We shouldn’t need Valentine’s Day to show our special someone how much we love them, but it can be a nice extra push and opportunity to connect.
Likewise, even if some of us have been taking our environment for granted for the past 364 days, Earth Day is a great opportunity to kickstart being more mindful about protecting this place we call home.
After all, the environment isn’t someplace far away, like a rainforest in a foreign country. It is all of our surroundings that we rely on for clean water, air, land, energy, food, and life itself for all species. Meaning, it’s really, really important!
There are so many things we can do to make a difference, and we’re here to help you think it through.
At YEA Camp, we train people to make a difference on 3 levels: the personal, community, and institutional.
- The personal level: These are actions we can take in our own daily lives. Some of the most impactful:
- 1. Reduce your consumption of meat and animal products. Many studies indicate that this is the biggest individual action most of us can take in our daily lives. Being mindful of less packaging and eating local and organic is of course helpful too, but shifting toward plant-based eating makes a much bigger impact. Try out small changes like non-dairy milk in your cereal or coffee, participate in Meatless Mondays, or if you want to really go for it, take on a 30 day vegan challenge.
- 2. Buy less stuff. Use the 4 Rs: Rethink if you really need to purchase this item; reduce the new items you buy; reuse things you own rather than purchasing new ones; and recycle what you can. The rethink is really the most important here.
- 3. Green your home. This can mean changing habits, like turning off lights, buying ecofriendly products and light bulbs, or wear or take off that sweater if it means you can turn down or skip using the heater or AC. It could also mean investing in more eco-friendly improvements to your insulation or alternative energy like solar panels. We’re skipping talking about transportation now as we are physical distancing, and the normal advice on public transportation really doesn’t apply.
Each individual aluminum can or cheeseburger has a relatively small impact, but it all adds up.
- The community level: Amplify your impact by inspiring others to take action too! Check out our list of featured organizations to connect with.
- 4. Join an organization. There are lots of ways this can look, but connecting with a group that is already doing great work makes it a lot easier to plug in. Find at least one organization doing work you believe in and follow them on social media, join their email list, and look at the What You Can Do or Get Involved section on their website to find out how you can help — and then do it!
- 5. Direct service. Volunteer for an organization, clean up litter in your community, or otherwise use specialized skills you have to make a difference. If you love to make art or teach or get your hands in the dirt, do that! Every nonprofit or community organization also benefits from more money to fulfill its mission. Raising or donating money to an organization is paying them to make a difference on a cause you care about!
- 6. Share and inspire the people in your life, and beyond. How can you enroll someone to join you in these actions you’re taking or in the way you value our environment? It could be talking with a friend or expanding your reach through social media, like by taking a photo of an eco-friendly action you’ve taken or posting an article about an important topic. Or invite people to join you in your advocacy, volunteering, or donations.
If you get 1 more person to take that same action you take on a personal level, you’re doubling the difference you’re making. And when we can get hundreds or thousands or even millions of people to follow suit, we see big change.
- The institutional level: Ultimately, this is where big change needs to happen. We are not going to bring about the shift we need just by recycling or using both sides of a sheet of paper. We need giant companies to incorporate eco-friendly policies, and since most haven’t done it on their own, we need to show them that we think it’s important and pressure the government to make sure they do.
- 7. Green your school, workplace, or town. This may be less possible during times of physical distancing, or maybe not. Maybe this is an opportunity to ensure that your town is more resilient or to do your research so you are prepared to approach your school or workplace to prioritize eco-friendly choices when things are back up and running.
- 8. Advocate for companies to change their policies. This could mean calling, commenting on social media, creating or signing an online petition, or otherwise requesting that they shift their practices in consideration of the planet. Boycotting or limiting your purchases from companies who are harming the planet is only effective if the company knows why you aren’t buying their products.
- 9. Lobby your elected officials to protect the environment. Here’s a scorecard evaluating where our legislators have stood on environmental issues. The more they hear from us to know how important this issue is to their constituents, the more likely at least some of them will shift their priorities and their votes.
- 10. Help elect leaders who prioritize environmental sustainability. This is an election year, so if you don’t think your elected officials are taking action to protect the environment, help elect new ones! This could mean anything from registering voters, phonebanking or texting for a candidate, or working toward fair elections, especially in the context of a global pandemic.
There are so many things we can do to make a difference, and some will be different for each of us. Some will also be different when we’re no longer physical distancing.
Either way, we hope this Earth Day is an opportunity for all of us to reflect on how we can have a bigger impact (or a smaller impact, depending on how you look at it!) on the planet.
To learn more about how you can help the environment or other social justice issues you care about, check out our ebook, The Beginner’s Guide to Changing the World.