I was born on April 22nd and am an Earth Day baby. If one can have a birthday date that is aligned with their core values and what they try to bring to each situation, then I do. When I navigate my days, I want to make spaces, people, and myself better with each interaction. I don’t think being born on Earth Day shaped my love of nature and desire to make the world a cleaner and healthier place, but I certainly use the day to push my amateur environmentalist view onto my kids. Because it’s my day, every year on my birthday I make the kids take a “trash walk” with me.
I tell my kids that the only gift I ever want from them is to willingly and happily partake in my birthday trash walk. I have yet to receive immediate willingness and joy, but we eventually get there. I have to first get through the grumbles and complaints when I declare I’m grabbing trash bags and the wagon for hauling our finds. It’s not the picking up litter part that’s the problem; it’s the walking, because boring. I remind them that walking is good for the planet and our health and that listening to details about Minecraft is also boring but I do it without complaint. Put on your shoes.
And depending on the weather in late April in our New England town, it could be snowing, raining, cold, or hot as Satan’s balls. More likely than not, the weather requires us to put on a layer or two and that tends to irritate the children. But that’s not nearly as bad as watching a child who functions best in 60 degree temps have to quickly adjust to 80 degrees in April in the event of an early heat wave. But what a way to springboard into talks about global warming!
Ice storms in Texas, raging forest fires, melting ice caps, ferocious hurricane seasons are not just part of nature or acts of coincidence. Climate change is happening because of our planet’s increasing temperatures that have resulted from humans. The burning of fossil fuels is one of the biggest contributors to the damage we are doing to our planet. Renewable energy sources, reducing resource use, and finding more efficient ways to use our resources will make a positive impact on our planet’s health. This is when I ask my kids why we turn off the water when they brush their teeth. “Because we’ll kill the polar bears if we don’t,” they mumble. Correct. Now lace up those sneakers, we’re going to pull discarded masks from trees.
The pandemic has hurt so many aspects of our everyday life, including our interaction with our environment. The increase in biomedical waste was just one of the negative side effects the pandemic has had on our ecosystems. Solid waste into landfills increased, while recycling production decreased. The use of disinfectants is necessary to kill COVID-19, but they are also a pollutant.
Hopefully these are short-term impacts, but it’s going to take long-term planning and thinking to undo the damage. My kids wonder what we will do with all of the masks we have when we don’t need them anymore, and I’m not sure. But for now we wear washable, reusable ones and pick up the disposable ones people feel okay throwing to the ground. Yay for wearing one and not being a selfish, COVID-spreading dick — but throw your mask in the trash when you are done with it.
Once my kids have been subjected to these rants, they are more than ready to get out of the house just to shut me up. They have also been told that they will not get cake until the trash walk happens, and if cake isn’t the best motivator, tell me what is.
My favorite part—the most sustainable aspect of our efforts to sustain our planet—is that we always settle in and have a great time. It becomes a scavenger hunt and competition to see who can collect the most “smokers” aka cigarette butts, dirty diapers, and plastic bottles. This also gives us plenty of justified reasons to vent about how disgusting and assholey people are. Privilege and entitlement are discussed in ways that don’t happen unless we are in the thick of undoing the fuckery created by others.
This year’s Earth Day theme is Restore Our Earth. I’m not in marketing, but that seems redundant. Of course Earth Day is about restoring what we have lost, including our integrity and connection to our environment. I’m doing my part and raising my kids to do the same. Once we get through the smoke screen of procrastination and complaints, we’re left with pride and a better understanding of the impact our actions have on the land and animals we rely on for all of our needs.