Every Day is Earth Day

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Schultz, Native pollinator plants in my garden, 2

Native pollinator plants in my garden, June 2020

As I’m writing this post, President Biden is holding a climate summit. He just announced a commitment to cut greenhouse gas emissions significantly and quickly. This commitment is what’s absolutely needed to respond to the scale of our environmental crisis, but it’s only the beginning. I am glad he chose Earth Day for this announcement, but, as my title suggests, if we are to honor the greater web of life that sustains us and protect it for future generations, EARTH DAY MUST BE EVERY DAY. And every single one of us must, in our own way, be environmental activists. It’s mission critical.

There are so many ways to do this. Here are a few suggestions (many are aimed to folks in the Philadelphia area where I live, but are applicable to any community):

—Advocate for policy at the local, state, and federal level. Our elected officials need to know that we’re on the side of environmental protection and a transition to renewal energy. In Pennsylvania, there are a few more days to submit public comment regarding Chesapeake Appalachia, an energy company with a long history of destroying wetlands and streams near their plants. They were recently fined $1.9 million but that’s a drop in the bucket. They need to be shut down altogether. To submit a public comment, click this link to send an email to pubcomment_eds.enrd@usdoj.gov. The deadline is April 29. Penn Environment has lots of easy ways to get involved—I recently spent an hour texting folks on their mailing list to show their support for Pennsylvania joining the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative.

—Get educated about local issues of environmental justice. Low-income communities and communities of color face disproportionate impacts of environmental degradation every day. In Philadelphia, some neighborhoods are much hotter than others, due to factors like lower tree cover and less green space. Trash is a major issue, which is being taken on by Trash Academy, a project of Mural Arts that emphasizes youth leadership and creative interventions. Polluting power plants and trash incinerators are located next to low-income communities, with a devastating impact on residents’ health (the New York Times recently wrote about the incredible community organizing fighting these impacts in one Philadelphia neighborhood). Where I live, sewage in our waterways, and flooding are significant issues. And, more broadly, addressing the environmental/climate crisis is not possible without racial justice. From initiatives like Soil Generation, a Black and brown led coalition of urban growers to Chester Residents for Concerned for Quality Living, who is fighting the waste incinerators near their community, there are so many ways to support BIPOC-led organizations and campaigns.

—Support environmental and conservation organizations with your money and/or time. A lot of people are struggling financially right now, but if you’re able, consider contributing to organizations fighting against climate change and for preservation and restoration of the ecosystems that are critical to the planet’s health (and be extension, ours). I make monthly donations, which add up over the year and are easier to afford. I support organizations who focus on activism, like 350.org, and Earthjustice, who uses our legal system to hold governments and businesses accountable. I also support local organizations working to protect green spaces and waterways—I contribute to Friends of the Wissahickon and I actually became a monthly donor to the Tookany/Tacony-Frankford Watershed Partnership today as an Earth Day action. Another way to support these efforts is to volunteer. Most parks have regular cleanup or work days; take a look for one near you.

—Engage with the natural world. Take a walk in your local park and give yourself a moment to see/hear/feel all of the other species, both plant and animal, sharing space with you. I’ve been seeing guided hikes offered in parks near me, and organizations like Let’s Go Outdoors offer family-friendly opportunities to connect with nature in the Philadelphia region. I really believe that the more you experience these spaces, the more you care about them and want to protect them.

—And if you are fortunate enough to have some green space around your home, even if it’s a few window boxes, use your green space to support biodiversity. I began putting native plants into the beds around my house several years ago, and now see multiple bee species, butterflies, and birds in my yard all summer. It’s a work in progress, but one that gives me hope. The excellent book Nature’s Best Hope has provided an excellent guide. Author Doug Tallamy describes turf grass lawns as “dead ecosystems”—that was enough to spur me to action. Ask yourself: do I really use my lawn? Are the plants on my property there for decorative purposes or to nourish the insects and birds in my neighborhood? There are so many learning opportunities, many of them free—the Philadelphia Horticultural Society, Academy of Natural Sciences, and Schuylkill Center are some resources to check out (and the Schuylkill Center has periodic native plant sales).

Hopefully this post provides some helpful resources and ideas. Happy Earth Day, today and every single day.