Earth Day celebrations usually involve putting forth effort to help the environment, including simple acts like taking shorter showers, walking or biking instead of driving or cutting down on electricity usage.
According to Evan Couzo, assistant professor of education at UNC Asheville, as the state of the environment worsens, actions like these are becoming less and less significant.
“Earth Day is a time to remember that we live on a living planet and we can’t continue to treat our atmosphere like a landfill,” Couzo said.
Despite the efforts being made to encourage better environmentally friendly lifestyle choices, Couzo believes more can be done to combat pollution.
“In the 1970s, the message was ‘don’t pollute,’ ‘pick up litter,’ or ‘recycle,’ and those were actions that individuals could take. We’re at a point now where we really need larger society and governments to act on climate change and that isn’t going to happen unless there is the collective realization amongst the citizens that we demand action,” Couzo said. “I think that, for me, it’s important to continue celebrating Earth Day because the environmental issues that we face, like climate change, are becoming harder for individuals to solve.”
Dee Eggers, associate professor of environmental studies, said protecting the environment one day out of the year will not do much good.
“The largest issues we face are climate change, biodiversity loss, degradation of the oceans from overfishing and plastic pollution and overpopulation,” Eggers said. “Current projections estimate we will lose 30 to 50 percent of all species to extinction by 2100.”
She said as the years go by, issues caused by climate change will become more prominent.
“Environmental problems caused by humans have reached an unprecedented magnitude and the Pentagon has identified climate change as the greatest threat to national security since the early 2000s. In the coming years, we will see increased domestic and international conflict as resources dwindle and crop failure becomes more common,” Eggers said.
In 2017, President Trump announced the United States would be pulling out of the Paris Climate Accord.
“It’s important to keep reminding everyone that our lives are totally dependent on a functioning Earth, including clean air and water, a stable climate and biodiversity. Earth Day is a good way to come together and renew our commitment to these important things, especially now that our leaders now view environmental protections merely as legislative obstacles,” said Andrew Laughlin, assistant professor of environmental studies.
Despite the common lack of hope some may have for the future of the environment, Couzo said there are still steps one can take on a daily basis to reduce their carbon footprint.
“I walk to work, I try to drive as little as possible. I take public transportation when it’s available. I’m fortunate enough to be able to make energy efficiency upgrades to my home, all of my lightbulbs are LEDs, I adjust the thermostat so when I’m not home the heating or air conditioner isn’t on. I try to be responsible in my consumption habits: I treat food items like beef as a special treat, because I know the carbon footprint that beef cattle has,” Couzo said. “When possible, I give my business to companies that are eco-conscious and I try to offset my carbon emissions when I fly.”
Making sure ones home has proper insulation could also be a good way to save money and help the environment, Eggers said.
“I’ve improved the energy efficiency of my houses through sealing air gaps and increasing attic, wall and floor insulation,” Eggers said.
Certain homes could have bad energy efficiency as older houses may have more insulation problems because the amount of insulation required has gone up throughout the years, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.
“I really think that it is going to require lifestyle changes. I like that I make those lifestyle changes, I think my quality of life is better — I walk more, I enjoy taking public transportation, I feel good about that,” Couzo said. “There are many ways that people can make environmentally conscious changes to their behavior, I really think it’s up to the individual to decide which ones are gonna work best for them.”
Helping the environment may mean different things to different people, Couzo said.
“Too often we talk about these lifestyle changes as a sacrifice, as something you will have to give up as opposed to something you will gain. It’s not that you have to give up eating a hamburger every night, it’s that you gain variety in your diet and might even become healthier as a result,” Couzo said.