Earth Day, April 22, provides a great opportunity for parents to stop and think about the environment in which we're raising our children, as well as what we can do to ensure a clean, healthy future for them.
It's hard to remember that environmental protections we now take for granted did not always exist. Industry once belched out smoke and sludge, and air pollution was accepted as the smell of modern life. But with the first Earth Day, things began to change. On April 22, 1970, 20 million people took to streets, parks, and auditoriums across America, demonstrating a new promise to protect our planet. By the end of that year, the first Earth Day had led to the creation of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the passage of the Clean Air, Clean Water, and Endangered Species Acts.
Now observed by more than one billion people in 192 countries, Earth Day is the world's largest simultaneous event. It engages the public in protecting our planet.
For the first time in history, the majority of people on Earth live in cities. The shift to urbanization has brought about economic and cultural opportunities and conveniences, but it's come at a cost that often impacts our smallest citizens the most. Increased asthma, obesity, and diseases in children are just the tip of the iceberg.
Climate change affects all of us. Scientists agree that an atmosphere with today's 400 carbon parts-per-million (compared to the pre-industrial average of 315 ppm), destabilizes the environment, leading to more frequent extreme weather events. In 2013, Earth set a new record for billion-dollar weather events: 41 according to The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the insurance industry. In 2012, Hurricane Sandy caused 159 deaths and cost more than $65 billion in damage and loss. The challenge of preparing our cities to withstand extreme weather disasters, while also reducing the carbon emissions that cause climate change, requires every person to pitch in.
Earth Day's theme this year is Green Cities. The following ways can help to make your family life and your city or town green.
- Live green at home. Unplug your appliances when they are not in use. Switch your lights to LEDs. Recycle everything you can. Use air conditioning moderately. Use fewer plastic containers. Find out how your home can incorporate solar power. For more ideas, visit act. earthday.org.
- Stay active. Find ways to create opportunities that encourage physical activity for your family. Walk or bike to work and school if possible. Visit local parks and nature centers.
- Drive green. Driving less in general, with more fuel-efficient cars, will help reduce air pollution. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, driving a car is a typical citizen's most polluting daily activity.
- Eat local and healthy foods. Creating farmers' markets in cities and towns increases access to less expensive sources of nutritious food for inhabitants.
- Plant trees. Help make your neighborhood a cleaner, greener, more pleasant place to live by planting trees or donating them to enable more greenery worldwide. Visit earthday.org/campaign/canopy-project for details.
- Get involved. Advocate for bike paths, auto-free zones, renewable energy projects, and green financing options in your town.
- Green schools. Help ensure that local schools are energy efficient with good air quality and plenty of outdoor play space. Make sure environmental education is a key part of your child's curriculum.
- Vote green. Consider a candidate's commitment to environmental protection, clean energy, and sustainable communities when you cast your ballot.
- Keep learning. Visit earthday.org/greencities.
A Green City is one in which all systems work well (and work together), and in which all citizens enjoy a good quality of life. Join Earth Day Network this year in making your community the Green City you and your children deserve. No matter where we live on it, the Earth is our only true home.