How to Go Green: Earth Day

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With reporting by Manon Verchot

There's a lot more to the Earth Day movement than we could cover here, but see how much you've learned with our Earth Day quiz. From the history of the holiday, the changes it's effected, and the number of people who participate annually to the changes you can make right now, put your brainpower to the test.

And if you find that you're an Earth Day pro, see how your knowledge stacks up when it comes to green celebrities, environmental history, and green vocabulary. Good luck—and Happy Earth Day!

Top Earth Day Activities and Tips


  • Find your passion
    Earth Day offers up activities and events for everyone, whether your idea of pitching in is planting trees or putting hybrid retrofits on cars. But to get the most out of your experience, it's important to choose an issue that means something on a personal level: maybe your childhood summers at the beach left you concerned about water quality, or your love of hiking has you worried about deforestation, or your daughter's enthusiasm for birds has you thinking about habitat loss. There's no shortage of ways you can help-- just make sure you're participating in a project to which you can give your full attention and enthusiasm, since that's what will encourage you to stay green long after Earth Day has come and gone.

  • Combat habitat loss
    Of all the animal species in the world, 97 percent are invertebrates--think jellyfish, worms, spiders, spiders--and more than half of them are on the list of endangered species. The cause? Primarily, it's habitat loss: with nowhere to live, these species--and other endangered animals--can't survive.

    Earth Day Activity:
    Start turning your backyard into an official National Wildlife Federation Habitat. Even the smallest urban garden can sustain the basics for local fauna--food, water, shelter, and space--and you can implement sustainable gardening methods for an even greener green space.


  • Stay rooted against deforestation
    The steady decline in the world's a forests--right now, about half of the earth's tropical forests have been cut down--has a huge impact on many of the other issues on this list, from the release of carbon dioxide that encourages global warming to the loss of countless animal habitats. Buying recycled and recyclable items helps, but you can take a more active role, too.

    Earth Day Activity:
    It's an Earth Day tradition, but planting trees is one way to build forests back up; also, try working with a group that rescues otherwise- trashed wood from buildings and construction sites for reuse.


  • Help preserve biodiversity
    The variety of animals, plants, insects, and sea life in the world isn't just a coincidence; the diversity of life on the planet represents the health of the planet as a whole. A slow but steady loss of biodiversity can also indicate an impending mass extinction.

    Earth Day Activity:
    Find a local land trust to volunteer with; they can fill you in on what's going on around you, what's threatened, and what's responsible for those threats.


  • Stop global warming
    Ahh, global warming. It's the biggest issue facing our planet today, but it's also one of the most controversial: People just love to deny that it's even happening, or blame it on the Earth's natural biorhythms. What's not arguable, though, is that human action is making it worse.

    Earth Day Activity:
    Rather not get your hands dirty? Study up on the problem and prepare yourself to politely counteract the next person who tells you global warming is a lie.


  • Clean up water pollution
    Saving water is a great green step--no more leaving the faucet on while brushing your teeth!--but it's equally important to keep clean the water we do have. Litter, chemical waste, industrial run-off, and other improperly-disposed-of trash can spread sickness and harm sea life (see above for more info on the importance of biodiversity).

    Earth Day Activity:
    Grab a pair of old sneakers or galoshes and find (or start) a clean-up initiative at a local stream, river, or pond. Find a water-related event near you through Planet Green's Green Apple Festival & Earth Day Network Volunteer Central.


  • Dig in to food production
    If it's true that you are what you eat, then you might want to take a second look at the ingredients label on those processed foods you're picking up at the grocery store--and you might want to delve a little deeper into the processes, pesticides, chemicals, and synthetic fertilizers that go into your "fresh" produce. The average meal travels roughly 1500 miles before it's consumed, so eating organic food from local farms and orchards is not only better for your body, it's better for the earth.

    Earth Day Activity:
    Volunteer to get your hands dirty at a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program in your neighborhood, planting fruits, vegetables, and herbs that you can enjoy all summer long and into the fall. Find an organic farm or CSA near you to get started.


  • Transport to a greener place
    A huge portion of the world's carbon emissions come from something we all do nearly every day: travel. Calculating your carbon output and purchasing offsets for your plane, car, and train trips will give you a sense of just how much you're contributing--but don't stop there.

    Earth Day Activity:
    If you didn't take the day off from work, organize an Earth Day carpool with coworkers who live in your neighborhood, or coordinate an office-wide walk to a nearby restaurant for lunch instead of ordering delivery. Then use the experience to make both activities a part of your regular routine.


