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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

‘Largest YouTube Collaboration Ever’ Aims to Plant 20 Million Trees

Air Date: Week of

The collaboration started when YouTuber Mr. Beast (Jimmy Donaldson) hit 20 million subscribers. (Photo: Night Media)

Hundreds of YouTube creators partnered with the Arbor Day Foundation with a goal of planting 20 million trees. YouTuber Destin Sandlin, who runs the science-based channel “Smarter Every Day”, spoke with Host Jenni Doering to explain why these creators launched a movement seeking to rise above the noise of cat videos and memes.


DOERING: YouTube.com. With over a billion views every day it’s en route to surpass television as America’s most-watched platform. It’s home to cat videos 




DOERING: And it’s the only place a kid’s song about sharks could garner nearly 4 billion views 


DOERING: But YouTube is also home to a new kind of celebrity. Influencers.


DOERING: They make videos on nearly any topic imaginable from applying makeup to fixing home appliances. But most YouTube celebrities have never made a video about the environment. Until now. On October 25, in what’s being called the largest YouTube collaboration of all time, hundreds of YouTubers from around the world came together and used their combined influence to send a message on the environment.


DOERING: These YouTubers have a combined subscriber count of more than a billion people. One of the most popular YouTubers and an organizer of the event is Mr. Beast who posted a video of himself and a team of volunteers planting trees.

[And we put it in the hole…. now we need mulch…. put the mulch around the tree. Then we hydrate it. And there we go]

DOERING: Another YouTuber, Destin Sandlin, helped recruit fellow YouTube creators. Destin’s science education channel, Smarter Every Day, has 7.3 million subscribers and his content has amassed more than 660 million views. He joins me from Huntsville, Alabama. Destin, welcome to Living on Earth.

SANDLIN: Thank you so much for having me.

Destin Sandlin helped recruit YouTubers to join the initiative. Sandlin runs a science-based YouTube Channel, Smarter Every Day. (Photo: Destin Sandlin)

DOERING: Alright, so first, tell me about this collaboration-- what kinds of videos are being featured?

SANDLIN: Okay, so there's a ton of different creators from all over the internet coming together. I mean, there's hundreds, literally hundreds of creators on this list and they all have millions and millions of followers. There's people that have beauty channels, vlogging channels, we have science creators, education-type creators, people that do challenges. All these creators are coming from different places all over YouTube and the rest of the internet to work together on this one thing: We want to make an impact for good. We're calling it Team Trees. And we're going to support the Arbor Day Foundation and try to donate $20 million. And the Arbor Day Foundation has agreed that for every $1 that is donated to them, they will plant one tree, which is so cool.

DOERING: How did this big, huge collaboration among different influencers and creators actually get started?

SANDLIN: That was from the internet itself. When Jimmy, Mr. Beast's, when he passed 20 million subscribers. He likes to do different things when he gets a certain level of subscribers.

MR. BEAST: When I hit 3 million subscribers, I gave him 3 million pennies. When I hit 4 million subscribers, I gave him 4 million cookies. 5 million subscribers was 5 million pieces of popcorn.

SANDLIN: Everybody on Twitter and Reddit were telling him to plant 20 million trees. And he's like, "How the heck am I going to do that? That's that's a huge task." But he decided to basically reach out and get help. And so there was this little Twitter storm that happened one particular day, and everybody jumped in on it. They're like, "Oh my gosh, we could actually do this." So there was this video that was created behind the scenes. It was a secret video that was invite only. You can make a video unlisted on YouTube. And this was pushed out to a bunch of different creators, and it included a lot of really big creators in it all the way up to PewDiePie, right?

PEWDIEPIE: Of course, Mr. Beast I am by your side. I will plant at least a couple of trees.

SANDLIN: So we, we made this little secret video to encourage other creators to participate. And so once you watch it, you're just so and you're like, "Holy cow." This is bigger than any one YouTube channel. This is bigger than any one genre even.

GRASLIE: Think about all the birds that are going to have new homes next year.

HEVESH: I'm going to be building a giant tree out of thousands of dominoes than knocking it down and playing it in reverse. So you can see it build itself back up.

ROBER: Team trees assemble!

Mark Rober, another co-organizer of the event, made a video about planting trees with drones (Photo: Mark Rober)

DOERING: What do you expect viewers to come away with after they watch these videos that are being produced by all these creators?

SANDLIN: We hope that they realize that the viewers have the power to actually do things themselves. You know, a lot of times we think about these issues, and we're like, oh, that's another person's problem. It's not. It's all of our problems. So if we can come together and literally do something, it's an empowering message, right?

DOERING: And you're not competing with each other.

SANDLIN: No, not at all, like, to succeed is for everyone to succeed, right? Because it's the Earth, right? Like if we're all helping the Earth, that's like all being on the same bus and rooting for the bus driver to do well. We want the Earth to succeed. And so you know, there's a lot of policies that, you know, we see a lot of campaigns. But what we want to do is physically and tangibly do a real thing that helps the environment. And that is putting trees in the ground.

DOERING: So what do you think it is about YouTube as a platform that can make a project like this possible?

Mr. Beast and their crew planted hundreds of trees in Oregon for their #TeamTrees video. (Photo: Night Media)

SANDLIN: So a lot of people have different opinions about YouTube. For me, it feels like this repository of knowledge that all humans can go to and learn whatever it is they want to learn. And that's what YouTube is for me. And there's also a community that builds around that like whatever topic it is: if you want to learn how to repair cars, if you want to learn how to, you know, how to operate a laser cutter, whatever it is, there is a community there for you. And what's so cool about this specific thing is that all of these communities in this one moment, they're coming together, and this is like, it's like a bunch of different circles in this really massive Venn diagram and right at the center of all of those is that we all live on Earth and we all want earth to be better.

