The treefluencers of tomorrow with Tobin Mitnick of @jewslovetrees

April 19, 2023
Editor’s note: This article was written by Alec Sabatini and originally published on PlanIT Geo's blog.

Each episode of Season 5 of the Internet of Nature Podcast has a companion blog to elaborate on the topics discussed.

From amusing trends to malicious misinformation, social media is an undeniable cultural force, capable of shaping behavior and values. Can that force be wielded to the benefit of urban forestry? Should it?

Episode three of the Internet of Nature Podcast dives head first into these questions. Dr. Nadina Galle spoke with “treefluencer” Tobin Mitnick, an actor, comedian, and naturalist whose social media account @jewslovetrees has amassed over 500,000 followers across platforms with a unique blend of tree facts, tree love, and humor.

Becoming A Treefluencer

Though he fully admits this sounds pretentious, trees have always been Tobin’s muse. He had been grinding it out as an actor in California for a few years when the COVID lockdowns started. Tobin’s pandemic hobby was bonsai and trips to see beautiful trees, and soon he started to make short videos showcasing the science and wonder of trees. A friend encouraged him to share his video on the bristlecone pines of Inyo National Forest on TikTok in early 2020. The next morning it had tens of thousands of views. It was on!

Scary good algorithms have made it possible for ultra-niche content to find a dedicated audience. For Tobin, that meant people who like jokes, trees, Judaism, and a hefty dollop of self-deprecation were able to find his work. 2020 was an ideal time to start sharing tree-focused videos too. Pandemic lockdowns forced many to slow down and start noticing the leafy green things in their yards and parks.

“Trees tend to be talked about majestically, almost nature documentary style”, said Nadina. “[Tobin] has found a way to share the complexities behind trees in a fun, easy style that hasn’t typically been done before.” Public information on trees trend towards a more reverent mood, but Tobin’s comical approach is clearly resonating. I certainly have never thought to frame oxygen as “tree poop” in the process of photosynthesis, but it sure gets the point across.

Farther And Farther From Nature

Nadina voiced a concern, one shared by many adults, that society in general and younger generations, in particular, are more disconnected from nature. Over the past few decades, humans have been interacting less with the natural environment.  All over the world populations are concentrated in urban areas, pushing undeveloped land farther away.

Besides being geographically distant, a myriad of competing priorities and activities are pushing experiences in nature to the side, including technology. TV, phones, and computers are taking over larger parts of children’s days, and time spent outdoors is shrinking. Event kid-focused content is urbanizing. An analysis of natural settings in 70 years of Disney animated movies found a decline in outdoor environments, and the natural settings shown tended to be more human-controlled.

society in general and younger generations in particular are more disconnected from nature

Social Media: Part of the Problem Solution

Experiences in nature are a cultural force too. Though it is a complex relationship, numerous studies have found positive associations between experiences in nature and pro-environmental values and behaviors, such as emotional affinity toward nature, willingness to conserve biodiversity, and willingness to pay for the conservation of urban green spaces.

Social media is a perfect vector for inspiring a broad audience to get outside, particularly younger generations. Time outside shifts mindsets, maybe it even sparks an interest in an urban forestry career? Maybe it just leads to a slightly greater appreciation and support for trees. TikTok, Instagram, and other platforms have the ability to stoke this curiosity about the natural world, as long as the content strikes a chord.

Enter @JewsLoveTrees. Tobin is admittedly taking it slowly and carefully when it comes to getting involved in projects with real stakes. He’s an actor and entertainer foremost, but he is on a mission to get people to see the value in the trees around them every day.

“I want people to slow down when they are on the sidewalk, because its incredibly rewarding to have a personal relationship with the trees around you. I want people to understand themselves are already being a naturalist.”

– Tobin Mitnick

Through jokes, goofiness, tree award shows, and a soon-to-be-released book, Tobin is  influencing viewers to take a longer look at the trees around them. That extended look, and maybe a trip to the local park, can eventually lead to value changes. Social media has distracted many from the natural world, but it’s also powerful enough to get them back out into the wild. So, keep those casual pine cone reviews coming!

Thanks for plugging into the Internet of Nature today. Tune in Wednesday, April 26th for Episode 4: Faster than We Can Plant Trees On Public Land, We’re Losing Them on Private Land. Alex Hancock, an Urban Forestry Consultant with PlanIT Geo, joins Nadina to review what governments are doing to protect trees on private property.