How to Make a Difference This Earth Day
EarthDay.org calls on literally everyone on the planet to act boldly, innovate broadly, and implement equitably this Earth Day.
Candace J. Dixon
Earth Day is April 22 this year, and while we’ve all been through quite a bit these last couple of years because of an actual global pandemic, the globe itself was also suffering with us, both from the COVID-19 pandemic, and in ways it already was.
EarthDay.org calls on literally everyone on the planet to act boldly, innovate broadly, and implement equitably this Earth Day.
The earth’s climate is changing. Multiple sources of evidence show changes in the weather, oceans, and ecosystems, such as:
- Changing temperature and precipitation patterns.
- Increases in ocean temperatures, sea level, and acidity.
- Melting glaciers and sea ice.
- Changes in the frequency, intensity, and duration of extreme weather events.
- Shifts in ecosystem characteristics, like the length of the growing season, timing of flower blooms, and migration of birds.
These changes are caused by a buildup of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere and the warming of the planet due to the greenhouse effect.
The earth’s temperature depends on the balance between energy entering and leaving the planet’s system. When sunlight reaches the earth’s surface, it can either be reflected back into space or absorbed by the earth. Incoming energy absorbed by the earth warms the planet. Once absorbed, the planet releases some of the energy back into the atmosphere as heat. Solar energy reflected back to space does not warm the earth.
Certain gases in the atmosphere known as “greenhouse gases” absorb energy, slowing or preventing the loss of heat to space. They act like a blanket, making the earth warmer than it should be. This process, known as the “greenhouse effect,” is actually natural and necessary to support life, but the buildup of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere from human activities, including burning fossil fuels for heat and energy, clearing forests, fertilizing crops, storing waste in landfills, raising livestock, and producing industrial products, has changed the earth’s climate, resulting in dangerous effects on health and ecosystems.
Carbon dioxide is the main greenhouse gas contributing to recent climate change. Carbon dioxide enters the atmosphere through burning fossil fuels, solid waste, trees and other biological materials, and also as a result of chemical reactions such as cement manufacturing. It is absorbed and emitted naturally as part of the carbon cycle, through plant and animal respiration, volcanic eruptions, and ocean-atmosphere exchange.
The carbon cycle is the process where carbon continually moves from the atmosphere to the earth and back. On the earth, carbon is stored in rocks, sediments, the ocean, and in living organisms. It is released back into the atmosphere when plants and animals die, and when fires burn, volcanoes erupt, and fossil fuels such as coal, natural gas, and oil are combusted. The carbon cycle ensures a balanced concentration of carbon in the different reservoirs on the planet.
A change in the amount of carbon in one reservoir affects all the others, and today people are disturbing the carbon cycle by burning fossil fuels that release large amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, and through land use changes that remove the plants that absorb carbon from the atmosphere.
Impacts of Climate Change
Global average temperature has increased about 1.8°F from 1901 to 2016. Changes of one or two degrees in the average temperature of the planet cause potentially dangerous shifts in climate and weather. These real, observable changes are called climate change impacts because they are the visible ways that climate change is affecting the Earth. Many places have experienced changes in rainfall, resulting in more floods, droughts, or intense rain, as well as more frequent and severe heat waves.
The earth’s oceans and glaciers have also experienced changes. Oceans are warming and becoming more acidic, ice caps are melting, and the sea level is rising. As these and other changes become more pronounced in the coming decades, they will present challenges to the environment and to society, impacting our health, environment, and economy.
- Warmer temperatures increase the frequency, intensity, and duration of heat waves,which pose health risks, especially to children and the elderly.
- Climate worsens air and water quality, increasing the spread of diseases and altering the frequency or intensity of extreme weather events.
- The rising sea level threatens coastal communities and ecosystems.
- Changes in the patterns and amount of rainfall, along with changes in the timing and amount of stream flow, affect water supplies and quality.
- Changing ecosystems influence many plant and animal species and the timing of their migration and reproduction.
- Increases in the frequency and intensity of extreme weather events, increase losses to property, cause costly disruptions to society, and reduce the affordability of insurance.
Elevated concentrations of carbon dioxide will persist in the atmosphere for thousands of years, and the earth will continue to warm in the coming decades. The warmer it gets, the greater the risk for more severe changes to the climate and the earth’s system will be. The climate we are accustomed to is no longer a reliable guide for what to expect in the future.
What You Can Do About Climate Change | US EPA
Click on the different topics on this graphic to learn what you can do now. You can lessen the impacts of climate…
What You Can Do About Climate Change
You can lessen the impacts of climate change by making smart, informed choices when it comes to energy, waste, transportation, environmental justice, and more to help advance solutions and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The decisions that you make today can shape the earth for centuries to come.
- Energy. One of the most cost-effective ways you can reduce greenhouse gases to help combat climate change is by saving energy and using cleaner energy sources.
Look for the ENERGY STAR certification label on energy-efficient products, including appliances, lighting, heating and cooling equipment, electronics, and office equipment.
ENERGY STAR Product Finder
Find all the information you need to start shopping for ENERGY STAR certified products, including product details…
- Many utility companies offer rebates on ENERGY STAR certified products, which you can find through the Rebate Finder.
