#9: EAT

‘Tis the season for farmers’ markets and a great time to EAT local. Why eat local? Eating locally grown food supports local farmers and your area’s economy. The food is fresher and tastier. It’s better for you. But most importantly, it’s better for the planet.

Did you know that the average food item produced and eaten in the U.S. travels 1,500 miles from the farm to your plate? And every one of those miles contributes to CO2 emissions. However, if you eat locally grown food (produce and meat) you are cutting down on food miles and therefore carbon emissions.

Locally grown food is also typically less processed than much of what you find in a traditional grocery store. Not only that, but local farms tend to practice more sustainable agriculture than large, factory farms. This minimizes the environmental impact and reduces the use of pesticides and other toxins that harm the soil and water. Finally, supporting them helps maintain greenspace and farmland in your community.

Just for fun, find a vegetable you like at a local farmers’ market. Then buy that same vegetable at a regular grocery store. Then, do a blind taste test with your family or friends. Which tastes better? In a lot of ways eating local is about the delicious, fresh food. But it’s way to make a difference because it’s #YourPlanetToo.

#8: AVOID

I have been called out many times for my tree-hugging dorkdom. So be it. But one thing that gets a lot of attention (and teasing) is when I bring my own Tupperware or straw to a restaurant or provide my own utensils for carry-out. I also always bring my own reusable bags to the store. What do all those things have in common? They cut down on single-use plastic.

Plastic waste is one of our greatest challenges. It is also one of the greatest threats to ocean wildlife. Surely you’ve heard of the garbage patches in the ocean – places where rotating ocean currents concentrate marine debris in one area. Of all marine debris, 80% is plastic. Every year, approximately 8 million TONS of plastic that makes it into the ocean.

In larger forms, these plastics are a threat to wildlife. Animals mistake the plastics for food or become entangled in it. Yet another problem with plastic is that it NEVER disappears. EVER. It may break down. But it breaks down into smaller and smaller bits, aptly named microplastics. These microplastics are now being discovered in all levels of the ocean. They are found in the food chain. And they are locked in sea ice.

In honor of World Oceans Day on June 8, 2021, I challenge you to AVOID single-use plastic. Or if you want a greater challenge, try to avoid all plastic (it’s hard!). Even if you live far from an ocean, rivers of all sizes carry improperly discarded plastics out to the sea. Not only that, even if you do properly discard your plastic, using plastic creates a demand for plastic. Earth needs less plastic. In fact, the earth doesn’t need any at all.

No matter where you live, it’s…#YourPlanetToo

#7: HIKE

Next Saturday, June 5, 2021, is World Environment Day. It also happens to be National Trails Day. I can’t think of a better way to celebrate these days than to take a HIKE! Being outdoors, enjoying nature, and looking for wildlife help us appreciate what an amazing world we live in. It can also inspire us to do more.

World Environment Day was designated to reaffirm governments’ and organizations’ commitment to preservation of the environment. It is also a day to raise awareness.

National Trails Day is a day to commit to caring for trails so everyone can enjoy them. As you walk take time not only to enjoy being out, but try to leave the trail better than you found it by bringing along a bag to collect trash in. This day of celebration is also a day to commit to trail service this year. Click on the link above to learn about events near you and simple actions you can take.

Remember, helping the planet doesn’t mean you have to take grand action. As you hike, soak it in. Enjoy. Be inspired. And consider what you can do to help locally because it’s #YourPlanetToo

 

 

#6: FLIP

This is an easy one to get into the habit of doing. Not a back flip (or even a front flip) but remembering to FLIP the switch! You’ve probably heard this a zillion times…turn off the lights. But not just the lights. When not in use, turn off devices, televisions, radios, or anything that requires energy. Bug your siblings and adults about it too.

