Aidan Gallagher, star of the Netflix superhero drama The Umbrella Academy, is worried that the future of the planet is grim. In a recent interview, the environmental campaigner told the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) that our ecosystems are under threat, and it is up to our leaders – and every one of us – to protect them.
Gallagher was, at 14, the youngest Goodwill Ambassador ever to be designated in the United Nations system. He is now working with Envision Racing, the Formula E racing team, to plant thousands of mangrove trees in Madagascar.
Gallagher has joined Envision Racing’s Race Against Climate Change campaign, which encourages people to make a climate action pledge. So far, more than 101,000 pledges have been taken in conjunction with Gallagher’s tree-planting initiative, TreesWith Aidan. These pledges include everything from using green transport to eating a more plant-based diet to recycling more. For every pledge made, Envision Racing will plant, through their partner Eden Reforestation, a mangrove tree along Madagascar’s coastline.
Mangroves are a remarkable tree at home on waterlogged coastlines in tropical and sub-tropical regions. Their root systems protect communities from flooding and are home to a diverse array of wildlife.
Mangroves are also a carbon store; the soil that mangroves thrive in is carbon-rich and over time the mangroves capture this sediment and hold it and the carbon in place. It is estimated that mangroves extract up to five times more carbon from the atmosphere than forests on land, making them a vital tool in the battle against the climate crisis.
Yet, between 2015 and 2020, 10 million hectares of forest were destroyed – mostly in tropical regions – and this loss of biodiversity is expected to accelerate unless actions to halt and reverse degradation of ecosystems are urgently implemented.
We spoke to Gallagher about the restoration project and his hopes for the future.
UNEP: How did this project come about?
Aidan Gallagher (AG): I’ve been thinking about planting trees for a while now. Envision is a sustainable company which makes it the perfect partner to replant forests. The most challenging aspect of this entire initiative has been communicating the opportunity at hand. It takes people a second to realize that we are essentially offering a way to plant a tree for free, as many times as you want.
UNEP: Which trees are they, and why did you choose those?
AG: Envision Racing is working with Eden Reforestation to plant mangrove trees, mostly in Madagascar. The main reason we are planting these mangrove trees is because they absorb enormous amounts of carbon. Mangroves and their soils are super-absorbers of carbon.
UNEP: Scientists have estimated that we only have this decade to avert the climate catastrophe and mass biodiversity loss – how does that make you feel?
AG: When people hear something like that, they can either be motivated or distract themselves – because it’s a very scary thing to hear. In terms of how it relates to this initiative, it makes me feel that we have a lot of work ahead of us. I would love to see TreesWithAidan become something that spreads throughout school systems and that feels very approachable to take part in.
UNEP: What is something that everyone can do for our trees and forests?
AG: Well right now with TreesWithAidan you can plant a free mangrove tree in Madagascar. All you have to do is take one of the 10 climate pledges on the Envision Racing website.
UNEP: In December, world leaders will meet in Montreal to discuss a new global biodiversity agreement. What is your message to them?
AG: Protect our ecosystems. You, our leaders, have the ability to build a fortress around this house of cards if you choose to. Enacting environmental protections through legislation and supporting the transition to sustainable practices is paramount in our fight to survive the climate and biodiversity crisis.
UNEP: Actors need to be great communicators. How should UNEP and others be communicating the climate crisis to young people?
AG: We live in a very fast world. Everything comes in soundbites and within 15-second increments. It’s very important we translate these highly complex issues into something simple and personable for people. They need to know exactly what the problem is, how it is going to affect them and what they can do about it. Otherwise, these messages will be lost in translation.
UNEP: How can we ensure young people are given a voice at the table?
AG: I hope my generation takes the initiative to elect people who are going to be fighting on their behalf. Outside of that, there is a responsibility of every person who finds themselves in a position of power to leave this world better than they found it.
UNEP: You have been in the public eye for a long time. Have you noticed more conversations about the climate and biodiversity crises among your fans, peers and friends?
AG: I have. Part of that is because of issues I’ve tried to promote, and part of that is because we are approaching an increasingly irreversible future.
UNEP: Your work is all about telling stories. How do we change the story many have been telling themselves about the planet (that is one of unlimited resources) to a story about how important it is to protect and restore our natural world?
AG: People go into denial when their reality is too scary to deal with. We’re either headed towards a beautiful future or something difficult, and it is up to the world to choose. It’s not entirely hopeless. In fact it could be an amazing future. But it won’t be unless everyone does something about it. Our leaders should take care of this for us but unfortunately, they have shown us they won’t, at least on the accelerated timeframe that all the scientists say we need. So, it is up to individuals to fight to keep them in check and to make sure they are the voice of the people and working in [our] best interest.
Healthy, biodiverse ecosystems sustain life on Earth. Despite the value nature provides, it is deteriorating worldwide – a decline projected to worsen under business-as-usual scenarios. From December 7-19, the world will gather for the UN Biodiversity Conference (COP15) in Montreal to strike a landmark agreement to guide global actions on biodiversity through 2030. The framework will need to lay out an ambitious plan that implements broad-based action across sectors addressing the key drivers of nature loss to ensure that by 2050, the shared vision of living in harmony with nature is fulfilled.
The UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration 2021-2030 is a rallying call for the protection and revival of ecosystems all around the world for the benefit of people and nature. It aims to halt the degradation of ecosystems and restore them to achieve global goals. The UN General Assembly has proclaimed the UN Decade and it is led by the UNEP and the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations.