YouTube stars are pulling together to plant 20 million trees.

It’s a simple idea that demonstrates how social media’s power can be harnessed for good - and they’re already more than halfway there. More than 600 YouTubers are rallying their followers to raise $20 million for the Arbor Day Foundation, a US charity that plants trees and teaches conservation.

For every dollar donated, Arbor Day will fund the planting of a tree, many of them in state and national forests managed by government agencies. The goal is to plant a variety of species on every continent except Antarctica.

The #TeamTrees fundraiser started when Jimmy Donaldson, who posts on YouTube under the name MrBeast, was challenged to commemorate hitting 20 million subscribers. He called on other influencers to make the idea a reality, claiming a new fundraising record for the site.

Creative tactics have encouraged donations. Jackscepticeye hosted an eight-hour livestream of him planting trees in video game Minecraft. One online gamer donated $10 for each kill in a Fortnite tournament, and domino artist #Hevesh5 created a giant tree out of dominoes. Tesla CEO Elon Musk donated a million trees, changing his Twitter name to Treelon.

By flooding YouTube with fundraising clips, the aim is to push videos about climate change and the environment higher up the platform’s recommended lists, and ultimately to a broader audience.

Graph showing tropical tree cover loos since 2001
The steady decline of tropical forests
Image: World Resources Institute

Engaging people in conservation is important, since the WWF estimates we’re losing the equivalent of 27 soccer fields of trees every minute, mainly through expansion of agriculture and illegal logging. Forests play a critical role in managing climate change, soaking up carbon dioxide that would otherwise be in the atmosphere. They are also crucial to biodiversity.

What’s the World Economic Forum doing about deforestation?

Halting deforestation is essential to avoiding the worst effects of global climate change.

The destruction of forests creates almost as much greenhouse gas emissions as global road travel, and yet it continues at an alarming rate.

In 2012, we brought together more than 150 partners working in Latin America, West Africa, Central Africa and South-East Asia – to establish the Tropical Forest Alliance 2020: a global public-private partnership to facilitate investment in systemic change.

The Alliance, made up of businesses, governments, civil society, indigenous people, communities and international organizations, helps producers, traders and buyers of commodities often blamed for causing deforestation to achieve deforestation-free supply chains.

The Commodities and Forests Agenda 2020, summarizes the areas in which the most urgent action is needed to eliminate deforestation from global agricultural supply chains.

The Tropical Forest Alliance 2020 is gaining ground on tackling deforestation linked to the production of four commodities: palm oil, beef, soy, and pulp and paper.

Get in touch to join our mission to halt to deforestation.

Announcing the initiative, MrBeast said: "People just keep making fun of our generation for 'retweet activism' and not actually doing something.

"This is your chance to make a difference ... this is our chance to show the world we care."