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5 Ways to Make This Earth Day Really Count

Climate
5 Ways to Make This Earth Day Really Count

By Courtney Lindwall

Earth Day 2018 is here—and the Earth needs us more than ever. The Trump administration is waging a no-holds-barred assault on our clean energy future, the air we breathe and water we drink, our public lands, and our endangered species. But the grassroots environmental movement is energized, and every action each of us takes to honor the planet matters. Here are a few effective—and fun—ways to make a difference this year.


1. Organize a cleanup

You can't clean up the entire planet, but you can beautify a pocket of your neighborhood. Round up a group of like-minded friends and relatives to pick up trash at a local park or beach or along a popular hiking trail. Chores are always more fun when they become games, so have everyone bring along a reusable bag—you'll sort the trash from the recyclables at the end—and compete to see who can pick up the most litter. (Bonus points for offering sustainable prizes to the winners.) The cleanup will be a good chance to give something back to your community and an opportunity to show younger participants the importance of reducing waste. It will also be a reminder to everyone just how quickly seemingly small bits of trash, like bottle caps or candy wrappers, add up.

2. Start a compost bin, or pledge to start sending your food scraps to a community composting program

Many people don't know that the organic food scraps we toss out release methane, a detrimental greenhouse gas, as they decay in the landfill. Earth Day is a great time to start cutting down on how much food you throw out by taking up composting. Composting promotes a circular food system that transforms scraps (and other organic materials, like paper towels) into regenerative and healthy soil.

Making a compost pile in your yard or in an outdoor or indoor bin is easier than you think. You might also be able to find a compost drop-off point for certain food scraps at your local community garden or farmer's market (just store scraps in the freezer until you're ready to deliver them). Some big cities also collect organic material as part of the normal scheduled trash pickup. Since food waste makes up a hefty chunk of residential garbage, adopting any of these changes in your routine will help you do your part to fight climate change.

3. Visit your nearest national park or monument

A trip to a national park or monument on Earth Day does more than just reconnect you to nature—it also supports our precious federal lands and waters in their time of need. The National Park Service's budget is under attack, and the current administration is selling off portions of America's monuments to oil and gas interests and other extractive industries. By spending Earth Day hiking in a national park, you are showing that the public values these sacred spaces. Through the visitor's fee, you are also helping to fund them for the next generation of nature lovers.

4. Find a local Earth Day festival

The road of environmental advocacy is long, which is why it's important to remind yourself that you are not alone in this fight. Attending a local Earth Day gathering will allow you not only to connect with other activists but to also build momentum to make planet-friendly changes in your community. It's also likely to be an instant mood booster. Consult the website of your local parks department, or search on Eventbrite to find out what's happening nearby. When you're out celebrating, be sure to put your name on the mailing list of one of the participating environmental organizations, or exchange contact information with fellow attendees. Remember: Joining forces and combining talents is the only way we'll be effective enough to meet our clean-future goals.

5. Win a celebrity gift and support NRDC during eBay's Earth Month campaign

Be a force for nature and snag a gift donated by a big-name celebrity by participating in eBay's Earth Month campaign. NRDC was selected as eBay's environmental charity through its "eBay for Charity" partnership program, so from April 16 to 26, friends of the earth will have a chance to win big at eBay.com/EarthMonth while supporting the important work of NRDC lawyers, scientists, and policy experts.

Prizes up for grabs in the auction include:

  • A drum set and signed drumsticks donated by musician QuestLove
  • A personal voicemail greeting from comedian Sarah Silverman
  • A signed print of an original painting by actor Pierce Brosnan
  • Four tickets to SOLO: A Star Wars Story donated by Disney
  • Two sets of VIP tickets to a Conan taping, compliments of comedian and talk-show host Conan O'Brien
  • A signed handbag donated by actress Amber Valletta
  • Two POP figures with a signed note, courtesy of actor Thomas Middleditch
  • Two VIP passes for the 2018 New York E-Prix, an all-electric racing series, donated by Formula E!
  • A signed 35th-anniversary edition Alien poster and collector's figurine from actress Sigourney Weaver
  • Earth Month PINTRILL pins made from recycled materials and made exclusively for eBay for Charity
  • A signed The Revenant poster by actor Leonardo DiCaprio and film director Alejandro González Iñárritu

Moreover, NRDC superfans can enter a sweepstakes to win a grand-prize trip to Big Sky, Montana, with NRDC president Rhea Suh and other staffers to explore the wild Rockies alongside their biggest defenders.

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In early October, Britain's Prince William teamed up with conservationist David Attenborough to launch the Earthshot Prize, a new award for environmentalist innovation. The Earthshot brands itself the "most prestigious global environment prize in history."

The world-famous wildlife broadcaster and his royal sidekick appear to have played an active role in the prize's inception, and media coverage has focused largely on them as the faces of the campaign.

But the pair are only the frontmen of a much larger movement which has been in development for several years. In addition to a panel of experts who will decide on the winners, the prize's formation took advice from the World Wildlife Fund, Greenpeace and the Jack Ma Foundation.

