For many people, April means taking advantage of springtime and spending time outside with nature. April also means celebrating our beautiful blue planet. Earth Day happens on April 22 every year. It is a chance to realize how beautiful and fragile our Earth is. It is a day to join to protect and nurture the earth we call home, making it cleaner, safer and more accessible to everyone.
World travelers can play a part in protecting the Earth, too, with sustainable travel tips as you take in panoramic, breathtaking views around the world.
The history of Earth Day
Earth Day marks the anniversary of April 22, 1970, when the modern environmental movement was born. Gaylord Nelson, a United States senator from Wisconsin, is considered the founder of Earth Day. He was originally inspired to act by the 1969 oil spill in Santa Barbara, Calif. On that day, 3 million gallons of crude oil began to spill into the ocean creating an oil slick 35 miles long. Thousands of birds, fish, and sea creatures died.
Galvanized by the spill, Nelson used the precedent set by the student anti-war movement to put the environment on the national and international stage. About 20 million Americans assembled for the first Earth Day rallies in 1970. Some legislation to come out of the Earth Day movement include the creation of the Clean Air Act, requiring the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to establish national ambient air quality standards, the expansion of the Clean Water Act, which created wastewater and water quality standards. It also inspired the Endangered Species Act, which protects and recovers species under threat of extinction. These laws improved air and water quality. The Endangered Species Act shielded gray whales, stellar sea lions, and even red kangaroos with conservations to protect their habitat.
To this day, Earth Day serves as a reminder to activists, politicians, community leaders, and everyday people to make the world a cleaner, safer place and protect the Earth’s precious natural resources and beauty, because our lives may depend on it. 2017 Earth Day will likely place greater emphasis on what each of us can do to clean and preserve the Earth as the Trump administration axes environmental protection funding.
How to tread lightly on Mother Earth
There are plenty of things you can do to live a greener, more sustainable life. You can walk or bike more and drive less, recycle, get reusable bags and containers and support food that has been locally and sustainably grown or caught. You can also change the way you travel to become greener. Here are a few travel tips for the earth-conscious.
Manage your transportation
Consider your carbon footprint before you head out to your travel destination. When you can bike or walk versus motorized vehicles, take advantage of the opportunity. When you can book a nonstop flight rather than making multiple connections, book a nonstop flight. Once you arrive, consider using public transportation rather than renting a car, and walking or biking whenever it is safe and manageable to do so. You can even think about the quality of the vehicles you are using. Does your airline have a carbon offset program? Can you rent a hybrid or electric car?
Check your hotel
Check to determine whether your reservation is with a green reputable hotel with sustainability initiatives at your destination. You might be able to offset your footprint by choosing a greener place to stay. Once you are there, avoid indulging in excess even if you are on holiday. Take quick showers rather than baths. Reuse your towels for a few days versus getting a fresh towel from housekeeping every day. Wear your clothes a bit longer than normal, to avoid laundry services. Where there is free, clean potable water try to refill a water glass or bottle versus buying plastic disposable bottles of water.
Kudos to Starwood Hotels & Hilton! Groundswell reports, “Starwood hotel chain, which includes Westin and Sheraton, is making sustainability a priority. Their corporate commitment to waste, water, and energy reduction in all its properties has resulted in an 11.5% reduction in energy use, 14.8% reduction in water use, and an 11.6% reduction in carbon emissions in their hotels across the board.” And, “Hilton is another example of how big companies can make big impacts. They established and met sustainability goals to reduce water consumption by 10%, and waste production by 20%. They also worked at not only reducing energy use but also establishing sustainable energy, and it’s paid off, big-time: up to 94% of Hilton’s energy is now green.”
Earth friendly purchases
If you are purchasing a gift item at your travel destination, investigate a bit to make a judgement about its earth friendliness. Some trinkets, gifts and medicines are made with bones, pelts, tusks, food products and other animal parts of endangered species. In some countries, even buying articles from endangered species is illegal. Make sure you know what you are buying when you shop and avoid animal parts. Before you go, do some research about the vulnerable species at your travel destination.
Mind your trash
Try to limit the amount of packaged products you buy and consume while you are in your travel destination. It’s easy if you shop lean, green and clean. Become very conscientious about where you discard trash. Use an appropriate trash receptacle. If disposables can be recycled, ask for the nearest recycling bin. If refuse is compostable, ask if there is a compost bin nearby. Whenever you can, choose reusable containers and biodegradable bags.
Look, don’t touch
A lot of the most beautiful places on Earth are biodiversity hotspots. They are also struggling to survive and extremely vulnerable. If you have the privilege of visiting a rainforest, a coral reef or any precious habitat, be careful and leave everything the way you found it. Use organic sunscreens that don’t damage coral reefs. Do not touch or take anything with you or unnecessarily disturb the wildlife and ecosystem. You’ll be protecting hundreds of creatures while you show them respect. Remember – you are just a guest.
The Nature Conservancy says, “Conserve water: The less water you use, the less runoff and wastewater will pollute our oceans. Help reduce pollution: Walk, bike or ride the bus. Fossil fuel emissions from cars and industry cause mass-bleaching of corals and can lead to widespread destruction of reefs.”
