My Earth Day Breakthrough

Photo Illustration: Earth and Stars

Earth Day is on April 22, one day before my birthday. Growing up, I always felt a connection to Earth Day; it was like my own special holiday. My young mind seemed to think that Earth Day was actually the Earth’s birthday and so close to mine – it made me feel like I was “birthday buddies” with the Earth. Of course I eventually knew the real story behind the day but it hasn’t taken away this odd sense of kinship with my “birthday buddy”.

After watching movies and shows like “Bambi”, “Ferngully” and “Captain Planet and the Planeteers”, I began to slowly take away the huge messages these cartoons were promoting about saving wildlife and forests, the dangers of greenhouse gases, etc. and my mind began to build a more solid understanding of human impact on the world. How can we be doing this to my “birthday buddy”? I was empowered to do something about it! Being a little kid made it difficult to demand my parents join my crusade but I tried my best. I would reuse my completed coloring pages to write stories on, use empty cans and cereal boxes to make forts, or clump old newspapers together to make paper flowers to decorate my house. I would refuse to throw out anything, always thinking I could use it for something else. This attitude sometimes resulted in my room not smelling so fresh and eventually I would have to throw out the paper plate I ate on last Tuesday.

As I grew older, the internet was becoming easier to access until eventually it was available all the time on my bedroom computer. From there, I would periodically read articles on AOL News about conservation, global warming, and deforestation. It was mind blowing. Here were real live examples of what I saw in my favorite childhood shows and movies. As I got more curious about being “green”, I started to grow more and more interested in the concepts and issues that created and inspired Earth Day. Reflecting on life is par for the course when your birthday comes around, but thoughts of Earth Day started intermingling with this introspection. In high school, I’ll admit, I spent a lot more time consuming the information than actually doing anything about it. I would feel bad about sea life getting caught in oil spills and then I would quickly move on to thinking much more seriously about what kind of prom dress I was going to wear and should I do SAT prep with my study group or alone. 

When I was 21, I wrote a paper about the history of Earth Day for a college writing class. (You can read more about the Earth Day origin here.)   Thinking it was high time, I started to actually do something about these thoughts that had been floating in my head since I was 4 or 5. I started to use my own bags, my own water bottle, and I started to actively use recycling bins. I was reading articles from people like Michael Pollan and Mark Bittman. Finally in 2006, I read about this incredible United Nations Report that stated, “Raising animals for food generates more greenhouse gases than all the cars and trucks in the world combined.” Something major clicked for me and I began some marathon searching about this issue. Finally after months of hemming and hawing about it, I decided that becoming a vegetarian could seriously help out some of these environmental concerns I had. It was a major decision but I’m glad I did it. It became something small and easy that I could do daily to help alleviate the amount of energy and pollution it takes to produce food.

I believe Earth Day is all about raising the public’s consciousness regarding environmental issues like air and water pollution, recycling, clean energy and more. I share my story with you to show that however long (and long-winded!) it might take for people to come around to the spirit of Earth Day, it is worth it. I hope it also illustrates how simple actions in your daily life can help even these larger-than-life issues. I don’t like the idea of pressuring people into being more environmentally conscious so I’ll just say this, that it took me almost 20 years to finally give a gift to my “birthday buddy”… and the gift was holding myself more accountable to how I treated the Earth. Happy Earth Day everyone, and I hope you find your way to celebrate Earth Day in your daily life everyday, not just on April 22nd.