Here’s why the top YouTubers from all corners of the platform are talking about planting 20 million trees for #TeamTrees

MrBeast, whose real name is Jimmy Donaldson, with one of the tree saplings he planted to kick off his 20 million trees challenge.

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MrBeast, whose real name is Jimmy Donaldson, with one of the tree saplings he planted to kick off his 20 million trees challenge.
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Screenshot YouTube/MrBeast

  • The YouTuber MrBeast is spearheading a massive charity campaign to plant 20 million trees after a fan’s suggestion of how to celebrate his reaching 20 million subscribers turned into a fan-led campaign.
  • MrBeast, a 21-year-old named Jimmy Donaldson, is a challenge YouTuber whose channel saw extraordinary growth after he began giving away large sums of money as rewards to outrageous challenges.
  • The #TeamTrees project is through the Arbor Day Foundation, and for every $1 donated by fans, Donaldson, and other YouTubers, one tree is to be planted in a high-need forest around the globe by December 2022.
  • #TeamTrees is a viral smash hit, with YouTubers from seemingly every corner of the platform creating their own tree-inspired content and urging subscribers and fans to donate.
  • Within 24 hours, the drive had already raised over $4 million.
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As the YouTuber MrBeast, whose real name is Jimmy Donaldson, was approaching 20 million subscribers, one of his fans suggested he plant 20 million trees to commemorate his impressive audience growth.

Months and several million more subscribers later, 21-year-old Donaldson kicked off his #TeamTrees challenge. His video explaining his efforts claimed the top spot on YouTube’s trending page, and channels from seemingly every corner of the platform have joined in on the environmental charity drive.

It’s not a unique proposal for Donaldson, whose channel growth is thanks to his outrageous YouTube stunts. Once a “Minecraft” streamer, the MrBeast channel has become somewhat of a philanthropy-challenge channel, where Donaldson uses a mix of his money and brand deals to bestow huge amounts of cash on friends, family, and winners of challenges like “Last To Leave Ramen Noodle Pool Wins $20,000” and “Anything You Can Carry, I’ll Pay For Challenge.”

Why trees? Well, as Donaldson explained in the kick-off video, the idea to plant 20 million trees in collaboration with the Arbor Day Foundation was mostly because one fan just happened to suggest it, and the internet snowball effect took place until memes about MrBeast and 20 million trees overtook Twitter, YouTube, and Reddit.

Also, as far as charity goes, helping plant trees is about as noncontroversial as it gets, so MrBeast won’t alienate anyone by picking that cause. He also noted that some of his past stunts, like setting things on fire, might have contributed negatively to the environment, and with the Amazon rain forest burning and wildfires sweeping the US, trees are a great way to jump on the pro-environment bandwagon that is capturing Gen Z’s attention.

How does the #TeamTrees drive to plant 20 million trees actually work?

In his kickoff video, Donaldson was joined by his friends and members of his team in Oregon to plant trees in a large field. He put out a call on Twitter and was joined by hundreds of fans from the area to plant more than 1,500 trees in two days. But the real challenge is monetary.

Donaldson partnered with the Arbor Day Foundation to launch the #TeamTrees website, where fans can donate $1 for each tree to be planted. Within 24 hours of the site’s launch, more than $4 million had been raised, including $100,000 from Donaldson and substantial amounts from other YouTubers.

According to the website, MrBeast isn’t taking a cut of the donations. It’s all going directly to the Arbor Day Foundation, which is pledging exactly one tree planted for each dollar. The goal is to plant trees on every continent but Antarctica and in high-need forests. The trees are to be planted starting in January with a completion deadline of December 2022.

Firefights in California head toward a forest blaze.

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Firefights in California head toward a forest blaze.
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REUTERS/Stephen Lam

The public-relations director of the foundation told The Verge that the organization wasn’t just “planting and walking away” and that some of the money raised would go toward maintaining the new trees. Planting large numbers of trees does reduce carbon emissions and can have huge benefits for the ecosystem, but as climatologists and horticulturalists are quick to point out, it’s not a one-size-fits-all way to stem to the tide of climate change.

The most important factor for mass planting is that the trees can actually grow, which requires habitat preservation, proper planting, and some upkeep, especially in human-led mass planting, as opposed to natural tree growth.

How other YouTubers are capitalizing off the #TeamTrees challenge for clicks and a cause

Not only did MrBeast’s video explaining the cause shoot to the top of YouTube’s trending page, but plenty of other channels quickly realized they too could get clicks by hopping on the tree-planting bandwagon.

The YouTuber Mark Rober, who used to be an engineer at NASA and now uses algorithmic terms and wild science-themed stunts to garner tens of millions of views on the platform, decided to use drones to plant trees for a video. He partnered directly with Donaldson to help out for the fundraiser’s kickoff.

The educational animation channel The Infographics Show did a “Planting 200,000 Trees Will Actually Have This Impact” video, while the drama channel #DramaAlert did a parody-style promotion for the fundraiser. The #TeamTrees hashtag on YouTube shows tens if not hundreds of other channels attaching their name to the trend, and usually contributing some of their own money, too.

The way YouTubers jumped on #TeamTrees as a way to simultaneously profit and attach their name to a noncontroversial, pro-environment cause demonstrates how trends continue to rule the YouTube community. Once someone does something successfully, everyone finds a way to cash in.

Focusing on doing good and raising awareness for the planet marks a significant change for a YouTube trend, as they generally center on drama, excess, and destruction (look no further than the Paul brothers). A lot of top comments under the videos include suggestions for new environmentally friendly themes for further subscriber benchmarks, like clearing trash from beaches.

A lot of comments also suggest ambitious things like “purifying the oceans” and “restoring the ice caps,” so perhaps Donaldson’s next video will tackle the harsher realities of climate change and educate his huge youth following.