Pandemic Earth Day: How to stay environmentally motivated from a distance

PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio/CNN) — This year's Earth Day — the 50th anniversary of the birth of the modern environmental movement — will be a quiet one.

For humans, at least, the planet is essentially closed on Earth Day due to the worldwide coronavirus pandemic.

The observance was created in the U.S. by late former Democratic Wisconsin Sen. Gaylord Nelson to increase public awareness of environmental issues.

By 1990, Earth Day had gone global, mobilizing millions of people in more than 140 countries to take up environmental issues and turn them into a worldwide movement.

Because of the pandemic, this year's celebrations are limited to our immediate and virtual surroundings.

Even though we can't celebrate our planet with community tree plantings, cleanups and national park visits this year, there are outdoor activities to enjoy within the vicinity of your home that are good for the planet and good for your health.

And, green advocates say there is still work to be done.

Small changes

Julie Hancher, co-founder and editor of Green Philly, said we can help the planet by looking at our personal waste habits.

“It's a good time to evaluate the opportunity to see what we are creating as waste and trying to reduce that,” she said.

She also says it’s time to look at small ways to make change.

“People are making bread instead of buying it in plastic bags. I see this as a good opportunity to try to talk about what people can do, versus, ‘Oh my God, I can't recycle!’ But how can you reduce your waste in the meantime?”

Virtual activities 

Since it is a milestone anniversary of Earth Day, virtual activities are scheduled to celebrate 50 years of environmental love.

The Earth Day Network is holding a 24-hour Earth Day Live event online, with speakers like Al Gore and National Geographic's Sylvia Earle.

The network is pushing leaders to take science seriously as we face an increase in climate change.

The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection is projecting the future impact of climate change on the state. The DEP says unchecked greenhouse gas emissions will impact livestock, infrastructure and water quality statewide.

To also help get in the spirit of environmentalism, stream an eco-documentary on the Discovery Channel or Netflix. Throughout the rest of the week, EarthxFilm, an international nonprofit environmental organization that showcases environmental films, is streaming shorts and films that raise awareness for dozens of environmental issues.

There's also a multitude of animal livestreams coming to you from aquariums, zoos and sanctuaries.

Stay in touch with the Earth by gardening

Putter around in your garden on Earth Day to keep in touch with nature and appreciate whatever you pull from its soil.

One study found gardening may prevent brain shrinkage in older adults. Our cognitive abilities, including learning and memory, partly depend on the size of our brains.

Gardening is good for the Earth when you replenish its soil in the form of compost or grow flowers from which bees can graze for pollen and plant nectar. But it's also advantageous for reaching a state of mindfulness.

Horticultural therapy is rooted in the idea that interacting with plants contributes to well-being. Caring for plants can improve your mood, blood pressure, heart rate and stress hormone levels. But we may also have a philosophical lesson to learn from plants.

Enjoy the meditative qualities of nature

You might also celebrate the natural world by forest bathing.

The term comes from the Japanese word shinrin-yoku, which means "immersing in the forest atmosphere." Since the 1980s, the Japanese have managed forests to help citizens relax and reduce stress.

Studies have shown that within just 15 minutes of this immersion, stress levels can decrease while your heart rate and blood pressure improve. You might even feel less depressed, or not as anxious, which is considerably needed during these vexing times.

Getting some fresh air is also a boon to instilling good behavior in children. A recent study found children who felt connected to nature — feeling pleasure when seeing wildflowers and animals, hearing sounds of nature — were more likely to engage in behaviors that helped other people. They scored higher on a happiness scale, too.

And if the weather's nice, give meditating outside a shot if you can find a quiet space. Numerous studies bolster the slew of benefits meditation has to offer: It may help keep your immune system functioning optimally. A consistent practice can help us better respond to stressful situations by reshaping our brains to become more resilient.

In studies of meditation newbies, scientists found improvement in the region of the brain that regulates emotion, contributing to a state of mindfulness. Meditation may even slow aging in your brain.

Walk, run, hike or bike the Earth

On Earth Day, take a walk or run through the neighborhood. Go alone and relish your solitude, enjoying the time for free thought or listening to a podcast. Or, take advantage of the opportunity for quality time with your loved ones and stroll with your family and dog by your side.

It's safe to do so if you make sure you "keep your distance from other people" outside of your family, said Dr. Daniel Kuritzkes, chief of the Division of Infectious Diseases at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Massachusetts.

"The key word is consideration," Kuritzkes added. "People need to be aware of their distance from others to be respectful and not crowd them, and not have other people crowding you. If people are respectful, it should be pretty simple to stay sufficiently far apart from other people so that there's really no risk."

If you hike on a nearby trail, maintain the same distance of at least 6 feet apart from others. Bring hand sanitizer and wipes so that if you stop to eat or sit on picnic tables and benches, you can disinfect your hands, Kuritzkes suggested.

Cycling through your neighborhood, on a trail or into town is permissible, as "most people on bicycles are reasonably far apart from each other," Kuritzkes said. And since you'd be speeding down a road or path, there's not much opportunity to transfer the virus by closely talking with people.

Just be courteous to those around you. If you do need to come to a halt, be sure you're maintaining the proper distance from other cyclists or pedestrians.

How we'll celebrate Earth Day this year may be unusual, but there's no shortage of enjoyable activities that are good for your health and the planet and that will keep you safe during a pandemic.


The-CNN-Wire™ contributed to this report. The-CNN-Wire™ & © 2020 Cable News Network, Inc., a WarnerMedia Company. All rights reserved.