You could even do an energy challenge with some kind of reward at the end (ice cream, anyone?). Many utility companies provide you with your household energy use details by month. If not, grab an adult and find the energy meter where you live to gather data. Either way, get a baseline of your household energy use in one month. Then, see how much you can reduce your household energy use. Maybe even set a goal – can you reduce your energy use by 5%? 10%? More? This challenge is most accurate if you compare your energy use of one month last year and the same month this year. That’s because households generally less energy in June than in December because June is warmer.

Photo by Raul Varzar

There’s another reason to turn off the lights – wildlife. Turning off both inside AND outside lights at night is helpful for animals. Migrating birds, sea turtles, insects, and more are all impacted by too much light. In fact it has a name: light pollution. The lights disorient animals. They disrupt the rhythms and patterns of natural light and dark. They affect predator-prey interactions. And much, much more. Get more information from the International Dark Sky Organization. Watch the documentary Saving the Dark to learn more. And FLIP those switches because it’s…

#YourPlanetToo.

#5: CUT

Do you use a napkin when you eat? Your whole family probably does. In the cafeteria at lunch time, are people using napkins? Most likely. Think about what happens to those napkins at the end of the meal. If they are made of paper, they probably go right into the trash or compost. If you had cloth napkins, though, they could be washed and reused. I’m not talking about fancy schmancy napkins. CUT your own! It’s east to cut cotton fabric into squares. Then, voila! Napkins!

Ask an adult to take you to a fabric store to buy some fabric. There’s often even a bin of remnants, which could be cheaper (but remind your adult that if you buy and use this fabric, they won’t have to spend money on paper napkins anymore!). Some towns also have recycled craft stores that might have fabric. At home, wash the material. Then decide what size napkins you want. Six inches by six inches? Larger? Smaller? Once the napkins are cut, use them at every meal. When they’re dirty, toss ‘em in with the rest of the laundry!

Math time – if you have a family of 5 and you eat dinner together at least 6 days a week, how many paper napkins do you save in week? In a month? In a year? Can you convince your cousins to do this too? It’s an easy way to help and tell them, it’s…

#YourPlanetToo.

#4: WALK

You have probably heard a lot about greenhouse gasses. These gasses trap heat in the earth’s atmosphere. Like a greenhouse, these gasses allow sunlight in, but the heat produced by the sun cannot escape. Some greenhouse gasses are good because without them our planet would be too cold for life to exist.

But, the concern today is that we are releasing too many greenhouse gasses into our atmosphere, like carbon dioxide (CO2). Greenhouse gas emissions occur when we burn fossil fuels, like oil, coal, and natural gas. This is the cause of global warming and changing climate patterns.

So how can you reduce greenhouse gas emissions? WALK! It’s good for you and it’s good for the planet.* Many schools across the country have walk-to-school days. Can you make more days walk-to-school days? If you investigate and find a safe route to school, the miles add up. Let’s say you and a friend pledge to walk to school one day a week for the whole school year. If you live a mile from school, and there are 36 weeks in the school year, you’ve saved 72 miles of driving (because you save a mile going to school and returning home). What happens if you walk two days a week? Five? Now calculate how many car miles would be saved if you convinced 3 other friends to join you. A lot of what we do in our daily lives is about creating habits. Consider whether you can commit to walking regularly because it’s #YourPlanetToo.

*Every gallon of gas burned by the average passenger car releases more than 20 pounds of CO2 into the atmosphere.

#3: CARRY

One simple thing that everyone can do is CARRY a reusable water bottle. Do you already do that? Congrats! If you don’t, are you wondering why you should? Because carrying a reusable water bottle eliminates the use of bottled water or juice, which is usually sold in plastic. Not only that, those bottles are used only one time and discarded.

Let’s say you’re on a sports team and there are 12 players, and no one brings their own water bottle. Instead, an adult provides bottled water or a sports drink for everyone. That’s very kind, but that’s also 12 bottles going into the trash or recycling (assuming they are properly disposed of). Doesn’t seem like such a big deal, does it?

