Every Day is Earth Day

Earth Day, Earth Day, Yay!!!

It may be hard to imagine that before 1970, a factory could spew black clouds of toxic smoke into the air or dump tons of toxic waste into waterways with little notice given. It was perfectly legal back then, and industries could not be taken to court to stop it. Our cars ran on leaded gasoline. Exhaust emissions hung in the air, creating smog and exacerbating people’s respiratory conditions, including emphysema, asthma, and bronchitis. 

How was that possible? Because back then, there was no EPA, no Clean Air Act, and no Clean Water Act. There were no legal or regulatory mechanisms to protect our environment. That changed in the Spring of 1970. Wisconsin Democrat Senator Gaylord Nelson wanted political and opinion leaders in the country to take notice of the deterioration of the quality of our environment and use of our natural resources. At the same time, students on college campuses were holding demonstrations protesting the Vietnam War.  Senator Nelson used the students' energy of the war protests to organize college campus teach-ins around the country to be held on April 22nd to create awareness of the industrial practices that were polluting our air and water. The media was invited. Over 20 million people participated in nationwide events that day, marking the first Earth Day. Soon activists on campuses held demonstrations demanding our air and waterways be protected from pollution. What a national movement!

Groups that had been fighting individually against oil spills, polluting factories and power plants, raw sewage, toxic dumps, the use of pesticides, the loss of natural habitat, and the extinction of wildlife united on Earth Day around these shared common values. Earth Day 1970 achieved a rare political alignment, enlisting support from Republicans and Democrats, rich and poor, urban dwellers and farmers, business and labor leaders. By the end of 1970, that first Earth Day led to Congress authorizing the creation of a new federal agency to tackle environmental issues – the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Passage of first-of-their-kind environmental protection laws, including the National Environmental Education Act and the Occupational Safety and Health Act. The Clean Air Act was also passed that year. Two years later, Congress passed the Clean Water Act. A year after that, Congress passed the Endangered Species Act and, soon after, the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act. Earth Day went global in 1990. Today, over 1 billion people worldwide observe April 22nd as Earth Day each year.

These laws have protected millions of men, women, and children from disease and death and hundreds of species from extinction. Sadly, there is at least one area where we still need to act decisively. We have not responded to climate change in any meaningful way, and our inaction is taking a toll on our children. In 2021, the largest study of climate anxiety among children surveyed 10,000 young people ages 16-25 from 10 different countries regarding their thoughts and feelings on climate change. Results of the survey indicated young people from all 10 countries were worried about climate change, with 59% saying they were very or extremely worried and 84% were at least moderately worried. Feelings of sadness, anxiety, powerless or helpless, anger, and guilt were reported. More than 45% said their feelings about climate change negatively affected their daily life. A frightening future was reported by 75% of the children, and 83% felt people have failed to take care of the planet. The survey indicated young people believe governments are inadequately responding to the climate crisis, which is increasing their feelings of distress, anxiety, and betrayal. These chronic stressors could have considerable, long-lasting, and incremental negative implications for the mental health of children and young people. The report concluded, “nations must respond to protect the mental health of children and young people by engaging in ethical, collective, policy-based action against climate change. [i]

How will you and your family commemorate Earth Day this year? By getting involved as a family, children will have the opportunity to contribute something that will make a difference and can lessen their anxiety and feelings of being powerless against climate change. Look to see
what your community is doing to celebrate and get involved. There are many activities your family can do together. Go for a family walk in your neighborhood or nearby park. Plant vegetable or flower seeds in a seed tray if you have one or in any other containers you may have
on hand (a great way to reuse a plastic container!). Punch a drainage hole on the bottom of the container, fill it with soil, and plant your seeds to be transplanted later outdoors. Attending an Earth Day rally or march is another family activity. Picking up trash in your neighborhood or a
park is a great way to spend time together outdoors. Clean out a closet and donate the clothes to a non-profit resale shop. Of course, we all know every day is Earth Day. So let's examine what more we can do daily to lessen our earth's burden. If we all implemented new strategies, we could make a huge difference. The list of what we can do is endless. Here are some ideas:

• get friendly with reusable shopping bags. Keeping reusable bags in your car will help ensure you won't forget to bring them when shopping. Each year on average, Americans use 365 single-use plastic bags. Denmark averages just 4 single-use bags per person per year. [ii] Plastic bags are made from crude oil. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, 87% of plastic bags end up in landfills or oceans. It takes 1,000 years for plastic bags to semi-degrade.

