Politicians and business people are fond of making promises to plant thousands of trees to slow climate change. But who actually plants those trees, and who tends them as they grow?

The hard and dirty work of restoring ecosystems will be invaluable in coming decades, to soak up carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, ease the impact of storms and flooding and harbour embattled wildlife. But this work – where it currently exists – is carried out by people who are often poorly paid, or not compensated at all.

Most often, these aren’t recognised workers, but instead, volunteers. This is not only the case for conservation workers in rural areas of Madagascar and Cambodia, but also in cities where waste collectors and people who recycle electronic waste work in abject poverty.

The situation is more dire for those battling the natural disasters that are proliferating in the warming climate. The 2018 wildfire season in California was the deadliest in the state’s history, but much of the fire fighting relied on 2,000 prison inmates who earned just USD$1 a day.

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