In the forest - Nature Trail at Cape Perpetua, Oregon

How to Help “Restore Our Earth” Every Day, During Travels and At Home

The theme for Earth Day 2021 is “Restore Our Earth”, and this is what we should all strive to do now. It is no longer enough to protect our planet; we’ve damaged it over the years to the point that we need to find ways to restore it. We should celebrate Earth Day every day, and come up with ways to protect and restore our planet. It is the only way we will ever survive. We, generations of humans, abused her in the name of progress, worked against her as we built civilizations. I realize it is hard to stop; we still do to a large extent.

However, as we are becoming more aware of our impact, we are learning to change things. Though we need to think about it every day, few of us do. Earth Day offers an opportunity to focus on this issue. It gives us a clear goal to learn more about ways to protect and restore our environment. WE are learning the importance of working with nature, not against it.

Since I started this site, each year I write about Earth Day; it is a way for me to assess what I did in the past year that helped our planet. I know one person, one family makes very little difference, but every little thing counts. And that’s what the importance of Earth Day is: it brings the awareness to the forefront, helps us learn about ways to help our planet, and our environment. I have always believed in the power of education; the more we know, the better decisions we make not only on Earth Day, but every day.

Sustainable Travel Practices

Driving through the Navajo Nation Land
Driving instead of flying on a trip helps reduce pollution

On some level it may seem that sustainable and travel should not be used in the same sentence; after all, travel tends to pollute the planet. When it stopped during the early days/months of the pandemic, less traffic had a positive effect on the environment. Unfortunately that effect seems to have been short lived. We all feel a need to travel. And for good reason.

Travel is the best educator; it is during our travels when we learn the most, about our surroundings, about different environments, about different cultures. Travel makes us more aware of our environment, too, and of how people from different regions and backgrounds treat it. We can also learn sustainability practices from other cultures if we travel through their areas with an open mind.

And we can practice at least partially sustainable travel, when we try. Driving instead of flying, and using cars that have a smaller impact on the surroundings are only one way. Even if we don’t drive electric cars, we can all ensure that our cars pollute as little as possible. We can choose our destinations, the hotels we stay at, the restaurants we eat at, stores we shop at, and ensure they are environmentally friendly.

On the road and at home, supporting environmentally friendly businesses, carrying our own plastic-free shopping bags, reusable water bottles, utensils, packaging materials, all help. We can be responsible travelers, with a little effort and awareness.

How We Help Our Planet by Visiting National Parks

The Grand Canyon
Visiting National Parks helps our planet

At times it may seem we are destroying even the last pristine wilderness areas protected by National Parks when we visit. As we all flock to the same gorgeous places, huge crowds inevitably destroy them. Yet, our visits still have a huge benefit. This is especially true for parks that protect areas that mining or logging would destroy. During our last trip we were talking about this, thinking of the Grand Canyon.

We live in the Grand Canyon state, close enough to visit it in a day-trip. Yet, it’s been years since we’ve been there, because of the crowds. I sometimes feel it is ruined with too many people visiting. But, as long as it brings the state money, as long as it is known and visited, the park stays protected. This means that it won’t be open for mining and more destruction.

Outside the park’s boundaries it’s a different matter. Keeping it wild is a harder battle altogether. Still, it is helped by more people visiting and becoming aware of its special environment. Of course, it is a fine balance between too much development to attract tourists and keeping the area from getting mined. However, the National Park System generally helps keep a healthy balance.

The main benefit of visiting National Parks though is the opportunity to learn about their special environment and ways to protect it. Staying within the parks’ boundaries also helps. Lodges, hotels, campgrounds, restaurants within National Parks all practice sustainability. When staying there you know you add very little to the general pollution.

Going Plastic-Free

using beeswax wraps instead of plastic bags
Using beeswax wraps instead of plastic bags is one way to reduce single-use plastic

Plastic is everywhere, no matter how hard we try to eliminate it from our lives. I’ve been battling it for years, but it’s always there, every day we shop, everywhere we look. Yes it is convenient; I lived plastic-free growing up, and I admit it: life is easier with plastic. But living without it for years also showed me that it is possible.

