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Kourtney Warren

Newark Charter School, 12th grade

I have carefree childhood memories like many others. These memories consist of hiding behind trees or playground equipment during hide and seek. The cold stinging my cheeks as I duck and run during snowball fights. Navigating the terrain of my lawn to find eggs on Easter. Or posing to take pictures in front of the oak tree on my first days of school. Since childhood, like most others, I have grown up and gained responsibilities that have, unfortunately, decreased my time spent outside. Most of my time spent outside involves walking to/from the car or going on spring and summertime morning jogs. But now more than ever, despite my propensity to stay inside, I have learned to cherish my natural surroundings. It is truly astonishing the way the environment is self-sustaining; for example, the process of plants producing pollen, the wind blowing the pollen far and wide so more plants can grow, and how rainwater and sunlight allow the plants to photosynthesize, giving them the ability to grow big and tall. 

More than anything, I have grown to appreciate the great oak tree that stands outside of my house. This imposing, native, oak stands alone against the backdrop of my house, and towers over the more decorative trees and plants that are scattered on the lawns of my street. 

It is not just any tree; it has been a constant in my life, seeing me grow up ever since my parents pulled into the driveway coming from the hospital after I was born. And vice versa; I have seen the tree through its cycles. I have seen the leaves turn green in the spring as I celebrate my Taurus birthday. During my summer breaks, I witness the tree soak up the sun, as the rabbits find refuge in its shadow. In the autumn, I revel in the leaves’ beauty as they shift hues, turning from a vibrant green to a beautiful brown, and fall off the tree. And in the winter I watch as the powder-like snow coats its barren branches.

Not only has it been a protector for me, but it provides sustenance in the form of acorns for the squirrels and offers up its branches as a refuge when they need to run from the frightening cars that drive by. 

Understanding the significance of the tree to not only my family and me, but also to the squirrels, birds, and tiny organisms that inhabit it, I can only begin to imagine the impact of each individual tree in a more biodiverse environment like the Amazon rainforest, not to mention the forest as a whole. 

I would be upset if my one oak tree got cut down, but to think that the populations of trees and other vegetation in the Amazon are being decimated at an exponential rate is not just upsetting; it is devastating not just for its indigenous populations and native plant and animal species, but for the world as a whole.

Locally speaking, the Amazon is home to 350 indigenous populations and over 40,000 native plant and animal species. Personally, and like most other families in Western culture, my family does not rely on the oak, or any trees for that matter for our livelihoods. Conversely, the indigenous populations in the Amazon, who use the forest for “agriculture, clothing, and traditional medicines” (WWF) have been reliant on the forest for centuries. Whatever impacts the forest impacts them, so the forest being decimated is a threat to their entire way of life. The entire ecosystem is also dependent on the trees and vegetation; without them, the primary consumers will lose sources of food, and the entire ecosystem, will lose its habitat.   

Globally, the Amazon is a massive filter for carbon and has been integral to keeping the global climate stable because of its ability to absorb greenhouse gas CO₂ (McGrath). Its decimation means a considerable spike in CO₂ which contributes to the positive feedback loop between deforestation and drought. Environmentally speaking, a positive feedback loop is not a positive matter; it is extremely worrying because an increase in each factor exacerbates the other. For example, deforestation and the lack of trees cause drought, but drought also causes more deforestation, which continues and worsens the situation (Hanbury). And of course, on top of that, deforestation and drought can also increase the likelihood of forest fires and global warming because there is less plant life to absorb CO₂. 

Although I appreciate the oak for its beauty and all of the roles that it serves, I appreciate it even more because it puts global environmental concerns into perspective. When I think of what the oak means to me and its inhabitants, I can just begin to process what trees around the world may do for their environments and understand what deforestation is taking away from those environments. That is why I want to protect nature—because that great oak has protected me. Trees around the world, and nature in general, have seen the human populations through the ages; they have seen us grow up. Now that we are putting them in danger, it is important that we fight to protect them. 

Over the past several years, I have joined together with other youth environmentalists to try to bring awareness to the climate crisis that has loomed over the heads of past generations and falls on us to solve. Now, with adulthood approaching in the next few months, I look forward to having the greatest civic responsibility outside of activism: voting. It is vital that my generation makes our voices heard through opportunities like the Youth Environmental Summit and the Renew Essay Contest, but it is also necessary for us to vote. We need people in office who are not just going to hear us, but who are going to act. Because without action, how are we going to protect nature, our protector? 

Works Cited

Hanbury, Shanna. “Scientists Measure Amazon Drought and Deforestation Feedback Loop: Study.” Mongabay Environmental News, 21 July 2020,

McGrath, Matt . “Climate Change: Amazon Regions Emit More Carbon than They Absorb.” BBC News, 14 July 2021,

WWF. “What Animals Live in the Amazon? And 8 Other Amazon Facts.” World Wildlife Fund, 2010,

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