Questions For: Lionel Johnson

One Cool Earth founder and volunteer/director


Ed. note: There’s a One Cool Earth tree giveaway Monday, March 18, from 1:30 to 4:30 p.m. at Baywood Farmers’ Market on 3rd St.

Where do you get the trees to give away?

We grow them. We grow them in Morro Bay High School, in the nursery there … and the Future Farmers kids water them. … Cal Poly. Liberty High School in Paso Robles—we have 5,000 plants growing in a very good-sized nursery. [Check out for more locations.]

What are you hoping people do with these trees?

Put them in the ground. We won’t give it to you unless you promise to plant it. … I personally believe the process of growing is healing in this crazy nutburger world … and you are a partner in growing this thing.

How did you get into this?

Well, I’m 72 years old and I’m a retired iron worker … . God knows why, but I just started doing this 21 years ago. … My dad was union leader, and I grew up on Gandhi and Tolstoy, and so I … got out of the Army and the first thing I did was pick up a picket sign and start protesting for racial equality. … I was a supporter of civil rights. … About 21 years ago, I thought, you know, I’m so sick of politics, I’m sick of protesting. I think in a way … I’m a little sick of these liberals who just talk and protest. But what can I do? It’s a never-ending sort of political mumbo jumbo. Then I looked around and said, “You know, my country and my state has been de-nuded.” … We’re just scalping the planet. It’s going to be bald as Jimmy Durante’s head. … It turns out that even Aristotle in about 350 BC … saw there were no trees left and the topsoil was all disappearing … and he went into the temples and saw the big oak beams and he knew there must have been gigantic oaks there. …  He said “First the axe, then the cow and the plow, and then the desert.” … How do I fix this? I just vowed that I was going to grow about 1,000 trees a year to balance out the carbon from my car. …

Do people get your message?

I think they do. … We operate on a shoestring, but we’re doing well.

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