“This area is yours,” said the local community leader, “green it as much as you want!” He ushered us to a field that had once been a forest, now a naked piece of land. Help was clearly long overdue. On 3 June, in commemoration of World Environment Day, the Young European Ambassadors in Armenia, including myself, led a tree-planting activity in the Armavir region supported by the EU Neighbours east programme. It was a day unlike any other and one that I will likely never forget.
As we were traveling out to the Armavir region, we did not know what to expect of this day. We did, however, have a definite goal in mind: to plant at least a dozen trees. The reception we received upon arrival was truly amazing. The local community welcomed us with open arms and we were moreover joined in our tree-planting efforts by some bright young Armenians working in the Armavir Development Centre which made the entire action more inclusive and mesmerizing.
Every year across the globe, millions of trees are chopped down and burned and entire ecosystems are left to bleed or are wiped out entirely. I used to hear my neighbour boast, “our furniture is made of oak!” I used to understand this statement as a rightful source of pride; now it is a source of shame. The green blanket that for millions of years has covered our planet is continuously shrinking, losing its life humans in the name of greed, progress and vanity. It is because of the people; because of our own strive for comfort that the earth is dying: Plants and animals are becoming extinct, weather anomalies are widening health disparities globally, while environmental and social vulnerabilities are pushing poor health in the first place. What is the world’s response? To neglect, ignore, and stay blind to this catastrophe. As an individual, I used to feel hopeless, wanting to help but not knowing how to make a change or organize an action.
That is when I read the European Climate Change Programme. I learned more about the European commitment to green energy, the many climate-related initiatives, and the robust policy-making on the green front.“Indeed,” I thought, “at least the EU cares. This is the right time and right place for a person like me to make a change, to make my contribution to the world.” It was perfect. There I was, with a group of young enthusiastic people doing something of significance for our planet and for our own lives. A tiny effort but a big inspiration.
We have so much in common. We have so much faith. And we have so much yet to accomplish, together.
It was a beautiful day: bright blue sky for as far as the eyes could see, sun shining, birds chirping… I chose to plant a maple tree, which had extraordinary crimson leaves on its three-year old branches. I grabbed a shovel and started digging, put the tree in the hole, and covered its roots with the wet black steaming soil. Standing in the middle of the field and looking down at my muddy gloves I realized that in all my worries about the planet, it wasn’t until today that I started taking the planet’s problems personally. How was that possible? Maybe because I decided to become a doctor, focusing on the problems of people rather than the problems of the environment? Maybe it was day-to-day life, stressing about exams, jobs, family, friends or parties that did not leave room to make an impact – to simply plant a tree.
As a doctor, I frequently recommend to my patients to spend more time in the fresh air in order to live more stress free, healthier lives. It never crossed my mind, however, that my doctor’s recommendation require the planet to live. While my patients need me to stay fit and healthy, the planet needs our help as well, if it wishes to live fit and healthy. I never thought about advising my family, my friends or my patients to fight for a clean environment and a healthy planet, or to bring their attention to the dilemma of climate change inspiring them to fight for fresh air and green surroundings. This is our problem today: we shun the major problems in pursuit of an easy life.
As we grow up, years passing by, we forget about the dandelions that we used to blow into the wind, wishing for simple things, meaning no harm to the butterflies and the birds. As grown-ups, in turn, we are concentrated much more on owning our own cars, having our houses designed with oak materials, and scarves made from white fox-fur. We want our reality to match our imagination and we stop at no cost to achieve this dream.
On 3 June, for the first time in my life, I realized there is only one day out of 365 days when we plant trees. What about all the other days? We cut them, burn them, and kill them. Is that fair? Let me ask you how often we need to plant trees to look after our beautiful Mother Earth. For the first time, I acknowledged that climate change and the diminishing existence of our forests are bad news unless we come together and propel a great wave of change, giving the issue primary significance.
Planting trees with my fellow Young European Ambassadors gave me a lot of food for thought. Following the event, we gave a presentation of the EU Neighbours east project. The exchange of knowledge and experience with local youth charged the air with positive emotions, new ideas and a growing mood for friendship. It gave us a sense of agency: We, the Young European Ambassadors, are doing something good for our communities; we are leading youth to make the right choices.
Will the next generation sit in fields of green, blowing dandelions into the wind? Will they be able to?
The choice is up to us, that is what I learned today. We are the carriers of our destiny. We are the ones responsible for saving our planet.
Plant a tree a day, save a dream forever. Be the wave of green change.
Titan Asatryan, Armenia