Though Earth Day has been around for over 40 years, and its significance arguably grows with each passing year as our planet continues to face new and important environmental challenges. There are pressing issues like rising sea levels, fossil fuel dependence, resource scarcity, high pollution rates, and water and food supplies that are poisoning some of the world’s most vulnerable groups of people.
On the flip side, new technologies and information have empowered our societies to prioritize environmental protection. This has afforded the individual homeowner, student and child opportunities to be part of the solution to these developing challenges.
This is truly what Earth Day is all about. It represents the power that each individual has over their own footprint and the residual impact it leaves on a greater scale. Whether you have a family of six or you’re a single-dweller, there are Earth Day activities you can participate in this year that will make a difference. Better yet, these activities are possible to do year-round. They’re a great way to teach kids from a young age about the importance and responsibility that’s involved in environmental consciousness.
What Is Earth Day All About?
Earth Day is a one-day event that occurs each year on April 22nd. Since its start in 1970, Earth Day has become widely known as a day intended to galvanize public awareness regarding pollution and other environmental challenges. This is done through different annual Earth Day themes that are taught at teach-ins and learning events around the world. The ultimate aim of Earth Day is to educate and inspire enough people that it will lead to an end in ecologically damaging behaviors and ignite new and positive environmental practices and policies.
History of Earth Day
Earth Day truly marks the beginning of the modern environmental awareness movement that took off in the early 1970’s. It was a movement that brought together scientists, politicians, teachers, students and individual activists in a demonstrated alliance for better policies, regulations and overall business and economic practices that would support rather than hinder the environment.
At the time of its conception, the environmental movement was deeply concerned with certain ecologically detrimental activities that were taking place, such as factory and power plant pollution, toxic waste dumping, rampant pesticide use and habitat degradation. Additionally, a large oil spill off the Santa Barbara channel in
1969 spurred widespread concern. This prompted then-Senator Gaylord Nelson to take action.
Nelson decided to organize a national “teach-in,” a model still widely used today. The teach-in was aimed at educating the public about the importance of a healthy environment and what types of human impacts are harming its integrity.
Nelson, along with Denis Hayes of Harvard and Pete McCloskey, a Republican Congressman from California, worked together to organize an event scheduled for April 22, 1970 to hold the teach-in. With their combined efforts and dedication, the team ended up rallying 20 million people across the United States who demonstrated in public areas to call for an end to environmental destruction. Individual activist groups were brought together under a shared belief of the environment’s intrinsic value.
That first Earth Day proved to be an influential one, as by the end of 1970, the government had established the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and passed the Clean Air, Clean Water and Endangered Species Acts.
Why Is Earth Day Important?
Earth Day is important for many reasons. First, it is a clear example of the power of nationally organized demonstrations and rallies and their ability to bolster change at governmental and social levels. But Earth Day is also important because it is a consistent annual reminder of how much impact an individual person really has. It educates people young and old about why it’s important for them personally to care for environment and how to do so.
The original Earth Day and its subsequent environmental awareness movement have created significant changes in societal behaviors. Beyond the establishment of the EPA and important environmental protection acts that ensued from the first Earth Day, it has also led to the following progressive changes:
- Habit of recycling
- Reduction of acid rain levels
- Control of ozone depletion
- Advent of renewable energy sources such as solar and wind
- Availability of eco-friendly and energy-efficient household products
- Invention of hybrid and electric vehicles
Countless other positive changes occurred because of the initial surge of environmental awareness catalyzed by Earth Day. With continued awareness and participation in Earth Day events worldwide, positive changes will further take hold, evolve and adapt themselves towards solving the new challenges our world faces.
Teaching Kids About Earth Day
Earth Day is also a way to teach kids about the environment starting from a young age. This education helps kids develop positive habits and become more solution-oriented. It’s no secret that if you teach behaviors at a young age, it’s easier to create lasting change that will carry through to the next generation after them.
Earth Day activities and events are ideal to get kids to participate. Kids learn more and are more enthusiastic about educational topics when they involve hands-on and memorable experiences. Here are some other reasons why it’s important to teach kids about Earth Day and get them involved:
- Kids learn from examples set by their families and fellow community members.
- Kids learn how give back to the planet and develop a sense of accountability toward the environment.
- Kids can pass along their own education and awareness to their peers and their community.
When you can help kids learn what Earth Day is all about, you can also ensure you’re giving back as well by teaching the upcoming generation about ecological preservation.
Earth Day Activities
There is no shortage of ways to participate in Earth Day. Each year, the Earth Day Network promotes a different campaign theme to tackle issues and raise awareness from different angles. This year’s theme for Earth Day 2017 is “Environmental and Climate Literacy,” with the focus on ensuring all global citizens are well-versed and educated in climate change and environmental issues so that they feel empowered to take action.
The Environmental and Climate Literacy Campaign is aimed at giving students the knowledge and tools they need to be active participants in environmental advocacy. This means ensuring environmental education is a standard part of learning in schools from Kindergarten to 12th grade.
Here are some of the ways you and your family can participate in Earth Day events from anywhere in the country:
1. March for Science
On April 22, 2017 in conjunction with the Earth Day Network, the March for Science will take place in Washington DC with satellite marches happening around the world. An Earth Day teach-in will also occur at the capital’s National Mall. The March for Science will allow demonstrators to show their support for scientific research about environment and climate change so it can be taught and celebrated around the world.
