For just over 50 years, since its introduction in 1970, Earth Day has been our annual reminder to honor and revere our planet. Environmentalists have longed for a time when these values are applied all year, and this may be the planet’s best chance so far. The pandemic and the looming climate crisis have given many the time and reasons to nurture and appreciate the environment — from cleaner air and water and improving biodiversity, to just plain getting outside. So, while Earth Day on April 22 serves as a good reminder that the planet needs to intensify its fight against climate change, here are some creative ways Seattle-area people have found to try and make every day Earth Day.
Restore forests in your backyard
Planting a tree is the iconic Earth Day activity. But why stop at one, when you can do 100?
Former environmental engineer and biologist Jim Wright started “Grow It Forward” on his own dime at the start of the pandemic. The idea is simple: You can grow a miniature forest, what he calls a “micro-nursery,” of 100 forest tree seedlings, in a 4-foot-by-4-foot plot for a year or two; these are then donated to local parks and forests, restoring much-needed salmon habitat. This saves restoration groups the cost of buying and caring for tender seedlings, letting them focus on accessing habitat locations and clearing invasive species.
Last fall, Grow It Forward donated 300 Douglas fir seedlings to the Skagit Fisheries Enhancement Group for planting in Sedro-Woolley’s Riverfront Park. In 2020, the project had 23 gardeners around Seattle, and Wright hopes to expand that by 50 for this year’s program. Wright says only basic gardening skills are needed — mostly, planting and watering. The cost for seedlings and growing materials is $95.
Sustainability for all: creating inclusive environmental programs
The Environmental Coalition of South Seattle (ECOSS) works with diverse communities and businesses in programs including the popular RainWise rain garden and cistern program, which conserves water use and promotes cleaner waterways.
This spring, ECOSS debuts the Duwamish Job Corps, a job training program created in partnership with Valley Youth Corps, Duwamish Tribal Services and DIRT Corps to help provide an opportunity for young people of color to learn habitat restoration while supporting themselves and their communities, communications manager Will Chen says. It helps counteract the traditional paradigm of all-volunteer environmentalism, which tends to attract affluent, retired, often white people.
“One of the challenges for communities of color when it comes to the environment is to have the capacity to think about it,” says Chen. “Oftentimes for a variety of reasons, they have to juggle a number of concerns, such as financial constraints and multiple jobs. So where do you fit the environment in there? Also, historically, people of color have not had the pathways to an environmental career and job opportunities, and they don’t have the institutional knowledge passed down through generations.”
Trainees will be compensated throughout their training, which Chen says is rare in environmental stewardship. Recruitment begins this spring for the four-year program. (Email Cari Simson at firstname.lastname@example.org to learn more.)
The Free Forest School, which organizes weekly outdoor gatherings for children from preschool through age 8, took the pandemic pause to cocoon and reemerge in a new, more flexible, inclusive format. Anna Sharratt, executive director, thinks the way to raise an earth-friendly adult is to let them play outside as a child.
“There’s research that shows the No. 1 way to support children in developing pro-environmental behaviors is unstructured play in nature. Developing a love for the planet is really the first step for climate education,” says Sharratt.
Pre-pandemic, the Minnesota-based organization’s 200-plus chapters, including the one in Seattle, were staffed entirely by volunteers, and free meetups were typically held during the workday, potentially excluding working parents and caregivers.
In May, FFS is launching Our Outdoors, a new online hub offering online trainings and local forums about developmentally appropriate outdoor learning. Live events will resume in June. The new suggested fees are on a sliding scale. Sharratt says the program offers more accessible, flexible at-home resources that open environmental education to everyone.
“Lots of folks need tools for doing this at home,” she says. You don’t have to go hiking or kayaking to boost your connection with nature, Sharratt says. She encourages parents and caregivers to make a weekly goal of time outside.
Prescribing parks, even golf
Bellingham-based physician Dr. Gregory Anderson regularly helps his patients do just that by writing them a “parkscription” based on their needs and lifestyle. Anderson is part of the national Park Rx America program, a database partnering doctors and clinicians deputized to prescribe getting outside. Therapists, social workers and yoga instructors can also become prescribers in the program, which partners with parks departments across the country. The prescriptions are a tool Anderson may use to encourage his regular patients to spend more time outdoors. He says patients are much more likely to follow through with a written prescription.
“It’s a really powerful intervention,” he says. “Even if you have a bum knee, sitting on a park bench has real benefits. They include reducing anxiety and stress. The human brain evolved to be out in nature. You’re supposed to be looking out to the horizon. If you are looking at a screen 12 inches away, you lose something.”
Anderson has prescribed everything from two minutes in the backyard to rounds of golf to his patients. One woman began doing daily 30-60 minute walks with her husband and was off her anxiety medication within three weeks.
People seeking a parks prescription can show their doctor this link: (st.news/ParkRX), or to start independently, simply “grab a pair of good walking shoes and leave your front door,” Anderson says. “This is the best way to overcome inertia. Once you’ve started, or established, a daily outdoors habit, you can expand and keep things interesting by purchasing a local trails book at your local bookstore, or using the website for the local county parks department to explore green spaces in your area. The most important thing is to just take a step outside and overcome that analysis paralysis.”
Simple steps to take
You don’t need a prescription, of course, to spend more time appreciating and taking care of our environment.
At the Beacon Food Forest in Rainier Beach, new volunteer requests are coming in every week to maintain the living farmers market, says community outreach volunteer Webster Walker.
More than 400 people helped University of Washington doctoral candidate Olivia Sanderfoot in her citizen science project observing backyard birds’ reactions during lockdown last spring. The goal is to study how bird behavior is impacted by factors like traffic; 200 have signed up for this year’s session, spanning April-June.
In August, one eighth grade Girl Scout started a podcast interviewing environmentalists called “How to Save the Planet.” This month, Ballard High School’s Earth Service Corps is raising money for climate change refugees.
Or, you can do something as simple as wander around your neighborhood and help to pick up trash. Ewin Pham, of Bothell, and children Eden, 13, Emi, 9, and Evie, 2, become a cleanup crew on monthly walks, collecting trash in nearby neighborhoods as part of a New Year’s resolution that stuck. Pham turned it into a challenge — whoever picked the most got to choose dessert. It’s had ripple effects. The kids have started noticing debris on trips everywhere. “I think I’m going to bring a bag for the car,” Pham says.