Thursday, April 26th, 2018

Sustainability & ME: Happy Birthday, Earth Day!

Posted on April 19, 2016 in Perspectives
By USM Free Press

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Byline: Emily Eschner

Earth Day is officially middle-aged. Beginning in the U.S. in 1970, it sought to bring people together to work towards a positive future for the planet. Though initially envisioned as a national teach-in on the environment, focused primarily on university and college campuses, it played out in rallies, protests and programing in parks, schools and community centers nationwide. Since that very first Earth Day on April 22, 1970, which had roughly 20 million participants, the event has grown into an international phenomenon, and is celebrated by more than a billion people every year, making it the largest secular holiday in the world. The organization Earth Day Network continues the mission of the original Earth Day.

Earth Day Network’s website makes a statement describing the history of Earth Day that is especially relevant in today’s highly divisive political climate:  

“Earth Day 1970 achieved a rare political alignment, enlisting support from Republicans and Democrats, rich and poor, city slickers and farmers, tycoons and labor leaders. By the end of that year, the first Earth Day had led to the creation of the United States Environmental Protection Agency and the passage of the Clean Air, Clean Water, and Endangered Species Acts.”

So where are we now? Earth Day 2016 is especially significant, as President Obama and China’s President Xi Jinping have both pledged to sign the Paris Climate Agreement at an official ceremony at UN headquarters in New York. Having these two powerful leaders and countries formally agree to cut carbon emissions is huge, at least on paper. Time will tell the impact it has in the real world. Earth Day 2020, which will mark the 50 year anniversary, will also be significant: Earth Day Network has promised to plant 7.8 billion trees–one representing each human being on the planet–by April 22, 2020.

Each of these actions is important. But it’s also important to remember that the movement behind this single-day event is really about increasing environmental knowledge and advocacy. It’s about normal people across the world caring enough about their everyday actions to be thoughtful and take the time to do what honors and preserves the natural world.

So, if you just happened to be looking for what YOU can do to be that environmentally thoughtful person, look no further than your refrigerator. One thing that all humans have in common is food. And diet is an area where you can have make a big difference from an environmental standpoint.

Eat local. Maine is lucky to have hundreds of small farms. The Portland Food Co-op, Rosemont, Louis’ Natural and even Hannaford and Shaw’s stock local products. The Portland Farmers Market, which starts outdoors again the last week in April on Wednesdays and Saturdays from 7 a.m.-1 p.m., is the perfect place to shop. Before you make the case that you don’t have enough money, head to the Market Info Booth. They accept SNAP cards for purchase of any food at the market, and they offer a 50 percent bonus in addition! (For example, for every $2 taken off the SNAP card, customers receive an extra $1 good for fresh fruit and veggies.)

Eat lower on the food chain. Plant-based foods use less energy and inputs, such as water, to grow than animal protein, such as meat, eggs and dairy. I’m not saying you have to become a vegan, but challenge yourself to make meals based around plants instead of meat.  

Drink tap water. Bottled water is not any safer than tap water, as it’s not held to the same regulatory standards as municipal water. It does also require tremendous amounts of fossil fuels to make and transport the plastic bottles, and costs way more than tap water (which, by the way, is free of charge). Investing in a quality reusable coffee mug and/or water bottle is well worth it.

As cheesy as it sounds, make every day Earth Day.

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