50 Ways to Love the EarthBy Ranger Rick Staff
Celebrate the 50th anniversary of Earth Day with some of these Earth-friendly acts!
Fifty years ago this month, something magical happened. On April 22, 1970, people from all over the United States took part in a huge celebration. Millions of kids and grownups, in thousands of towns and cities, found great ways to say, “We care about our world—and we want it to be a healthy one that’s good for people and wildlife!” There were picnics and parades to celebrate the wonders of nature. There were fairs to teach people about the importance of having clean air and water and of protecting wildlife. And there were tree plantings and cleanups to restore and protect our wonderful planet. It was an amazing day. It was the very first Earth Day!
Because of that day, more people started to think about the Earth as the only home they had—one that everyone should take care of. They passed laws to reduce pollution and to save endangered species. And they set up recycling centers to help control litter and conserve our natural resources.
Today, at least one billion people from more than 190 countries celebrate Earth Day. And that’s a really good thing—because now, more than ever, our planet needs our help. The next eight pages cover four major challenges that the Earth faces today:
- disappearing wildlife
- habitat loss
- climate change
As you continue reading, you will learn about these challenges. And you’ll discover that when all kinds of people—scientists, politicians, business leaders, teachers, parents, kids, and more—combine their knowledge, talents, and energy, they can do a lot to help the planet.
Ranger Rick invites you to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Earth Day by pledging to do some of the 50 Earth-friendly actions listed on the following pages.
How many animal and plant species can you think of in the next 10 seconds? Chances are, you’ll come up with a lot! The Earth has an amazing assortment of wild living things, from leopards to ladybugs, bullfrogs to bluebirds, and cattails to cactuses. This wonderful variety of species is called biodiversity.
The world’s species are part of an interconnected web of life. They depend on each other for survival. For example, on a coral reef, some sea stars prey on mussels. If the sea stars became extinct, the mussels would multiply, crowding out many other species that live there. The balance of the reef would be thrown off. A variety of animals helps keep an ecosystem balanced and healthy.
The Web Unravels
Unfortunately, more than a million plant and animal species are now at risk of going extinct as a result of habitat loss, climate change, pollution, and other problems. And as more and more species become extinct, we have less and less biodiversity. But there is some good news.
Working to Help
Scientists, lawmakers, and other people are trying to protect species in lots of different ways, such as by saving habitats and studying endangered animals to learn how to help them. There are things you and your family can do to help, too! Check out some of them right here.
Habitat gives an animal everything it needs to survive: the right kind of food, water, shelter, and a place to raise its young.
All Kinds of Habitats
There are many kinds of habitats. A woodpecker’s woods, a polliwog’s pond, a prairie dog’s prairie, and a muskrat’s marsh are all habitats. Habitats come in many sizes, too. A 100-ton blue whale needs a whole ocean to swim around in. But a four-inch centipede might find all it needs under a rotting log.
Today, many wildlife species are struggling to survive because their habitats have been harmed or wiped out. Tropical rainforests, for example, are home to almost half of all known wildlife species. But about 80,000 acres of rainforest disappear every day as people remove trees to plant crops, build roads, raise cattle, and more. Human activities are also destroying wetlands, grasslands, and waterways around the world.
How do we find a balance between what people need and what wildlife needs? Scientists, conservationists, lawmakers, and many others are trying to figure that out. They are also coming up with more laws and plans to protect the natural resources needed for healthy habitats. And they are working to restore damaged habitats. But everyone can—and should—be part of the solution by supporting these activities and by doing other things, too. Check out the suggestions at right for ways you can help protect Earth’s wild places.
It’s ugly. It’s gross. It’s harmful. Pollution is anything that dirties up the environment. Just by living our lives, we can’t help but create it. So we toss it out, flush it down, or let it loose. That may seem like the end of it for some people, but it’s not the end of it for the Earth. Our land, water, and air can handle only so much of it.
Americans make more than 250 million tons of trash a year—about 4½ pounds per person per day. All that trash takes up space in landfills or gets burned. Either way, poisons can leak from it into the surrounding soil, water, or air.