But, maybe you have 10 games per season. So, if everyone on the team brings their own water bottle instead of drinking bottled waters all season, that is now 120 bottles saved. How many teams are in your league in your town? Multiply 120 by that number. See? The number is growing. And the amount of waste is decreasing.

What if everyone in the state did that? It may seem like such a small thing, but it can make a big difference, especially if you get your teammates, classmates, friends, and family to join you. And, remember, it’s…

…#YourPlanetToo

#2: WATCH

I encourage you to WATCH documentaries about Earth. Now surely you’re wondering, how does watching television help the planet? Good question. The answer is that by watching documentaries you learn. You can learn more about our amazing planet and its biodiversity. You might discover velvet worms, peacock spiders, or saigas. The documentaries will take you on journeys to the ends of the earth to wild places – remote islands, deep in the rainforest, or far below the surface of the ocean. Documentaries also reveal what’s happening to our planet. Some of them are hard to watch.

Jane Goodall once said, “Only if we understand, will we care. Only if we care, will we help. Only if we help, shall all be saved.” I truly, truly believe this. In our modern, fast paced world, it’s so easy to live our lives in a bubble. Really, we can easily ignore what’s happening. Documentaries, though, expose what’s at stake.

Here’s a list of some of my favorite:

  • Planet Earth (BBC)
  • Planet Earth II (BBC)
  • Human Planet (BBC)
  • Blue Planet: Seas of Life (BBC)
  • Chasing Coral (Netflix)
  • Chasing Ice (Netflix)
  • Mission Blue (Netflix)
  • Kiss the Ground
  • Dancing with the Birds (Netflix)
  • Our Planet (Netflix)

I know that there are many others out there, but this is a list of ones that have had the most impact on me and on my family. Feel free to suggest others. So, like my alien friends here, grab a snack, curl up with a friend, and watch a documentary because it’s…

…#YourPlanetToo.

#1: START

Dear Readers,

Like so many people around the world, I’m concerned about our planet and the biodiversity we share it with. Humans are affecting Earth like no other species before us. But we also have the ability to slow, stop, and reverse the damage we are doing. The time for change is now.

This amazing planet belongs to all of us. Therefore, we should all be part of the solution; we also have a right to demand change. Yet for most people, kids especially, where to start seems very daunting indeed. Yet youth activists from around the world have shown us that kids CAN and DO make a difference. Can I myself make a difference? Can I help kids make a difference? I’ll never know the answers unless I try. And I invite you to join me.

Today I START…I am taking the first step in honor of Earth Day on April 22. For the next year, I will post new ways for kids to get involved in protecting the planet. This is not to say that I expect you to do it all. Instead, I invite you to pick one action you believe you can commit to and do it. And don’t stop. The idea is that we all need to start somewhere, even if the steps are small. Remember, though, that a lot of small steps by different people can add up to whole lot of change. Get your friends, classmates, and family to join us. Take that first step because it’s…

…#YourPlanetToo.

Biofluorescent Springhares

Olson, E.R., Carlson, M.R., Ramanujam, V.M.S. et al. (2021)

I would imagine that just about everyone associates pink rabbits with Easter and children’s toy stores. Think again. Biofluorescent springhares are real animals. And they are biofluorescent (not to be confused with bioluminescent).

If an animal is biofluorescent, it means that the animal absorbs short wavelengths like blue light and emits it as longer wavelengths of a different color (red, orange, yellow, and green) when viewed with ultraviolet light. In the case of the springhares, we see them as pink. It’s almost as if the springhares glow.

There are two species of these hares that are biofluorescent, both of which are found in Africa. And, despite being called hares, these nocturnal creatures are actually rodents. Scientists are increasingly discovering mammal species (as well as birds, amphibians, reptiles, and fish) with this same quality, yet are still unclear about the ecological importance. Most, though, are nocturnal or crepuscular, suggesting that animals that are active in low light environments use the biofluorescent cues for mate selection, avoiding predators, and foraging.