• Plant a tree. If that is not possible, check your local forest preserve or park district to see if they are taking donations towards purchasing trees.

• Donate gently used household items you are not using to a non-profit thrift store such as Goodwill or Salvation Army. According to a University of Connecticut study, reducing clutter in our homes reduces stress. “Thrifting”  saves items from going in the landfill, helps people working at the thrift store gain meaningful job skills, and makes a dollar go further. 

• Invest in a good quality reusable water bottle rather than buying bottled water. Americans buy about 50 billion bottles of water a year which translates to about 156 bottles per person per year that mostly go into landfills and oceans. [iii] 

• Say no to straws when buying a beverage. If we all did this, it would save half a billion single-use straws per day from being thrown in the trash in the United States. [iv] 

• Buy reusable BPA-free food storage bags rather than using the plastic bags we use once and throw away.

• If you have a dishwasher, use it. According to the Natural Resources Defense Council, washing a sink full of dishes uses about 27 gallons of water vs. about 3 gallons in an Energy Star certified dishwasher.

• Wash clothes in cold water when possible. The Sierra Club reports that when a household switches to cold water washing, about 1,600 pounds of carbon dioxide emissions are eliminated each year.

• Learn the fine points of recycling. Do you know what can and cannot be recycled from your weekly trash? Check your trash hauler's website to see what they accept in your recycle bin. 

• Buy in bulk. Not only are you saving money, but you are also eliminating unnecessary packaging. Bring your own container to fill and use even less packaging.

• Organize your errands ahead of time. Plan your schedule and route to maximize your efficiency and minimize wasted energy. For example, write out a list of errands in order of near to far from your starting place. Then plan your route kind of like a delivery person would. This way, you can complete several errands in one well-planned trip. As a result, you will save time and gas, and your car will generate fewer carbon emissions.  Better yet – ride a bike or take public transportation to your destination when possible!

• Vote wisely. Be an informed voter. Do the candidates' views regarding how (and if) they plan to combat climate change align with yours?

• Keep eating WFPB! When we eat WFPB, not only are we saving animals and improving our health, we are protecting the planet just by how we eat three times a day, seven days a week. Food has a significant impact on our ecological system. 

Here are a few facts from www.earthday.org regarding animal agriculture’s impact on our planet: An estimated 1,800 gallons of water goes into one pound of beef. The most significant contributor to methane, a greenhouse gas that has 25 times the impact on our planet as carbon dioxide, is livestock andtheir waste. A gallon of milk requires 1950 gallons of water. It takes more than 11 times more fossil fuel to make one calorie from animal protein than it does to make one calorie from plant protein. Beef requires 20 times more land and emits 20 times more greenhouse emissions per
gram of protein than beans and other plant proteins. Earth Day is April 22nd. But each of us needs to make every day Earth Day to make a difference.

Practice the 4 R’s – Refuse – Reduce – Reuse – Recycle to minimize waste and keep items out of landfills. Let’s go back to making our children and our planet our top priorities.

[i] Hickman, C., Marks, E., Pihkala, P., Clayton, S., Lewandowski, R., Mayall, E., et al. December 2021. Climate Anxiety in Children and Young People and Their Beliefs About Government Responses to Climate Change: A Global Survey. The Lancet Planetary Health. Vol. 5, Issue 12. DOI: https://10.1016/S2542-5196(21)00278-3.
[ii] https://www.nationalgeographic.com/science/article/plastics-facts-infographics-ocean-pollution
[iii] https://www.grandviewresearch.com/industry-analysis/reusable-water-bottle-market
[iv] https://www.nps.gov/articles/straw-free.htm

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