How to give back to the planet on Earth Day and every day
When the very first Earth Day was held on April 22, 1970, it took place primarily on college campuses and in grade schools across the United States. Approximately 20 million Americans participated in that inaugural event, making it the most successful environmental demonstration at that point in history. Today, the nature-themed holiday has blossomed into a global celebration that reaches upwards of a billion people around the world. As the 48th annual Earth Day approaches, here are some simple activities and practical suggestions to help you and your family better manage your own environmental impact throughout the entire year.
1. Getting around town
Instead of jumping in your car for short trips, hop on your bicycle instead. By cycling around your neighborhood instead of driving, you'll cut down on harmful greenhouse gas emissions while enjoying some fun and beneficial exercise. It's a win-win situation.
When it comes to your car, fuel efficiency is the name of the game. Depending on the condition of your vehicle, several government programs around the country provide financial incentives to help you upgrade to a newer, cleaner, more energy-efficient car. For example, in California, the popular Replace Your Ride program offers substantial rebates to drivers who are ready to trade in their high-polluting vehicle for an electric or hybrid model.
2. Make your home energy efficient
In keeping with the phrase “think globally, act locally," the fastest way to make a significant contribution to the environment starts at home. Begin by switching to highly efficient LED light bulbs throughout your house or apartment. Not only will they help you conserve energy, they'll cut down your utility bills as well.
Adjusting the various heating and cooling units in your home by just a few degrees can also have a dramatic impact on both the environment and your budget. From your dishwasher to your thermostat to your refrigerator and electric dryer, a barely-noticeable temperature adjustment makes a significant difference in the long run.
3. Naturally delicious
Although they might cost a little bit more, switching to organic vegetables has a direct impact on the planet's health. Since factory farms introduce harmful pesticides and toxins into our environment, purchasing local organic produce instead is a tasty way to support sustainability and clean living. Or better yet, start a backyard vegetable garden and grow dinner yourself.
Speaking of your yard, replacing a thirsty lawn with one that's more drought-resistant is a great way to conserve water and cut down on high utility bills as well. If that's too big of a project, then repairing leaky, broken sprinklers is an easy way to make a quick environmental difference.
4. Less is more
Let's face it: from food to clothing to common household products, most of us buy and consume far more than we actually need. This explains why a recent movement to scale back on unnecessary purchases has produced dramatic environmental results. Buying fewer disposable items cuts down on the avalanche of waste that ends up in landfills around the country, so choose products that use less packaging and help lighten the load.
If you're looking for a practical tip to make an environmental difference, recycling is an excellent way to cut back on the amount of trash each of us produces annually. For example, reusable water bottles and reusable shopping bags are a perfect way to help reduce the amount of plastic that ends up in landfills. Similarly, by donating clothing to charities rather than throwing it away you'll solve two problems with one easy action.
5. Group effort
Environmentally conscious volunteering is an excellent way to have fun while helping to save the planet, so sign your family up for a weekend volunteer program in your hometown. Not only will you make a difference where it's needed most, you'll teach your children the value of community service.
If you're new to environmental volunteering, The Nature Conservancy is a great place to learn all about it. Founded in 1951, this nonprofit organization is dedicated to protecting our planet's natural resources by providing structured programs that match volunteers of all ages with projects that foster a sustainable world. From cleaning polluted rivers in Kansas to maintaining hiking trails in Maine to seed harvesting in Indiana, The Nature Conservancy has a volunteer opportunity that's right for you.
6. Paper trail
To help save trees, switch to online banking and reduce the massive amount of paper that's wasted annually. Skipping the receipt that you get at the ATM is another easy way to cut down on your paper consumption. Though some of these changes may seem small, when considered on a global scale they can produce impressive environmental results.
When shopping for paper products to use at home, look for labels that indicate they've been previously recycled. Many companies now proudly advertise that their products contain 80-100% recycled paper, which makes choosing sustainable brands much easier.
7. Explore your world
Visiting one of our country's 60 national parks is a wonderful way to support the environment while experiencing nature's awe-inspiring beauty firsthand. Since the small cost of every park admission ticket contributes funds that provide much-needed services to help with conservation efforts, why not plan a trip to one of them today? For information about the many ways that the National Park Service protects the environment, visit the National Parks Conservation Association website.