  • Give peace a chance
    Here's an issue that's on everyone's mind--although not always in conjunction with environmental issues. Still, the Nobel Peace Prize has, more than once, recognized activists (like 2004 winner Dr. Wangari Matthai and 2007 Laureate Al Gore) who put the relationship between the two into perspective: women's rights, sustainability, science, technology, and peace are all related.

    Earth Day Activity:
    Contribute to organizations that support "sustainable peace," like The Fund for Peace, or treat Fido to Bark for Peace! Organic Treats.


  • Think global
    As you've seen, supporting Earth Day in your own community offers up plenty of opportunities for hands-on help. But if you're ready to think bigger, consider an environmentally-focused volunteer vacation, where you can do some good while getting a change of scenery. And, of course, choose eco-friendly lodging, purchase carbon offsets, and, if you need new luggage, choose green.

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    Earth Day Crafts


    Get Creative

    Turn leftover household items that might otherwise be trash into useable craft materials: a plastic jug becomes a watering can; a cereal box recovered with scrapbook paper holds magazines; a redecorated detergent bottle is the right size for scooping dog food; an old toothbrush does double-duty as a bracelet.

    See the World

    Help kids understand the big picture with a paper-mache globe: mix flour and water until runny, and simmer about three minutes to make a simple glue. Dip strips of paper in the glue and drape it around an inflated balloon to create a sphere. Then decorate with continents, water, or pre-printed maps.

    Hit the Track

    Older kids can join the Northeast Sustainable Energy Association's Junior Solar Sprint, where they work together in teams to build and race solar-powered model cars. While it's not exactly a one-day project, teaching your kids the ins and outs of solar energy will help them make long-term changes in the future.

    Unleash Your Inner Artist

    The Crayola offers a whole list of kid-friendly, Earth Day-themed ideas that require little more than a set of crayons and some paper: try decorating a paper shopping bag for reuse as a trash bag, making a three-sided diorama to illustrate bike tires' beginnings, or making posters that teach others about endangered species.

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    Earth Day for Kids


    Read a green story

    Tacking climate change feels overwhelming even for adults?imagine how huge it seems to your kids. Put the problem and their contribution into perspective with Kaboose's Earth Day story, What Can I Do?". And if you have older kids who are also working on their reading comprehension, you can follow it up with a six-question multiple choice quiz that helps junior readers identify the main themes.

    Go hands-on

    At Planet Pals, kids can scan facts about weather, energy, the food chain, and other science topics, plus download coloring pages, puzzles, and projects--like printable door hangers that remind everyone to turn off the lights before they leave a room, and signs to clearly label each recycling bucket.

    Get outside

    Find a volunteering event in your area that's kid-friendly?for ideas, check the activity listings at EarthDay.net or at our Volunteering Database. Kids have tons of energy, and letting them harness it by digging in soil at an organic farm or picking up trash at their favorite playground could set them on a lifelong green path.

    Teach a lesson

    The Earth Day ideas at Education World are, unsurprisingly, heavy on the research-and-learning side of things, but there are fun projects that won't require an afternoon at the library: make s'mores using solar power, illustrate an Earth Day story, or track the amount of trash one family (or classroom) puts out in a week.

    See it in action

    We know some kids drag their feet at afternoons spent inside, but natural history museums, planetariums, aquariums, and zoos are all convenient ways to get your young ones acquainted with the plants and animals they?re trying to save. Point out Nemo's twin in the clownfish tank, see if your niece can identify a real life alligator in the reptile house, give your grandson a sense of how the Earth looks from space, and use dinosaurs as a starting point for discussions about extinction.

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    Read More About Earth Day


    Read more about Earth Day in the TreeHugger and Planet Green archives.

    Have more questions about going green? Start with our Why Go Green? guide, and then move on to our How to Go Green index for specific advice.

    If you're ready to start getting involved, check the Green Apple Festival volunteer database for ideas and sign-up information. Prepare your home with green cleaning products, or skim the TreeHugger archives for Earth Day-specific tips on recycling, buying electronics, and saving water.

    Learn more about Earth Day elsewhere on the web.

    For more about the history of the holiday, study up with this article from EnviroLink or see what the EPA has to say with their timeline. Get updated info from the Earth Day Network and action ideas from the U.S. Government's Earth Day site.

    HowStuffWorks knows Earth Day in and out, including how Earth Day has evolved and some fun Earth Day factoids.

    Keep the creativity flowing with craft ideas for all ages, from paper dioramas and tin can gardens to a coffee filter Earth and clothes made from grocery bags. Older kids (or kids at heart) can check the Planet Green archives for crafts that reuse household objects.

    Tags: Carbon Emissions | Earth Day | Environmental Footprint | Pollution