It’s the 49th Earth Day since the holiday’s inception. And a lot has changed since the first Earth Day in 1970.
The planet, of course, is warming. Since the first Earth Day, the population of homo sapiens has doubled in size from 3.7 billion to 7.5 billion. We are currently seeing multiple species go extinct at alarming rates. And plastic is taking over the planet.
Outdoor recreation is at an all-time high, and the boom isn’t slowing down anytime soon. At $887 billion per year, it’s a formidable economic enterprise here in the United States. We know. We’re a part of that function. Outdoor recreation also supports over 7 million jobs here in the U.S, including mine.
It’s a catch-22 that I sit with often. I love this wild home we live on. I want to conserve it so future generations can see what I’ve seen, touch the places I’ve touched, and have the recreational opportunities I have today.
As a public lands advocate, outdoor industry communicator, backpacker, hunter, angler, and hiker, I’ve been racking my brain. And I’ve decided I can best celebrate today by accepting the hard stuff and focusing on what I can do as a lowly individual to engage and support our earthly community.
Here are five ways you can communally help the planet in 2019 and beyond.
Practice an All-Encompassing Leave No Trace Philosophy
Thru-hikers pick up trash on the Pacific Crest Trail
The folks at Leave No Trace do us all a service by educating the masses on how to leave the outdoors as we find it. But if you’ve gone into a high-traffic area in the woods, you know this is not necessarily a universal practice.
Do our public lands a service and pack out everything you find. And that includes toilet paper remnants. Gross? Yes. Biodegradable? Sure. But it should never be left behind.
If you find a dump site of broken appliances, gather a group of friends and do a cleanup. If you see someone breaking the LNT karmic rules, be kind and help them out. Make a promise to yourself to pick up whatever you find out there. It’s a satisfying promise to keep.
Know Your Regulations, Wherever You Are
Last year, 84 abandoned and illegal campfires were put out after Memorial Day in Santa Fe National Forest. The entire forest had to be closed because of this egregious and dangerous disregard for the regulations, leaving the large tract of public land off-limits to everyone.
Fire regulations are one of the most important aspects of public land recreation at the moment, but they’re not the only regulations to consider. Before you go, check the Forest Service’s website for information on individual national forests. And calling the local rangers to check on conditions is always a good idea.
Use Less Plastic At Home & At Work
Using less plastic as an individual is a challenge in itself. But challenging your workplace to aim for more sustainable consumption of materials can make a much bigger impact.
I recently loved food magazine Bon Appetit’s call for breaking your plastic habit. But then I received the magazine wrapped in — what else? — plastic. It was a bit of a bummer.
Of course, the writers don’t buy the packaging, but if we’re going to talk about an ethos of less plastic, the conversation should be multidirectional. Talk with your crew. Take it up the ladder. Figure out what you can do within your workplace as a whole to be less reliant on plastic. Then, adopt what you can at home to better your relationship with this stuff.
Invest Time, Money, or Both Into an Org You Love
Time is money. This we all know. There are thousands of amazing nonprofits out there doing the grassroots work to make this planet a better place. And you likely have one in your own backyard that will allow you to make an impact on your own community.
These days, there are so many ways to volunteer that didn’t exist before. You might be able to help run a social media account, or write blogs, or act as a coordinator for other volunteers. You can volunteer from your couch or in the woods. Whatever fits your life best, there’s an opportunity to give back. Use VolunteerMatch to find out what’s available locally. Or, if money is easier than time, become a yearly donor to an org doing the work on the ground.
Hound. Your. Representatives.
Be an informed and involved citizen. Public land is under fire, access is being challenged, and environmental safeguards like the Clean Water Act are facing potential demise. And there are likely projects in your own community that need your voice of support to come to fruition.
Get to know your reps through the Common Cause website. Not only does it give you a list of your Congress representatives, but it also gives you a full rundown of your local representatives. Put these guys and gals on speed dial. Attend local meetings. Bust out a pen, paper, and postage stamp. I always receive replies back from my reps, even when we disagree. Know where they stand so you can know how to vote.
Final Thought: Don’t Forget to Celebrate
Amidst the hard things, there are many, many beautiful things happening. We’re still in a time of plenty when it comes to our ability to enjoy this planet.
Whatever it is you love most about our world, celebrate it wholly today. And in the midst of that celebration, know that 49 years of Earth Day have led up to this moment. The generations before us have granted us this opportunity. Thank them, and figure out how you too will make a difference.