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LUCKY SEVERSON, correspondent: The greeting is especially rambunctious because we’re traveling with the African version of Johnny Appleseed. Some call him the “Tree Bishop.”
BISHOP FREDERICK SHOO: The parish pastor has given us a copy of the report…
SEVERSON: Of all the trees they have planted…
BISHOP SHOO: Yes, showing the total number which has been planted only by this parish is 46,083.
SEVERSON: His name is Frederick Shoo and he is the Assistant Bishop of the northern diocese of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Tanzania. He oversees 500,000 members and 164 parishes. The Bishop is on a crusade to plant trees to save the glaciers on Mount Kilimanjaro.
BISHOP SHOO: At the beginning it was very difficult to be understood. I remember when I spoke even among some pastors, and they were saying, instead of preaching spiritual things, now he’s talking about the environment. What does it mean? I mean, they thought I would have, maybe I was out of…maybe my senses.
SEVERSON: Today it’s not a hard sell. Maybe Tanzanians haven’t seen the NASA pictures showing the rapidly diminishing snows of Mount Kilimanjaro, but they know something’s wrong. Moses Samizi is the district commissioner.
COMMISSIONER MOSES SAMIZI: Everyone knows how the condition of our region is changing, about the global warming. It is now too hot in our region. It wasn’t like this before.
SEVERSON: Bishop Shoo says he began noticing the changes in the weather about 30 years ago.
BISHOP SHOO: It does not need a PhD to see that already people are experiencing the impact of global warming. A simple farmer in the village can tell that something is wrong with our climate.
SEVERSON: Trees are an important part of the ecosystem because they trap the moisture that helps create glaciers. Without the forest’s humidity, the winds blow dry instead of adding moisture to the mountain’s environment.
BISHOP SHOO: We used to have water full from one bank to another. Now you can see very little water remaining.
SEVERSON: In this land of wonders, of animals roaming un-caged, and ancient tribes, Africa’s highest mountain is losing its legendary shining top.
In the last 100 years, 92 percent of the glaciers atop Mount Kilimanjaro have disappeared. Some estimates predict they will all be all gone by the year 2020. And without the ice and snow, the rivers that flow down the mountain that nourish millions of Tanzanians will simply dry up.
(to Bishop Shoo): If they don’t have the water and you don’t have the rain…
BISHOP SHOO: You’re absolutely right. Then there is no life here. The people will have to move or they die.
SEVERSON: Many former local skeptics are now believers in Bishop Shoo and the church’s mega tree garden with millions of saplings waiting to be planted.
(to Mary): So these are what kinds of trees? Orange? MARY: Orange…and avocado. Avocado trees. And what do we have over here? MARY: Mango. These are mango trees over here…
SEVERSON: They take trees very seriously here. There are plans for 152 more nurseries. Even the prison sends orange-clad inmates to load up on saplings. This is Bernadette Kinabo, the municipal director of the city of Moshe, in the shadow of Mount Kilimanjaro.
BERNADETTE KINABO: We set the standards that every resident should grow 80 trees, and for this year we have 1,680,000 trees to be planted during this um, rainy season.
BISHOP SHOO: Today I am very, very happy, really.
SEVERSON: On this day, the Bishop has local officials and church leaders planting trees in a clearing near downtown Moshi.
BISHOP SHOO: Yes, I like this.
SEVERSON: They’re doing this because they’re convinced that they are the victims of global warming and that it is caused by man, here and around the world. Near Kilimanjaro it’s man cutting trees, sometimes giant trees, for export, for housing, for charcoal and to make room to grow food.
COMMISSIONER MOSES SAMIZI: You’ll find that people have really disturbed the environment. There is a lot of destruction.
SEVERSON: Pastor Ndosa preaches about global warming from the pulpit.
(to Pastor Ndosa): You think mankind has caused all these problems?
PASTOR NDOSA: Yes, it was created by human being.
SEVERSON: Who cut the trees down?
PASTOR NDOSA: We can’t tell because people just encroach and cut them.
SEVERSON: That’s why they’re now planting trees in this old cemetery. He says no one would dare cut a tree in a holy place, and that God clearly values trees.
PASTOR NDOSA: He planted trees first before creating a human being. Hallelujah. Hallelujah.
BISHOP SHOO: At the beginning of the bible, in the Book of Genesis, it is well stated that God created human being and other creatures but he gave the human being the greatest responsibility to take care of the creation. When we care for creation I would say then we care for life.
SEVERSON: At this parish, and in all those in the Bishop’s diocese, youngsters are required to plant trees before they can be confirmed. Pastor Martha Dusiri says she preaches God’s gospel and that includes caring for the environment.
MARTHA DUSIRI: And they liked it. That’s why we have planted a lot of the trees, many of them. Even in their homes. God asked us to do that, yes.
SEVERSON: Some who come here wonder what all the fuss is about. They say, hey, there are trees everywhere and there are, but not nearly as many as before, and every year far more trees are being cleared and cut down than the millions that are now being planted.
BISHOP SHOO: Of course we cannot replace the amount of tree which has been cut in this short time but I think we must begin somewhere.
SEVERSON: This is a man who loves most all living things except critters who chew on trees.
BISHOP SHOO: What do they call it? Gopher. Yeah, they eat the roots. You can see. They destroy the plants like this one. It’s been eaten by this. This is terrible. This is terrible.
SEVERSON: He is a man with a mission who is frustrated that the whole world isn’t as concerned as he is.
BISHOP SHOO: If the snow on the top of Kilimanjaro goes away then it’s going to be really big blow, not only to the people living around here, but also to the… to the humanity, I would say, because this is one of the world’s wonders, I would call it. If there is no snow there, you can imagine what it will mean.
SEVERSON: We were staying in the foothills of Mount Kilimanjaro for 6 days and we never got to see it because of the constant cloud cover—clouds, but not a lot of rain.
This is a wedding ceremony for a prominent local couple. Aside from the pageantry, the horn blowers wearing wildebeest headdresses, this occasion is unique in one other way – the bride and groom agreed, at Bishop Shoo’s insistence, that they plant a tree at the end of the ceremony.
For Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly, I’m Lucky Severson in the foothills of Mount Kilimanjaro.