As climate change continues to threaten our natural world, Earth Day seems to hold greater meaning with each passing year. Here’s how to celebrate Earth Day (and Earth Month) in 2021 and make a difference in your community.
Earth Day: the one day each year dedicated to reflecting on the well-being of our planet and evaluating our own environmental impact. Every year around this time, we get Earth Day campaign emails from companies and organizations we support, find Earth Day social media posts on our timelines, and probably receive a few letters in the mail asking us to support environmental organizations.
It becomes something we read about and hear about, but many of us aren’t sure how to take meaningful, impactful action on Earth Day. If you’re seeking opportunities to take individual and grassroots action to combat climate change on both a local and global scale, you’ve come to the right place. No matter where you live, there are ways you can get involved and make real changes in your community and beyond.
But first, it’s important to understand the purpose and the history of Earth Day. Here’s a brief overview of how it started…
Earth Day Origins
1970 marked the first Earth Day (a.k.a. the dawning of the modern environmental movement). People were beginning to understand the links between pollution and public health (cue: the birth of environmental justice).
The seeds of Earth Day were planted in 1969 when Senator Gaylord Nelson of Wisconsin witnessed a massive oil spill in Santa Barbara, California. Deeply troubled by the incident and the environmental consequences of it, Nelson took to college campuses to see if he could harness energy for environmental causes.
It so happened that there was widespread support for his message. Why? At the time, people were beginning to become overwhelmed by the levels of pollution in their communities; cars combusted toxic leaded gas, factories ruthlessly pumped fossil fuels, and chemicals oozed into rivers, streams, and groundwater. Naturally, people began to realize the negative effects of pollution on their health (a.k.a. the dawning of the environmental justice movement).
The movement for a clean environment quickly grew until 20 million Americans participated in protests against climate injustices bringing harm to people, animals, and vegetation. From then on, April 22nd was known as “Earth Day,” which became a national holiday in 1970 and an international holiday in 1990.
Today, individuals and organizations alike speak out about the urgent issue of climate change, the importance of protecting our earth, and the actions they’re taking to live more sustainably. (Then there are those who use Earth Day as an opportunity to post Instagram pictures of themselves in nature, but that’s a different conversation for another day.)
All jokes aside, if you’re like most folks, you want to help mitigate climate change, reduce the amount of waste that ends up in our oceans, and ultimately make a positive impact on our planet and those who inhabit it.
But with such vast issues plaguing our planet, how do you know where to start? And how much of an impact can one person make, really? Although climate change is a daunting issue, there are lots of ways you can make a difference on a local level and in your community.
Supporting clean energy that doesn’t pollute the air you breathe, cleaning up trash to help ecosystems thrive, and educating yourself on climate so that you can inspire others are just a few ways to help. Here are six impactful ways you can celebrate Earth Day in the digital age, and in the pivotal year that is 2021.
Participate in a Community Clean-Up
Whether you live near a park, a beach, hiking trails, or a busy neighborhood, chances are you encounter litter when you’re out and about. Most communities have people and organizations that host designated cleanup events where folks can volunteer to keep their neighborhoods and favorite spots clean.
Picking up trash might not seem like a monumental feat, but you never know: you could be preventing a duck from getting its leg stuck in a disposable mask or a squirrel from ingesting a piece of soft plastic. Every piece of trash you pick up eliminates the possibility of an animal getting hurt or killed–and it makes your surroundings more beautiful at the same time.
This is not only a great way to beautify your community, but also a way to connect with folks in your community while social distancing. Look online for Earth Day or Earth Month cleanup events near you, get a group together, and pick up some trash.
Attend a Virtual Conference or Webinar
One of the perks of having seminars, courses, and conferences shift from in-person to online is that they’re accessible to more people than ever before. Plus, you can learn about whatever you want (climate policy, environmental science, environmental justice, etc.) from the comfort of your couch!
The whole month of April — especially in the days leading up to and following Earth Day — there are countless opportunities to learn about and be inspired by the environmental movement. A simple Google search will show you the multitude of Earth-related webinars, educational programs, and conferences available online — many of them for free.
