In honor of Earth Day, here are 6 ways to avoid being an environmental asshole.
Gaylord Nelson would be proud of you for carrying that collapsible green bag on your keychain, don’t get me wrong. But the founder of Earth Day may also see 2017 as eerily similar to the social climate in the 1970s. In fact, he’d probably expect even more out of people living today who can potentially influence others all over the world through social media.
On behalf of Gaylord, with no permission whatsoever, I’ve provided a few tips to practice Earth Day 365 days a year. Do him proud, do your community right and, you know, don’t be an environmental asshole.
1. Hear the Buzz, Plant a Flower
If you’ve watched SNL lately, you might’ve heard Michael Che joke about climate change and bees. The idea of helping bugs sounds really un-fun, but heavy hitters like NYT, Wired and Time are all reporting on the huge decline in pollinator populations and emphasize how important it is to keep our fuzzy and flittering friends around.
If you don’t care about butterflies (no one’s calling you a monster, but seriously, how can you hate butterflies?), you probably at least care about food. And here’s the short version of the story: no pollinators means no food.
Pollinators, such as bees, butterflies, hummingbirds, moths and bats, pollinate the flowers that eventually bear fruits and vegetables.
So the solution is to plant a flower? Yeah, it really is. In fact, plant lots of them. Now, you may hate butterflies, but you just aren’t allowed to hate flowers.
Learn more about which host plants and nectar plants support your local pollinators. Educate yourself on GMOs and how they impact the future of pollinators and humans. A garden that provides life is a garden worth growing.
2. Get Your Head in the Landfill
Plastic isn’t just a material for holding your groceries. Nope, it actually makes up a huge percentage of packaging around the world. The scary part? Once it gets made, it never really goes away.
And it’s a mean material. It clogs oceans, lies around drinking beer and burping with no shirt on in landfills and even entangles some of our favorite sea creatures.
What is this horrible thing destroying our world and where is Captain Planet when you need him?
So now’s your chance to get with the times. Check labels for biodegradable packaging and innovative technologies like sustainable food storage made of natural ingredients. Make a conscious effort to reduce the amount of plastic you use and the amount of waste you generate. Aspire to be like this girl who fit two years of waste into a single Mason jar!
Side note: this is a great opportunity to look for companies who also have eco values. Do your research on where your meat, vegetables and prepackaged foods are coming from. Learn more about the companies you regularly buy from and ask how they’re doing some good for the planet.
3. Hang out with Farmers
Steps 1 and 2 are so much easier if you just make an effort to get to know a local farmer. Not only will you benefit from fresh, seasonal produce; you’ll know exactly where your food is coming from, reduce your carbon footprint, support your local economy, and they’ll probably be the source for (or tell you how to find) the best bacon around. You know, because farmers have pigs that they can make bacon with and it’s way better than what you find at the store.
While you’re talking bacon with your local farmer, why not offer to volunteer? Farmers are always looking for seasonal help and you may even get a free lunch out of the deal. Win-win. See? Lunch! Earth Day is looking pretty good right about now.
Major, super-important side note: Take the time to do some research on organics. Not all farmers are created equal. Some use poisonous pesticides that actually destroy whole pollinator species and could ultimately harm you, should you decide to volunteer. A no-chemical approach to farming is one of the most important aspects of keeping our planet healthy. Seriously, going organic is more than a marketing scheme to make people feel good about the food they’re eating. It is essential for maintaining biodiversity, local farming and the survival of our planet.
Deep breath. Now on to some other fun subjects…
4. Learn Proper Recycling, Composting and Other Trashy Stuff
It sure is easy to toss anything into a trash can and watch it get carried away to a place where you never have to see it again. But we all know in the back of our minds, it does end up somewhere and it ain’t a pretty place.
Our number-one defense against pollution is to avoid waste altogether. The second-best, more realistic option is to recycle. Recycling comes in all shapes and sizes, from plastics to papers, electronics to food waste. Learn about the recycling centers in your area. Some even have fun museums. Learn how to properly recycle electronics and paints, batteries and appliances.
Learn the basics of composting and see how you can actually benefit from throwing your food scraps away.
Learn what the numbers under your plastic containers mean and recycle them properly.
It’s time to get interested in the good kind of trashy information out there. Go ahead, be trashy.
5. Know and Change Policies
If you’re not very up on Earth Day or don’t typically find yourself looking into earthly matters, you may have never noticed a legislative bill or petition concerning the environment before.
I know this is an intimidating one, but a few minutes of research on policies to protect the planet will go a long way in impacting larger groups of people. We’ve had a whole history of environmentalists who have made things happen for the greater good, all behind the scenes.
Do your part to learn about policy, change policy and educate people about policy. You can do it! Sometimes it’s as easy as writing a letter, sending an email or placing a phone call to politicians who sign off on environmental policies. Know that your opinions make all the difference.
6. Take a Hike, Read a Book
Gaylord Nelson Newsletter, May 1970. Wisconsin Historical Society.
Here’s the thing: how can anyone really appreciate nature if they never experience it? If nothing else sticks, at least go out into the natural world and give it some cred. It has tolerated our really bad behavior for a long time and it still offers us fresh air, some room to think and some of the most gorgeous sights we’ll ever lay our eyes on.
Read some books about the natural world. Give yourself a chance to see why the health of your planet really matters. Push politics aside for a while, and don’t get all revved up on a Starbucks line discussion about global warming. Instead, just be out in the world and do something nice for it. I promise, later generations will thank you.
We can still relate to Gaylord’s reflection on the massive response to Earth Day: “A new movement had begun, and uncounted millions — students, laborers, farmers, housewives, politicians, professional people, liberals and conservatives — who might have found it difficult to find common agreement on any other subject, were gathering together in a massive educational effort to talk about survival and the quality of survival in a world they all share.”