Since 1970, Earth Day has been an annual call to action to protect the planet. Last year, over 1 billion individuals in more than 190 countries took action on Earth Day. The theme this year is “invest in our planet.” As Earthday.org says, “…We need to act (boldly), innovate (broadly), and implement (equitably). It’s going to take all of us. All in. Businesses, governments, and citizens — everyone accounted for, and everyone accountable. A partnership for the planet.”
A key component of a healthy planet is wildlife conservation. We are facing unprecedented biodiversity loss, which leads to species extinction. According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), at least 10,000 species go extinct every year. Proactive conservation is vital in combating these statistics. If we work together, we can build a sustainable, healthy tomorrow. We can be the positive change.
Here are some ways you can make a difference!
Reduce Single-Use Plastic
Every year, humans generate about 300 million tons of plastic, and the United States is one of the top contributors of plastic pollution globally. As plastic breaks up into smaller and smaller pieces, it is consumed by animals and enters the food chain. Plastic releases harmful chemicals into the soil, which seeps into groundwater and other bodies of water, poisoning animals and plants.
- Switch to a reusable water bottle. You can find water bottle filling stations at the zoo!
- Carry a reusable shopping bag.
- Skip the straw or bring your own reusable straw.
- Bring your own containers for leftovers when eating out.
- Avoid buying single-use plastic whenever possible. Buy in bulk when you can!
- Join a local cleanup to remove plastic from your local environment.
Take Steps to Slow Climate Change
The earth is warming. The average surface temperature has increased by more than 1.6 degrees Fahrenheit (0.9 degrees Celsius) since 1906. While this seems like a small shift, it has huge ramifications. We’ve seen extreme weather shifts, increased rain/drought, and shifting wildlife populations and habitats. As oceans warm, ocean acidification increases and glaciers melt. All of this has a drastic impact on animals. As polar ice melts, polar bears can’t hunt for food. As ocean acidification increases, it become unhospitable to many species of invertebrates and coral reefs. Longer drought reduces the availability of food and water for plants and animals.
- Reduce the amount of time you drive. Ride a bike! Take a walk! Use public transit!
- Choose vacations that don’t require air travel.
- Conserve energy. Turn off lights and unplug unused appliances. Are your lightbulbs up to date? Replace your lightbulbs with energy-efficient bulbs.
- Cut food waste. Only buy as much food as you can eat.
- Do you have a garden? Plant native plants that help support pollinators like bees, butterflies, and birds.
- Switch to all-natural cleaning products in your home! Products that contain ammonia and heavy metals can get washed into the local environment and contaminate the water.
Food production has changed the planet. From clear-cutting to make room for livestock and farms to overfishing and trawling the ocean floor, habitats are being damaged. According to the World Wildlife Fund, “Food production is not only the greatest driver of wildlife loss, but it also contributes to climate change: about a quarter of global greenhouse gas emissions are associated with food.”
- Use the Seafood Watch list! Created by the Monterey Bay Aquarium, Seafood Watch is a sustainable seafood advisory list.
- Prioritize eating plants. Livestock that produce dairy and meat products require huge amounts of space, water, and feed. The livestock industry generates about 15% of all man-made greenhouse gas emissions. Switching to a plant-heavy diet will reduce freshwater depletion and deforestation.
- Shop local or grow your own food. This reduces your carbon footprint, minimizes food waste, and supports your local economy. Most farmers selling at farmers markets use organic farming practices, minimizing the use of pesticides and chemicals.
- Eat seasonally. Food that is locally out-of-season will need to either be shipped in or preserved. Besides, produce that is in-season tastes better and is fresher than food out-of-season.
Sustainable Palm Oil
Palm oil is a type of vegetable oil found in the oil palm tree, which only grow in the tropics. Palm oil is currently the most produced, consumed, and traded vegetable oil in the world. It is an important ingredient in a wide range of products, including cosmetics, food, cleaning products, and animal feed.
Palm oil is a very efficient crop. It produces more oil per land area than any other similar vegetable oil crop. Global demand for palm oil is increasing leading to deforestation. Loss of habitat impacts already-endangered species like Sumatran orangutans, pygmy elephants, and Sumatran rhinoceroses. Unsustainable palm oil production also increases air, soil, and water pollution and soil erosion.
However, the solution isn’t as easy as just switching to another oil alternative. Due to the efficacy of palm oil farming, other oil alternatives such as soybean, coconut, or sunflower oil would require between 4 and 10 times more land. Furthermore, smallholder farmers depend on palm oil to survive.
Sustainable palm oil farming practices allows for a profitable business all while not harming local communities or the environment. These practices include no deforestation, not developing peat, and not exploiting local farmers. One way to ensure that products use sustainable palm oil is to purchase from companies that are certified by the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO). Founded in 2004, RSPO incorporates stakeholders such as plantation companies, processors and traders, consumer goods manufacturers, retailers, financiers, and civil society groups to develop and implement standards for sustainable palm oil.
- Download the sustainable palm oil app. Created by Cheyenne Mountain Zoo, this apps allows you to scan barcodes on food packaging to learn if the company is RSPO (Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil) certified and committed to sustainable palm oil. The app also provides alternatives that are sustainable.
- Contact your favorite companies and ask them to switch to sustainable palm oil. Let your voice be heard by sending a letter, email, or message on social media.
As the message of sustainability and environmental responsibility spreads, positive change is happening. Following are just a few examples. Due to sustainable fishing practices, four species of tuna are no longer critically endangered. Since 2009, the bald eagle population has quadrupled due to habitat protection regulations. Responding to public pressure, Coca-Cola now sells its product in bottles made from 100% recycled plastic materials in the United States.
This year, take a moment to consider how you can “invest in the planet.” On Earth Day and all year long, join us in taking conservation action to make a better tomorrow. Together, we can create a legacy of action.
Learn about the Sacramento Zoo’s global conservation effort in our Employee Conservation Contribution Program.
Visit Earth Day’s official website for more information about this annual event.