Brazilian couple planted 4 million trees within 18 years to form a large forest.

Brazilian photographer Sebastião Salgado has seen a lot of devastating things in his life, but the state of his family's land in Minas Gerais, Brazil in 1994 likely ranks at the top.

He had just returned from reporting on the genocide in Rwanda which was traumatizing in its own right, but seeing his family's land that has previously been a fecund rainforest stripped of vegetation hit him at his core.

“The land was as sick as I was – everything was destroyed,” Sebastião told The Guardian.


What happened to Sebastião's land is far from unique. Over the last 30 years, the world's forests have been disappearing at an astounding rate. Between 1990 and 2016, approximately 502,000 square miles of forest have been lost, according to the World Bank, largely due to agricultural and industrial development. That's about the size of South Africa.

Not only does deforestation account for 15% of greenhouse gas emissions, it's responsible for countless species of animals and plants losing their habitats, which ultimately endangers their survival.

Sebastião and his wife Lélia knew they could turn the deforestation on their land around. So, for the next 20 years, with the help of a small group of volunteers, that's exactly what they did.

 
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In 1998, the Selgados founded Instituto Terra, a nonprofit dedicated to "ecosystem restoration, production of Atlantic Forest seedlings, environmental extension, environmental education and applied scientific research."

The nonprofit's theory is that trees produce oxygen and life, so the best way to re-invigorate land is to bring its native trees back. That's why they've spent the majority of the last two decades planting over 4 million tree seedlings from plant species found in the Atlantic Forest in the Rio Doce Valley.

[rebelmouse-image 19476490 dam="1" original_size="1413x1024" caption="Photo via Instituto Terra." expand=1]Photo via Instituto Terra.

The results speak for themselves.

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With the return of the rainforest came many species of animals that had previously abandoned the area. This includes 172 bird species, six of which are threatened with extinction, 33 mammal species, two of which are endangered, 15 amphibian species and 15 reptile species.

[rebelmouse-image 19476491 dam="1" original_size="625x480" caption="Photo via Instituto Terra." expand=1]Photo via Instituto Terra.

Their re-forestation work is incredible, but it will only last if people in the surrounding areas learn to respect the importance of such ecosystems. That's why they started the Center for Environmental Education and Recovery (CERA).

By December, 2012, CERA had developed over 700 educational programs reaching up to 65,000 people. The aim is to educate farmers, teachers, businesses and government officials about environmental recovery and conservation methods and why they're vital to keeping lands (and the people living on them) healthy. The hope is that they'll help inspire those working on and near the land to adopt more sustainable practices.

Deforestation will affect animals and humans in a significant way if we let it continue at such a rapid pace. Organizations like Instituto Terra are doing their part to protect their revitalized jungle, but that's just one small area of the 30% of forest that covers our planet. It's going to take more individual support to save the rest.

If you want to learn about what you can do to help, the Rainforest Alliance offers several great ways you can get involved and make a difference.

Moricz was banned from speaking up about LGBTQ topics. He found a brilliant workaround.

Senior class president Zander Moricz was given a fair warning: If he used his graduation speech to criticize the “Don’t Say Gay” law, then his microphone would be shut off immediately.

Moricz had been receiving a lot of attention for his LGBTQ activism prior to the ceremony. Moricz, an openly gay student at Pine View School for the Gifted in Florida, also organized student walkouts in protest and is the youngest public plaintiff in the state suing over the law formally known as the Parental Rights in Education law, which prohibits the discussion of sexual orientation or gender identity in grades K-3.

Though well beyond third grade, Moricz nevertheless was also banned from speaking up about the law, gender or sexuality. The 18-year-old tweeted, “I am the first openly-gay Class President in my school’s history–this censorship seems to show that they want me to be the last.”

However, during his speech, Moricz still delivered a powerful message about identity. Even if he did have to use a clever metaphor to do it.

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Photo by Heather Mount on Unsplash

Actions speak far louder than words.

It never fails. After a tragic mass shooting, social media is filled with posts offering thoughts and prayers. Politicians give long-winded speeches on the chamber floor or at press conferences asking Americans to do the thing they’ve been repeatedly trained to do after tragedy: offer heartfelt thoughts and prayers. When no real solution or plan of action is put forth to stop these senseless incidents from occurring so frequently in a country that considers itself a world leader, one has to wonder when we will be honest with ourselves about that very intangible automatic phrase.

Comedian Anthony Jeselnik brilliantly summed up what "thoughts and prayers" truly mean. In a 1.5-minute clip, Jeselnik talks about victims' priorities being that of survival and not wondering if they’re trending at that moment. The crowd laughs as he mimics the actions of well-meaning social media users offering thoughts and prayers after another mass shooting. He goes on to explain how the act of performatively offering thoughts and prayers to victims and their families really pulls the focus onto the author of the social media post and away from the event. In the short clip he expertly expresses how being performative on social media doesn’t typically equate to action that will help victims or enact long-term change.

Of course, this isn’t to say that thoughts and prayers aren’t welcomed or shouldn’t be shared. According to Rabbi Jack Moline "prayer without action is just noise." In a world where mass shootings are so common that a video clip from 2015 is still relevant, it's clear that more than thoughts and prayers are needed. It's important to examine what you’re doing outside of offering thoughts and prayers on social media. In another several years, hopefully this video clip won’t be as relevant, but at this rate it’s hard to see it any differently.

Joy

50-years ago they trade a grilled cheese for a painting. Now it's worth a small fortune.

Irene and Tony Demas regularly traded food at their restaurant in exchange for crafts. It paid off big time.

Photo by Gio Bartlett on Unsplash

Painting traded for grilled cheese worth thousands.

The grilled cheese at Irene and Tony Demas’ restaurant was truly something special. The combination of freshly baked artisan bread and 5-year-old cheddar was enough to make anyone’s mouth water, but no one was nearly as devoted to the item as the restaurant’s regular, John Kinnear.

Kinnear loved the London, Ontario restaurant's grilled cheese so much that he ordered it every single day, though he wouldn’t always pay for it in cash. The Demases were well known for bartering their food in exchange for odds and ends from local craftspeople and merchants.

“Everyone supported everyone back then,” Irene told the Guardian, saying that the couple would often trade free soup and a sandwich for fresh flowers. Two different kinds of nourishment, you might say.

And so, in the 1970s the Demases made a deal with Kinnear that he could pay them for his grilled cheese sandwiches with artwork. Being a painter himself and part of an art community, Kinnear would never run out of that currency.

Little did Kinnear—or anyone—know, eventually he would give the Demases a painting worth an entire lifetime's supply of grilled cheeses. And then some.

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