Ask someone to name their favorite thing about fall and you'll likely get a different answer depending on where they live. For many people, the mosaic of vibrantly colored leaves and foliage is what defines the months of September through mid-December. Others find the scent of autumnal spices like cinnamon, nutmeg and turmeric is what makes the fall so special. And for some, it's the cooler temperatures that make being outside even more enjoyable. Plus, fall is full of fun activities no matter where you are — from pumpkin patches and apple picking to watching football and enjoying a bowl of chili. All of these things, and more, make the fall so magical. To help you celebrate the season, here are seven fall-themed activities to try this year.
Go apple picking
Apple picking combines outdoor fun with delicious and healthy snacks that can be used in a variety of ways, making it the perfect fall activity for adults and children of all ages. Though you'll find countless orchards around the country worth visiting this season, New England is widely considered a prime apple picking destination with over 120 varieties found in the region. It can be argued that the variety they are best known for is the McIntosh apple. This type of apple and many more can be found at Honey Pot Hill Orchards in the lovely town of Stow, Massachusetts, so be sure to stop in and take home a bushel that you pluck from the trees yourself. Picking times are from 9 a.m. until 6:00 p.m. daily, making it easy to schedule a trip.
Meanwhile in California, apple season runs until the end of November, giving you plenty of time to pick a few baskets of Red Delicious or Gala apples before winter. Riley's at Los Rios Rancho in the city of Yucaipa is one of the largest farms of its kind in Southern California and has been welcoming apple pickers to their 10,000-tree farm for more than 100 years.
Visit a pumpkin patch
If there was a fall mascot, it would be a pumpkin, so to celebrate the true essence of the season, it's hard to beat a trip to a colorful pumpkin patch. A pumpkin patch is more than just a place to find the perfect candidate for this year's prize-winning jack-o'-lantern, it's a wonderful way to create cherished new memories with your children or friends. The Great Pumpkin Farm in Clarence, New York, is perfect for pumpkin picking, but also offers weekend activities throughout the fall, including scarecrow making lessons, cider brewing demonstrations, pumpkin pie eating contests, and live music and barbecues.
If you're traveling through the Midwest this season, hop aboard a vintage farm wagon at Polly's Pumpkin Patch in Chilton, Wisconsin, and make your way out into their scenic fields where you can pick as many pumpkins as you want. Other activities at Polly's include a livestock petting zoo, a 40-foot slide and a popular corn cannon that lets older kids launch corn cobs at targets for cash prizes.
Enjoy a harvest festival
An annual tradition in America that dates back to 1613, harvest festivals are outdoor celebrations that coincide with the growing and reaping seasons we all enjoy. Filled with food, fun, music and dance, you haven't truly experienced the wonder of the fall season until you've participated in a local harvest fest. The good news is that there are plenty to choose from around the country this year. Two of the most popular are the Autumn at the Arboretum festival in Dallas, Texas, which runs until October 31, and the incredible North Carolina Pecan Harvest Festival in Whiteville, North Carolina, which ends on November 3. Both of these festivals have been drawing huge crowds for years.
For a harvest fest that's slightly spookier, head to Wisconsin where you'll find the classic Jack O' Lantern Days celebration in the cozy town of Fish Creek, and the Halloween-themed Zombie Days festival on the coast of Chequamegon Bay. Ghoulish activities include an undead musical show, a zombie pub crawl and a traditional harvest festival pumpkin parade. The scary fun lasts from October 26 through October 27.
Hit the trails
Hiking is more than just great exercise; it's an excellent way to bring the whole family together during the fall. And since the leaves are changing colors, it's also a great way to snap some incredible nature photos. So lace up your hiking boots, grab your kids and your camera, and find a trail that's right for you. If you're looking for suggestions, Sterling Point Trail in Vermont and Rome Point Trail in Rhode Island are impossible to beat when it comes to picturesque fall hiking.
On the opposite side of the country, the trails at Dry Creek Falls in Portland, Oregon, were voted one of the most photogenic hiking spots on the west coast by BuzzFeed, and it's easy to see why once you've been there. Covering a distance of just over 4 miles, this beautiful trail is perfect for all skill levels, making it a solid choice for families with kids.
