The first Earth Day was celebrated in 1970, as a sort of educational teaching day. Its founder, Senator Gaylord Nelson of Wisconsin, hoped to show congress just how impassioned and concerned American citizens were in regards to environmental crises. Today over 175 countries celebrate Earth Day or Earth Week each year. In the US, it is celebrated on April 22nd.
This Earth Day, why not take some time to learn about the top issues facing our Earth and environment in 2010. Here are some scientific explanations and some ways to be proactive this Earth Day.
Top 5 Science Pointers for Earth Day 2010:
1. Understand Climate Change
Climate change is not just global warming. Climate change encompasses all the dramatic changes to weather and climate that are adversely affecting life on earth. This includes unprecedented periods of warming or cooling, drought or flood, or any other severe weather patterns, such as storms. Scientific research has been focusing on the causes of these changes for decades, and the concensus is that climate change is largely credited to increased greenhouse gases – the so-called ‘carbon’ (ie: in carbon dioxide) that we hear so much about (carbon trading, carbon footprint, carbon taxation, etc). But other greenhouse gases include methane are also having a dangerous impact. Many efforts to improve the Earth’s environment and prevent detrimental changes focus on reducing these greenhouse gases, which can increase to dangerous levels (see the graphic below from the EPA). Mostly the increased levels are attributed to the burning of fossil fuels such as oil or coal, which store carbon and release it in the form of CO2 (carbon dioxide) when burned:
In addition to understanding the science of Climate Change, its important to understand what the US Government and international organizations/governments are doing to combat climate change. Be aware of treaties and legislation, as well as government sponsored tax incentives and rebates for individuals to get involved in combating climate change.
Top 100 Climate Change Websites:
UN Climate Change:
Columbia University’s ENTRI database of environmental treaties and resources:
2. Be aware of Species decline
A direct result of climate change is the loss of species. Endangered species are increasing in number at rapid rates, affecting arctic animals, birds, mammals and other groups. What can be done about this? Education and spreading the word is a top way, as well as ensuring that you are not eating or inadvertently affecting the life of an endangered, threatened or at-risk species. The bible of threatened species is the Red List:
Check it out, and spread the word, or donate to a charity working to combat the causes of species decline, which include climate change and habitat loss.
A great resource for kids, from NH Wildlife, on the causes of species decline:
Fish and Wildlife Endangered Species Program:
The dangers of Climate Change include mass species extinctions:
3. Help Combat Habitat Loss
A direct result of climate change is habitat loss. Animals (as well as plants and other life forms) evolved on earth to survive in certain climates – including a specific range of temperatures, a certain balance of wet/dry, and the availability of food sources within these conditions. Today, the drastic changes (including but not limited to deforestation, drought or flooding, or loss of permafrost, tundra and icecaps) are adversely affecting the life they support. In addition, habitat loss due to flooding may increase the spread of waterborne diseases (including diseases spread by insects which breed in still water, such as malaria), or adversely affect the predator-prey ratios in a given ecosystem.
An interesting scientific perspective:
Biodiversity: Climate Change or Habitat Loss — Which Will Kill More Species?
What can be done to combat habitat loss? Take some tips from the National Wildlife Federation, Smithsonian, and the World Wildlife Federation - including the creation of a protected wildlife area near your home or work, planting of native plant life, and reducing use of dangerous pesticides and herbicides:
4. Engage in Eco-tourism
You may have already heard of eco-tourism, the method of “responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment and improves the well-being of local people” (as defined by the ecotourism organization, see link below).
Book your Ecotourism trip with Orbitz:
Nature Conservancy Ecotourism page:
5. Change your habits
** Go through your house and workplace, and remove anything that needs proper disposal (electronics and batteries, chemicals such as propane, paint and harsh cleaning products, items for recycling)
** Replace items in your home with more eco-conscious products: choose healthy cleaning products (healthy for you and healthy for the environment), avoid spraying any herbicides, chemical fertilizers or pesticides on your lawn or yard and aim to purchase food products without these as well.
More ideas for what you can do at home:
More eco-friendly decoration/renovation ideas:
Eco-Friendly food ideas from Food and Wine:
** Replace lightbulbs with compact fluorescents, purchase electronics with the highest energy star rating you can afford (the savings will come later on your utility bills), or upgrade your house to energy-efficient systems:
Database of state incentives for renewable and efficient energy:
** Renovate your personal hygiene and make a statement with fashion – ensure that your cleansing and make-up products are free of harsh chemicals (which may have health or environmental effects that you want to avoid), and choose eco-friendly clothing (this can be extended to furniture purchases, too – see above)
Chemicals to avoid:
Fashion and clothing:
** Rethink your modes of transportation. Can you walk more or ride your bike more? Can you carpool or take public transportation? If you must purchase and use a motor vehicle, then consider the greenest ones you can afford (the savings will come in reduced fuel usage and potential tax incentives and rebates):
While many websites and organizations have the best intentions for improving environmental health around the Earth, there are many whose advice is not based on sound science. Learn to identify reputable sources of information, and compare many sources to determine the concensus and develop confidence in the facts.
To take it further, here is my Earth Day version of What to See, Visit, Do, Watch, Read:
Watch: Take a look at amazing photography in one of these Earth-inspired documentary series (and many more can be found on TV channels such as PBS, Discovery, The Science Channel, and others):
National Parks (with Ken Burns): http://www.pbs.org/nationalparks/
Life (narrated by Oprah): http://dsc.discovery.com/tv/life/
Read: Read a book by someone who really understands the science and politics of the climate change debate:
- The Guide from The Guardian:
- The Guide From USA Today:
Also, sign up for the TreeHugger newsletter:
See: Visit some reputable websites and blogs about climate change:
See the Ecotourism section above, and plan an Earth-friendly trip – perhaps to see some of the gorgeous ecosystems featured in the National Parks, Life, or Planet Earth TV series!
Do: More Earth Day tips and how to get involved or be proactive: