Earth Day is a contentious topic among die-hard environmentalists - although the goal of honoring the earth is certainly noble, it reinforces the idea that a single day of awareness can somehow stem the onset of climate change and impending environmental catastrophe. The holiday has also become a banner day for greenwashed goods and marketing gimmicks that make pretense of offering quick fixes to complicated environmental issues (which usually involve consuming more stuff). With this in mind, we've rounded up 6 earth day activities that will actually lower your carbon footprint and help ensure a sustainable planet for future generations. From changing your lifestyle to retrofitting your home, these challenges are not easy - but anyone who says that "going green is" probably wants to sell you something.
1. GO VEGETARIAN
The amount of greenhouse gas produced by the livestock industry is staggering – the Worldwatch Institute estimates that meat and dairy production accounts for 51% of the world’s total emissions once you factor in livestock respiration, land use, methane production, and a whole range of other figures. Faced with this statistic, it’s pretty easy to see how cutting meat out of your diet can reduce your carbon footprint. It’s also important to consider the distance that food travels to your plate, so consider buying locally produced, minimally packaged produce at farmers markets – you can even check to see if any nearby farms offer a weekly CSA (community supported agriculture) box.
Photo © Craig Pennington
2. PLANT A TREE
Simple though it may sound, planting a tree is one of the cheapest and most effective means of removing CO2 from the atmosphere. A single tree is capable of absorbing 48 pounds of CO2 each year while producing enough fresh oxygen for 2 people. Trees also remove airborne pollutants like sulfur dioxide from burning coal, nitrogen oxides from auto emissions, and other particulates, making them a great boon in urban environments. Finally, planting a tree near your house can actually improve your home’s energy efficiency – trees provide shade during hot summer days, and during the winter they lose their leaves, allowing sunlight and warmth to stream in through your windows.
3. GIVE YOUR HOME AN ENERGY UPGRADE
The USGBC states that our built environment accounts for a whopping 40 percent of global carbon emissions, and much of those emissions are produced in the service of interior heating, cooling, and lighting. The best way to cut this carbon load is to make our buildings more energy-efficient — the process often involves renovations and investment in your home, but it can save you a bundle on utility bills in the long run. Start with an energy audit and then check out our Green Home Experts Series for a wealth of eco tips – from setting up smart energy systems to improving your interior to upgrading your windows.
4. GREEN YOUR RIDE
According to the EPA, the average passenger vehicle produces 5.2 metric tons of CO2 every year, and the transportation sector accounts for 27 percent of America’s greenhouse gas emissions. One way to cut this figure down is to kick car culture to the curb and walk or ride a bicycle whenever possible. If you don’t have a bike and you want one, you’re in luck – today Inhabitat is giving away an awesome Linus Bicycle to the reader who comes up with the best Earth Day resolution!
If you live far from your work then consider carpooling or taking public transportation. Car sharing networks like Zipcar and Autolib are also taking off around the world, so check to see if any serve your community.
5. MOVE TO THE CITY
Although concrete blocks may not seem green at first glance, living in a city offers a host of environmental benefits compared to the suburbs. The key is density – living in a more dense environment is simply more efficient because of shared infrastructure for heating, plumbing, public transportation, and energy. Dense cities also enable public transportation and have been shown to limit population growth. While you’re moving, consider – gasp – taking up residence in a smaller home. We’ve showcased many incredible projects that show how you can still live large in a small space.
6. BUY NOTHING
Each year on April 22nd our inbox is flooded with a deluge of marketing pitches touting Earth Day-branded junk – from “eco-shaped” bottled water to suspicious sales incentives (carbon-neutral shipping!), to the ubiquitous tote bags, t-shirts, and canteens. These pitches are so geared towards driving sales and pushing products that they ignore one of the most fundamental tenets of sustainability: the best way to preserve the world’s resources and ensure a sustainable planet for future generations is to consume less and stop buying so much crap.