Despite a year of challenges, there is a lot to celebrate this Earth Day.
With the backdrop of the COVID-19 pandemic, people around the world have witnessed the benefits that changing personal habits can have on the environment. Greenhouse gas emissions declined as people stayed at home and gave nature the chance to bounce back. More than 115 countries pledged to reach carbon neutrality by 2050 — and the United States officially rejoined the Paris climate accord — signifying increasing commitments to climate action.
As world leaders work toward vaccinating people — and equitably distributing vaccines to low-income countries — there is hope that we will all be able to gather together soon. Until we've vaccinated enough people to end the acute phase of the pandemic, however, it's still recommended that people take measures to protect themselves and others when in public by wearing masks, staying at least six feet apart, and avoiding medium or large gatherings.
But just because you can’t gather with people this Earth Day doesn’t mean you can’t take part in meaningful conversations, moments of solidarity, and acts of sustainability.
People may be alone in their homes, but they’ll still be united by a shared purpose: to incite bold climate action in pursuit of a sustainable future.
There are countless ways to support a more sustainable future this Earth Day as you engage in social distancing. Here are 17 suggestions on what you can do to help the planet.
Attend a digital rally or event
Earth Day will feature hundreds of digital events around the world — from virtual rallies to nature-themed performances to educational sessions. You can find out about events in your area by searching on social media, connecting with your favorite environmental group, or visiting Earth Day’s website.
Sign up for climate newsletters
Earth Day is a once-a-year event, but the issues it campaigns on matter every day. You can become more versed in the issues affecting the planet by signing up for newsletters from nature-based organizations or leading publications.
Here are some top newsletters to check out: Heated, Climate FWD via the New York Times, The Climate Crisis via the New Yorker climate newsletters, Green Light via the Guardian, 350.org, Sunrise Movement, Sierra Club, and Extinction Rebellion.
Write or call your local politician
The only way to overcome the threat of climate change is for governments to enact policies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and overhaul infrastructure.
You can let the politicians who represent you know that you care about climate change by calling their offices or writing them emails.
By vowing to only support candidates that prioritize climate action, you can help ensure that something gets done.
Take action to help stop the climate crisis
Achieving the Paris climate agreement and protecting wildlife requires governments to take ambitious steps to transform economies. You can take action now with Global Citizen to call on world leaders and corporations to stop the climate crisis by setting and meeting ambitious climate-related goals, such as cutting greenhouse gas emissions and switching to renewable energy sources.
Reduce electricity use
Power plants that supply your home with electricity are a significant source of global emissions.
You can reduce electricity consumption by turning off the lights when you leave a room, unplugging appliances that aren’t in use, and turning off outlets when you’re done with them.
Outlets that draw electricity even when not in use — known as vampire outlets — can cost you up to $100 to $200 a year in additional expenses, so being diligent can save you money, in addition to helping the planet.
Limit how much air conditioning you use
Air conditioners — from the ones in fridges to the ones that cool down homes — have an enormous warming effect on the planet.
You can limit how much you use an air conditioner unit or replace it with a fan to prevent heat-trapping hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) from entering the atmosphere.
Hang dry laundry and wash with cold water
Washing and drying your clothes in machines, while convenient, uses a significant amount of energy, which leads to greenhouse gas emissions. You can minimize your laundry-based carbon footprint by opting to wash your clothes with cold water and hang drying your clothes when possible.
Come up with creative ways to reduce food waste
Around a third of all the food produced in the world gets wasted. Not only does this exacerbate the global hunger crisis, but it also has an enormous environmental impact, generating up to 37 million cars-worth of greenhouse gas emissions in the United States alone.
As you practice social distancing by staying at home, there are a number of things you can do to reduce the amount of food waste you produce.
You can try out food waste recipes, make sure to eat your leftovers, freeze vegetable scraps to make a soup stock, and a lot more.
Reduce your plastic footprint
From buying a reusable water bottle to carrying a reusable tote with you at the grocery store, there are countless ways to reduce your plastic footprint.
You can also get to the source of the problem by calling on your favorite companies to invest in plastic alternatives and politicians to enact restrictions on plastic.
Experiment with a meatless Monday
There’s a reason why Beyoncé and Queen’s Brian May are encouraging people to adopt plant-based diets.
From deforestation to methane emissions to water use, the meat industry has an enormous impact on the environment.
You don’t have to give up meat entirely — but replacing a steak or a hamburger with an alternative once or twice a week can go a long way toward minimizing your personal carbon footprint.
Reduce junk mail and opt for online statements
Junk mail is more than a personal inconvenience. Across the US alone, junk mail production leads to mass deforestation and millions of tons of carbon emissions, according to the Sierra Club. You can opt out of junk mail on a case-by-case basis, and call on your politicians to enact limits on its distribution. While you’re at it, opt in for online bank and bill statements so that you receive less physical mail.
Repair items instead of replacing them
Instead of throwing out broken household items, you can watch YouTube videos or take a digital class on how to repair them. In the future, you can also sign up for community groups that allow appliance and tool rentals.
You’re probably driving less anyway during the pandemic, but this Earth Day is a good time to commit to driving less in the aftermath to reduce your carbon emissions. Instead, use alternative modes of transportation including biking, ride shares, and public transportation.
Make habitats for wildlife
Do-it-yourself projects are surging as people around the world try to keep themselves busy while at home. You can support the planet and local wildlife during the pandemic by creating a bird’s nest or some other habitat for animals near your home.
Plant a garden or tend to some indoor plants
After you make a bird’s nest, you can then get started on your own garden if you have the time and resources.
During the pandemic, garden supplies have been in high demand as people seek solace in nature.
Starting a garden is a great way to cultivate fresh vegetables, create habitats for insects like bees, and relieve stress. If you don’t want to do all the work involved in maintaining a garden, you can also buy a succulent or some herbs for your windowsill.
Learn about your bioregion
Taking climate action is easier when you have a deeper appreciation for nature and an understanding of the interconnectedness of wildlife.
On this Earth Day, commit to learning about your local bioregion — what animals and plants live there, the topography, the bodies of water — and how it has changed over the past few hundreds years. In doing so, you might feel a greater connection to where you live and feel more invested in its future resilience.
Draw lessons from the pandemic
The pandemic has forced people everywhere to slow down to prevent the spread of coronavirus. This enormous act of solidarity is a lesson that can be transferred to climate change, a crisis that requires similar collective action and individual sacrifices.
The magnitude of the coronavirus pandemic has forced Earth Day to go virtual once again.
As economies have slowed down this past year, many countries are reporting improvements in air quality and steep declines in emissions. Environmental activists have moved their organizing efforts online and nature-based nonprofits have used this period to regroup.
At the same time, some governments are not doing enough to lower greenhouse gas emissions or are continuing policies that could have harmful effects on the planet, such as planing for new gas-powered electicity plants.
Will business as usual continue once the pandemic subsides, leading to catastrophic environmental impacts?
Or will countries recognize the link between climate change and infectious disease outbreaks, and commit to emissions reductions? Will investments be made to support the most vulnerable communities? Will forests be protected, wetlands be restored, and marine habitats left alone?
The environmental legacy of this Earth Day depends on what we do now.