With more than 1.4 million members, Lions have a powerful voice. And around the world, Lions are using that voice to raise awareness about climate change and mobilize. In 2011, then International President Wing-Kun Tam challenged Lions to plant 1 million trees. They responded by planting 15 million in every inhabited continent and have continued to plant millions more since. With tree cover currently disappearing at a rate of 73.4 million acres per year in 2016 (51 percent higher than the previous year), the question remains, is it enough?

FROM FABLE TO FACT In 1970, Theodor Geisel and his wife, Audrey, left their home in La Jolla, California, to vacation at the posh Mount Kenya Safari Club, located at the base of Mount Kenya in Africa. Geisel—better known to the world as Dr. Seuss—spent one breezy afternoon during this vacation writing the bulk of the manuscript for what would become one of his most popular (and controversial) books, "The Lorax." The fable, told in typical, sparse Seussian rhyme, pits consumerism against ecological health and sustainability. It’s the tale of the Once-ler who exploits the yarn-producing Truffula trees to knit and sell thneeds. The Once-ler depletes the forest, devastating the wildlife that depend on the trees, but he cares only about his profits. The Lorax—a small, orange, mustachioed ball of fluff with a long grimace— begs him to stop, saying he speaks for the trees. He tries to show the Once-ler that an entire ecosystem depends on these trees. The admonitions go unheeded and the story ends with the Truffula Tree and the surrounding ecosystem on the brink of extinction. Written when the environmental movement was just picking up steam, "The Lorax" has resonated with readers then and now. But despite the fanciful nature of his illustrations, in a recent study published in the journal Nature Ecology & Evolution, researchers suggest the story might not be purely a figment of Geisel’s imagination, but actually based on what he saw on his trip to Kenya. The whistling thorn acacia supplies 80% of the food to the patas monkey. The pair (monkey and tree) is thought to be the inspiration for "The Lorax", a popular environmental fable written by Dr. Seuss. PHOTO BY GERRY ELLIS/MINDEN PHOTOGRAPHY As it turns out, Mount Kenya is prime habitat for the patas monkey—a small, orange primate with a gloomy countenance that depends on one specific species of spindly tree, called the whistling thorn acacia. Is it possible that the iconic environmental children’s tale is based on a real-life monkey and its habitat, which is still in peril today? Nearly 50 years after its first publication, Kenya is fighting a battle for its environment that eerily parallels Geisel’s fable. Over the past half century charcoal and timber production, unregulated logging, and urbanization have eroded Kenya’s lush and diverse landscape. By the mid-80s more than 70 percent of Kenya’s original forests were gone. Is the patas monkey the inspiration behind the Dr. Seuss character the Lorax? PHOTO BY ZORANMILISAVLJEVIC82/GETTY IMAGES The loss of Kenya’s forests has had far-reaching effects on its population. Kenya relies on the mountains and forests to act as natural “water towers,” catching and preserving rainwater during the rainy season and providing naturally filtered water to the aquifers and streams during the dry season. What’s more, the loss of these mountain forests also leads to flash floods, as the rainwater isn’t captured by debris and absorbed by the roots of trees. As a consequence, Kenya is plagued by drought and flooding, and the arid conditions are making it harder and harder to farm successfully, creating a large population that is struggling for food and water. While the patas monkey is not yet listed on the endangered species list, its population is in decline, largely due to habitat loss. It seems that Geisel’s fable is turning into reality. But don’t despair. Dead Acacia trees float above the surface of Lake Nakuru, in Kenya, after water levels rose in 2010. Deforestation in the country has led to both drought and flooding. PHOTO BY MICHELE D'AMICO/GETTY IMAGES THE ANSWER IS IN THE TREES “The more trees you have, the less flooding you have, the fewer extreme weather events, the more stable, healthy environment you live in,” says Murphy Westwood, global tree expert at the Morton Arboretum outside Chicago, Illinois. The most recent report from the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) wrote “Our planet’s future is inextricably tied to the future of its forests.” This is good news. Because, as Lions know, trees can be planted. Forests can be reborn. The damage can still be undone, but it won’t be easy. “Innovation is a function of constraints,” said James Shaw, the New Zealand minister for climate change, during the Global Climate Action Summit in San Francisco in September of 2018. “When things really get constrained, that’s when you get creative.” What better group of innovators than Lions? LIONS TAKE ON TREES To combat the effects of