By Orna Herr, Communications Officer (Education) at the British Science Association


As we settle into 2022, with the last slivers of tinsel, pine needles and glitter from winter and new year festivities finally hoovered away, and the work routine back in full swing, don’t despair! It’s time for another new year celebration; today, 17 January 2022, is Tu B’Shevat, the Jewish festival which marks the new year for trees.

What is Tu B'Shevat?

Tu B’Shevat translates to the fifteenth day of Shevat, a month in the Hebrew calendar which falls around January or February in the Gregorian calendar. Ancient rabbis may have chosen this date as it falls just after the rainy season in Israel, when trees start a new season of growth. While Tu B’Shevat was traditionally celebrated by eating a lot of fruit, in modern times it has become a day when Jewish communities highlight environmental concerns, and plant trees in Israel, and around world.

The evolution of this festival into an environmental awareness day follows the general trend of increased action both collectively and individually to tackle the climate crisis, and how we need to recognise the role of trees in this fight. In 2019, The Guardian reported that scientists working at ETH Zürich, a university in Switzerland, analysed the data on reforestation and found that planting more trees – on a huge scale – would play an enormous role in mitigating the impacts of climate change. Leading scientist on the research, Professor Tom Crowther said:

“This new quantitative evaluation shows [forest] restoration isn’t just one of our climate change solutions, it is overwhelmingly the top one… It is available now, it is the cheapest one possible and every one of us can get involved.”

So, how exactly do trees help combat the climate crisis?

A key reason for the climate crisis Earth is currently experiencing is global warming. Global warming, the NDRC explains, happens when “carbon dioxide (CO2) and other air pollutants [also known as greenhouse gases] collect in the atmosphere and absorb sunlight and solar radiation that have bounced off the Earth’s surface”.

Our air is currently oversaturated with carbon dioxide, much of it human-produced by burning fossil fuels. Trees help to combat this as, through photosynthesis, they absorb the carbon dioxide through tiny gaps called stomata in their leaves, and convert it into glucose which they use as energy. So, trees really are one of our strongest allies in reducing carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere.

Despite this, trees are still being cut down at an astronomical rate. Fifteen billion trees are lost every year to deforestation, a figure almost too big to comprehend. In November 2021, the BBC reported that deforestation of the Amazon rainforest is happening at the highest rate since 2006, with 13,235 sq km lost in 2020-21. At a time when the world’s population need to be preserving trees and planting more, we’re cutting down more than ever.

What can we do?

The next generation’s actions to prevent deforestation will be instrumental if there is any hope of turning the tide on climate change. Robert Walker, a quantitative geographer at the University of Florida’s Centre for Latin American Studies, predicts that if destruction of the Amazon rainforest continues at its current rate, the rainforest will be wiped out entirely by 2064. Professor Crowther’s research shows that this doesn’t have to be the future.

At the British Science Association (BSA), our vision is a future where science, including climate science, is more relevant, representative and connected to society. Part of how we want to achieve this is by encouraging and supporting science, technology, engineering and maths education for children and young people.

One of the key events in our calendar is British Science Week (11 – 20 March 2022), and this year’s theme is ‘Growth’, which of course lends itself easily to thinking about trees.

Download our British Science Week Early Years, Primary, Secondary and Community activity packs

Activities about trees for British Science Week

In the Early Years activity pack is ‘Discovery bag’, which has under-5s going out to parks or gardens look at different parts of trees and engage with nature. The Primary pack includes ‘Tree trouble’ for children aged 5-11 which asks them to think about other parts of nature that rely on trees, and the impacts of cutting them down. Research shows, as discussed in one of our blogs covering the British Science Festival 2021, that children who engage with and enjoy nature are more likely to grow into adults with an interest in protecting the environment.

So, as Jewish communities around the world mark the new year for trees today, our own new year of 2022 must be a turning point in the world’s treatment of our forests, to ensure a liveable future.

Find out more about British Science Week on our website