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ANNISTON ARMY DEPOT, Ala --The theme for Earth Day 2021 is Restore Our Earth, which focuses on restoring the world’s ecosystems through natural processes, emerging green technologies and innovative thinking. This includes support for local communities and areas that are disproportionately affected by environmental issues.

The “restoration” sentiment is appropriate in many ways. The 12 months since the last Earth Day observance have been hard for everyone. My last Earth Day article was a sunny take on how to perpetuate all the environmental good that had already come of the planet choosing to stay home. Fast forward a year, and we’re all just doing our best to stay sane. Many of us are already trying to reconstruct the world we left behind last year and are finding some changes impossible to reverse. For many of us, COVID took the loved ones most central to our worlds. Either way, we’re all starting over this year.

As the world returns to normal, we can’t go back to business as usual. Now is the time to consider what sort of world we intend to build. Luckily, there are several opportunities, both in-person and virtual, for all of us to craft a brighter, greener world on Earth Day and beyond.

Individual Actions Add Up

Not only are small group and individual activities easier to organize, but multiple small actions can also build to create larger change that can span across cities, states and countries. Imagine if everyone took a short walk today and picked up all the trash they found. How much litter do you think we would be able to collect? Lasting impacts are built upon small daily actions that add up over time, so something as simple as taking a trash bag with you on your next outdoor run to pick up litter is impactful.

The organization “Keep the Tennessee River Beautiful” is a great example. This group of motivated individuals partnered with Jacksonville State Historic Park in order to complete three cleanups with only 25 volunteers. Together, they managed to remove over 9,000 pounds of waste. That’s over 360 pounds per volunteer!

Real change is always made by dedicated community members who are willing to take the ever-growing pollution problem head on. For us to make a global change, we must have local action.

Enjoying the Great Outdoors

Many experts have deemed the outdoors safer than the indoors; encouraging activities like camping, hiking, swimming at the beach or public pool. But be careful not to fall into bad habits. Over Memorial Day weekend last year, for example, several states in the U.S. saw spikes in illegal campfires and litter as people flocked to forests. Don’t be that person.

The pandemic has benefited the environment in interesting ways. There are a lot of teachable moments to examine. Air pollution in major cities dropped, renewables are set to pass coal for the first time in the U.S. and the Earth quieted, allowing whales, turtles and other marine creatures to thrive. This is a great opportunity to examine what it means to be human. As masters of our domain, we can decide that we want that domain to be a living, breathing world of natural wonder for our children to explore.

Our reintroduction into wild spaces could disrupt biodiversity that has become accustomed to this temporary reprieve. “It’s important to keep to the trails and make sure we don’t disturb the critters that make these environments special,” said Katie Wood, Earth Day Network’s conservation and biodiversity campaign manager.

Plastic Butts

If I asked you, what is the most common form of plastic pollution, what would you say? Plastic bottles? Straws? No! Cigarette butts are actually the most abundant form of plastic waste in the world, with about 4.5 trillion individual butts polluting our global environment.

Turns out, cigarette butts are primarily cellulose acetate, a human-made plastic containing hundreds of toxic chemicals. These include arsenic, lead and nicotine. The butts themselves can take up to 10 years to completely degrade, but the chemicals they release remain in the environment much longer. What’s more, the chemicals leaching from cigarette butts can be lethal to freshwater and marine fish species. So, if you love to fish and swim in our beautiful Alabama waterways, keep your cigarette butts out of them!

Green Therapy

Gardening is a great way to boost levels of two very important chemicals known to boost our immune systems and our moods – serotonin and dopamine. A common bacteria found in healthy soil, Mycobacterium Vaccae, triggers the release of serotonin, a natural antidepressant and “happy chemical,” into our brains! All it takes is a little bit of getting your hands dirty.

And how about how great it feels to harvest your own strawberries, corn or cut flowers! That’s dopamine and it’s a natural “reward” system for your brain. We’ve been hunter-gatherers for over 200,000 years. We’re wired to be proud of what we’ve harvested. Take advantage of that for some free feel-goods.

Gardening is a fantastic way to get you out of the house and physically managing whatever unpleasantness may have moved into your head during the pandemic. If you have lost someone, consider a grief garden. Gardening is a great way to bring your feelings into the real world and watch them change before your very eyes. If managing anger or anxiety, tending your garden will provide a sense of permanence and hope as you see your efforts rewarded.

Celebrate Earth Day 2021

If you are looking for ways to celebrate on Earth Day, consider some of these virtual and local options.

Earth Day 2021 begins April 20 with a global youth climate summit led by Earth Uprising. On April 22 EarthDay.org will host a second digital event parallel to the Biden administration’s global climate summit. To learn about more Earth Day events, visit EarthDay.org.

Get Local!

The following local events are available for you and your children to reconnect with the greener world this spring:

Calhoun County Master Gardeners (on Facebook)

  • April 28 - Lunch and Learn

Anniston’s Longleaf Botanical Gardens (on Facebook)

  • April 23 – 24 - Spring Plant Sale
  • “Third Thursday in the Gardens” Educational Series

References

Soil Bacteria Work in Similar Way to Antidepressants

www.EarthDay.Org