DOERING: I understand that some creators have even made songs just for this occasion. Let's listen to a clip.

BROWN: Is there anything better than the tree? If you ask me it ain't that hard to see. How about 20 million, 20 million trees. Making 20 trillion little baby leaves. And I can't help but choke up thinking about all the birds and bees.

Mr. Beast and his team of tree-planting volunteers. (Photo: Night Media)

SANDLIN: What we just heard is from a guy named Gabriel Brown. He's a creator that was in the Navy. He's a veteran. But now he makes music videos. He does all kinds of stuff on YouTube. And he decided to make a song for this movement. And I think it's really good. And there's other creators that are making songs as well.

DOERING: Wow. So tell me a little bit about what your video for this collaboration is about.

SANDLIN: So everybody's making their own video about trees, or at least shouting out the fact that we're doing this and so my video in particular is about why certain species of trees grow in certain regions. So a long time ago, my grandfather tried to plant a whole field of what's called the long leaf pine. I live in Alabama. And I'm right on the edge of where the long leaf pine can survive. And so he planted 200 trees with the help of Auburn University and they failed. And that was back in the 60s. And so what I did is I went back to Auburn University and talked to them about why it failed. And then they taught me more about the long leaf pine in particular and how it loves fire. You know, it's one of the species that fire actually helps it in its local ecosystem. So I learned about that specific tree. And then I use that as a way to explain that everybody has a certain tree, if they're not in the desert, they have a certain tree that thrives where they're at.

DOERING: You know, most people on YouTube, I think, are sort of a younger generation. And we've seen a lot of this youth movement on climate action recently. To what extent do you feel connected to that other part of activism on the environment?

SANDLIN: Well, I think it's awesome, because you hear a lot of disparaging things about the younger generation. And this is just a really, really straight up line in the sand like, hey, there's something needs to happen. So we're just going to do it. We're not going to wait for policies, or we're not going to wait for anything like that. We're just going to do things because we know how and we're able to. But that being said, it's not limited to the younger generation. I mean, this is everybody. Like we want no boundaries, no borders on this at all. It's it's all we and us, and we're all planting trees, which is awesome. Have you ever physically planted a tree?

Destin’s video is about how different trees are adapted to different regions. (Photo: Destin Sandlin)

DOERING: I actually don't think I have...

SANDLIN: What? You're on this radio show and you've never physically planted a tree? It's like a rush. Let me tell you a story. I got a tree in my Happy Meal back when I was six years old, and we planted it at my granny's house.

DOERING: Wait, in your Happy Meal?

SANDLIN: Yeah, there was there was the Arbor Day that they gave away pine trees down in the south in your Happy Meal. And I went and planted my tree beside my two cousins. They had trees as well. And we still go by that house today. And we look at this tree and it's huge. And knowing that I had a part in planting it so long ago is amazing. So I really think that planting trees is awesome, as long as you know exactly what you're doing, make sure you you make a decision, an informed decision on what to do and how to do it and just put a tree in the ground. It's awesome.

DOERING: Wow. And it'll live on for decades, maybe even hundreds of years.

SANDLIN: Yeah, yeah, that's why I'm interested in a long leaf pine because it is an old tree, like they can grow to be three or 400 years old. And we don't have a lot of old growth forests anymore. So I'm really interested, and this is just me talking right now, I'm specifically interested in planting trees that will live for a really long time. And so I'm going to be looking into how to do that.

DOERING: So Destin, when you first heard about this collaboration, why did you decide to join? Why does this matter to you personally?

Destin’s video is inspired by his grandfather’s failed tree planting with Auburn University in the 1960s. His grandfather is featured in the episode. (Photo: Destin Sandlin)

SANDLIN: I think everybody deep down, when you think about your time here on Earth, you want to be the kind of person that added good to the world instead of taking away and so you think about all the trees that are cut down on your behalf for the consumable products that you make or use or whatever. And, you know, I just want to be the kind of person that when I left, the Earth was a little more green than when I got here, that's what I want.

DOERING: What does it really mean to have a platform as huge as YouTube and these other platforms on the internet engaged in this kind of big collaboration?

SANDLIN: One of the things about being a YouTuber or an influencer is a lot of kids today want to be that. They want to have you know, that fame or whatever it is. And I think a lot of that can be dangerous because you're kind of turning the attention on yourself. And so I think another kind of secondary message that's being told here is it's about more than just you yourself. It's about everybody together. We're all in this together. And so that's what's so amazing about this particular collaboration. This is going to be the largest collaboration on YouTube ever in the world. It doesn't even matter how many subscribers the channel has. The important thing is looking outward beyond yourself and in trying to do good for others.

Destin’s channel, Smarter Every Day has 7.3 million subscribers. (Photo: Mark Schierbecker, CC BY-SA 4.0)

DOERING: Destin Sandlin Is a YouTuber who runs the science-based channel, Smarter Every Day. Thanks so much, Destin.

SANDLIN: It's been a blast. Thank you so much, Jenni.

DOERING: For links to the YouTube videos check out our website loe.org.



Learn more about the Team Trees initiative

Destin’s YouTube Channel, Smarter Every Day


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