With more and more global attention on the climate crisis, celebrity endorsement of environmental causes has become more common. But why do environmental causes recruit famous faces for their campaigns? And what difference can it make?

'Count Me In'

"We need celebrities to reach those people who we cannot reach ourselves," says Sarah Marchildon from the United Nations Climate Change secretariat (UNFCCC) in Bonn, Germany.

Marchildon is a proponent of the use of celebrities to raise awareness of environmental causes. In addition to promoting a selection of climate ambassadors who represent the UN on sustainability issues, Marchildon's team has produced videos with well-known narrators from the entertainment world: among them, Morgan Freeman and Mark Ruffalo.

"We choose celebrities who have a lifestyle where they are already talking about these issues," Marchildon explains.

"Sometimes they reach out to us themselves, as David Attenborough did recently. And then they can promote the videos on their own social channels which reach more people than we do — for example, if they have 20 million followers and we have 750,000."

Environmental groups focused on their own domestic markets are also taking this approach. One Germany-based organization that uses celebrities in campaigns is the German Zero NGO. Set up in 2019, it advocates for a climate-neutral Germany by 2035.

German Zero produced a video in March 2020 introducing the campaign with "66 celebrities" that supported the campaign, among them Deutschland 83 actor Jonas Nay and former professional footballer Andre Schürrle. They solicit support as well as financial contributions from viewers.

"Count me in," they say, pointing toward the camera. "You too?"

"We are incredibly grateful for the VIPs in our videos," says German Zero spokeswoman Eva-Maria McCormack.

Assessing Success Is Complex

But quantifying the effectiveness of celebrity endorsement of campaigns is not a straightforward process.

"In order to measure effectiveness, first of all you need to define what is meant by success," says Alegria Olmedo, a researcher at the Zoology Department at the University of Oxford.

Olmedo is the author of a study looking at a range of campaigns concerning pangolin consumption, fronted by local and Western celebrities, in Vietnam and China. But she says her biggest stumbling block was knowing how to measure a campaign's success.

"You need a clear theory of change," explains Olmedo. "Have the celebrities actually helped in achieving the campaign's goals? And how do you quantify these goals? Maybe it is increased donations or higher engagement with a cause."

A popular campaign in China in recent years saw famous chefs Zhao Danian and Shu Yi pledge to abstain from cooking endangered wildlife. While the pledge achieved widespread recognition, both Olmedo and Marchildon say it's difficult to know whether it made any difference to people's actions.

"In life we see a thousand messages every day, and it is very hard to pinpoint whether one campaign has actually made a difference in people's behavior," she explains.

Awareness Is Not Enough

Many campaigns that feature celebrities focus on raising awareness rather than on concrete action — which, for researcher Olmedo, raises a further problem in identifying effectiveness.

"Reach should never be a success outcome," she says. "Many campaigns say they reached a certain number of people on social media. But there has been a lot of research that shows that simply giving people information does not mean they are actually going to remember it or act upon it."

But anecdotal evidence from campaigns may suggest reach can make an active difference.

"Our VIP video is by far the most watched on our social media channels," McCormack from German Zero says. "People respond to it very directly. A lot of volunteers of all ages heard about us through that video."

However, some marketing studies have shown that celebrity endorsement of a cause or product can distract from the issue itself, as people only remember the person, not the content of what they were saying.

Choosing the Right Celebrity

Celebrity choice is also very important. Campaigns that use famous faces are often aiming to appeal to members of the public who do not necessarily follow green issues.

For certain campaigns with clear target audiences, choosing a climate scientist or well-known environmentalist rather than a celebrity could be more appealing — Attenborough is a classic example. For others, images and videos involving cute animals may be more likely to get a message heard than attaching a famous face.

"We choose celebrities who have a lifestyle where they are already talking about these issues," says Marchildon from the UN. "You need figures with credibility."

McCormack cites the example of Katharine Hayhoe, an environmental scientist who is also an evangelical Christian. In the southern United States, Hayhoe has become a celebrity in her own right, appealing to an audience that might not normally be interested in the messages of climate scientists.

But as soon as you get a celebrity involved, campaigns also put themselves at risk of the whims of that celebrity. Prince William and younger members of the royal family have come under fire in recent years for alleged hypocrisy for their backing of environmental campaigns while simultaneously using private jets to fly around the world.

But Does It Really Work?

While environmental campaigns hope that endorsement from well-known figures can boost a campaign, there is little research to back this up.

"The biggest finding [from my study] was that we were unable to produce any evidence that shows that celebrity endorsement of environmental causes makes any difference," says Olmedo.

This will come as a blow to many campaigns that have invested time and effort into relationships with celebrity ambassadors. But for many, the personal message that many celebrities offer in videos like that produced by German Zero and campaigns like the Earthshot Prize are what counts.

The research may not prove this conclusively — but if the public believes a person they respect deeply personally cares about an important issue, they are perhaps more likely to care too.

"I personally believe in the power this can have," says Marchildon. "And if having a celebrity involved can get a single 16-year-old future leader thinking about environmentalist issues — that is enough."

Reposted with permission from DW.

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