For this Earth Day, I’m not going to suggest tree-planting or trash pickup (see Climate Mama for family friendly ideas). I’m not going to suggest going for a hike or canoe ride. Most of us have a “comfort zone” in which we live. Unfortunately, our comfort zones have led to some pretty uncomfortable realities for the Earth on which we live. This Earth Day, let’s talk about uncomfortable subjects and do something to address the really big “elephants in the room.” Here are 5 suggestions for Earth Day activities that might get us out of our comfort zones.
1) Talk about human population growth and its effect on the planet. Population growth is the “elephant in the room” that no one wants to discuss, but we need to discuss it. There are currently 7 billion people on Earth and many estimates expect a peak of 9 billion people! There are lots of suggestions regarding how we might slow population growth, from increasing women’s educational and economic levels to handing out condoms. What do you think is the most practical solution? What’s the best way to get people to consider the environment when planning family size? On a light note, one group will be giving out endangered species condoms – check them out!
2) Watch a movie about the coal industry in West Virginia. We should all know where our energy comes from and how our energy use affects the lives of other citizens. To help raise greater public awareness about the environmental and public health impacts of coal, BURNING THE FUTURE: COAL IN AMERICA will air on PBS this April and May. The film will also be available to view free online during Earth Day Weekend (4/21-22). If you’d like to register to watch the film, visit the online registration.
3) Educate yourself about climate change. No matter how much we’d like to stick our heads in the sand, climate change is occurring and it is primarily caused by human activity. Here is some of what we know about climate change from the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (2007) (IPCC) and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA):
- “Global atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide have increased markedly as a result of human activities since 1750 and now far exceed pre-industrial values determined from ice cores spanning many thousands of years. The global increases in carbon dioxide concentration are due primarily to fossil fuel use and land use change, while those of methane and nitrous oxide are primarily due to agriculture. (IPCC 2007)
- Current levels of atmospheric CO2 are the highest in the past 650,000 years. (NOAA)
- “Average arctic temperatures increased at almost twice the global average rate in the past 100 years. Arctic temperatures have high decadal variability, and a warm period was also observed from 1925 to 1945.” (IPCC 2007)
- “Palaeoclimatic information supports the interpretation that the warmth of the last half century is unusual in at least the previous 1,300 years. The last time the polar regions were significantly warmer than present for an extended period (about 125,000 years ago), reductions in polar ice volume led to 4 to 6 m of sea level rise.” (IPCC 2007). The people in the island nation of Kiribati are planning to move their country in response to current sea level rise.
- “Most of the observed increase in global average temperatures since the mid-20th century is very likely due to the observed increase in anthropogenic greenhouse gas concentrations. This is an advance since the TAR’s conclusion that “most of the observed warming over the last 50 years is likely to have been due to the increase in greenhouse gas concentrations”. Discernible human influences now extend to other aspects of climate, including ocean warming, continental-average temperatures, temperature extremes and wind patterns.” (IPCC 2007)
4) Let your legislators know that climate change is an important issue to you and you really want to see some action on the issue. Climate change is not a Democratic or Republican issue. Legislators on both side of the aisle have stated the need for immediate action. Check out statements and actions from Representative Bob Inglis, Senator Olympia Snowe, Senator Susan Collins, Governor Chris Christie, Representative Chris Smith, President Obama, Representative (resigned) Jay Inslee, and Representative Henry Waxman. Local governments around the country are preparing for the effects of climate change. A May, 2010, article in Scientific American outlined how cities from Berkeley CA to Austin TX to Denver CO are introducing innovative programs to address climate change. In 2009, the 1000th mayor signed the Mayors Climate Protection Agreement, committing to reduce carbon emissions by 7 percent below 1990 levels by 2012. As a group of committed citizens, we must support our elected officials when they act to slow climate change, and strongly encourage them to develop a national energy policy that puts climate change in the forefront.
5) Figure out your personal impact and resolve to make one BIG change. Still not sure what your impact is? Check out www.footprintnetwork.org to see what your personal impact on climate change is. You’ll see that burning fossil fuels, whether to produce electricity in your home, to produce food, or to run your car is a huge contributor to CO2 emissions that affect climate change. Conservation of energy is the biggest way we, as individuals, can slow climate change.
Here’s to leaving our comfort zones and entering a more Earth-friendly future! Happy Earth Day to all!