If you Google or Pinterest-search ways to observe Earth Day (April 22), you’ll find lots of ideas suitable for kids and adults. Ironically, many of these ideas are actually counter-productive because they entail consuming resources:
- Use your oven to bake earth-like cookies
- Drive your car to a bird sanctuary for a nature walk
- Make paper and plastic crafts that will shortly be trashed in a landfill
Perhaps the dumbest suggestion of all came from a blogger who suggested you have a cocktail because “C’mon… it’s a holiday. If there isn’t at least one drink involved, you’re doing it wrong.”
She wrote (perhaps after consuming 2 or 3 of her suggested cocktails)
“When you were a kid, maybe you planted a tree. And while that kind of sweeping, symbolic gesture is certainly admirable, as a full-fledged grownup, Earth Day is really more about taking a moment or two of reflection, and assessing your contribution to making this planet a beautiful, safe place to live.”
I can’t bring myself to identify this source because I’m too embarrassed for her. I hope when she sobered up someone set her straight that planting a tree is not a “symbolic gesture.” It’s an actual benefit. And it’s not a day for children to work hard while “full-fledged grownups” merely take a moment or two to reflect and eat cake pops. I kid you not, that’s her next suggestion after cocktails. [Facepalm]
Be Actually Useful
The purpose of Earth Day is not simply to educate ourselves about how to be good stewards of the Earth’s resources. There are 364 other days of the year for that. Earth Day is for doing something that will actually have an impact. It’s not a holiday for kicking back. It’s a day to recognize we have a responsibility to take care of the land, water, and air around the place we call home. And it’s a day to get off our backsides and pitch in. Here are four practical and useful ways to do that.
1. Yes, plant a tree.
Trees scrub the air clean. They absorb dangerous gasses like carbon dioxide and methane and produce beneficial oxygen. That’s why forests are so important to our planet and why it’s distressing to lose them.
My own city, Louisville, is campaigning to have residents plant trees because our city’s tree canopy is decreasing. However, our desire to breathe clean oxygen has not decreased with it, so we need to plant trees.
If you appreciate clean air, you should plant a tree, too.
2. Mind Your Footprint
Spend the day in conscious awareness of what you’re doing. Do everything you can to conserve resources. Eat leftovers. Turn off lights. Reuse/recycle something. Keep your car in the garage.
Not only will decreasing your carbon footprint have a positive impact on the environment. It’ll have a positive impact on your wallet. Resources you don’t spend are resources in your bank account.Resources you don't spend are resources in your bank account. Click To Tweet
3. Eradicate Invasive Plants
Invasive plants compete with plants that are nutritionally more beneficial to native animal life. Winter Creeper is one example. It chokes out the growth of better plants.
State parks love to have help eradicating these invasive plants. Enlist the help of some friends and work on one of your favorite nature trails. A day spent outdoors will be good for the environment and good for your health as well.
4. Pick Up Trash
You’ve seen those signs along sections of highways that indicate sponsorship by a family or group. Someone is taking responsibility for making sure that area is kept litter-free. Not only is litter an eyesore, it’s harmful to wildlife who ingest it or get tangled in it.
Formal sponsorship is a great community service, but you don’t need formal sponsorship of an area to care for it. You and your kids can pick up litter in or around your own neighborhood – making it neat for neighbors and safe for critters.
Here’s why I especially like the idea of involving kids in this project. Kids have an acute sense of fairness. They’re quick to object if they’re asked to clean something up that they didn’t mess up because it steps on their fairness nerve. But it’s important for kids to exercise the character muscle that overrides the impulse to walk away from every mess they didn’t create.
Life offers adults opportunities to get in the middle of other people’s messes on a regular basis. For example, co-workers need help mediating a squabble at work, children in foster care need a safe place to live, or a family from church had their house destroyed by fire. It’s too easy to say “It’s not my problem.” But children who’ve been taught to exercise generosity of spirit and get involved are the compassionate citizens of the next generation. Generosity of spirit can start with picking up other people’s garbage.
A Final Thought
None of these suggestions are glamorous. They involve sacrifice and getting dirty. You can almost understand why someone would convince themselves cocktails and cake pops are the way to observe Earth Day.
But if you observe Earth Day by doing something actually useful to the Earth, you help pay the rent on your little corner of planet real estate. And you can help ensure the next generation has equally responsible and compassionate citizens.