By John Linderman
Elm Staff Writer
YouTube isn’t just a place for funny cat videos anymore. Now YouTubers are using their large platform for good.
MrBeast is a gaming and lifestyle channel on YouTube with over twenty million subscribers, managed by James “Jimmy” Donaldson and his coterie of hooligans. The channel is within the top 100 channels on YouTube, with a strong and reliable viewership.
The idea of #TeamTrees first came about on Reddit, when subscribers suggested that MrBeast plant 20 million trees in honor of reaching the same amount of subscribers.
Before this, MrBeast had accumulated a following through “challenge” videos, often advertising large amounts of money featured in the video (ex. “Eating A $10,000 Golden Steak, 24k Gold). A running theme from gilded steaks to saving the world is numerical supremacy; how does online gigantomania capture us in 2019 be it for Americans, young people, the world, or individual psychology? How can this tactic be implemented to help the environment?
A common phenomenon, you’ll encounter in our hemisphere of the world is “bigger is better.” This was most announced with the meteoric rise of industrialism in the twentieth century when firms had the means to construct large billboards, cars, and towers.
Although these large projects had a crushing human and financial cost, it worked in motivating people to reach the goal. The Journal of Behavioral Decision Making published a study in 2002 that found participants in four experiments preferred the larger object over another, smaller one.
Our generation deserves a commendation, though; over the past two decades, movements such as minimalism and sustainability have taken moral precedence over bigger being better.
However, we are still moved by the quintessence of size, regardless of its physical embodiment.
In YouTube videos, it can be observed with large amounts of money spent on huge pools of Pepsi, pointlessly gilded pizza and steaks, and luxury sports cars. This formula of videos is bulletproof to the YouTube algorithm and site frequenters. Channels who have the means to capitalize on outrageous, opulent entertainment dominate the site, and MrBeast is one of them.
A lot can be said pessimistically about this, and a great deal has already, but how can we redirect this inner inclination to something more constructive?
The movement for #TeamTrees began externally. In May, a Twitter thread asking MrBeast to plant 20 million trees blew up, and Donaldson obliged, in time. For every one dollar donated, one tree is planted. Donaldson teamed up with the Arbor Day Foundation, which has helped plant more than 350 million trees in the past 50 years, to accomplish this. On Oct. 25, MrBeast uploaded a video of Donaldson, his friends, and local volunteers planting 2,000 trees in their local area.
Besides this, public figures like Elon Musk, the founder of Twitter Jack Dorsey, and even the government of Ukraine have donated to #TeamTrees, lending their publicity.
Despite the “clickbaity” reputation of MrBeast, what they are doing is truly remarkable from an environmental perspective. 20 million trees can’t be planted in a single day, but the social buzz surrounding eco-activism has been a victory.
Why has eco-activism been much more viral in the past few years than, say, Al Gore with the documentary “An Inconvenient Truth,” or Richard Nixon could have sparked with the Environmental Protection Agency?
The reasons lie in both environmental science and global psychology. The word exponential is generally defined as “becoming more and more rapid.” Exponential perfectly describes the deteriorating of our local and global environment, construed by human development, which includes gigantomania.
The health of the Earth is exponentially worse than it was in 2007 with Gore, and in 1971 with Nixon. Smokestacks and cars emit carbon dioxide, toxifying the atmosphere. Invasive species decimate local flora and fauna. Big Agriculture demands rainforests be cut down and tilled until they are irreparably gone.
The developed world bears witness to these crimes every day, and we feel the burden of guilt crushing our backs and minds. We not only bear witness to the mistakes of today, but the crimes of the past, when unchecked industrialization was seen in a completely opposite perspective.
Younger generations feel particularly anxious about this damage, which may in part be sourced from constant communication on social media.
The term “eco-anxiety” has been documented by HowStuffWorks; “According to a Gallup poll, 36% of Americans say they worry ‘a great deal’ about global warming, and 35% say they believe it will ‘pose a serious threat’ to them or their way of life in their lifetime” reports Stephanie Watson.
While this feels like bad news, it seems the energy caused by this anxiety can be used to organize, advocate, and push for environmental reform on personal, community, and political levels. Now we are seeing this energy coming through the sphere of entertainment, and a channel once known for making videos about ballpits and magnets is making strides to reduce global carbon dioxide levels.
The prognosis seems positive. A lot of bad can be said about the increasing infantilization of mass entertainment, but what good would that do? In the case of MrBeast, entertainment can be used, like politics, to educate people about foundational concepts like environmentalism. When it comes to healing the Earth, bigger is clearly better.
Consider donating a dollar to #TeamTrees by visiting https://teamtrees.org/.