#HappyEarthDay

Challenge yourself to discover how technology can inspire positive environmental impact.

Bronwyn Miller

 

Today marks the 43rd anniversary of Earth Day, a reminder of our respon­sibility to treat our planet with respect and care.

In recent years, this holiday — and the recognition it inspires — feels more impor­tant than ever. For five consecutive years, Gallup poll results have indicated that Americans are more interested in protect­ing economic growth than in protecting the environment when the two goals conflict. Prior to 2008, Americans gave precedent to the environment every year beginning in 1984, when the question was first asked.

This year’s results, released at the be­ginning of April, indicate that 48 percent of Americans believe economic growth should have priority “even if the environ­ment suffers to some extent,” while 43 percent prioritize protection of the envi­ronment “even at the risk of curbing eco­nomic growth.” These numbers are closer than the 2011 record-high gap between re­spondents, when 54 percent supported the economy over the environment, but they still point to the persistence of a disturbing trend.

Even in times of economic downturn, the ills plaguing our environment should inspire anything but lackadaisical atti­tudes about the necessity for protections. As more research emerges, the effects of global climate change are posed to stretch far and wide, from raising sea levels and in­creasing rates of infectious diseases to de­pleting polar bear populations and ruined beer and wine production.

Although we are confronted with these effects on a daily basis (hello, blizzard in April), it is still easy to feel like climate change is a far-off, vague threat. Its imag­ined distance is what makes it so easy to en­gage only in what many refer to as “slack­tivism,” or a lazy brand of activism in which actions do not move beyond the Internet. People “like” environmental organizations on Facebook, retweet important messages and even sign online petitions — but, as some argue, they do so at the expense of en­gaging in real, on-the-ground efforts that are most likely to inspire actual change.

Although many different causes might suffer because of our increasing engage­ment with “armchair politics,” conducted from the comfort of our own homes, Earth Day seems especially susceptible. For me, celebrating Earth Day as a child meant prac­ticing school-wide activities like planting trees or working on a community garden, undertaking hands-on efforts proven to help the environment. With external sources no longer guaranteeing participation, the ac­tion-based focus of Earth Day has fallen by the wayside. We might show our support on­line, but it is easy to forget or disregard the importance of “real world” activities.

At the same time, technological capabili­ties are allowing many people to make cli­mate change more difficult to cast off as a faraway issue. Jeff Orlowski, director and cinematographer of the recently released, award-winning documentary “Chasing Ice,” set off to create a film that would al­low people to visually engage with a cause that is “inherently invisible.” As he put it, climate change is difficult for people to re­ally “see” because “you’re talking about temperature and carbon dioxide changes.” “Chasing Ice” follows National Geographic photographer James Balog to the Arctic for the Extreme Ice Survey, an “innovative, long-term photography project that merges art and science to give a ‘visual voice’ to the planet’s changing ecosystems.” Using time-lapse images, the final product is a series of videos that “compress years into seconds and capture ancient mountains of ice in motion as they disappear at a breathtaking rate.”

Similarly, the Earth Day Network, the sponsor of today’s holiday, named this year’s theme The Face of Climate Change. They are attempting to positively harness the ever-increasing presence of technology in our lives to garner recognition for cli­mate change. Their website explains, “We need you to be climate reporters,” asking people to send in pictures that show the face of climate change so that they can be featured on an interactive digital display at Earth Day events throughout the world. With this technique, EDN hopes to change the misconception that climate change is “a vague and complex problem far off in the distance,” a myth that is propagated, they claim, by the fact that so many of us are “still fortunate enough to be insulated from its mounting consequences.” By encourag­ing all of us to collect images of people, ani­mals and places affected by climate change and displaying them worldwide, EDN hopes to inspire the discovery that climate change is in fact an issue that hits close to home.

Today and every day, we have the power to prove that technology and respect for the environment need not be at odds. We can all use the Internet to its full advantage and move beyond “slacktivism” — the infinite wealth of knowledge available at our fin­gertips can help us discover the answer to “What can I do to help?” with unprecedent­ed effortlessness. Tips for lowering our carbon footprints abound, and we can find farmers’ market locations or groups look­ing for volunteers with the click of a button. Instead of letting the Internet make us lazy, we can exploit the resources that make tak­ing action easier than ever.

Today, we celebrate Earth Day. This weekend, we will celebrate Spring Jam, attending a series of outdoor events noto­riously associated with large crowds and lots of boozing. With Spring Jam marking one of the first outdoor celebrations of the warm-weather season, take the opportu­nity to set a high standard for your further spring and summer gatherings. Be cogni­zant of the mark you leave on the space you occupy, even if you’re inebriated.

An environmentally friendly lifestyle re­quires more than online behavior and more than one day of recognition a year. Technol­ogy can serve as an important tool in your efforts, but you can’t exactly hug a tree digitally