deforestation and climate change, Lions around the world are finding a wealth of reasons to begin planting forests. To fight the effects of deforestation, Lions in Kenya have partnered with global and local foundations to plant more than 10 million trees over five years. In Iceland, the members of the Asbjorn Lions Club near Reykjavik, have planted so many trees that Lion Halldór Kristjánsson says it’s sort of become a habit. Each year the Asbjorn Lions—a club of about 38—plant up to 200 Icelandic birch, pine, fir, and Alaskan poplar on a 125 to 250 acre area they began converting from barren rocks and moss to a picnic grove in 1984. The land belongs to the town of Hafnarfjorour but was unused due to poor drainage. It was always wet, sitting in snow. Asbjorn Lions, says Kristjánsson, first dug a ditch to channel the water away and planted grass on a wide stretch to control erosion. Then they began planting trees to provide shelter from the wind. Since 1984 the members of the Asbjorn Lions Club in Iceland have planted 2,000 or more trees to convert a barren, windy spot into a picnic grove. They have revitalized nature, educated their children, and created a Lions presidential forest along the way. From the grove picnickers now look out on Mt. Helgafell, or “holy mountain,” an area steeped in Icelandic folklore. Many children of the Lions have not only learned about their environment but met and made friends through the planting of 2,000 or more trees at the scenic spot. And it’s also there where Asbjorn Lions have welcomed Lions International presidents, planting trees in their honor to create a presidential grove. In 1999 IP Kajit Habanananda visited Iceland, and Kristjánsson, then council chair for MD109, had the idea to ask the president to plant a tree in their grove, encouraging care for the environment. The president accepted, and since then all but one of the international presidents have come to Iceland and planted a tree in the grove. IP Yngvadottir is expected to add her tree this spring. Near the picnic grove, the Lions in 2011 created a Peace Path in memory of a young club member who died of cancer during his tenure as president. The path features sitting areas and bronze plaques with poetry where visitors can pause. The trail of forest and moss culminates with a view of scenic Hvaleyrarvatn Lake where Kristjánsson says visitors get yet another reminder of all nature has to offer. GROWING MEMORIES In Canada, Lion-created memorial forests support the environment and Lions Foundation of Canada, including the foundation’s Canada Dog Guide Program. After visiting the Lions Foundation of Canada Memorial Forest in Breslau, Ontario, where the first trees were planted in 1999, the Regina Beach and District Lions Club started the Lion Jim Sinclair Memorial Forest in Saskatchewan. That forest now includes more 1,750 trees of four or five species that are tended by Regina Lions. Another forest in Quebec includes more than 600 trees planted since 2012, and Lions say there are at least 20 or more other memorial forests that have been planted in their country. They expect further expansion of the project as the Canada Lions approach their centennial in 2020. “It’s good,” says Past District Governor Ken Peters. “It’s good that a memory lives on and grows.” And in Kenya, Lions Clubs are working hard to avoid imitating the story their land inspired. In 2013 they partnered with global and local foundations to plant more than 10 million trees over five years. Four benches at the Lion Jim Sinclair Memorial Forest in Saskatchewan, Canada, give visitors a place to rest. Regina Beach and District Lions tend to more than 1,750 trees in the growing forest. A SHADED PLACE TO SIT But it doesn’t have to be millions of trees. Forests are rebuilt one seed at a time. A community may not need a new forest, but just a tree for people to rest under, shaded from the sun. When the Franklin Park-Manila Lions Club in Illinois asked their community what they could do to help, the first thing the community members said was “plant a tree.” So the Lions worked with their village officers and planted two white oak trees outside their local police station, and celebrated with a ribbon cutting and a plaque as you might commemorate the opening of a new store or a community center, recognizing the value the oaks brought to the village. UNLESS At the end of “The Lorax”, as the Lorax leaves the now barren land, he says to the Once-ler, "Unless." And that’s when the Once-ler finally realizes what the Lorax meant. He tosses the last Truffula seed to the unseen listener of his story. "But now," says the Once-ler, "Now that you're here, the word of the Lorax seems perfectly clear. Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It's not. See how Lions in Iceland have helped reverse the effects of deforestation and become one of the most environmentally friendly nations in the world. Get started with our Environment Service Planners at https://www.lionsclubs.org/en/start-our-global-causes/environment.