We compiled a few of our favorite options:
- The American Museum of Natural History Earth Fest Online
- Learn about the natural world, conservation, animals, and astronomy. There’s even an Earth Day dance party!
- March for Science NYC’s Earth Day Stage & Festival on FB Live
- Hear from influential speakers including Elizabeth Warren and EPA Administrator Michael Regan and take part in a virtual reality exhibition. You read that right: virtual reality is coming to the Earth Day movement.
- Climate Reality Project (Year-Round Events)
Events like these breed optimism and inspire action in the face of a global catastrophe such as climate change. Virtual events are a great way to expand your network and meet new people with the same values working toward a common goal. Learn how you can make a difference, become an activist, and inspire others. (Plus, learn how your business can go green — and the benefits that come with it!)
Support Clean Energy in Your Community
We know that if we are to mitigate climate change and keep the global temperature rise under 1.5 degrees Celsius, we have to transition to a carbon-free energy system. And to do that, we have to make sure that more people can get access to clean energy.
The problem is, only 20-25%% of Americans can put solar on their rooftops. This is due to a number of reasons: either they are renters, they can’t afford the upfront cost of installing solar, they have a tree covering their roof, or they have a low credit score.
If you’re eligible, we encourage you to install solar panels on your roof. If not, there’s another option for you: community solar. Community solar lets you subscribe to a portion of a solar farm in your area, giving your home access to local clean energy.
Since there’s no rooftop installation required, homeowners, renters, and even apartment-dwellers can go solar! You even get to keep your utility. In exchange for supporting affordable local power, you’ll receive credits on your electric bill, which you’ll pay for at a discount (usually 5-15%), lowering your monthly costs.
Community solar has the ability to significantly benefit environmental justice communities. Not only does clean energy replace harmful pollution that is linked to health problems (including a higher risk of death and hospitalization from COVID-19), but it also provides valuable savings to people who need them the most. Solstice’s nonprofit arm, Solstice Initiative, works with communities to develop projects that accomplish both of these goals — and even put revenue back into environmental justice communities, which is especially important in 2021.
See if you’re eligible for community solar!
Become a Social Media Advocate
It’s 2021, and more and more passionate people are using their voices to speak out about the issues they care about on social media — including climate change and climate justice. Platforms like Tik Tok, Youtube, and Instagram are giving influencers a voice and letting them reach hundreds, even thousands of people.
Here are a few climate advocates turned influencers who are impacting Instagram users by the thousands: Leah Thomas (@greengirlleah), Lucy Biggers (@lucybiggers), Summer Dean (@climatediva), and Xiye Bastida (@xiyebeara).
Even if you’re not looking to use your platform to influence the masses, you can still make an impression on people in your network and in your local community. Found a cool new package-free shop? Make a cool Instagram story and tag the store. Found a climate policy petition that you signed? Share it on Facebook for others to sign.
Studies show that more people are likely to care about the environment and take environmental action if others are doing it, so never underestimate the power of leading by example. You never know who might be inspired by your actions!
Join an Environmental Organization
Joining an organization is an easy first step to take toward environmental involvement. Plus, it can be as low-commitment or as high-commitment as you’d like it to be. At a bare minimum, getting involved in an environmental organization keeps you involved and in the know all year round.
Who doesn’t love making a difference in their community or state? Local environmental organizations or coalitions can help keep you informed of many different initiatives in your area so that you can select the ones that mean the most to you.
Just like virtual conferences, joining environmental organizations gives you the opportunity to meet people with similar values — and nothing stirs up environmental action like being part of a team.
Spend Time Outside
Lastly, a true Earth Day celebration should involve spending the great outdoors. After all, in order to protect our planet, we have to foster a love for nature and all living things. Spending time with mother nature improves your mood, connects you to the environment, and makes you more likely to take environmental action.
So get out there and appreciate the great outdoors: bike, hike, walk, garden — whatever you like to do. Enjoy the Earth and all it has to offer. And of course, be sure to take care of it, too!
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