For nearly 50 years Americans have celebrated Earth Day, setting aside time to contemplate our planet, its flora and fauna, the air we breathe, and the water we need to survive.
When Earth Day was launched, it seemed like the environment was headed toward certain disaster. Rivers were actually catching fire because of the toxic waste poured into them, smog hung heavy over cities like New York, and sea lions were covered in oil from massive oil spills off of the coast of California.
Wisconsin Senator Gaylord Nelson was so disturbed with these scenes that he began to organize a special day to bring attention to the planet’s plight, and the first Earth Day was held on April 22, 1970. An estimated 50 million people marched that day for Mother Earth.
Decades later it still seems like it’s one step forward and two steps back when it comes to protecting the Earth’s environment and wildlife, but grassroots efforts from people like you can make a difference. Here are eight ways Alabamians can do their part and celebrate our planet on Earth Day.
Hike, Cycle, or Paddle
One of the best ways to honor Earth Day is to get outside, really experience nature and develop a deeper appreciation of what we stand to lose. Go take a hike, a bike ride, or a paddle. Sounds simple enough, right? But many people with busy schedules tend to be distracted and in a hurry when they go outdoors, speeding down trails or staring at smartphones, and never really experiencing the world around them.
Slow down and take the time not only on Earth Day but every day to revel in nature. Experience the little things. It doesn’t have to be a long trip. A simple mile or two at a slower speed with your eyes wide open will give you a new perspective on our world. You’ll discover new bugs and insects you may have never seen before, find the smallest wildflowers that would normally be unseen and possibly trampled on, or see a bald eagle soaring above you.
Participate in a Clean-Up Effort
Get a little fresh air, meet new friends, and help clean up your community by taking part in a clean-up event. Just about every town in America holds such an event on Earth Day and other days throughout the year, like the Alabama Coastal Cleanup that helps clean our Gulf beaches and waterways, or the many roadway cleanups that are just as important, because all of that debris on our highways eventually ends up in our waterways and is detrimental to wildlife.
You don’t need to join an organized event. Simply carry a trash bag with you and pick up what others have left behind on our trails, rivers, beaches, and roads.
Build a Wildlife Oasis
Wildlife needs our help, too, and one of the best ways to help is to build a wildlife oasis in your backyard.
It doesn’t matter how big or how small your property is, or the size of the habitat you create. You’ll still improve the health of the soil, air, and water in your area, and you’ll provide habitat where native wildlife can flourish.
A simple garden of perennial native plants provides nectar, seeds, foliage, and pollen for an incredible number of birds, bees, and butterflies. If you set up a habitat, remember that it’s important to supply water, and you can use a simple bird bath or other container. An excellent source of information about starting your Wildlife Habitat can be found on the National Wildlife Federation’s website.
Plant a Tree
Once again, whether you have a small lot or a few acres of property you can really help the environment by planting a tree, or two, or more.
Trees improve the air quality by filtering out ozone, carbon monoxide, and other harmful gases, while giving off clean oxygen in the process. Plus, trees provide food and shelter for birds and mammals.
Get Involved with Community Gardening
Since we’re talking about sprucing up the garden, consider volunteering with a community garden or you can start one one in your neighborhood.
A community garden can be a simple plot with beautiful flowers or, more commonly, a fruit and vegetable garden that can provide healthy eating to its volunteers and their families, or help feed the needy.
Besides being a source of food, a community garden helps the environment by providing a green space where the plants help the air we breathe. It also can turn old, vacant lots and properties into a productive city center.
Brush Up on Leave No Trace Practices
Many folks know something about Leave No Trace practices for activities on trails or rivers. But, did you know that there are separate guidelines for practicing LNT in your own home and neighborhood? Earth Day is a good time to learn about those practices and brush up on the ones you already know. You’ll be amazed how much you may have forgotten.
Volunteer with Non-Profit Eco-Friendly Organizations
Alabama has some remarkable non-profit organizations that are working to make the environment better for all of us and future generations. Groups such as Wild South, Mobile Bay Keepers, and Alabama River Alliance are at the forefront of protecting our waterways, lands, and air in the state.
This Earth Day, consider volunteering with one of those organizations to help continue their mission. If you can’t volunteer, a donation of any amount will go a long way. To identify and research organizations, check out Auburn University’s Alabama Grassroots Clearinghouse.
Knowledge is the Key
The best thing you can do to help celebrate the Earth is to gain knowledge about its environment, wildlife, and the problems it’s facing as well as possible solutions. It seems like a daunting task, but that’s what Earth Day is ultimately about—teaching everyone about the Earth and how to protect it. A good jumping off point is to attend one of the many Earth Day celebrations scheduled throughout Alabama.
Here is only a short list of events. For others, check your local visitors bureau or Chamber of Commerce.
Written by Joe Cuhaj for RootsRated in partnership with BCBS of AL.