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Harvard Now Has a Tree That Live-Tweets About Climate Change

Harvard Now Has a Tree That Live-Tweets About Climate Change

“we don’t decide what gets posted, the tree does”

They told us there would be flying cars in the future. Instead, we got a tree that tweets about climate change.

The Harvard Gazette reports:

A red oak live tweets climate change

Would it plead for rain in a drought? Fawn over a neighbor’s foliage? Crack jokes about how fast another tree loses its leaves in fall?

It seems unlikely anyone will ever come across a loquacious linden. But for the arbor-curious, a red oak at the Harvard Forest in Petersham has been tweeting as @awitnesstree since July 17. Outfitted with sensors and cameras, and programmed with code that allows it to string together posts with prewritten bits of text, the Harvard Forest Witness Tree has been sharing on-the-ground insights into its own environmental life and that of its forest.

Already renowned in certain circles as the subject of the popular climate-change book “Witness Tree” by Lynda Mapes, the century-old oak’s social-media debut was the brainchild of Harvard Forest postdoctoral fellow Tim Rademacher and is now a team effort with Clarisse Hart, who heads outreach and education for the forest. Its online presence is modeled after similar “twittering” trees that chronicle their life experiences as part of a tree-water and carbon-monitoring network based in Europe called

“We’ve done the work as a team to equip the tree with a voice, which we decided made the most sense in the first person, and even with a personality, in order to make it relatable to a larger audience,” said Rademacher. “But most importantly, our Witness Tree is an objectively data-driven account, which I expect will amplify messages of climate change. But we don’t decide what gets posted, the tree does.”

Here’s one of the tree’s recent tweets:


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Pre-written bits of text. IOW, the tree tweets what a human wrote for it. The rest is fake news.

Patrick Bateman | September 5, 2019 at 4:47 pm

If I was a part of the team writing the tree tweets, I’d have stuck in, “A dog pissed on me at 3:45pm today”.

    If the tree was truly sentient, it would have thanked the dog for donating water soluble Nitrogen to the tree’s roots, and chasing away those damn squirrels.