Today is Earth Day, and it's not something to take lightly. The alarms have been sounded. We've seen fires and floods and the destruction of much of the Great Barrier Reef. As our youth are reminding us, it's time for action.
But it's hard to break old habits and make the enormous cultural shifts that are required.
That's why I'm proposing that we take New Year's resolutions away from the New Year holiday and give them to Earth Day instead. What steps can each of us commit to in the year ahead? Here are some suggestions:
- Consume less, use products longer, share things, and limit your waste. With the global population growing, we need to shift our mentality away from the race to consume more that we currently pervades our culture. We are bombarded with messaging about buying more products: more clothes, more face creams, more health and wellness products, more souvenirs, more knickknacks. Each product we buy uses materials that were mined or harvested, with consequences for the environment and for the availability of resources. Our clothes and shoes can certainly last longer than we wear them. We didn't always have this culture; my grandmother used to save bits of tin foil and use it over and over again. Use websites that encourage sharing and exchanging. When you must shop, avoid single-use plastics and bring your own shopping bags.
- Educate yourself. A lot of people don't know the science of climate change, why more CO2 in the atmosphere changes weather patterns, why a snowfall doesn't mean the planet isn't warming, why there are health risks associated with climate change, and more. There are plenty of books, articles, podcasts and online courses that explain these things.
- Measure your water and energy consumption, and come up with a short-term plan and a long-term plan. Use your car less, and purchase carbon offsets when you fly. Paul Gardner, a Minnesotan environmental activist and recycling entrepreneur (and a relative) says this: "If you are going to make a difference, you need to know what you are consuming right now. If you own a house, take out a piece of graph paper or create a spreadsheet taking data from your water and energy bill. Look for trends.... Take advantage of an energy audit from your utility and come up with a multi-year plan for making changes such as sealing air leaks, adding insulation, planning a more efficient HVAC system. Some will be cheap and short term (getting a digital thermostat) and others will be more expensive. Play the long game."
- Invest in ESG (environmental, social, and governance criteria) funds. Of course you should invest in funds you think offer the best performance; many that use ESG criteria do have excellent track records, while also allowing you to invest in line with your values. As more people get behind the ESG investing movement, investor pressure on companies will build to step up their environmental and human rights commitments, as well as their governance and risk avoidance. You can win by doing good.
- Revere and care for the earth. This includes going for walks in the park or the woods, picking up litter, recycling and composting, planting a garden or a tree, and letting your lawn go a little wild. Recognize with gratitude that humans are part of an ecosystem, spend time with animals, appreciate a bubbling brook. Reflect on what it means to be in harmony with nature, the cyclical ways indigenous people once lived, the fact that our traditions are too linear and not holistic enough. Honor our ancestors and our earthly home, but also our descendants. Make the Iroquois pledge: to live and work for the benefit of seven generations into the future.
Happy Earth Day, and may this be a year of resolutions and of progress.