Product Rebate Finder
Product Rebate Finder - Enter your zip code to find rebates and other special offers on ENERGY STAR certified products…
Federal Income Tax Credits and Other Incentives for Energy Efficiency
Tax deductions for Energy Efficient Commercial Buildings were made permanent under the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021, up to $1.80 per square foot is available to owners or designers of commercial buildings and systems demonstrating a 50% reduction in energy use solely through improvements to the heating, cooling, ventilation, hot water, and interior lighting systems. However, the tax credits for Residential Energy Efficiency (Equipment Tax Credits for Primary Residences) and for builders of energy efficient homes expired on December 31, 2021. As of January 5, 2022, there is no approved extension of these tax credits. Any extension/renewal of these credits is still pending approved legislation by Congress.
The tax credits for Residential Renewable Energy Products are still effectivethrough December 31, 2023. Renewable energy tax credits for fuel cells, small wind turbines, and geothermal heat pumps have a gradual step down in the credit value, the same as those for solar energy systems. Both existing homes and new construction qualify, and both principal residences and second homes qualify. Rentals, however, do not qualify.
The credit is:
26% for systems put in service after 12/31/2019 and before 01/01/2023
22% for systems put in service after 12/31/2022 and before 01/01/2024
Biomass fuel stoves update for 2021 — if you purchase and install a wood or pellet stove or larger residential biomass heating system with a Thermal Efficiency Rating of at least 75%, you can claim an uncapped credit that is based on the full cost (purchase and installation) of the unit. The credit must be claimed on the tax return in the year the product installation was completed.
The credit is:
26% for systems placed in service between 01/01/2021 through 12/31/2022
22% for systems placed in service between 01/01/2023 and 12/31/2023
ENERGY STAR certified products are independently certified to save energy, save money and protect the environment and are available in 75+ categories.
Heat and cool your home efficiently by sealing air leaks and adding insulation
Seal and Insulate with ENERGY STAR. Sealing air leaks and adding insulation can help your home be more comfortable and energy efficient and provide up to 10% savings on your annual energy bills. Easy fixes include installing weather stripping on doors and caulking around windows. Larger bigger jobs might include sealing leaks and adding insulation in your attic. You can use these resources to choose sealing and insulation projects, use the how-to instructions to do it yourself, or link to qualified professionals who can help you.
Identify the Problems You Want to Fix
Use the charts below to match your biggest concerns to the home improvement projects that may be able to address them…
Perform maintaininance on your heating and cooling equipment. You should
inspect, clean, or change air filters once a month; dirty filters increase energy costs and damage equipment.
Have a contractor check the cooling system in the spring and the heating system in the fall.
Maintain your equipment to prevent future problems and unwanted costs. Keep your cooling and heating system at peak…
Upgrade to ENERGY STAR certified windows, doors, heating and cooling systems, and certified smart thermostats. It may be time to replace your equipment if it is more than 10 years old, needs frequent repairs, and your energy bills are going up; if some rooms are too hot or cold or never get comfortable; if your home has problems with humidity or excessive dust; or if you tend to leave your thermostat set on one constant temperature.
ENERGY STAR Heating & Cooling Guide
What type of heating and/or cooling system are you thinking of purchasing? Central cooling and/or heating delivered…
Other projects you can to help save energy are rooftop gardens (green roofs) or cool roofs. Both cool and green roofs give the benefit of lower surface and air temperatures and decreased energy demand. Cool roofs are better for limited budgets where the primary focus is on energy savings, while green roofs are better when broader environmental impacts, longer lifecycle, and serving a dual recreational purpose are more important.
If you like to connect with nature and exercise, you may choose to do landscaping. There are many approaches to landscaping products and services that are safer, greener, and better for the environmnent that you can take when landscaping. Sustainable landscaping consists of:
- Integrated pest management
- Salvaged and recycled-content materials
- Low embodied energy materials
- Permeable surfaces for storm water management
- Use of native, climate-appropriate plants
- Energy-efficient and solar-powered lighting
- Low or zero-emission landscaping equipment
Energy-saving tips for renters
If you rent, these tips will show you how to be more energy efficient while saving money and reducing the risks of climate change. If there are things you can’t change on your own, share these tips with your landlord to help make a change for the better.
Things you can do include adjusting thermostats; turning off lights when no one is in the room; unplugging electronics when you’re not using them; switching to ENERGY STAR LED lightbulbs; adjusting window shades to lessen the need for heating and cooling; and installing programmable thermostats.
- Replace a bulb and reduce your carbon footprint! A single light bulb that has earned the ENERGY STAR prevents, on average, 795 pounds of greenhouse gas emissions over its lifetime.
Switch to green power generated from renewable energy sources like solar, wind, and hydropower. Many households have the option to opt for green power for their electricity. Utility green power products, often referred to as green pricing , are offered directly from their utility supplier, so they can get information by contacting them. You can also click here for third-party certified green power products by state.
You can also consider rooftop solar or other self-supplied green power.
