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for people who care about the West

How to celebrate Earth Day

Stand up for public lands, fight climate change and get outside this April 22 — and all year long.


Tim Lydon is a contributor to Writers on the Range, the opinion service of High Country News. He writes from Alaska.

In 1970, the first Earth Day began as a call for change. The nationwide day of protest erupted with all the verve and passion of the recent March for Our Lives demonstrations. But instead of asking for protection from guns, citizens were seeking to halt environmental degradation — especially air pollution. The day’s remarkable turnout helped inspire the Clean Air Act, which still saves lives and reduces health care costs today.

Just as in 1970, there’s plenty to howl about this Earth Day, so here are a few ideas for some West-specific resolutions that I hope are drenched in the activist spirit of the original event.

Volunteers help build a trail at Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge near Denver, Colorado, on Earth Day 2017.


America’s public lands are the soul of the West. They are what lured so many of us to this wild and vibrant landscape, and they enrich our lives daily. But today the land needs us. While Congress tries to subject land-management agencies to starvation budgets, the Trump administration trades monuments for drill rigs and pushes to sell off the land. This Earth Day, we can recommit to the land by lending support to one of the many local public-lands advocacy groups. Their work helps us raise our voices for the places we love.


Above all, climate change is an air-quality issue, so it’s especially fitting fodder for Earth Day. In the West, warming steals our snow, stresses our forests, and intensifies droughts and wildfires. In Alaska, we are losing the cold that defines our landscapes and cultures. Meanwhile, our leaders push for aggressive drilling and undermine public access to clean energy. But every day, we can do our part to fight for a stable climate, by reducing emissions at home, divesting from fossil fuels, and resisting local fossil fuel development. We can also support successful groups like Colorado-based Protect Our Winters (POW) or 350.org, dedicated to a clean energy future.


Plastic waste clogs municipal waste streams, kills marine mammals, poisons the fish we eat, and leaves our children with a toxic legacy. Research shows that by 2050, more plastic will fill our oceans than fish. But we can break our addiction to plastics. Earth Day is a good time to stock your backpack or car with canvas shopping bags. We can also join the growing efforts in Alaska, Oregon, Colorado and elsewhere to ban single-use bags. Or join broader campaigns, such as Earth Day Network’s “End Plastics Pollution” drive.


As a nation, we throw away up to 40 percent of our food. Let this be the year you start composting. It makes us happier people, and the dirt and worm tea provide steroids for your plants and trees. We can also get involved in local food-rescue programs and community gardens or composts. Or support municipal programs like the ones in Washington that offer curbside compost pick-up or waste-to-energy facilities.


Earth Day is also a good time to bust out the saws and loppers to reduce fire danger around the home. This protects property and reduces the fire-fighting costs depleting public lands funding. Across the West, state and federal programs provide guidance, funding, and may even send foresters to assess fire danger on private properties. But we can also take being fire-wise to the next level. To protect communities and public lands, local governments need to hear from the public about mapping and zoning needs to inform fire-wise development. Too often, developers more concerned with profit than safety dominate local discussions.

A man throws water onto shrubs surrounding his home near Kernville, California, in 2016 while the Cedar Fire burns less than a mile away.


It is not normal that millions of Americans still reject basic climate change science! Research and investigative journalism show how fossil fuel interests and their surrogates actively spread disinformation. Media Literacy Now promotes laws that guarantee students access to media literacy curricula that can help them discern legitimate from bogus news. Legislation has recently been enacted in California, New Mexico, Utah and Washington and is under consideration elsewhere. These laws also often address other issues, such as online bullying.


Get informed and get involved. In November, Westerners will have the opportunity to support candidates who fight climate change and protect our lands and oceans.


Love yourself and the Earth by committing to more time outside. Unplug for even an hour to walk or run down your favorite trail. Play hooky with your kids at the local park. Teach them how to properly hug a tree, with arms stretched out as wide as they can go, young cheeks pressed against scaly bark, and a deep inward breath that fills lungs and hearts with the thrilling vibrancy of our world. Adults can — and should — do this, too.

Note: the opinions expressed in this column are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect those of High Country News, its board or staff. If you'd like to share an opinion piece of your own, please write Betsy Marston at [email protected].