Earth Day 2015

Yesterday was Earth Day.

Earth Day was conceived when U.S. Senator Gaylord Nelson fused environmentalism to a social movement in 1970. Since then, billions of people from around the globe have participated in taking positives steps toward better environmental ethics. Earth Day stands as a reminder of our moral obligation to protecting all of the members of earth’s ecosystem, as well as a celebration of how we are getting better at taking care of our environment.

This year, large companies like Apple celebrated their successes on moving into “green”, more sustainable practices. As this movement has gained traction over the last several decades, little efforts of many are becoming big efforts; however, we have yet to see our labors bear fruit. Greenhouse gases are still on the rise, social injustice persists, landfills overflow, and many people remain critical of the green movement for its association with radical environmentalists seeking to make unthinkable changes to societal norms. It begs the question, are small improvements sufficient to maintaining the earth, even if the majority of people pitch in? Since green economics relies on low carbon growth, resource efficiency and sustainability, and social inclusivity, I wonder if an economic system such as American capitalism — whose primary objective is to generate capital without the constraint of meeting the needs of all people — can possibly succeed at achieving its green dream.

Overhauling our entire economic system overnight is too radical to be true. In the meantime, reflecting on past mistakes and initiating smaller steps toward better practices may someday lead to best practices and significant, measurable changes in environmental quality and public health.

Yesterday was Earth Day, but every day we have the opportunity to celebrate and maintain our relationship with the earth.

Whether or not I’ll reap the large-scale rewards of the green movement in my lifetime, I have made gradual improvements to my environmental practice in the last few years.

  • I became a demi-vegetarian, reducing my meat intake and selecting foods from local, sustainably-grown sources.
  • I relied on my bike and public transportation for short distances, and public transportation or carpool for longer distances.
  • I joined my local chapter of the Sierra Club.
  • I stopped using microbead facewashes, stopped wearing makeup for five months (and counting), and scaled back on my use of synthetic and hormone-laced beauty products.
  • Being a frugal student, I bought fewer things and usually repaired clothes before buying new ones.
  • I used my own grocery bags and opted for paper when shopping without them.
  • I converted my home lighting to high-efficiency LED bulbs and realigned my sleep schedule with the sun’s cycle to use lights less often.

I also tried saving money by using reusable cups at coffee shops, but only did so part of the time, because I set up an inconvenient system for myself — this task rolls over to my list of improvements for next year.

What will I focus on for next “Earth Year”?

Several aspects of my student-soon-to-be-college-graduate life could use improvement. For next “Earth Year”,

  • I will use reusable utensils and cups when I am on-the-go, and plan eating out in advance to make this a more convenient habit.
  • I will bike when traveling locally (even during winter)
  • I will continuously explore new options for reducing my environmental impact.
  • I am also planning to take part in environmental initiatives in my state, with the Sierra Club, the University of Minnesota’s Institute on the Environment, or the Earth Day Network.

How are you improving your environmental practices?