Buy Fair Trade
If you want to buy a gift or a memento from your trip, buy something made responsibly from the people who live in the country and impact its environment. Fair Trade products are labeled to help buyers know that the artisans who make the products are paid a fair wage. Artisans must also work to minimize energy consumption in their production processes. They must use material sources that are sustainable and local, if possible. Minimizing waste and consciously keeping the environmental impact low is also part of the deal.
The better organizations become adept at doing these things, the more profitable they can become. The more profitable businesses become, the more incentive craftsmen, artisans and small businesses will have to be kind to the Earth.
Try a sustainability app
There are a variety of apps available which are designed to help you live and travel a little more sustainably. Pack for a Purpose lets you know what items you can add to your suitcase so you can help local projects and communities in need. Good Guide helps you find companies that are incorporating sustainability into their business practices. The Expedia App has an option to help you find green hotels.
Keep your plate sustainable
You can practice sustainability just by being careful about what you purchase to eat. Try to pick sustainably grown or local foods. Whenever you can, choose fresh veggies over meat. Vegetables require much less energy to raise than livestock. If you want seafood and you are feeling up to the challenge, try to order sustainable fish. National Geographic says, “Aquaculture is a big part of the picture. Fish farms produce half of all the seafood the world eats—but not all of them are created equal. True sustainable operations minimize environmental impacts like pollution, disease, and other damage to coastal ecosystems on which wild species depend. They also avoid using wild-caught fish as feed, a practice that puts enormous additional stress on wild fish stocks.”
You’ve got the power
Just like you would at home, try to flip the light switches and electronic devices to off and unplug them, so you avoid even minor currents during the day. You can save electricity by lowering the number of times you need to charge your devices. Your trip may even become more enjoyable when you put your phone away more often. You are powerful when you conserve power.
Make a change
If you have the privilege to be able to travel and see some of the most beautiful places on Earth, you can give something back by turning your emotions and experience into action. When you are inspired by earth’s wonders and nature, start your own campaigns to protect them. Get in touch with your local legislators, raise money for reputable, environmentally-conscious organizations and tell your friends what they can do to live a little more lightly on the Earth.
How to use travel to make Earth a better place
Did you know you can become travel and tourism eco-friendly with Sustainable Travel International? They empower vulnerable communities around the world with profits from sustainable tourism. The idea is people will be more motivated to protect natural resources when it is more profitable to keep them around. The group’s core missions include preventing deforestation, extinction, coral reef destruction, pollution and climate change, all while supporting the people who call these destinations home.
Get out and see amazing nature
The natural world can be breathtaking. If you plan on traveling in the near future, try visiting a place where you can see spectacular vistas. Reminding ourselves of how beautiful Earth is gives us one more reason to protect it. Here are a few destinations that show off Planet Earth’s extreme beauty:
- Fairy lights – You may have spent childhood evenings catching fireflies on the front lawn, but the Great Smoky Mountains National Park takes the awe in the experience to a whole new level. People come from everywhere to the park to witness a sea of shining golden fireflies amassing. These fireflies aren’t your everyday garden variety; they are synchronous fireflies. That means they time their yellow flashing lights to happen in unison with one another. Synchronous fireflies are the only species in America able to do this. When a great number of these fireflies swarm together, they create an otherworldly fairyland of blinking lights. Their peak blinking times are mid-May to mid-June.
- Alien world – Japan is home to various forests which take on a whole other character at night. Bioluminescent mushrooms light up in bright colors after dark, making a hike through the forest at night an otherworldly experience. About ten varieties of luminescent mushrooms are believed to grow in Japan, in a variety of colors. Be mindful when you plan your trip. These mushrooms only sprout for a few days during the rainy season.
- Stone trees – A unique site in China’s Yunnan Province comes imbued with natural beauty and a thrilling story. The Shilin Stone Forest features tall, upright rock formations that resemble trees turned into stone. The karst rocks are 270 million years old. According to Chinese legend, the Stone Forest was created when a young woman was forbidden to marry the person she loved. In a show of defiance, she turned herself to stone. The stone jungle extends for 135 square miles offering plenty of forests to explore.
- Painted water – An entire life could be spent exploring Yellowstone National Park over and over again, without ever tiring of the spectacular natural sights, sounds, and experiences. One spot on the Old Faithful Tour stands out for its unique and otherworldly beauty, the Morning Glory Pool. The pool was named after the classic flower in the 1880s because of its flowery shape and deep blue color resembling the garden beauty. The blue color is due to bacteria living in the waters. If you plan on seeing Morning Glory, go sooner rather than later. Tourists tossing trash and debris into the water have caused the edges to turn yellow and encroach on the blue center. If this continues, Morning Glory may not be blue at all in the future.
Plant a Tree for Earth’s Day
Make it a tradition to plant a tree, or trees, on Earth’s Day. Trees helps combat climate change. Trees for the Earth’s goal is to plant 7.8 billion trees worldwide by 2020—one for every person projected to be on Earth. Let’s help them out.
Happy Earth Day
Our earth is special, there is just one.
It gives us water, soil, and sun.
People and animals share the land.
Let’s all lend a helping hand.
You can save water, and plant a tree
To make a better home for you and me.
Recycle things, don’t throw away.
Make every day, an Earth Day!
For more travel tips and resources, visit Depart Smart.org.