, for 50% more regrowth.

We often talk about human over-population as if it’s a bad thing. And in some ways it is. But the advantage of being an over-populated species is our productivity potential. Just like ants get work done through sheer numbers, so can we.

If 10% of people plant 10 trees a year, we’d have 7.7 billion more trees per year (one for each human on this planet, per year).

Currently, 15.3 billion trees are cut down each year [8].

While this might seem discouraging, planting 7.7 billion more trees would offset 50% of cut trees. And this 50% can just be the start.

10 trees a year is an average of one tree every five weeks. And for such a small step to regrow 50% of the planet’s cut trees? That sounds like a great start.

10% of people, planting 10 trees a year, for 50% more regrowth.

My Current Plan

holding a sprouted seedling

I’m aware I’ve bitten off more than I can chew with life, and man, that idiom is so accurate. It feels just like it would when you have too much pizza in your mouth; chewing big and slow, taking 10x longer to swallow any food. It’s not a pleasant feeling, and with food or life–it takes away from the enjoyment.

So, instead of continuing to distracting myself from helping the planet, I’ll do my share of planting 10 trees a year. And when I have more resources, or my priorities shift in the future, I’ll take a page out of Afforestt’s book, and use their DIY guide to grow my own forest on some land.


Trees are underrated. They’re far more sophisticated and intelligent than we give them credit for. And it’s about time we start taking them seriously, before we can’t.

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