“Never doubt that a small group of committed people can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”

— Margaret Mead

One day this coming May, when everyone at Shead High School and Eastport Elementary School can gather around a large hole in the ground and feel the sun’s warmth on our shoulders, we will plant a tree.

We have yet to decide where it will be planted — on the Shead side of the road or the elementary school side — or even what species it will be, but it will be planted. Our principal at Shead, Paul Theriault, likes the idea.

My choice would be a white ash, Fraxinus americana, a broad-spreading native shade tree with beautiful yellow and purple fall foliage. It is a sturdy tree species that, once established, can handle thin, nutrient-poor soil, drought, heat, soil compaction and even de-icing salt, all potential stress factors in our campus landscape.

This white ash could easily grace the school grounds into the next century, reaching 75 to 100 feet in height and 50 to 75 feet in canopy spread. In spring and fall, students and faculty will take lunch together under the canopy of its recurving branches. English teachers will bring students to the tree for inspiration on writing assignments while science teachers focus their students’ attention on the tree as a complete and complex ecosystem.

And should our tree grow for a hundred years, it will capture and hold 3,000 pounds of carbon that would otherwise find its way into the atmosphere. This is why we are planting this tree: It can be the beginning of a community forest where every possible site for a tree is filled, trees that scrub carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere and sequester it for decades in their trunks and branches.

We will dedicate this hardworking tree to our grandchildren and their children.

Global climate disruption (a better term than “global warming” which, by mid-February, sounds appealing to anyone in Maine), caused by increasing atmospheric levels of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases, will continue long after the Copenhagen discussions. There are no silver bullets. China, for example, will continue to burn cheap coal for decades to come, adding more carbon dioxide to the atmosphere even as the nation works toward alternative energy sources.

And there is only one atmosphere, without international boundaries.

Meanwhile, worldwide deforestation has increased the world’s annual greenhouse gas pollution by 15 percent — an amount equal to emissions from all the cars, trucks, ships and planes in the world.

Suddenly, however, world leaders seem to understand the importance of trees to Earth’s survival. If the final Copenhagen agreements fall short of quickly reducing global carbon emissions, there is hope that worldwide deforestation will be stopped and the true economic value of trees finally recognized.

This nation’s forests, both natural and urban, sequester 25 percent of the carbon emissions that we produce. This is an impressive statistic, but it has not stopped atmospheric carbon dioxide levels from increasing.

We need to plant more trees. It comes down to this: If every U.S. family planted one tree, the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere would be reduced by 1 billion pounds annually. This is equivalent to the carbon dioxide emissions from the combustion of 50 million gallons of gasoline.

Add to this the millions of other vacant tree sites across the country that could be planted, including sites along city streets, in public parks and on school campuses. It seems to me that there is much to do and that public school grounds are a good place to start.

When we plant a tree at school, we also plant seeds of awareness in the minds of our children.

Send queries to Gardening Questions, P.O. Box 418, Ellsworth 04605, or to rmanley@shead.org. Include name, address and telephone number.