Updated April 16, 2021
My wife asked me to do a guest blog about Earth Day this year. I was initially pretty flattered that she wanted me to do this until I realized that it’s because she thinks I’m a hippie. So, I took off my Birkenstocks and sat down on my yoga mat to meditate for a few minutes about stereotypes.
On a more serious note, I do love Earth Day, but I’m not what you might consider a hippie, at least not anymore.
What I love about Earth Day is its simplicity.
It’s a day set aside every year where we can remind ourselves to think about the planet. It can be easy to forget sometimes that humanity only exists because the Earth exists. It can be easy to forget that the Earth was here millions of years before we were and may well be here millions of years after we are gone. Because of that, we have a responsibility to take care of the Earth in the same way you would take care of any precious thing that you inherited from your grandparents and want to pass along to your grandkids.
There’s no question that human beings have had more of an effect on the Earth than any other species that came before us.
As humanity has grown and multiplied over the millennia, we have changed the land for our use and habitation. We have changed the habitats and habits of wildlife. We have affected landforms and oceans and played a role in the changing of climate patterns. None of those things are inherently bad. They are a natural consequence of the sheer volume of people who now live on the planet – probably around 7.5 billion. But as the population grows, we have an ever more pressing need to be aware of our impact on the Earth and to try to make decisions that are in the best interest of keeping our planet sustainable for the future.
I want to take this moment to say that this is not going to be a highly scientific post, and it is most certainly not a political post. I think one of the tragedies of modern America’s relationship with the environment is that we have allowed the health of the environment to become a politicized issue. There’s nothing political about wanting to preserve the place you have to live. Whatever you think about climate change or the oil pipeline in Alaska, we can hopefully all agree that we need to take care of the Earth, and that’s what Earth Day is all about.
What I want this post to do is give some practical ways that we can be more mindful of the Earth and our impact on our environment.
Most of these you probably already know, but it’s always good to have a refresher. So, here are a few concrete things we can all do to be better stewards of the Earth. Try some of them out this Earth Day and in the days beyond!
- Go outside and spend time in nature regularly. This is an awesome habit to get into, and something that we can easily take for granted and not take advantage of enough. One of the great things about the Mississippi Gulf Coast is that there is no shortage of outdoor activities. There are parks all around; there are hiking trails like the Tuxachanie in Harrison County and Gulf Islands National Seashore in Ocean Springs. There are countless miles of riverfront and beachfront to explore. There’s the Pascagoula River Audubon Center in Moss Point. There is all manner of flora and fauna to learn about, and there are so many other things to do around this area out of doors. With summer fast approaching, now is the time to get outside before the heat gets too oppressive. I guarantee you’ll appreciate nature more and want to take better care of it if you’ve spent time out in it. I challenge anyone to look at a 500-year-old oak tree and not feel a little bit insignificant. Kids need nature, and parents need it too. Regain your connection with the land.
- Conserve energy in your home. Every bit of energy we use in our homes has to come from somewhere, and in the United States, most of that (about 77%) still comes from burning fossil fuels. The less energy we use, the less fossil fuels get burned, and the less pollution goes into the environment. It’s literally that simple. Turn lights off when you leave a room. Take shorter showers. Bump the temperature up when you leave the house for the day. Turn your water heater down a little. Turn the fan off in that room you never use. Small things like this can add up to make an impact, especially when it’s a large-scale effort. Added bonus: your power bill will be cheaper!
- Drive less, carpool, or drive a more fuel-efficient car. Full disclosure here: I drive a Ford F-150. Luckily, cars nowadays tend to do better in terms of emissions and efficiency because it’s trendy and saves on gas. More and more cars are now offering hybrid or electric options, and it seems that performance is being sacrificed less as time goes on. If you’re like me and you do drive a gas hog, try to find ways to drive less. My commute to work is 3.8 miles, which is great. It may not be realistic for everyone to live near work, but carpooling is also an option. Also, if you live somewhere walk-able or bike-able, then walk or bike! In our previous house, we lived less than a mile from a great Mexican restaurant, and some of my kids’ best memories of that place were times we walked or biked to dinner.
