One of my clearest memories is standing out on the hot, black asphalt of my elementary school's playground as a child, my tiny fist gripping the string of the yellow balloon. My friends around me were all holding onto theirs too, their knuckles red and white from holding on so tightly, anticipating the countdown. We'd all written letters (mostly just our names in crayon) on pieces of paper that were folded neatly and stuffed into the pre-inflated balloons, visible through the translucent rubber skin of the floating sphere overhead.
"3, 2, 1..." Release. Hundreds of yellow balloons drifted up, up, up, at first blocking out the sky and then get tinier and tinier the farther up they went. On the car ride home, all I could do was wonder where my balloon would pop, who would find the perfect creases of my note, my name written in rose-colored Crayola. I pictured it like a message in a bottle, washing up on some distant shore...
Of course, that was over ten years ago. And as the world has learned by now (or at least my elementary school has), those balloon releases are detrimental to animals (mainly in the ocean) who think they're food and choke on the rubber, not to mention that rubber is not biodegradable. We no longer do balloon releases, but we ONLY haven't been doing them for ten years! And our recent environmental naiveté is as bright as the sun.
This Earth Day, April 22, I'd like to give back for all the years I released a hopeful balloon only to have it pop and fall from it's swift current--it's probably still caught in a redwood tree somewhere in Northern California.
Earth Day festivals and events are springing up (or happening again!) all over this country. For all of us who live in the concrete jungle of New York, even we have somewhere to go. Head over to Brooklyn for Prospect Park's Celebration, April 21-22, and take a nature walk or a boat tour, even volunteer to spruce up the plants.
If you live in Chicago, check out Friends of the Parks event Chicago Parks & Preserves Clean-Up on April 21 from 9AM-Noon. Seattle? Join the People for Puget Sound and roll up your sleeves for the Duwamish Alive Earth Day. Nine simultaneous habitat restoration projects will be in motion along the Duwamish River.
The Los Angeles area is studded with Earth Day events. Inkwell Surf is holding their 2nd Annual Earth Day Event at Inkwell Beach on Pico and Bay St. Volunteers will be rewarded with lunch and refreshments. Rock Your Planet! is throwing it's launch party to demonstrate how to live sustainably, without sacrifice.
Throwing an event? Offset your event's carbon footprint and reduce climate change through Carbon Fund. Your donation will go towards carbon-friendly projects like renewable energy and reforestation projects. Find out how much you should give back by fiddling with their carbon calculator.
Another great way to give back is through Food & Wine magazine's Grow for Good, a campaign striving to donate $1 million for Farm to Table, an initiative that supports local farms and encourages sustainable agriculture.
And if you can't make it out for Earth Day weekend, give back to a conservation effort any other time of year. Simply plant a tree.
One of my favorite field trips as a kid was to TreePeople, a forest of a hillside in Los Angeles with walkways covered in wood chips that would crunch under my feet. Every time I went, I got to plant a seedling. Some of those seedlings must be teenagers by now, trees much taller than I am, with limbs and needles cleaning up the air I, and so many of us, have been dirtying. I'm sure they've erased a little of our carbon mess--but only a little, we still have about 7 billion footprints to go.
[Image 1 thanks to Jon Ingrham according to this license.]
[Image 2 thanks to *n*o*o*r* according to this license.]
[Image 3 thanks to sindesign according to this license.]