Students in the Philippines Must Plant 10 Trees to Graduate

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A new law hopes to fix deforestation and teach young people about environmental stewardship.

Students in the Philippines now have a final requirement in order to graduate from school: they must plant 10 trees. The new law, which came into effect on May 15, 2019, will apply to graduates from elementary and high schools, and college or university. Called the "Graduation Legacy for the Environment Act," it is seen as a valuable opportunity for young people to take action against climate change.

Congressman Gary Alejano, who introduced the bill, said, "While we recognize the right of the youth to a balanced and healthy ecology... there is no reason why they cannot be made to contribute in order to ensure that this will be an actual reality."

With 12 million kids graduating from elementary school, 5 million from high school, and 500 thousand from university every year, that means 175 million trees will be planted annually. Over the course of a generation, that will mean 525 billion trees, although Alejano has said that even if only 10 percent of the trees survived, that's still an impressive 525 million in a generation.

The Philippines, a tropical island nation, desperately needs those trees. The country has been severely deforested over the past century. Forbes reported,

"Through the 20th century, forested area in the Philippines decreased from 70 percent to 20 percent. It is estimated that 24.2 million acres of forests were cut down from 1934 to 1988, primarily from logging... The implementation of this new law could trigger a fulcrum whereby the Philippines switches from net loss to net gain of trees."

The law states that trees can be planted in forests, mangroves, ancestral domains, civil and military reservations, urban areas, inactive and abandoned mine sites, or other suitable locations. Forbes said that the "focus will be on planting indigenous species that match the area's climate and topography." A government agency will guide students through the process, connecting them with nurseries, helping to find a site, and ensuring the tree's survival.

It reminds me of the tradition that existed in my small-town elementary school, where every kindergarten class planted a tree upon graduation and the names of students on tiny plaques were nailed to a neighboring fence. I still remember the excitement of that day, shovelling dirt into the hole and feeling pride in seeing 'my' tree take root. Those trees are tall and magnificent now, lining the park that the school grounds eventually became.

It sounds like the Philippines has introduced a wonderful program that other countries would do well to emulate. Anything that gives young people a sense of connection and responsibility for the natural environment bodes well for its future.