When Iceland’s volcano blew in 2010, the planet breathed a brief sigh of relief. Despite the smoke and ash that spewed into the air, greenhouse gas emissions plummeted, because air travel was grounded for weeks.
Our current health crisis is having a similar temporary effect on our whole planet’s health with significant decreases in air pollution and emissions. Scientists caution, however, that these effects are likely temporary to be reverse by a return to business as normal. Some even argue the pandemic could set us back. Certainly, when a reduction of emissions come at the expense of economic and social breakdown — that’s not a marker of sustainability. During this time, many of us have found we’re accidentally leading greener lives. Cancelled travel, less time in the car, buying less stuff and, hopefully, starting to question our overall consumption.
Of course there are pitfalls to this situation too. Several of the healthy ways that we build a community and a sharing economy have been interrupted — sharing books, tools and time with friends and neighbours poses a health risk. Second-hand stores are closed, Kijiji trips are risky and it’s easy to feel an increased need to buy new things online to meet our individual needs.
Over the last year, I’ve tried to halve my waste. I’ve been toting my containers to bulk stores to refill on things like flour, laundry soap and even soy sauce. Farmers kindly refill my egg cartons at the local market. A pandemic, however, is a tricky time to approach zero waste. Bulk options have been removed from food stores and gloves, masks and other single-use disposables are necessities for many. We may need to weigh competing values — do I support my local restaurant by ordering take out, or try to avoid buying all those Styrofoam containers?
I find it helpful to remind myself that this particular crisis is not going to last forever, and to be gentle with myself about my limited choices. It’s easy to put all our energy into what we buy — but voting with our dollar is only one way we can choose to make a difference. While individual action is vital, ultimately, it’s how we come together as a community that will make the biggest difference. As with the pandemic, no one individual can call a halt to climate change — arguably the biggest crisis we humans will ever face.
During this time, we might be stuck buying more plastic-wrapped food than we would wish, but there will be other optimistic things we can do to celebrate our Earth and promote its good health.
Here are 12 ways to celebrate the planet — and some books and movies you can use for inspiration:
1. Get Outside and Enjoy Nature
To care about the planet, we must feel a part of it. For lots of folks, preserving our mental health through the COVID-19 crisis is tied to getting outside. Going for a walk, even when it’s miserable is a proven way to boost mood and lower stress. Hopping on a bicycle instead of in the car is another way we can keep ourselves and our planet healthy. For biophilic inspiration, read Forest Bathing, or watch Love Thy Nature or In Search of Balance to explore the interconnection of nature, humanity and health. Or improve your time outdoors with tips on How to Read Nature: An Expert's Guide to Discovering the Outdoors You've Never Noticed and Vitamin N: The Essential Guide to A Nature-Rich Life. If you’re stuck inside, crack open a window and try reading Walden, Or, Life in the Woods by Thoreau for his classic reflections on solitude and nature. Get inspiration from Joyful about how the aesthetics in your immediate environment can impact your happiness. In it, I learned that prison inmates have improved mental health and reduced aggression after just watching a wilderness video. This is your excuse to go watch Charlie and the Curious Otters!
2. Hang Your Clothes to Dry
It makes your clothes last longer, gets you outside and saves money and a ton of carbon emissions. Even in -30C clothes dry outside (sometimes in comedic poses!). I also find a clothesline very joyful — a rainbow string of socks, or sheets blowing in the breeze are like backyard art. For inspiration, check out:
- Drying For Freedom: a great documentary captures the fascinating history of the electric dryer and the inspiring work of line-drying activist Alexander Lee, and the “Right to Dry campaign.”
- Feeling philosophical as you peg your unmentionables in the breeze? For a deeper plunge into the murky washtub of the fashion industry check out — the documentaries RiverBlue or Green Warriors for a peek into the impact of the fashion industry on our water. Or watch The Story of Microfibers, opens a new window to learn how plastic fibers from our synthetic clothing is getting into our water — and what we can do about it.