- Participate in beach or park cleanups near you. Mississippi Coastal Cleanup does a monthly beach cleanup, and you can find information about the schedule on Facebook or on their website. There is also a large-scale beach cleanup in October. Beach cleaning is an eye-opening experience because of the volume and variety of junk that can be found on our beaches. It’s usually a lot of fun for kids and adults, and it’s good exercise! Another thing that we occasionally do around our home is go out and clean up our local parks. Our kids love to put on rubber boots and use those grabber things to pick up garbage, and this is usually a great activity until the grabbers inevitably turn into swords (I have all boys), and that’s when we go home.
- Use less single use plastics. If beach and park cleaning will teach you anything, it’s that there’s a lot of plastic pollution in the world. A big part of what’s to blame for this is single use plastic. These are things like straws, bottles, and bags that we all mindlessly use every day and often throw away. A shocking amount of the single use plastic in the United States and the world ends up in the ocean. Plastic biodegrades very slowly, often over hundreds to thousands of years. That means that the bottle cap from today’s soda will in all likelihood still be around in the year 3000. Think about that for a second. What can we do about this? Well, we can use reusable bottles instead of buying a new bottle every time we want water. We can use larger bottles like 2 or 3 liters if we have to have soda in abundance. In terms of bags, we can use paper or reusable grocery bags (I know… easier said than done), or, at the very least, recycle our plastic grocery bags at the grocery store. We can avoid using straws at restaurants and buy metal straws that are reusable for home. States around the country are working to ban single use plastics based on the terrible toll it is taking on our oceans. My guess is that Mississippi will not be an early adopter of this ban, but we can all do our own part to use less! There’s a ton of information online about this topic that’s interesting and challenging. If you really want to freak yourself out though, Google “great pacific garbage patch.”
- Recycle, and do it right. Recycling is easier than ever on the Mississippi Gulf Coast since most communities now will haul it away from your house in a can or bin that you just have to fill up and put next to the road. However, data from across the country says that we don’t do a great job of recycling, and, when we do recycle, we often recycle the wrong things or the right things in the wrong ways. Your local recycling company may have some info on their website, and even your recycling can probably tells you the basics about what can and cannot go into the can. If you’re new to recycling, or just want to be better at it, here are some rules of thumb: recycle glass, most plastic, non-glossy cardboard, newspaper, and magazines. Take off all labels, tape, and as much glue or residue as you can from anything you are trying to recycle. Wash out every item that has food residue in it. Leave the cap on bottles and don’t flatten them out. Don’t put plastic bags into your recycling at home. Popular Science recently had a good article called “How to Actually Recycle.” It’s worth a read!
- Go see some animals. We are fortunate in this area to have a couple of really great zoos that can be a fun and educational day trip for you and your little ones. The Audubon Zoo in New Orleans is well known and deserving of its great reputation. The Insectarium and Aquarium (all part of the Audubon Nature Institute) are also fun and interesting. Gulf Breeze, Florida (just outside Pensacola), also has a nice zoo. It’s smaller than Audubon and really manageable, and they have a ton of cool animals. We day-tripped down there just a few weeks ago and were pleasantly surprised! I firmly believe that the more we are around animals, the more we care about them and want to protect them. A big part of taking care of the environment is recognizing the value of the other creatures with whom we share the Earth, and for most people, zoos/aquariums are the best way to do that.
Well folks, if you stuck with this post all the way to the end, then kudos to you! I apologize for this thing ending up so long, but my passion for this topic is real. I hope that we can instill in ourselves and in the next generation the importance of recognizing our responsibility to the Earth and our environment.
After all, this is the only place we have to live. Enough small efforts can add up to make a huge impact for our future. Let’s get out there and save the planet!
About the Author
Matt Murray is a local doctor, father of 4 boys, and, most importantly, husband of Jenni, one of our Gulf Coast Mom contributors.