You and your family can support the March for Science by making a donation. Proceeds go to the March for Science and their mission of scientific outreach and education. Or you and your family can participate in one of the hundreds of satellite marches taking place. Find a satellite March for Science near you.
2. Join A Billion Acts of Green
A “Billion Acts of Green” was a program started in 2012 by the Earth Day Network as a way to achieve one billion individual shifts in environmental practices by people around the world. This goal was reached in 2012 and has since been carried forward in an effort to now achieve the next milestone, “3 billion acts of green.” Interested participants can register their own act of green online.
Suggested acts of green include:
- Ending junk mail
- Starting composting
- Eating less meat
- Buying local produce
- Stopping usage of disposable plastics
- Planting trees
The theory behind this program is that if everyone performed their own act of green, then the cumulative impact would be significant. Additionally, a Billion Acts of Green creates a community of shared interests among global participants in this program which further inspires widespread action.
3. Measure Your Carbon Footprint
Earth Day is a good annual reminder that we should be more conscious of our own environmental impact. So to become more aware, the Earth Day Network and many other environmental science organizations have developed carbon footprint calculating tools to help you measure your household’s carbon footprint.
Earth Day’s Ecological Footprint Quiz has both a kid’s and adult’s version, as well as one that asks in-depth questions and one that asks basic questions. The in-depth version asks the participant to look at their food purchases and goods consumption as well as their living, driving and traveling habits. The quiz asks for specifics about energy and water consumption as well recycling habits.
The result tells you your estimated ecological footprint equivalent to the amount of land surface you impact. It then provides you with tips and ideas on which aspects of your lifestyle you can change so you can reduce your overall score.
4. Test Your Climate Change IQ
Because Earth Day 2017 is all about Environmental and Climate Literacy, you can actively participate by testing your own environmental education and climate knowledge levels. Environmental quizzes are a great way to determine just how much you think you know about climate change issues. Even if you think you’re relatively knowledgeable about climate change science, some of the answers may surprise you.
Here are some adult climate quizzes to increase your environmental knowledge:
- Department of Energy’s Climate Change IQ Test: The Department of Energy’s 10-question quiz on climate change asks about specific facts on carbon emission levels, seal level changes and temperature changes in the United States and around the world.
- National Geographic’s Climate Change Science Quiz: The Climate Change Science quiz from National Geographic is a 10-question multiple-choice quiz that asks specific questions about scientific data on climate change.
- Christian Science Monitor’s Odd Effects of Climate Change Quiz: This quiz from Christian Science monitor does a good job of challenging all you thought you knew about climate change.
Some of the climate change quizzes available online are a bit challenging. To get the younger generation involved in environmental education, here are some climate change quizzes geared toward kids:
- Geography4Kids Quiz: This quiz is a mix of true or false and multiple-choice questions on different climates and how they are studied.
- Easy Science for Kids Climate Change Quiz: This multiple-choice quiz has questions about climate change research, data and facts.
- Children’s Environment Quizzes: These Children’s Environment Quizzes are a series of tests, worksheets and activities on climate change facts.
5. Do an Earth Day Project
Whether your kids are interested in forests, animals or waterways there are plenty of DIY Earth Day projects to do as a family on April 22nd. In the weeks leading up to Earth Day, get your kids interested by coming up with ideas for types of eco-projects you can do together.
Here are some ideas for Earth Day themed projects for your kids to do on April 22nd:
- Home Energy Checklist: Ensuring your home is as energy efficient as possible is one of the best ways to reduce your own environmental impact. Check for items like leaking faucets, cracked window sealants and electronics to unplug.
- Build a Backyard Birdhouse: One of the climate change issues our world is facing is the loss of natural habitat for animals. By building a birdhouse, you can provide a habitat for birds and offer them a safe sanctuary.
- Make a Window Herb Garden: Growing your own food is a great way to reduce the amount of “food miles” you accumulate. An herb garden in the window is a fun project for kids to build. They’ll also get to watch their garden grow and learn how to care for it.
- Clean up the Park: A big part of Earth Day is the spirit of community and bringing people together over shared values. Organize a neighborhood trash pickup on Earth Day to get kids outdoors and actively participating in ecological protection in their own community.
By letting your kids choose their own eco-project it lets them take ownership over the process. This helps them become more invested in learning about how to make positive changes for the environment.
6. Set Green Goals
One of the most valuable lessons to teach kids about Earth Day is that it’s important to participate every day in lowering your environmental impact. A great way to do so is by setting green goals for the year ahead. Green goals for your family could include:
- Switch all incandescent bulbs to energy-efficient CFLs or LEDs by the end of the year
- Start a compost pile for the garden
- Take the bus at least once per week
- Buy produce from a local farmer’s market weekly
- Eliminate meat from your diet at least one day per week
Though these goals are small, they can add up over the course of year. Try taking the carbon footprint calculator before and after you set and complete your annual Earth Day green goals.
Make a Difference Every Day
The environmental awareness that’s created through Earth Day is important in helping the world move toward better ecological practices. The education that happens each year on April 22nd can give people the tools they need to be more environmentally friendly each day.
The activities that individuals, their children and entire families participate in create the awareness that’s necessary to shift behaviors. Get out this April 22nd to show your support for Earth Day and environmental education.