3. Use It Up
Times of scarcity remind us to celebrate the things we do have by using them to their fullest. Check out Scraps, Peels, and Stems, Recipes and Tips for Rethinking Food Waste at Home, My Zero-Waste Kitchen or Don't Throw It, Grow It! 68 Windowsill Plants From Kitchen Scraps. Need some inspiration to start reducing your waste? Check out the documentary Trashed or the film For the Price of A Cup of Coffee that follows the life cycle of a paper cup and the environmental repercussions of a society reliant on convenience. When I’m tempted to go do some online shopping for some shiny new things, I also like to watch The Story of Stuff, opens a new window to get some perspective.
4. Grow Something
Nothing makes me feel more like an earthling that getting my hands dirty. There is something truly magical about putting a dry seed in the soil and watching it spark life.
For apartment dwellers, check out:
- Indoor Kitchen Gardening Turn Your Home Into a Year-round Vegetable Garden * Microgreens * Sprouts * Herbs * Mushrooms * Tomatoes, Peppers & More
- Year-Round Indoor Salad Gardening: How to Grow Nutrient-Dense, Soil-Sprouted Greens in Less Than 10 days
Live in a dark cave? Try growing mushrooms with How to Grow Mushrooms From Scratch. Or, if you have access to some outdoor space, we have a plethora of organic gardening books to tempt you — maybe reclaim some of that lawn to create an Edible Front Yard?
For inspiration, check out the documentaries Growing Cities or Urban Roots. Read about the gardeners in Miraculous Abundance: One Quarter Acre, Two French Farmers, and Enough Food to Feed the World.
5. Rot It
The UN warns that the world could run out of topsoil in the next 60 years, opens a new window. Globally, we need to address our industrial farming practices — but individually, we can all chip in by composting. Composting is not hard, I promise. Just as things want to grow, they also want to break down. (Frankly, sometimes, so do I). Composting is a tremendous way to divert organic waste from the landfill and create precious “black gold.” A compost can consist, literally, of a heap of kitchen scraps and leaves (as it does in my backyard). You can, of course, build a much fancier composter. Worm composting or bocashi composting are also great options for apartments. Or talk to your neighbor or community league about contributing to a communal bin. Check out:
- Composting: How to Plan, Build, and Maintain Your Own Compost System for a Healthy and Vibrant Garden
- Easy Composters You Can Build
- Worms Eat My Garbage
To celebrate the life-giving miracle that is soil check out the film Symphony of the Soil or Vandana Shiva’s Soil Not Oil: Environmental Justice in an Age of Climate Crisis.
6. Fix It
One of the most eco-conscious things we can do, like our grandparents before us, is to make do and mend. It honours the resources and labour that have gone into producing our things. For instructions check out:
- Mend It Better: Creative Patching, Darning and Stitching
- Bicycle! A Repair & Maintenance Manifesto
- Gale OneFile - Home Improvement is a database containing millions of articles on home repair for amateurs and professionals alike.
- Auto Repair Source (formerly AutoMate)
For inspiration checkout Outsmart Waste The Modern Idea of Garbage and How to Think Our Way Out of It.
7. Create with What You’ve Got
As a knitter and fabric lover I understand the siren call of pristine raw materials with which to create. As makers and good earthlings, one of the best things we can do is to direct our innovation and creativity toward repurposing and upcycling stuff we’ve already got. For ideas check out:
- 1000 Ideas for Creative Reuse: Remake, Restyle, Recycle, Renew
- Wise Craft: Turning Thrift Store Finds, Fabric Scraps, and Natural Objects Into Stuff You Love
- Generation T Beyond Fashion : 120 New Ways to Transform A T-shirt
- Born-Again Vintage 25 Ways to Deconstruct, Reinvent, and Recycle Your Wardrobe
- Upcycling Celebrations: A Use-What-You-Have Guide to Decorating, Gift-Giving & Entertaining
8. Enjoy a Slower Pace
For some people during this crisis, the pace is far from slow with competing demands of work and childcare. This suggestion may not be for you! For folks with time, it is a good time to appreciate how slowing down can benefit our lives and the planet. Check out:
- Slow Food Revolution: a documentary celebrating the international eco-gastronomic movement that “champions the protection of traditional culture, the environment and biodiversity while encouraging regional production, food education and pleasure.”