My biggest inconvenience or annoyance before plastic bags was the garbage. We used to line our garbage buckets with newspaper, then take them out as often as possible. Yes, garbage smells if it isn’t encased in plastic. Outside, in the streets, the garbage dump stations smelt extremely bad since no one bagged their garbage in plastic.

So now I am still using plastic garbage bags, this is the one convenience I am struggling to give up. At least I don’t buy them though; I just reuse plastic bags from packaging we had to buy. Some things still come prepackaged in plastic. My “garbage bag” at the moment is a pirate’s treasure resealable bag. But we generate little garbage, since I started composting.

And I’m not even doing the composting “right”; I don’t have a plastic container to use as a compost bin. My grandpa had a hole dug in his back yard where we used to dump the fruit and vegetable scraps. He never called it a compost pile, it was just simply “the hole”. But we knew even as little kids that the produce scraps go there.

So now I am doing something similar; I have an area in my backyard I dump all my compostable food scraps. It works, it is actually making me soil – even in the desert. All I had to do was think a bit – and remember my childhood. So, we don’t need to take our garbage out every week. Even in two weeks our garbage can is only halfway full. And by skipping a stop at our house, the garbage truck also saves a bit of fuel. So I think we helped in two ways.

And that was just one example of using a bit less plastic in our household. I know in the big scheme of things it’s not much. But every bit counts. We are overrun by plastic. I read that we are at he point when we ingest plastic particles with everything we eat or drink. I know it is a reality, but it can’t be healthy. So when I bring my own grocery bags to shop with, when I carry reusable produce bags (or skip bagging produce), when I try to find alternatives to plastic, especially single-use plastic, I feel I help a little.

Even more important is to support businesses that try to eliminate plastic. In the past few years I started looking at the companies I buy from. True, in most cases they are not the cheapest, but the difference is usually worth it. I feel that at least those of us who can afford it should switch. Eventually we’ll make a difference.

How We Help Restore Our Earth by Eating More Plant-Based Meals

A balanced plant-based meal
Example of a balanced plant-based meal: quinoa, beans, tomatoes, green onions and yellow bell peppers make a colorful and tasty combination.

I will be honest, I am not vegan (yet), not even fully vegetarian. I do go months without eating meat, and we eliminated dairy almost fully. But it’s still hard to find alternatives to some of the meals everyone in the family likes. Every day we get closer to eating only plant-based meals though. Every day I learn more about healthy plant based meals, and about ways to make appeal to picky eaters.

How does eating less meat help our earth? We’ve known for years now that one of the earth’s biggest polluter is the meat industry. The cattle industry is the worst. I understood first-hand how a river in the desert southwest is polluted by cattle during a visit to Tumacacori when we walked to the river. The ranger warned us all that as pretty as the river is, it is not safe to even touch, it. Then she went on to explain that the water carries salmonella and other parasites and diseases. Someone asked why. The answer: the cattle ranches up river.

This is only on small scale here, in the desert; it happens on an even larger scale in other areas. And water pollution is only one of the problems with the cattle industry. It uses large areas of agricultural land; cattle eat large amounts of grain that could feed a lot more people, and processing the meat causes air pollution. I didn’t even touch on the inhumane part of it. Not only inhumane because the way they treat the cattle, but cattle-ranchers are the main reason for the decline of the wolf population. That, in turn, disrupts a healthy ecosystem.

This was only one example of why the meat industry is bad for the planet, and for us. Besides, it causes all sorts of health problems, anyway. Agriculture has its problems, too. But according to the latest scientific data, eating more plant-based is a good way to restore our earth, restore our health and the health of our planet.

Getting Our Produce from Local Farms

cauliflower variety from a local farm
We would not have known about this tasty and beautiful cauliflower variety if we didn’t get it from our local farm.

No matter where you live, you’ll find a local farm, relatively close. During the past year I finally joined a farm CSA program (community supported agriculture). Every weekend I have a box of fresh produce ready for me to pick up at the local farmer’s market. I don’t always know what’s in my box. But that got us exposed to new produce that we either didn’t know about or didn’t buy in the store before. Because it’s fresh, it’s always good. And since it’s local, we eliminate the pollution caused by transporting our food long distances.

