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Tree-planting ministry takes root

Simple act of planting trees can lessen global warming
By Donald E. Skinner
7.7.06

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Phil Schulman

Phil Schulman frequently fills the back seat of his convertible with trees to be delivered to groups as part of the Ten Tree Challenge. (Bill Frost)

It would not be out of line to call Phil Schulman’s idea tree-mendous.

It came to him last fall as he drove around San Antonio, Texas, thinking about how the city had changed. Developers had created new subdivisions and shopping centers and scarred the landscape by clear–cutting many of the native trees, leaving a near–leafless landscape in some areas.

That’s how the Ten–Tree Challenge was born. Schulman, part–time minister at the 35–member Community UU Church of San Antonio, began asking friends and their groups to commit to planting 10 trees on their own properties, in city parks, or other areas.

The first group to sign up was Prosumers, a local mental health disability support group that planted its 10 trees at mental health facilities with signs reading “Recovery is Possible.” An ecology club at an elementary school was next, and then the local gay men’s chorale took up the challenge. A member of the Texas Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty vowed to plant a tree for every person killed by the state. A local energy company provided 300 trees, which gave the program a boost.

When Schulman preaches at other congregations he spreads the word there as well. Many of them have signed up. By the time he came to the Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations’ General Assembly at the end of June, the annual gathering of thousands of UUs, dozens of groups had agreed to plant trees.

“The challenge is simple enough that every congregation can do it,” he said. “And it can work in so many different ways. You can do it for environmental, political, or religious reasons. It could be a religious education or youth project and it appeals to pagan groups as well.”

At General Assembly Schulman connected with the Unitarian Universalist Ministry for Earth, an environmental advocacy group that liked the project so much it helped him promote it at GA and has added his action to its global warming action kit and to its website, uuministryforearth.org.

The Rev. Katherine Jesch, director of UU Ministry for Earth, said the group is happy to support Schulman in his project. “We see it as a terrific way to address global warming, a concrete action that's easy, yet satisfying, with a potentially significant impact.”

It’s an idea whose time is right, Schulman said, adding, “People everywhere are having the same idea; it’s time to plant trees.”

He acknowledged that his movement has been helped by Al Gore’s movie about global warming, An Inconvenient Truth. Gore recommends planting trees as one way of minimizing the impact of global warming.

Schulman said the project is growing faster than he’d envisioned. More than 80 groups had signed up as of the end of June. “You’ve heard of grassroots organizing?” he said. “This is tree roots organizing.”

“The power of this project is that it’s so simple,” he said. “In addition to helping with global warming, trees reduce air pollution, conserve water, and cool and beautify neighborhoods. Most congregations will have no problem finding ten members who will plant and then watch over 10 trees. Imagine the impact if every UU congregation planted just 10 trees this year.”

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