Up in the Air
Our atmosphere is made up of gases. Their natural balance keeps life on Earth healthy. But people release more gases and other materials that are harmful. Most air pollution comes from burning fuels such as coal, oil, gasoline, and natural gas.
Of course, oil that spills directly into the ocean will harm or even kill sea life. But bad stuff on the ground also seeps into water stored underground or washes along with rainwater into rivers, lakes, and oceans.
The Good News
A lot of pollution is avoidable. And it’s up to government and business leaders around the globe to make the big changes that count. For example, they could move us faster to energy sources that don’t pollute, such as solar and wind. And they could ban single-use plastics. But there are little things you can do to keep from being part of the problem.
There’s no doubt: The Earth’s climate is changing. Over the past 100 years, the planet’s average temperature has gone up by 1.8°F.
Less than two degrees may not sound like much to you. But that rise in temperature has meant big changes for the planet. The last few years have been the warmest period in modern history. Polar sea ice and glaciers that normally stay frozen year round are melting, causing sea levels to rise. Warmer seas and more moisture in the air may make storms stronger and more damaging. Meanwhile, in other places, the changing climate is causing droughts—long periods where it hardly rains at all.
Why Is Earth Warming?
Almost all scientists agree that people are causing this rapid climate change. Over the past century, people have used more and more oil, natural gas, and coal—known as fossil fuels—to power cars, buildings, and electronic devices. Burning those fuels releases a gas called carbon dioxide into the Earth’s atmosphere. Too much carbon dioxide and certain other gases trap extra heat from the sun. That makes the planet warmer.
How to Help
Scientists agree that governments around the world must work together to make big changes. People need to find ways to produce energy without burning fossil fuels. And they need to make it easier to get around without driving cars. That means that one person—or even a whole bunch of people—can’t fix the problem. But it doesn’t mean you can’t help! Here are some ways you and your family can help fight climate change at home.
- Say no to pesticides.
People use pesticides to kill insects that eat crops and other plants. But pesticides are poisons that kill more than just pests. They also can kill pollinators such as bees and butterflies, and they’re harmful to other wildlife, as well.
- Buy organic food.
Organic foods are foods that are free of harmful pesticides and other chemicals. Organic farming is better for wildlife. So, when you can, try to buy foods that were grown without chemicals.
- Buy the right fish to eat.
Many fish species, such as bluefin tuna, are in trouble because of overfishing. But there are fish that can be caught without hurting the planet. To be sure your family buys the right fish, have your parents help you check a website such as FishWatch (fishwatch.gov) or Seafood Watch (seafoodwatch.org).
- Keep cats inside.
Wandering cats kill more than a billion birds a year in the United States. It’s safer for the birds if kitties stay inside.
- Plant native plants.
Non-native plants are ones that have been brought from other places to live here. Some of these can become invasive, spreading quickly and crowding out native plants. Native plants were here originally and are food for native wildlife. Try to plant native plants in your yard. You can find some suggestions at nwf.org/NativePlantFinder.
- Volunteer to remove invasive plants.
Sometimes, the easiest way to get rid of invasive plants is to just pull them up. Check with your local park or nature center to see if there are volunteer opportunities to remove invasives such as garlic mustard.
- Don’t buy pet fish taken from the wild.
Saltwater aquariums are full of beautiful coral-reef fishes. But lots of reef fishes are endangered. The methods of catching them can kill or injure many fish. And taking fish from the reef can upset the balance of the reef ecosystem. If you buy any of these fish, make sure they were bred in captivity, not taken from the wild.
- Become a citizen scientist.
Join a bird count or other volunteer activity to help scientists learn how animals are being affected by climate change, habitat loss, and other problems. Check out Earth Challenge 2020
(rangerrick.org/earthchallenge) and Audubon’s Christmas Bird Count (rangerrick.org/birdcount).
- Buy only “good wood.”
The world’s forests provide food and shelter for countless species of animals. But around the world, more than 18 million acres of forest are cut down every year for farming, logging, and more. The good news is that forests can be protected by cutting down fewer trees and by giving trees a chance to grow back. Look for wood with a Forest Stewardship Council, or FSC, label to show that it has been grown in an eco-friendly way.
