Here we are, five decades on from the first Earth Day, April 22, 1970. This was going to be a time to celebrate all that has been accomplished and to recommit ourselves to tackling today’s biggest challenges. Like all Earth Days, this one would also have been a day of collective action in our communities, a time to plant trees, clear litter, learn and teach and celebrate our shared sense of purpose in protecting and healing Mother Earth.
We’ve long feared a future catastrophe triggered by climate change. Today, we’re living through the unthinkable, a truly global crisis that places our lives at risk while undermining our livelihoods. No other event in recent history has so clearly illustrated our common humanity.
Everyone’s first priority right now is to stay safe and follow the recommended guidelines that can help us work together to defeat COVID-19. But can we also continue to live sustainably and find ways to honor Earth Day’s historic anniversary?
For a while, I was too overwhelmed by the pandemic to consider this question carefully. Then I realized that even as some sustainable choices have become more of a challenge, others have taken on greater urgency. We need to find new ways to make our usual sustainable choices (e.g., curbside pickup from local businesses vs. on-site shopping and dining) and also find ways to address challenges unique to this period. Following are a few ideas that can help us adapt to this time and continue our journey toward a healthier, greener and more equitable future.
Don’t Give Up On Zero Waste
- Live with less. We’re all doing that now, though it may be unintentional. It’s no longer possible to simply head to the store and purchase whatever we want, whenever we desire. We need to brace ourselves for shortages of food and other necessities as workers fall ill and supply chains (domestic and global) are disrupted by the pandemic. The scarcity we face now may help us realize how little we really need to be safe and content.
- Keep recycling. Much of what we place in the recycling bin is ultimately sold to companies half-way around the globe. As global markets are disrupted by the pandemic, our waste haulers are losing opportunities to sell recycled scrap. The pandemic is aggravating an already dysfunctional system. Even so, most waste haulers are still finding some markets for recycling. This is a good time to check with your hauler (or municipality) to learn exactly what can still be recycled. Following recycling guidelines today will help keep the system running and improve the chances that we can work toward a better system after this crisis ends.
- Learn to compost. This is easier than it may sound. If you have a yard, you can compost. That will help keep organic waste out of landfill, where it releases methane, a particularly potent greenhouse gas. Purchase a compost bin or build your own using wood pallets or metal posts connected with chicken wire. Add the leaves from your spring garden cleanup. Let them decay for a few months. Then start collecting produce scraps, eggshells, coffee grinds, unbleached filters, teabags and tea leaves. Toss these into the pile and mix well, so the food scraps (greens = nitrogen) are completely covered by the leaves (browns = carbon). As carbon and nitrogen sources mix, everything decays, ultimately producing a nutrient-rich soil amendment that will enhance your garden.
Help Your Neighbors
- Shop local. The shops in your town are probably closed. But you may be able to buy from them online or over the phone. While shopping local is always important, today it is essential if we want businesses to survive the shutdown and continue to pay their employees.
- Eat local. While restaurants are closed, many are offering curbside takeout. Ordering takeout, even once a week, can help alleviate the monotony of life in quarantine. Like local shopping, it will also help our favorite restaurants survive this difficult period.
- Zoom services. If your kids take music, dance or art lessons or if you do yoga or obtain personal coaching sessions, these services may now be available through platforms such as Zoom. If one of your service providers has not yet moved online, suggest the idea to them.
- Tip, tip, tip. The people who deliver your groceries or cook your curbside meals are now front-line workers. Show them some love by tipping as you can. Also consider sending a complimentary payment to your housekeeper or anyone else who would usually come to your home to provide a service. By giving what we can afford, we can help reduce the collective pain.
- Donate. Another option for giving is to donate. Food pantries are in particular need. But you may find opportunities throughout your community. One of our favorite restaurants has asked customers to purchase gift certificates for future use and/or to make a donation to a GoFundMe campaign for their employees.
- Start a “mutual aid society.” If possible, reach out to a small group of friends or neighbors to discuss offering each other mutual assistance in the event that any of you become ill. That could mean picking up groceries and other essentials or simply checking in to ensure that everyone is getting the healthcare that they require.
With shortages looming, there has never been a better time to practice self-sufficiency strategies that were commonplace for earlier generations. For example:
- Plant a garden.
- Make soups and sauces to freeze.
- Learn to can and put up preserves.
- Hunt or fish.
- Waste not want not.
- Re-use or re-purpose things you would ordinarily discard.
Perhaps you have an entirely different list. Regardless of our individual priorities and preferences, let’s all remember that we are not only in this crisis together but also capable of making tremendous change working together… even when alone.
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