Earth Day: A Time to Protect Our Planet

Climate change is becoming an increasingly urgent problem around the world. To fight it, environmental activists have organized trash cleanups, companies have strived to use more renewable energy sources, and governments have implemented policies on emissions. But it’s not just society’s titans who can make a change—ordinary people can, too. One step citizens can take to protect the environment is to acknowledge Earth Day. 

Earth Day takes place annually on April 22nd to honor environmental achievements and raise awareness of the importance of sustainability. Since its founding in 1970, Earth Day has expanded to become a global holiday celebrated by over one billion people, according to the nonprofit organization Earth Day Network. This makes it the largest nonreligious event in the world.

Longfellow’s Eco-Action club is committed to protecting the environment and had some activities planned to commemorate Earth Day. Dr. Yannos, the club’s sponsor, mentioned that they want to increase recycling at school and clean the invasive plants growing near the school building. The club hopes to work with the National Junior Honors Society and the Student Council Association to accomplish these goals. However, they haven’t made much progress this year because the COVID-19 pandemic has made it more difficult to get consistent student participation.

Fairfax County has also planned activities to encourage students to be more eco-friendly. Dr. Yannos said that the county usually creates a bingo card with various Earth Day activities to do over the week. He plans to distribute these to teachers so that each day classes can do something to help protect the environment. For example, having class with the lights off or striving to take a shorter shower.

If Dr. Yannos had a say, we would celebrate Earth Day every day of the year. “I wish we could just call it Earth Year. It could be something that we think about all days of the year. It’s important to have a day to focus on it, but the needs of the world are going to affect us more and more as time continues.”

To slow climate change, countries must implement regulations to drastically reduce emissions and pollution. In addition to making small changes in their own lives, individuals can push for big changes in businesses.

“Everybody needs to be thinking every day about not just ‘what can I do as a citizen of my personal life,’ but ‘what pressures can I put on big companies that actually create a lot of the pollution.’ So, Earth Day is a great thing for raising awareness in the citizenry, but it needs to be something that gets built into our way of life a little bit more,” Dr. Yannos said.

Indeed, acknowledging Earth Day and protecting the environment are very important. Every year, the impacts of extreme weather caused by climate change become more noticeable and widespread. For example, higher temperatures have increased the amount of water vapor in the atmosphere, leading to more frequent and severe tropical storms. Climate change also affects the ocean by making glaciers and ice sheets melt, which raises sea levels. Additionally, warmer water causes the volume of the ocean to expand. This adds to the intensity of natural disasters like floods and hurricanes.

Major polluters like the US and China contribute the most to climate change, and many people, including Dr. Yannos, think these countries aren’t doing enough to fight it. 

“I think it’s very hard for countries to do everything that needs to be done to [fight] climate change because it involves spending money today to make an impact tomorrow,” he remarked. “Countries and companies do very bad[ly] with the investment model. They want results right now, not results in ten years. So, sometimes it feels like when we have these other financial needs right now, we need to spend money on that instead of things with long-term impacts.”

Students, too, can help protect the environment. Dr. Yannos suggested having conversations with parents and peers to figure out what they can do, such as walking or biking to school, planting trees, and participating in trash cleanups. Raising awareness about climate change is also important. Students could put pressure on politicians, talk to local representatives, or say something during the morning announcements at school to raise awareness within the Longfellow community.

Dr. Yannos urges everyone to do their part to help fight climate change and protect the planet. “There are small and big steps we can all be taking, but if everyone thinks, ‘I need to leave this to someone else to handle,’ then no one’s going to do it in the end,” he said.