Earth Day 2020 is shaping up to be an interesting one for a number of reasons. For one, April 22, 2020 marks the 50th anniversary of Earth Day. In normal years, Earth Day is supposed to look like this: Throngs of committed citizens coming together in support for environmental progress or dedicated groups cleaning up beaches and waterways. Earth Day 2020 is going to look a little different thanks to social distancing.
While most Earth Day cleanups and events have been rescheduled (typically to September and October), COVID measures have left many of us wondering how to best honor Mother Earth on April 22nd. Just as schools have shifted to home-based distance learning and happy hours have moved to Zoom - Earth Day has transitioned into a very different home-based, often digital experience.
Here, we offer tips on how to love and protect the planet while you’re staying at home. There are five overarching categories, and countless activities to consider within each category.
Earth Day 2020’s Theme is Climate Action- advocate to local, state and federal policymakers
This year's Earth Day theme has been set as "Climate Action." 50 years ago, Earth Day protests helped establish the Environmental Protection Agency, the Clean Air Act and the Endangered Species Act (to name a small few of the changes that came out of the first Earth Day). Today, our administration is dismantling important legislation and corporate regulation, and there is concern that COVID measures may be used to push through further leniency on industries such as oil and coal.
Climate Action is needed now just as much as it was needed 50 years ago. And while you can't take to the streets in protest, you can become familiar with the issues at play and take individual steps - calling your congressmen, writing letters, signing petitions, and building momentum for others to do the same.
The Citizens Climate Lobby is a wonderful resource to help a citizen figure out how to advocate for policies that will mitigate climate change. If you just want to contact you senator or congressmen, you can do that (and the site shows you how). If you want to increase your work further, you can join local chapters, meetings (now virtual), and take more focused action on relevant legislation in your region.
A variety of other sites, such as nrdc.org and sierraclub.org, make it easy for you to learn about issues and sign petitions or submit letters to show your support for a cause. While petitions are only a small, starting step towards change, it is a step.
Inspire, teach and excite the kids (or anyone you’re sheltering in place with!)
If you’re a parent balancing some combination of homeschooling and distance learning right now, weave Earth Day and environmental issues into the curriculum next week. Sustainability related teachings can help kids be more conscious of their impact, more excited about science - to foundations of eco-minded adults.
Like most “educational themes,” the environment is one that bleeds into math, literacy, art and physical education! Actual lessons and experiments should be based on your children’s ages, but common topics covered include:
- Understanding the greenhouse gas effect (Experiment example)
- Understanding the melting of the polar ice caps (Experiment example)
- Building appreciation for how and why things can be reused and recycled (Recycle your own paper)
- Understanding plastic (Go an entire day without using or touching plastic)
- Learn about the importance of water, how it is being used, and what kind of shortages are expected
- Learn about invasive species (Video example here)
- Learn about the importance of dirt and the impact of chemicals
Here are a few awesome resources:
- Nature Conservancy Nature Lab Lesson Ideas for Kids of All Ages
- Teaching About Climate Change:Water, Trees and Wildlife (Project Wild)
- Earth Science Week Classroom Activities
- Teach TCI 10 Science Experiments for Earth Day
- Science Buddies STEM Activities for the Climate
Read and learn about the issues, so you can be a more effective citizen and advocate
At its core, the concept of sustainability is fairly simple: meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs. Most sustainability advocates focus on environmental, social and economic sustainability, recognizing the importance of achieving sustainability across these pillars.
But putting that concept into practice is actually incredibly complex, because there are so many components to it - atmospheric carbon levels, resource consumption, soil health, trees and forests, biodiversity, ocean pollution, etc. Even scientists and experts in a given topic can disagree. For example, some argue that being a vegan is an essential step for any environmentalist. Others believe that responsible livestock management (and consumption) is better for the land than raising no livestock at all. Countless articles have been written on the merits of paper versus plastic.
If you find yourself at home with extensive time to read, look for well respected books and videos (avoid learning too much via online sources that you don’t know much about or that have a political bias driving their words. Though it is impossible to find material that carries no controversy, here are a few that are steeped in research:
- Silent Spring, Rachel Carson
- The Story of Stuff, Annie Leonard
- Collapse, Jared Diamond
- Let My People Go Surfing, Yvon Chouinard
- Diet for a Hot Planet, Anna Lappé
- Drawdown and The Ecology of Commerce, Paul Hawken
- Cradle to Cradle, Michael Braungart and William McDonough
- This Changes Everything, Naomi Klein
- Wear No Evil, Greta Eagan
Some movies and documentaries include:
- An Inconvenient Truth, An Inconvenient Sequel
- Before the Flood, The 11th Hour
- Food, Inc
- The True Cost
- Plastic Planet
Sites like Coursera also have Courses in Sustainability for those looking for more structure to curriculum.
Garden and build biodiversity in and around your home
While Earth Day is meant to be international, Earth Day 2020 is going to be a bit more local. Look around your home and any outdoor space you have. What can you do right now, if you have extra time, to build some biodiversity (by upping the critters in your soil and skies) and resilience (by growing more of what you eat yourself)?
Some ideas to get started:
- Start a garden. You can start something outside, on a balcony in pots, inside in pots or even under a little microgreens grower.
- Start a worm compost bin, to compost your food scraps and create incredible soil amendment for your garden.
- Make (or buy) and hang a birdhouse or two
- Build a terrarium, which may not do so much for biodiversity or food resilience, but it is a great way to inspire a love for gardening and an appreciation for weather cycles.
- Put up a bat box
- Build seed bombs and throw them in appropriate spots (using locally friendly seeds only!)
- Build a coop and get yourself some hens
- Make a bug hotel
- Raise ladybugs
- Start beekeeping
Make eco-improvements to your habits and home
As you spend so much time in your house, you are probably never more aware of the amount of waste your household creates and how much stuff you have around you. This is the perfect time to take a magnifying glass to your habits and things.
What can you replace with more sustainable, reusable versions. An added bonus here is that these steps can help you become more resilient to shocks to our supply chain that make it impossible to find cleaners, paper towels and toilet paper. Here are some examples:
- Replace your paper towels, sponges and napkins with reusable versions
- Replace your cleaners with make it yourself versions that use concentrates or pills (you just add water)
- Replace your coffee habit with a version that doesn’t use filters or pods
- Replace plastic bags with beeswax wraps
- Replace aluminum foil with silicone baking mats
- Replace disposable menstrual products with menstrual cups or reusable pads
This is just a small handful of swaps to get started. Once you do, you’ll find new ideas everywhere you look!
Beyond zero waste swaps, this is a great time to look at all that stuff in your home. You’ll inevitably find things you don’t want anymore. Responsibly donate or recycle whatever you can (check earth911.org for guidance on hard to recycle items). But don’t stop after you “Marie Kondo” your area. Take the important next step of identifying what kind of things you got rid of and figure out how to avoid acquiring it again. It could mean saying “no gifts” at your kids’ birthday parties. Or politely declining offers from your parents to bring things over. It could mean curbing your own guilty shopping pleasure.
Despite the circumstances, we can still use Earth Day 2020 as an opportunity to both advocate and educate for the Planet. Check out Earth Day Network's Earth Day Live - chock full of virtual opportunities to connect, protect and advocate next week. We also loved National Geographic's piece envisioning what Earth Day could look like 50 years ago. The piece compares an optimistic view (with the sense that we'll have build a truly symbiotic relationship with nature) with a pessimistic one (apocalyptic, with the sense that we'll have relied on technology rather than an understanding and respect for nature, to have solved each problem at a time in isolation).