Sunday, April 22 is Earth Day, a day to recognize the environmental problems and challenges facing our world. Earth Day began in the 1970s as the first nationwide symbolic environmental protest designed by Wisconsin Senator Gaylord Nelson. Senator Nelson established the protest to “shake up the political establishment and force [environmental awareness] onto the national agenda.” The idea had evolved over a period of seven years and was first announced at a conference in Seattle in 1969. He invited local groups to participate in his nationwide grassroots demonstration but never imagined that 20 million people would turn out. Local groups got behind the idea in force, seeing the opportunity as a forum to make their voices heard regarding concerns over air, water, and soil pollution.
Since then, Earth Day has only grown, expanding into over 184 countries and engaging an estimated one billion people annually. Events now range from symbolic gatherings on the National Mall in the U.S. to talking drum chains in Gabon, Africa, and events in countries as varied as Spain, Venezuela, Ukraine, and the Philippines. Events are organized and connected via The Earth Day Network, also founded in 1970 by Denis Hayes and several other national organizers. As of 2010, the network connects over 19,000 groups in 192 countries, and expects to reach over 1.5 billion people for this year’s Earth Day celebrations. Their website, http://www.earthday.org/, lists many of the events their organizations are sponsoring and allows for expression of ideas to commemorate Earth Day.
On college campuses, in its early years Earth Day took the form of protests and demonstrations against the ongoing environmental degradation students were witnessing. As the focus shifted over the years from the environmental problems to the solutions, colleges began using Earth Day to advance environmental education and awareness on their campuses. In recent years, student groups have organized a myriad of events including environmental art contests, documentary film festivals, exhibits of environmental projects, field trips and hikes, lecture series, campus clean-ups, and pledges to reduce driving and increase biking.
What You Can Do as a Chapter
There are a few simple things your chapter can do to recognize and celebrate Earth Day:
· Encourage students to act more sustainably. Set up a booth on your campus quad or in your dining hall and get students to pledge to drive less, eat more local foods, turn off their lights when not home, and use less water. Handing out stickers reminding them to turn off their lights or computers can really make a big impact in changing behaviors. Even passing out flyers on how to save energy and water can be extremely helpful.
· Organize an organic bake sale. Sell or give away some organic cookies, cupcakes, and more to encourage awareness of where our food comes from.
· Organize an environmental seminar. Ask a professor or two to give a free lecture or talk on an environmental topic of their choice. A little knowledge can go a long way!
· Host a film showing. Documentaries like “Food, Inc.,” “Who Killed the Electric Car?,” “An Inconvenient Truth,” and more can help set the stage for lively discussions and awareness about a variety of environmental issues.
· Set up a demonstration. Get some incandescent, fluorescent, and LED bulbs and use a power meter to show how changing bulbs can help reduce energy. You can also set up demonstrations on water fixtures and common household electronics.
· Go door to door. Talk to your neighbors about the environment and their resource use. Ask them what your college can do to be more sustainability. Start the dialogue about resource use on the campus and use it to generate more ideas for projects and what your campus can do.
· Take a hike. Organize a trip to the outdoors with your chapter and members of your community. Getting off campus for a while will help refresh everyone while also exposing them to the environments we desperately need to preserve.
· Engage the community. Find a local NGO celebrating Earth Day and volunteer to help out and join their celebration. Building partnerships strengthens both organizations and paves the way for future collaborations.
Those are just a sample of events you can easily organize to recognize Earth Day. Many of our chapters already host events, and every year more and more creative ideas are put into practice. Think about ways you can make a difference and positively influence student, faculty, and administrative behavior on your campus, and leverage them to engage your community.
What You Can Personally Do
Even if you can’t attend an event on your campus, there are tons of changes you can make in your life to help recognize Earth Day and become more sustainable:
· Drive less. Walking, biking, or using public transit can save literally tons of CO2 from being emitted into the atmosphere every year, not to mention harmful air pollutants such as NOx.
· Power down and unplug. Many electronics use electricity even when not turned on. So when you’re not using TVs, computers, monitors, and speakers, turn them off and unplug them. Even if you leave your laptop in hibernate, you’re helping to save electricity and prevent pollutants from entering the atmosphere.
· Take shorter showers. Reducing the duration of your shower by a minute can save 5 gallons of water or more. That may not sound like much, but when we all do it, that’s a lot of water.
· Eat more locally, and reduce meat consumption. Our food contains a lot of inherent air pollution. Meat production and food transportation are two of the leading sources of carbon dioxide so by choosing to eat local foods and reducing beef consumption we can help reduce our global impact.
· Open a window. If the weather’s nice outside, open a window instead of using a heater or air conditioner. It’ll save carbon and make you feel great.
· Grab a sweatshirt or blanket. A bit chilly indoors? Rather than crank the heat, throw on a sweatshirt or a blanket and feel comfy and cozy while saving electricity and emissions.
· Let in some light. Open the blinds and turn off the lights. Natural light has health benefits and helps reduce electricity use and emissions.
These are just a few of the things you can do. Think of more and share them with your friends—the more we increase awareness, the more positive impact we can make on the planet.