The most effective way to reduce waste is to not create it in the first place. You’ll save money, conserve natural resources, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions by practicing the three R’s: reduce, reuse, and recycle.
- Think green before you shop. Reduce associated greenhouse gas emissions by thinking about the environmental impact of products. For example, consider a product’s durability, sustainability, and ease of recycling when making a purchase.
- Reduce your food waste by shopping smart, buying only what you need, composting food scraps, and donating unused food to food banks or shelters. Food is the single largest category of material placed in municipal landfills, where it emits methane, a powerful greenhouse gas.
- Reuse or repurpose items such as old clothing, cloth grocery bags, and containers to cut down on the amount of waste you create in the first place. Find out more ways to reduce your impact.
- Buy used items to reduce waste as well as the emissions created by producing new materials or disposing of them in landfills. Donate your old items to make sure others can reuse them, too!
- Buy products made with recycled content. Check labels to see if a product or its packaging is made from recycled content.
- Know before you throw. Know what items your local recycling program collects and encourage your household to recycle right and recycle more.
- Learn about what else you can do at home, at school, at work, and in your community.
You can reduce the environmental impact of fuel emissions by using greener transportation; driving smarter; choosing an energy efficient vehicle and charger; switching to an electric vehicle if you can; and making as few trips as possible.
- Drive smart. Improve your fuel economy by going easy on the brakes and gas, using cruise control, and keeping your car well-maintained. Make as few trips at a time as you can; activities such as grouping errands to make fewer trips and teleworking, if available, can reduce both fuel use and greenhouse gas emissions.
- Green transportation. Biking, walking, carpooling, and public transportation significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Check to see if your employer offers commuter benefits for public transportation or carpooling.
- Choose an energy-efficient vehicle and an energy-saving electric vehicle charger. by looking for models with higher miles per gallon. You can find information on the cleanest, most fuel-efficient vehicles in EPA’s Green Vehicle Guide. Check out EPA’s ENERGY STAR electric vehicle page to learn about ENERGY STAR electric vehicle chargers and incentives for electric and plug-in vehicles.
- Switch to an electric vehicle if you can. Plug-in electric vehicles typically produce less greenhouse gas emissions than an average new gasoline-powered car. Use the Beyond Tailpipe Emissions Calculator to see the emissions savings from driving an electric vehicle in your region.
As the climate changes, some communities could face water supply shortages and impacts to water infrastructure. Conserving water reduces greenhouse gas emissions because of the amount of energy it takes to pump, treat, and heat water.
- Use water efficiently. Turn off running faucets, run your washer with a full load using cold water, and use your dishwasher instead of washing dishes by hand to save energy and water.
- Look for the WaterSense label and the ENERGY STAR label EPA on dishwashers and washers when purchasing new products.
- Check for water leaks. Leaks from toilets, faucets, and pipes are usually easy to detect and fix. Did you know a leaky toilet can waste 200 gallons of water per day?
- Install low-flow showerheads. Not only do they save energy and money, but you can take them with you when you move.
- Take shorter showers. Cutting your shower time by just a minute helps save gallons of water.
- Have a water-smart landscape by designing a landscape suitable to your climate, choosing drought-resistant plants, and learning when and how much to water. See EPA’s Water-Smart Landscape guide for more tips.
5. Environmental Justice & More
The effects of climate change on underserved and overburdened populations is unequal. Those disparities have existed for a long time in our society, and addressing them is crucial for climate change solutions to be effective. It’s important to become involved with your community in any way that you can.
- Promote environmental stewardship by encouraging your school or workplace to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions by managing their energy use and waste generation.
- Plant trees (or gift a tree!) wherever you can, but don’t stop there.
Get involved and do something great this Earth Month: plant trees with us! This project aims to reforest lands damaged…
- Community gardens, green roofs, and other projects can help cool both urban heat islands and disparity as well
Heat islands are urban areas that experience higher temperatures than outlying areas. Daytime temperatures are about 1–7°F higher and nighttime temperatures are about 2–5°F higher. Buildings and roads absorb and re-emit the sun’s heat more than natural landscapes like forests and water bodies. Urban areas, where these structures are highly concentrated and greenery is limited, become “islands” of higher temperatures compared to the outlying areas. Under-resourced communities are especially vulnerable to the impacts of urban heat islands, especially in the summer.
Deepen your knowledge about climate change.
Climate Change Indicators in the United States | US EPA
EPA's indicators provide important evidence of what climate change looks like in the U.S. Discover " EPA's report uses…
- Educate others about how we all contribute to climate change and can make a difference by changing our own behaviors.
- Be the example. Tell others at home, school, work, and in the community steps they can take to protect the climate and reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and always set a good example through your own actions.
- Estimate your Carbon Footprint and greenhouse gas emissions with the Carbon Footprint Calculator.
Household Carbon Footprint Calculator
- Help increase climate change data and understanding by participating in Citizen Science projects needing research participants. In citizen science, the public voluntarily participates in the scientific process, addressing real-world problems. You can help make science happen by volunteering for a real research project.
Here are more curated ways you can take action this Earth Day.
Sources: Environmental Protection Agency