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Treevival: A Tour Recap.
by -- April 25th, 2012

Treevival Tour: Leaf on the Road. The power of art and strength in numbers.

Over the past weeks, I’ve been working with my Conservation Ethics classmates on our Treevival project; maybe you’ve already read some of their blog posts or wondered what that giant coat rack-looking tree is in Hug Commons (here’s a link to their blogs: http://sites.duke.edu/treevival/blogs/). Treevival is a project we developed that’s like a combination of environmentalism, a renewal of vows, and a World’s Fair exhibit (and maybe a little Martha Stewart, too). Our goal was to design and create something that would remind people why they should act environmentally and would attract a lot of public attention. We created a tree covered in brown leaves; each brown leaf has wildflower seeds attached with maple syrup. We asked anyone walking by the tree to sign a green leaf stating that they believed they had a moral obligation to protect the planet. After signing a green leaf, we asked participants to hang their green leaf on the tree and to take a brown leaf home to plant.

Treevival was met with widespread popularity. Our tree immediately drew attention from all passers-by, and people were eager to sign their green leaf. People were signing leaves even when we weren’t standing by and asking them to do so. After a few days at Hug Commons, we took our Treevival on the road. Well, to the sidewalks just outside the Blue Express and Twinnies on campus. At each of these sites, we were quickly swamped with people signing their pledges and placing them on the tree. And at the end of our short tour, our tree had noticeable changed from brown to almost entirely green.

Treevival is full of metaphors. To begin with, our tree makes a great symbol for the world. It started off as entirely brown, like a polluted and degraded environment. Each signature on a green leaf is one person who acts environmentally to undo, reverse or prevent environmental damage. As more and more people participated in our project, both our tree and our planet became literally and metaphorically greener. But this change didn’t happen overnight. Rather, it was a slower process that took time, which is often the case for environmental issues. We can’t expect instant results whenever we address environmental problems. We have to be patient, because change is often slow. The metaphor I like best about our Treevival project is that participants could only sign one green leaf, no more. Like many environmental issues, we can’t rely on one person or party to fix the entire problem. It takes participation from a lot of different people to make a change. Our tree didn’t change from brown to green because only a few people signed dozens of leaves (we could have done it that way, but where’s the fun in that?); it changed because dozens of people each contributed one small part, and these individual small parts added up to one big change over time.

Yeah, it’s a little cheesy, but it’s still a good metaphor.

Sarah Parsons, one of my classmates in Conservation Ethics, put together a short video for our Treevival; here’s the link to the video. It shows how we developed our project, as well as a few brief interviews with participants. When asked why they had a moral obligation, almost every participant in the video mentioned future generations as one of their primary motivations. My personal favorite response to the question “why do you have a moral obligation to protect the planet?” was from second-year MEM student Chris Bruno, who said “well, I live here.” This reason may be a bit more self-centered than those who mentioned future generations, but this is still a great reason to protect the planet because I don’t know anyone who doesn’t live here (disclaimer for Chris: he did mention future generations as a reason after reminding us which planet he lives on). What motivates your own moral obligation isn’t what’s important; acknowledging that you do have a moral obligation is what Treevival is all about.

Our class decided the LEAF Award Presentation would be a great final stop for Treevival. LEAF stands for Lifetime Environmental Achievement in the Fine Arts. This past Saturday, I, along with a few classmates, attended the LEAF Award Presentation to John Sayles, a world-renowned filmmaker. I have to admit that I was not familiar with his work before attending this event. During the presentation of the award, a few clips from his films were shown, each of which I thought were truly excellent. I was reminded of how powerful art can be, especially in an environmental context. Art can be used to stir up emotion and motivate people to act. That is what John Sayles received the LEAF Award for, and that is the goal of Treevival. We weren’t recruiting people to join a protest or make major sacrifices in their daily lives. We only asked people to stop and think for a moment about their own personal morals and emotions that drive them to act environmentally. The changing of the tree from brown to green gives people a visual representation of the collective difference we all can make with small individual actions. Treevival successfully refoliated our tree with green leaves added one at a time. If we can make this much change with 350 people in less than 2 weeks, imagine what could be accomplished by millions of people over a year.

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