- Don’t feed wild animals.
It may be tempting to throw bread to ducks or feed wildlife in other ways, but it can be bad for wild animals to eat non-natural foods. (Feeders with birdseed are OK.) Feeding wild creatures can make them dependent on or less fearful of people. Also, eating food meant for people can make animals sick. Be sure your trash can lids are on tight, and don’t leave pet food outside.
- Leave wildlife in the wild.
Keeping wild animals is against the law. Animals that live in the wild should stay in the wild. They have everything they need to survive right where they are, and other animals depend on them.
- Don’t buy things made from animal parts.
Some souvenir shops may sell things made from animal parts, such as feathers, teeth, seashells, coral, tortoise shells, or ivory. Don’t buy any of these items—it may be against the law, and animals may have been harmed to create them.
- Conserve paper.
People cut down more than 15 billion trees a year—some of them to make paper. Using less paper and recycling the paper we do use saves trees. At home: Use recycled notepaper; write on both sides of a sheet; and recycle your newspapers, magazines, and junk mail. At school: Ask your teacher to make photocopies on both sides of paper and, if possible, to switch from paper to online assignments.
- Plant a butterfly garden.
Welcome monarchs to your yard by planting a garden with milkweed and other nectar plants for the caterpillars and adults to feed on. Go to rangerrick.org/plants for more information.
- Be a water watcher.Using too much water from rivers and lakes can affect animal habitats. Fix leaky faucets, keep showers under 5 minutes, and turn off water when brushing your teeth.
- Recycle cell phones.
Most people throw their old cell phones into the trash. Once taken to a landfill, the phones can break down and leak dangerous poisons into the environment. There are probably places near you that will safely recycle your old cell. To find them, visit rangerrick.org/cell.
- Bee friendly.
In yards everywhere, bees are on the lookout for places to nest in. And you can help them! Learn how to make three kinds of bee abodes at rangerrick.org/beefriendly.
- Buy shade-grown coffee.
People cut down forests in Central and South America to raise sun-grown coffee. This spells trouble for birds that need the trees to survive. Encourage grownups to buy coffee that is grown in the shade, under forest trees. Look for the bird-friendly logo on the bag.
- Let there be seeds.
Let summer flowers go to seed. Seeds make yummy “fast food” for many insects, birds, and small mammals.
- Add water.
All backyard animals need clean water to drink. Birds also need to bathe in water to keep their feathers in good working order. Keep a birdbath or shallow dish filled with clean water in your yard. Learn how to make your own birdbath at rangerrick.org/birdbath.
- Visit parks.
Parks and nature preserves are more likely to get the financial support they need to stay open and to protect habitats for wildlife when lots of people visit them.
- Plant a bush or tree.
Birds need places to hide and feel safe from people, predators, and bad weather. Bushes and trees make great cover for birds.
- Be picky about palm oil.
Palm oil is often used to make chocolate bars, cookies, soaps, shampoos, and other products. Many rainforests in Indonesia and Malaysia are being cut down to grow oil palm trees. This is destroying the habitats of several endangered species, including orangutans, pygmy elephants, and Sumatran rhinos. Avoid products that use palm oil. Or check product labels to make sure any palm oil was produced in a rainforest-friendly way.
- Give invasive plants the boot.
Clean your shoes before going on a hike. Dirt-caked footwear often contains tiny seeds. And many of them may be the seeds of invasive plants. If they fall off along the trail, they can germinate and eventually push out native plants that keep the ecosystem healthy.
- Clear the air.
Cut back on using electricity and other energy that comes from burning fuels. For example, play outside, read a book, or make music instead of going somewhere in a car or turning on the TV.
- Form a Trash Troop.
Gather and organize some friends or neighbors to clean up litter along a nearby playground, park, streamside, or beach.
- Make less waste.
Hold a family contest to see who can make the least amount of waste in a weekend.
- Adopt a storm drain.
Mark a nearby storm drain to warn neighbors that whatever washes down it from the street ends up in waterways. To find out more, have an adult check with your local department of public works.
