Paying people to not cut down trees is surprisingly cheap and effective.

If a stranger said they'd give you $5 every time you take the bus instead of driving, would you?

You're probably going to burn a couple dollars worth of gas stuck in this traffic jam anyway. Photo from iStock.

What about a quarter for every time you bring your own water bottle, instead of reaching for a disposable one?

And do you think they'd want a receipt? Photo from iStock.


It seems like every day a new celebrity, campaign, or advertisement tries to give people a new thing they can do to help save the Earth. The message is usually pretty simple: Do this thing because it's easy, or cheap, or good, or just because you should. A lot of these campaigns work, and that's great. But for every person who participates, there are plenty more who don't.

It's not that people don't want to help, it's just really hard to get people to go out of their way to change their behavior.

Maybe what we need isn't to invest in more clever calls for altruism. Maybe it's simpler than that.

What if we paid people to not do things that harm the environment?

Seema Jayachandran, a professor from Northwestern University recently tried out this concept in Uganda, where deforestation has reduced forest cover to just a fraction of what it once was.

Jayachandran and her team offered villages a small stipend to not chop down the trees near their homes. A little over two years later, the researchers found that the villages who'd received payments had less than half the deforestation compared to others nearby.

Uganda is home to over half of the world's wild mountain gorillas, who depend on the forest to survive. Photo from iStock.

This kind of program is known as payment for ecological services and has been successfully used before in places like Costa Rica and Mexico.

Similar tactics have also been explored in trying to get people to exercise more or stop smoking.

These interventions can be pretty effective and cost-effective. After all, the Earth itself is worth beaucoup bucks.

Nature isn't just here to look pretty — it provides food, shelter, jobs, and, you know, the oxygen we need to breathe. In 1997, a bunch of ecologists and economists estimated that the natural world gives us $33 trillion worth of free stuff every year.

Protecting nature has a pretty good return on investment. In terms of reducing carbon emissions, Jayachandran's experiment in Uganda returned about $2.40 of value for every dollar they put in, the Atlantic reported.

Changing human behavior is tricky and paying people to not do something might seem inelegant at first. If you think of the Earth as a business, though, a little investment in the right behaviors might actually make a lot of sense.

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Edith Ornelas, co-creator of Mariposas Collective in Memphis, Tenn.

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True

If the past year has taught us nothing else, it's that sending love out into the world through selfless acts of kindness can have a positive ripple effect on people and communities. People all over the United States seemed to have gotten the message — 71% of those surveyed by the World Giving Index helped a stranger in need in 2020. A nonprofit survey found 90% helped others by running errands, calling, texting and sending care packages. Many people needed a boost last year in one way or another and obliging good neighbors heeded the call over and over again — and continue to make a positive impact through their actions in this new year.

Upworthy and P&G Good Everyday wanted to help keep kindness going strong, so they partnered up to create the Lead with Love Fund. The fund awards do-gooders in communities around the country with grants to help them continue on with their unique missions. Hundreds of nominations came pouring in and five winners were selected based on three criteria: the impact of action, uniqueness, and "Upworthy-ness" of their story.

Here's a look at the five winners:

Edith Ornelas, co-creator of Mariposas Collective in Memphis, Tenn.

Edith Ornelas has a deep-rooted connection to the asylum-seeking immigrant families she brings food and supplies to families in Memphis, Tenn. She was born in Jalisco, Mexico, and immigrated to the United States when she was 7 years old with her parents and sister. Edith grew up in Chicago, then moved to Memphis in 2016, where she quickly realized how few community programs existed for immigrants. Two years later, she helped create Mariposas Collective, which initially aimed to help families who had just been released from detention centers and were seeking asylum. The collective started out small but has since grown to approximately 400 volunteers.

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