Earth Day and the Climate Crisis – How Can You Help?

Words by Briana Pereira

As the climate crisis continues to become more severe, each year Earth Day takes on more significance. Established in the US back in 1970, the annual event brings together millions of people from around the world in support of the environment, highlighting the importance of taking immediate action in efforts to save the planet. 

The Whats, Whys, Whens, and Hows of Earth Day: 

Earth Day is celebrated annually on April 22nd, the holiday can sometimes be referred to as Earth Month, or more commonly Earth Week, which is celebrated the week leading up to the day. It is a holiday designed to shine a light on the climate crisis that our earth is facing and encourages people to come together and work towards making the world greener. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Earth Day was first introduced by Gaylord Nelson, a US Senator and environmentalist along with John McConnell, an activist from San Francisco, California. Their idea was presented following an oil spill in Santa Barbara, California in 1969. In the spring of 1970 the first Earth Day took place in the United States, raising awareness about the environmental issues that were taking place, and the effects of pesticides and toxic drinking water. Later that year in December 1970, Congress created the EPA to tackle environmental issues. The 1970’s were a time when many important and historical legislative decisions took place for the environment. During that decade, the Clean Air Act, the Water Quality Improvement Act, the Endangered Species Act, the Toxic Substance Control Act, and the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act were all passed, according to History.com. Imagine living in a world with polluted air and no access to clean drinking water, that is where we would be if those legislations were never passed. Since 2007, Earth Day has selected a theme to focus their environmental efforts towards each year. Their goal for this is to be able to tackle environmental issues gradually over time, focusing on one initiative each year and continuing those efforts for years to come while adding a new goal. 

This year’s Earth Day theme is Planet vs. Plastics, starting April 22nd EARTHDAY.ORG is pushing for a 60% reduction in all production of plastics by 2040 and an ultimate goal of building a plastic-free future. The theme has been inspired after numbers are showing that plastic production has grown to more than 380 million tons per year. In the last 10 years, more plastic has been produced than in the entirety of the 20th century, and the industry has no plans for slowing down. Here’s some more numbers to put the severity of plastic use into perspective for you: 

  • More than 500 billion plastic bags were produced worldwide last year, that averages out to 1 million bags per minute. 
  • 100 billion plastic beverage containers were sold in the United States alone last year, that’s more than 300 bottles per inhabitant, 95% of which won’t even be recycled.

Another culprit to this problem is the fast fashion industry. The industry is responsible for producing over 100 billion garments annually. Overproduction and overconsumption of clothing has created a shift in the industry, leading to the normalization in disposability of fashion. Here’s some numbers showing the negative impacts that result from the fast fashion industry:

  • People are buying 60% more clothing now than 15 years ago, but only keeping the items for a fraction of the time they once did. 
  • Nearly 70% of this clothing is made from crude oil, resulting in the release of dangerous microfibers when washed and contributing to the long-term pollution in landfills.
  • Approximately 85% of garments end up in landfills or incinerators, only 1% of garments end up being recycled. 

What is the Climate Crisis?

