Today, a few short days after the U.S. withdrew from the Paris Climate Agreement, we are ironically celebrating World Environment Day. Celebrated every June 5, World Environment Day is a holiday for reconnecting with nature and learning about the pressing issues facing our Earth.
First celebrated in 1974, World Environment Day has been the United Nations’ flagship campaign for encouraging worldwide awareness and action for the protection of our environment from emerging environmental issues like marine pollution, human overpopulation and climate change, as well as sustainable consumption and wildlife crime. Today, over 143 countries participate annually, and World Environment Day has a new host country and a new theme every year that major corporations, NGOs, communities, governments and celebrities worldwide adopt to advocate environmental causes. This year’s host country is Canada, with the theme, “Connecting People to Nature — in the city and on the land, from the poles to the equator.”
The theme very much brought to mind an epic adventure I was fortunate enough to be able to take with my husband and our fur baby last summer. We travelled across eight states and visited 10 national parks. For me it was a time of self reflection and exploration (I had just left my job and was figuring out what I wanted to be when I grew up), but it also served as a really, really great, in-your-face reminder of the absolute splendor that is nature. In all honesty, I was probably already on the path to being an advocate for the environment, but for me that trip served as a call to action.
On our trip we were able to see not only the glory and beauty of nature, but also that nature is at serious risk from the increasing effects of global climate change and human disruption.
Of the 10 national parks my husband and I were able to visit, five of them are included on a list of the Top 12 Western National Parks Most at Risk from Climate Disruption from the National Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and The Rocky Mountain Climate Organization.
Our first stop on this epic adventure was Yosemite (on the list), which in addition to climate change issues, also suffers from problems from overcrowding where managers must balance open access with the negative impact on visitor experience.
After leaving Utah, we hit up Black Canyon of the Gunnison, or BLCA, which has seen decreases in water quality due to irrigation discharge, as well as habitat loss threatening almost every species in the park and, subsequently, the park’s ecosystem integrity. In addition, as one of the best places in the country to take in the night sky, BLCA is under threat as increased population in the surrounding areas, as well as lack of ordinances could potentially destroy the park’s sky luminance.
We also visited Rocky Mountain National Park (yes, it’s on the list), which has seen a 3.4° F rise in average temperature over the last century. The increase in temperature can cause earlier snow melts (and thus less water available for plants and animals in the summer when it is highly needed), a greater number of mountain pine beetles that have been killing the park’s trees, more invasive species that are suited for a warmer climate and a shift in natural events which could offset the park’s ecosystem.
Then we took in the sights at Glacier National Park (definitely on the list) before, well, before all the glaciers are melted. If current trends continue (since 1979, the average temperature has increased by 2° F), Glacier could stand to lose all of its glaciers by 2030.
Following Glacier, we went to Crater Lake, which is being threatened by both logging companies that are pushing to clear-cut old growth forest right outside of the boundaries of the park, as well as pollution in the atmosphere which could significantly alter not just the famed blue color of the lake, but also its ecosystem (Crater Lake is not fed by rivers or a natural aquifer, but purely from rainwater).
Last but not least, we went to Lassen Volcanic National Park. Due to climate change, Lassen has seen change in snowpack and precipitation which has shifted wildfire regimes, as well as species and habitat management.
So, yea, like I said, my trip served as a call to action to spread the word that we really do need to protect the environment. But because not everyone gets to go on such an amazing roadtrip, or has the resources to get out to the wilderness, I found this year’s theme is particularly appropriate — “Connecting People to Nature — in the city and on the land, from the poles to the equator.” There is nature everywhere, and if we can get people to connect to it, wherever they are, it’s more likely they, too, will see the importance of protecting it.
What can you do to help?
- Earlier this year, I wrote about a few organizations that you can get involved with to help the planet, I think that’s as good a place as any to start:
- EarthJustice is the largest nonprofit environmental law organization in the country, working to protect wildlife, for healthy communities, and for cleaner energy options. The organization represents its clients free of charge. Donate here, and sign up for action alerts here.
- The Sierra Club is the largest grassroots environmental organization in the county, and works to protect millions of acres of wilderness and pass legislation like the Clean Air Act and the Clean Water Act. Click here for ways to give.
- Natural Resources Defense Council, a 501(c)3 that brings together scientists, lawyers, and other policy experts, with global warming among their primary concerns. You can donate here.
- Plan or join an World Environment Day event.
- Volunteer – there are tons of volunteer programs to choose from.
- Share a photo and help other people to get inspired by nature’s awesomeness. Share a photo or video of your favorite place in nature using #WorldEnvironmentDay or #WithNature and tell everyone why it’s special to you.
- Support and challenge the Government to facilitate and strengthen environmental regulatory and policy-making. Get in touch with your senator or representative to let them know how you feel.
- Think about how you eat and what you eat. From unnecessary packaging, to the impacts of food waste, to pesticides used on a lot of crops, our food actually has a huge impact on the environment.
- Vote with your wallet and support companies that have rejected President Trump’s decision to pull out of the Paris Climate Agreement and companies that are doing better for the environment.
- But also, think about how you shop and consume — reducing our consumption is one of the best ways to reduce your environmental impact.
- Don’t let World Environment Day be just one day. Let it be a call to action for how you live and act every day.
Would love to hear from you. What is your favorite place in nature? Think it’s worth protecting?