You don’t need to join a CSA program to support your local farms. Just shop at the farmer’s market instead of the large chain grocery stores. Also, make sure you support organic farms, or those you know use organic practices even if they are not certified. You are doing this for the environment, but also for your own health. Produce that travels a few miles as opposed to thousands of miles and stored or frozen is always healthier – and tastier. Once you taste the difference, you won’t go back.

Helping to Restore Our Earth by Turning Out the Lights

The easiest but least known way to reduce pollution and help restore our earth is by turning off our lights. A few weeks ago we celebrated International Dark Sky Week, meant to bring awareness to the impact of light pollution on our environment. Light pollution damages our environment more than we can imagine. It’s not only about gorgeous dark skies when we can actually see the Milky Way and most celestial bodies.

It might be hard to see why light pollution hurts our earth, but it has a few negative effects. It disrupts wildlife habits and has a negative effect on our own health by confusing all our internal clocks to mistake day for night and night for day.

Unnecessary lighting contributes to light pollution by using electricity generated by polluting our planet. But also, night time lighting affects our air quality, disrupting the naturally forming nitrate radicals that clean our air. These nitrate radicals form in the dark and interact with the particles and pollutants in the air, getting rid of them, ultimately cleaning our air. So, turning off street lights and our porch lights, helps clean the air we pollute during the day.

We don’t need to give up everything, but every bit in the right direction helps restore our earth

Though we use Earth Day to bring more awareness to the problems we face, to teach about possible solutions, we should treat every day as Earth Day. By being constantly aware of our choices, we can all make a difference.

For ways to get involved, and to learn more about the movement, visit EarthDay.org and follow some of the tips they offer. And, it always helps to plant a tree. As long as it is a tree indigenous to the land you plant it in. Otherwise, you might do more harm than good.

Learn about plants that grow in the environment you live in, and encourage them to grow in your yard. Plants grow even in the desert. You just need to figure out which ones are indigenous and encourage them to grow instead of bringing in other species. Plant a native garden if you can.

And never ever use pesticides to kill weeds. You might not be a nut like me and call weeds native plants (although they are) and let them grow in your yard; that’s ok. But please, never use pesticides to kill these weeds. Just pull them out – exercise is good for you – or spray them with a home-made vinegar-salt-water solution. Or simply dump some boiling hot water on them if you must kill them. You can also hire children in your neighborhood to pull them out by hand (my kids used to do that with their neighborhood friend).

"Weed" in my backyard, desert globemallow in the wild
“Weed” in my backyard, desert globemallow in the wild. Since it took the trouble to grow in my yard, I decided to enjoy it.

Unfortunately they still sell pesticides, at least in the US. People also buy them and take the easy way out to keep their yard pristine. Though a clean yard is unnatural, city neighborhoods have a tendency to fine us if we have a messy front yard. While you can fight that problem – the neighborhood fining you for letting native plants they call “weeds” in your front yard – , it might be easier to just keep your tiny front yard plant-free (though in my case I keep a few cacti there, so far they didn’t call them weeds). Instead, let the native plants grow in your backyard where no one can see them except you, and enjoy the birds, bees and butterflies they attract.

Enjoy Nature

To truly appreciate your surroundings, find a trail in a wilderness near you and go take a walk among the trees – or cacti. It will not only make you feel better, but give you perspective. We can’t survive without nature, we are part of nature, and when we understand it, we’ll all find more ways to appreciate the wilderness around us and find ways to protect it. In our day-to-day lives, we may be able to return to living as part of nature. Everyday decisions that work with nature will become more common, starting with something as simple as letting wilderness live in our own backyard.

Other Tips for a Sustainable Lifestyle

I am always happy to see other posts about living a sustainable lifestyle. I still learn from others who embarked on the same path. Some of these posts have easy-to-follow, straightforward tips you can use every day, both at home and during travels. The post with tips for living a sustainable lifestyle written by Dirce Guerra summarizes most things I believe in and generally follow (most of the time). It’s a great reference to keep handy, offering tips and advice on how to transition to an eco-friendly, sustainable lifestyle.

As Dirce says, “any change you make can lead toward a more sustainable lifestyle. As you make these changes step-by-step, you’ll soon discover that living a sustainable lifestyle is easier than you thought. Use these tips to help make the switch so you can contribute to a cleaner, greener world for all.”

Hope you can join us in helping our planet with your daily choices.

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