Meet Orla Farrell, the teacher who retired early to combat climate change.
Orla has a plan to plant one million trees in a five-year period, with the help of every school child on the island.
With the support of Crann — Trees for Ireland, Orla has started the Easy Treesie project and she has already started planting.
“Easy Treesie is a five-year project with the aim of planting one million trees. Ireland has one million school children, when you include primary and secondary schools, both north and south.
“That one million figure seemed convenient and something that was manageable. It was the logistics of how to do it that needed planning. I had a whole load of people who were interested,” said Orla.
“It is being done in conjunction with Crann — Trees for Ireland, an organisation that was set up to raise awareness of the environmental importance of trees, hedgerows, and woodland,” she added.
While Orla has been involved in tree planting with schools for almost two decades, Easy Treesie is about children planting trees on public lands.
“We went to Fingal County Council and they gave us space for 300 trees. So far we have planted 3,305 trees, that’s one tree for every primary school in Ireland, and we will have another 1,000 planted by January 26.
I’m a volunteer, I retired seven years early to do this. We have got great backing to bring this nationwide and we have some pioneer councils that are in the process of designating land. In 2019, we will be heading to Kilkenny, Cork, Sligo, and Kerry,” she said.
Orla’s ambitious project is inspired by two people: Kenyan scientist Wangari Maathai, Nobel laureate and founder of the Green Belt Movement, and German schoolboy Felix Finkbeiner, who has planted 15 billion trees.
However, she has had a lifelong interest in the role of trees in a healthy environment and Ireland’s relationship with them.
“As a six-year-old I remember, and Ireland had just celebrated 50 years of being a State, a teacher held up a wooden coat hanger and said, ‘This was made in Sweden. Ireland used to be covered in trees. A squirrel could go from Malin Head to Mizen Head without ever having to touch the ground’.
“Ireland used to have 80% tree coverage before,” she said.
“I used to go on holidays to Cork and there would be trees all around. Then I remember, in the ’80s, the effects of the elm disease. There was just skeletons of trees. It was very distressing,” she added.
Ultimately though, she is motivated by a need to address climate change, and rapidly.
Trees are the simplest solution to capturing carbon. This is the second year in a row that Ireland has been the worst performer in the EU for tackling climate change.
“A simple way to address this is to plant trees. It’s about the right tree in the right place, they don’t have to be too big or too invasive. Ultimately, we need 150 trees per head globally. A tree consumes 10kg of carbon,” she said.
“There is a great urgency. We have a short window to address climate change. This is a symbolic and practical action,” she added.