Earth Day celebrations are a double-edged sword. On the one hand, raising awareness of specific activities and actions we can take to live more sustainably is a key component of becoming the change we want to see in the world, but on the other hand, buying more stuff for Earth Day, even if it's described as "green," just creates more of an environmental boondoggle.
Granted, there may be products that can help us to green our world, such as a compost bin, a home solar power or wind energy system, or a cleaner car or a bicycle, and there are certainly greener alternatives that we can choose when buying products we already use, but for the most part, consuming more resources in the name of Earth Day runs counter to the core of the responsible environmentalism.
On that note, if all of us green bloggers had a nickel for every Earth Day PR pitch that touts a product or service that is only green or sustainable by a giant stretch of the imagination, we could probably start our own charitable environmental organization.
Perhaps it's time to refocus our attention on an event that might have much more of a positive effect over the long run, and in our own communities, than any sort of feel-good environmental festivals. That event, which is considered to be the big sister of Earth Day, is National Arbor Day, and it falls on this Friday, April 25th 2014.
Founded by Nebraska journalist Sterling Morton, who advocated planting trees as erosion control (to help keep soil in place), to act as windbreaks, and to provide fuel and building materials in his home state, Arbor Day was declared by the Governor of Nebraska in 1874 to be held on Morton's birthday, April 22nd. Now, National Arbor Day is set for the last Friday in April, but many US states observe Arbor Day on different dates, depending on the best tree-planting times in those states.
I'm a treehugger and treeclimber and treeplanter from way back, and have found that the act of planting a tree is somewhat revolutionary one, as a tree is something that can not be produced in any other manner than through those supplied by nature (planting a seed or rooting a cutting). There are no tree factories, no 3D-printed trees, and no mechanical shortcuts to growing trees, so planting one is a decidedly green act, and one that could positively impact our homes and our communities for many years to come.
Planting trees for the future can provide important wildlife habitat, increase the value of our homes, mitigate the heating and cooling effects of the weather through shading and breaking the wind, improves groundwater, reduces erosion, help to clean the air, produce food for both people and animals, and even produce a significant recovery from stress in people.
According to the Arbor Day Guidebook (PDF), planting trees adds value to communities in a variety of ways:
"The net cooling effect of a young, healthy tree is equivalent to ten room-size air conditioners operating 20 hours a day." - USDA
"Trees properly placed around buildings can reduce air conditioning needs by 30% and can save 20-50% in energy used for heating." - USDA Forest Service
"One acre of forest absorbs six tons of carbon dioxide and puts out four tons of oxygen. This is enough to meet the annual needs of 18 people." - USDA
While there are many choices for buying trees to plant in your yard and your community, such as your local nursery, you can also take advantage of the Arbor Day Foundation's membership program, which gives members 10 free trees for joining or renewing their membership ($10). The organization also has a number of ideas for celebrating Arbor Day, including classroom activities, volunteering to help with local tree-planting organizations, and children's activities.
This year, instead of buying a gimmicky Earth Day product, consider planting trees for the future, or donating trees or money to an organization that plants trees in your community. As the saying goes, "The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now."