- What If This Were Enough? Downloadable Audiobook Essays
- New Slow City: Living Simply in the World's Fastest City
- Slow: Simple Living for a Frantic World
- Financing Our Foodshed: Growing Local Food With Slow Money
This applies to both screens, and energy. While electronic devices can help us to feel connected whilst physical distancing, it is also worth turning the screens off— to see if we can connect in another way. Maybe you’ll pick up a musical instrument, a board game or write a letter. Grab your kids and a pizza box and build a solar cooker, opens a new window. Touch the physical world. Rich textures, smells, tastes and sounds necessary to our mental well-being are found beyond the screen. Look up at the stars and reflect that we are all united under one sky.
For inspiration, check out:
- Silence: In the Age of Noise: these meditations on the essential need for silence both within and in our environment, written by Erling Kagge a Norwegian explorer who spent fifty days walking solo across Antarctica.
- Stargazing for Dummies
- Digital Minimalism: Choosing A Focused Life in A Noisy World. In a gloriously ironic move, you could read it as an eBook or eAudiobook
Now may be a good time to go deeper on a topic you’ve been meaning to learn more about, or to explore issues from another perspective. Learn about the history of the piece of earth you occupy and the footsteps that have crossed it over time. Diversity of material is as important for our brains as it is for our ecosystems. Learning is something that we can also do with our families, check out these Earth Day suggestions you can share with your kids.
Some of the books on my to read list include:
- On Fire: The (burning) Case for A Green New Deal by Naomi Klein
- Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge and the Teachings of Plants
- The Earth's Blanket: Traditional Teachings for Sustainable Living
- An Other Kingdom: Departing the Consumer Culture
- Rooted in the Earth: Reclaiming the African American Environmental Heritage
You can also put some of that binge-watching to good use. There are some good films exploring climate change on Kanopy, opens a new window including Normal is Over 1.1, opens a new window. Also check out:
- Advertising at the Edge of the Apocalypse, opens a new window
- Seed: The Untold Story - Defending the Future of Food
- Women Are the Answer
- Earth Days: The Seeds of a Revolution
11. Give Back
The pandemic has not hit us all equally. Some of us are suddenly have an abundance of time, others are working overtime under dangerous conditions. For those of us who have some extra time or extra dollars, consider how to donate either. Charities of all stripes are hurting right now, and need support. (Pssst - Did you know EPL is a charity, opens a new window? And if you have spare time, you can volunteer with an organization you care about, opens a new window.
12. Celebrate Relationships
People are a part of the planet — taking care of each other is fundamental to taking care of the earth. Perhaps now is a time to learn a bit more about ecojustice, or to connect with others over a common cause. Write a letter; attend a virtual community or union meeting; join (or start) an online campaign. Reach out and embrace your neighbour (just not literally!). I recommend watching Water, the Sacred Relationship a documentary which addresses how healing the water and our planet are interconnected with healing the relationships between each other.
Also check out:
- The Abundant Community Awakening: The Power of Families and Neighborhoods
- In Our Water
- The Winona LaDuke Chronicles: Stories From the Front Lines in the Battle for Environmental Justice
- In This Together: Fifteen True Stories of Real Reconciliation
- No Is Not Enough: Resisting the New Shock Politics and Winning the World We Need
- Small Acts of Resistance: How Courage, Tenacity, and Ingenuity Can Change the World
Whatever you do, enjoy your day on this planet. Happy Earth Day, fellow earthlings!