- Practice friendly fishing.
If you like to fish, be sure never to leave behind any hooks, lines, or netting. This kind of litter can harm wildlife.
- Get the lead out.
If you fish or hunt, avoid using lead sinkers or pellets. The lead can poison animals (such as the endangered California condor) that feed on animals with bits of lead in them.
- Recycle right.
Americans put only about one-third of their throwaways in recycling bins. And much of it includes dirty containers or the wrong kinds of materials that recycling centers can’t use. Have an adult check with your local government or waste-management service to find out what can and cannot be recycled in your area.
- Shop smart.
Make less waste by buying items in bulk, in larger containers that last longer, and with less packaging. Also take your own reusable bags and containers with you to the store.
- Trade or donate a toy.
When you get tired of a toy or outgrow it, give it away or make a trade instead of tossing it in the trash. And when you get a new toy, pick one that’s durable and that you’d want to keep for a long time.
- Scoop the poop.
Walking your dog? Don’t forget to clean up after it! That helps keep the landscape and waterways clean and germ-free.
- Just say no.
There’s way too much plastic stuff that people use only once and then throw away. Refuse plastic bags, bottles, straws, and utensils when they’re offered. Instead, keep and carry your own reusable ones.
- Make art from trash.
Too much stuff in the recycling bin? Why not use some of it in an art project? Your imagination is the only limit!
- Don’t let go.
Balloons are fun and festive. But what happens when they escape into the sky? They can travel far on the winds and come back down as litter, which can harm or kill wildlife. Make sure that doesn’t happen—or find other ways to celebrate. For more, have a grownup visit balloonsblow.org online.
Are your family’s TV and toaster plugged in, even when not in use? If so, they’re still using a little bit of electricity. Most electricity in the United States comes from fuels that cause climate change. So if you’re not using an appliance, unplug it!
- Love your trees.
Trees absorb carbon dioxide from the air and store it. So along with planting trees whenever and wherever you can, make sure the ones you already have in your yard are well-watered and cared for.
- Switch it off.
Leaving a room? Turn off the light! If you do it often enough, it’ll become a habit.
- Don’t buy junk.
Americans buy a lot of stuff they don’t need. All that stuff takes energy to produce. Picture a birthday party goodie bag: Those rubber balls and tiny plastic toys were all made in factories that burn fossil fuels. And they will likely end up in the trash. At your next party, how about sending each guest home with a cookie instead?
- Dress for the weather—even inside.
Tempted to turn up the heat because your toes are cold? Put on warm, woolly socks and a sweatshirt before you touch the thermostat.
- Eat local.
Container ships, airplanes, and trucks that haul food use a lot of carbon-producing fuel. Whenever you can, buy food that was grown or made within a short distance of your house. (A farmers market is a good place to start.)
- Eat less meat.
You don’t have to give up your burgers completely—unless you want to! But almost half of the energy used by the food industry comes from producing meat—especially beef. So, a couple of times a week, ask your parents to skip the meat at dinner.
- Don’t waste food.
Trash rotting in landfills produces methane, another gas that is causing the Earth to get too warm. Try to buy and cook only what you’ll eat.
- Air-dry laundry.
A clothes dryer needs to both spin and heat up, so it uses a lot of energy. Hang your family’s clean laundry on a clothesline or clothes rack instead.
- Walk or bike.
A typical car produces more than four tons of carbon dioxide each year. Is your school, a friend’s house, or your soccer game within walking or biking distance? Tell your parents you’d rather leave the car at home.
- Go outside.
It’s fun to play outside in the sunshine (or even in the snow or rain). But it also saves electricity. The more time you spend outside, the less time you spend inside using lights, air-conditioning, and electronic devices.
- Read up.
The better you understand climate change, the better you can explain it to friends and family. So take the time to read about why the Earth is getting too warm, too fast. A good place to start is this website from the American Museum of Natural History: rangerrick.org/climatechange.
- Spread the word!
Some people don’t believe climate change is happening. Others think it’s too big a problem to do anything about. But climate change is real, and people have the power to make a difference. Write letters or visit your government representatives to demand they make changes.