The Climate Crisis is the transformation of how and where we live, it can also be referred to as climate change. It looks at the long-term changes in the measures of climate including precipitation, temperature, and wind patterns, according to the United States Geological Survey. It’s important to understand the causes of climate change to know how we can help prevent it. According to the EPA, two human activities that have significantly contributed to climate change are the emissions of greenhouse gasses and the reflectivity or absorption of the Sun’s energy. Greenhouse gas emissions have been on the rise since the Industrial Revolution, and these emissions have increased the greenhouse effect, causing the earth’s surface temperature to rise, and the burning of fossil fuels change the climate more significantly than any other human activity. Activities such as agriculture, road construction, and deforestation can also impact the reflectivity of Earth’s surface, leading to local warming or cooling. The effect of this is being observed in heat islands, which are urban areas that are warmer than their surrounding, less populated areas. This is because buildings, pavements, and roofs tend to reflect less sunlight than natural terrains making it warmer. Deforestation increases the Earth’s reflectivity by replacing dark trees with light surfaces making it cooler. Activities such as manufacturing goods, using transportation, producing food, generating power, and overconsumption also contribute to the climate crisis (United Nations). Although the recent increase in climate change has much more to do with human activity, there are also natural processes which influence the earth’s climate and explain the gradual changes to our climate prior to the 1700’s. Changes in the Earth’s orbit and rotation have had great impacts on the climate in the past. An example of this is the amount of sun hitting the Northern Hemisphere during summer, which is affected by the planet’s orbit, attributing this to be the primary cause of the past cycles of the ice age. Variations in solar activity can also affect the global surface temperatures. This refers to changes in the sun’s energy output, which can affect the intensity of the sunlight that reaches the earth’s surface, in recent years however the measurements of solar output have shown no net increase, despite global temperatures still rising. About 70% of the sunlight that reaches Earth is absorbed, and lighter surfaces tend to absorb less sunlight. Natural changes in the Earth’s surface such as the melting of sea ice, or snow, has contributed in the past, but these changes are more commonly now the effects of human processes. This is also leading to rises in global sea level. The ocean is currently absorbing more than 90% of the atmospheric heat, leading to thermal expansion, which is the increase in the volume of a substance as its temperature increases (Britannica). Higher sea levels have also led to coastal erosion, as the waves and currents wear away further onto the coast, and although scientists aren’t certain whether climate change is directly responsible for more severe storms, they know that the rise of sea levels lead to higher storm surges and more flooding. Volcanic activity has also played a noticeable role in climate change. Volcanic eruptions in the past have released large amounts of carbon dioxide at a time, but the repercussions from a volcanic eruption does not produce the same long-term effects as greenhouse gas emissions do, that is because an eruption emits 100 times less carbon dioxide than humans do each year. Throughout history there have also been changes to the levels of natural occurring carbon dioxide concentrations. The levels have varied in tandem with the glacial cycles, but during warmer interglacial periods, the carbon dioxide levels were higher, and during colder glacial periods, the levels were lower. The changing concentrations over time have amplified the temperature changes to the Earth’s surface caused by long-term shifts in the Earth’s orbit. 

How Global Warming Effects the Weather: 

Earth Day this year specifically comes with a high demand for taking action. This comes as a result of global temperatures reaching record highs, 2023 was recorded to be 2.12 degrees F higher than the 20th century average, and 0.27 degrees higher than the previous record set in 2016. The Northern Hemisphere found an average surface temperature that was 2.77 degrees F warmer than average and the Southern Hemisphere 1.48 degrees F warmer, according to the Annual 2023 Global Climate Report. In addition, greenhouse gas emissions such as carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide, also reaching record highs in 2023, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). These findings are reflecting the alarming consequences that result from climate change. One of the most recognized results of climate change is global warming, and it is the direct consequence of more greenhouse gas emissions, and changes to the reflection and absorption of the sun’s energy on earth, which have led to the increase in global surface temperatures. There are many impacts that the rising temperatures can have on the earth as a whole including extreme weather events and conditions. These weather events according to the Environmental Defense Fund include, extreme heat indexes, drought, flooding, catastrophic snow and extreme low temperatures. All of these weather extremes are the result of the irregular temperatures of the Earth’s surface, sea water, and atmosphere. 

How YOU can help: 

Although April 22nd is the day dedicated to being green, after reading this article, I hope we can all agree that everyday should be Earth Day. It is vital for us to take action year round to help mitigate the effects of the climate crisis that our Earth is facing. Here are some of the best ways you can help live sustainably and fight against climate change:

  • Stay educated on the climate crisis.
  • Carpool or walk versus drive.
  • Get involved in local green initiatives near you, such as beach clean up groups or upcycle groups. 
  • Recycle. 
  • Eat less meat, fish, and dairy. 
  • Switch to buying  more eco-friendly fashion choices.
  • Use renewable energy.
  • Reduce food waste. 
  • Stop single-use plastic, and find sustainable alternatives. 

 

Remember we only get one Earth so let’s make sure we take care of it! Happy Earth Day from Folio <3

About Briana Pereira

Briana Pereira is a student intern at Folio, who is about to graduate from UNF with a degree in Communication with a concentration in Multimedia Journalism. She has a passion for lifestyle writing. In her free time she loves spending time at the beach, hanging out with friends and finding new places throughout Jacksonville to try.