Thursday, April 22, 2010

Environmental Re-Revolution

Happy Earth Day, New Voices! Today is the 40th anniversary of Earth Day. The first Earth Day was held in 1970; founded by Senator Gaylord Nelson. After seeing the devastation caused by a massive oil spill off the coast of Santa Barbara in 1969, Senator Nelson was infuriated by the lack of action in Washington, DC. He suggested holding a nationwide “teach-in” in response to growing environmental degradation.

Nelson said, “I was satisfied that if we could tap into the environmental concerns of the general public and infuse the student anti-war energy into the environmental cause, we could generate a demonstration that would force this issue onto the political agenda.”

At the end of the day, it was clear Earth Day was a success. The widespread involvement has been attributed to the grassroots organizing, with more than 20 million people participating. April 22, 1970 was the first Earth Day, but also marked the beginning of the modern environmental movement.

Forty years later, Earth Day is more widely attended and has become an international celebration. However, the event does not carry the same sense of urgency. Recent polls highlight the trend of the American public’s dampened concern over environmental issues. Americans increasingly believe that environmental issues, such as climate change are being over exaggerated.

Image credit: Gallup

This societal shift is, in part, because the environmental threats we face today are not things we can easily observe. In the 1970s, celebrating Earth Day was taking action against clouds of smog in Los Angeles, oil soaked wildlife that companies were not held accountable for, and a river in Ohio that caught fire. Today, Earth Day raises awareness for several environmental issues that are difficult to perceive for most Americans. Worldwide, drinkable water is becoming scarcer, yet in the U.S. it flows freely from our taps. The average global temperature has been on a long-term upward trend, but this winter Mother Nature crippled cities like Washington, DC and Baltimore, MD with record-breaking snowfall.

It is time to renew the call to action. Here's a powerful video put together by Greenpeace, evoking the memory of JFK to deliver a call to action for world leaders to address environmental issues, such as climate change.

Video credit: Greenpeace

This Earth Day make the commitment to advocate for environmental protection, and to also make small changes in your life that could really add up if they became part of a revived movement. Here is a list of some things you can change right now to make a difference:

If you aren’t using it, unplug it.
Even though you’ve turned an appliance off, if it is plugged into an outlet it is still drawing power. Unplugging appliances could result in a reduction in 10% of your household energy use, which can add up to real savings. If you appliances are plugged into a power strip, you can simply turn the power off.

Switch from bottled to filtered water. Bottled water requires much more energy to package and ship AND it costs you more money in the end.

Eat less meat. Meat production is estimated to produce 18% of global CO2 emissions.

Eat local. I was surprised to learn that the food we buy in the supermarket has traveled 1,500 miles on average to get from where it is grown to our plate. That requires a large amount of energy used just to move your food from point A to your plate.

Stop the leaky faucet. Not only is it an irritating sound to hear, it is also costing you money. The EPA website has some information about how you can do-it-yourself.

Be mindful of your water usage. Do you ever notice the person in the public restroom who leaves the water running not only while they lather their hands, but also while they go for the paper towels to dry off? I sure do. There are many times you can conserve by not leaving the water running, like washing your hands, brushing your teeth, or hand washing dishes.

Reduce Toxic Exposures. The EPA has started a great program called “Design for the Environment.” Companies with the label have worked with the EPA to reformulate products with safer chemicals.

Recycle Your Electronic Waste. Seventy percent of the heavy metals that end up in our landfills come from our discarded electronics, even though they are only about 2% of our discarded waste. Recycling keeps these toxic chemicals out of our environment.

How will you celebrate?

I myself will be attending “The Climate Rally” Earth Day event which is taking place this Sunday on the National Mall in Washington, DC. Festivities start at 11am and go on until at least 7pm. So if you are in the DC area, stop on by!

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