Roll in the hay
Hayrides and corn mazes are traditional fall activities that have never gone out of style, and for very good reason. There's just something wonderfully nostalgic about introducing a new generation of children to the simple pleasures of wandering through an overgrown corn maze, and with so many participating farms scattered across the country, there's a plethora of options to choose from. The Johnny Appleseed corn maze at Shady Brook Farm in Yardley, Pennsylvania, and the popular horse-drawn hayride at Papa's Pumpkin Patch in Bismarck, North Dakota, are two of the best.
In honor of Halloween, the massive haunted hayride at Fear Farm in Phoenix, Arizona, brings an assortment of ghosts, goblins and ghouls to life from early October until the first week in November. Filled with sinister special effects, creepy costumes and macabre makeup, this Hollywood-worthy hayride is recommended for adults and children over the age of 12. With five terrifying corn mazes to choose from, Fear Farm certainly lives up to its name!
Up, up and away
Hot air ballooning during the fall is a dazzling way to experience the season in all its natural splendor. After all, how else can you get a spectacular birds-eye view of the colorful trees as their leaves change from green to golden orange? Balloons Over Letchworth, located near New York's Letchworth State Park, offers astonishing views of the surrounding area, including majestic waterfalls and stunning forests. Best of all, they offer a variety of family tour packages, so you'll find just what you're looking for, regardless of the size of your group.
If you're visiting Southern California's wine region this fall, reserve a balloon ride with the fine folks at California Dreamin'. Their friendly FAA commercial licensed pilots will take you and your family on an unforgettable balloon voyage high above the vineyards of Temecula wine country.
Pitch a tent
Though typically associated with summer, in many ways the fall is truly the best time of year to go camping. Thanks to the cooler weather, there are few — if any — insects to bother you and your family. Plus, there are less people claiming all the best spots, so you should have no problem picking a prime location to pitch your tent. And when it comes to toasting marshmallow for s'mores over an open campfire, everyone agrees that they simply taste better when eaten on a brisk autumn night.
For the ultimate fall camping trip, book a spot at Earth First Farms in southwest Michigan and set up your tent in an actual organic apple orchard. The 49-acre farm provides campers with complimentary firewood and plenty of fresh produce to pick.
As United's humanitarian Flight 2814 from IAH to the Bahamas departed for the islands on September 17, a little over two weeks after Hurricane Dorian struck the islands with the fury of a record-breaking Category 5 storm, the reality was stark. More than 1,300 people are still missing. Rebuilding in the Bahamas will take years. And the need for help remains urgent, with thousands of evacuees overflowing shelters and infrastructure on Grand Bahama and the Abaco Islands largely destroyed.
United is doing its part. As of September 18, we have raised more than $560,000 together with our four relief partners – Americares, Airlink, Global Giving and the American Red Cross -- to support victims of the storm through a Crowdrise funding campaign and MileagePlus award miles for members who donate $50 or more. And the resounding theme among the nearly 100 aid workers on the flight, which United and its partner Airlink helped coordinate, is that we are all, customers and employees included, part of the same response team.
The flight's passengers came from four organizations: Team Rubicon (U.S.), Team Rubicon Canada, Waves for Water and Mercy Corps. They are moms, grandfathers, ex-soldiers, sailors and infantry, as well as amazing civilians each wanting to play a part in giving these victims hope and a shot at rebuilding their lives.
Nina Augustine, a former Air Force security forces specialist who spent two years in Uganda, is a member of Waves For Water's Veteran Division, The Clean Water Corps. "We deliver water filtration systems and training to people who need access to clean water. I think it's pretty awesome what United is doing. Disaster response is a team effort. Every individual and organization brings a unique skill and resource to help people who have lost everything. But, if we can't get there, none of those skills and resources matter. United taking a lead in supporting moving relief workers to the disaster area is a critical component."
South Florida retired Army veteran Jed Marceau who volunteers with Team Rubicon said, "If you go down and you clear 50 feet of road, you can say you've accomplished something. You do the best you can to help people who need it the most. It makes you feel like you've achieved something." Marceau is signed up for a two-week stint and planning to make it a double.Jonathen Davis served in the U.S. Navy for seven years as an expeditionary combat cameraman and has been with Team Rubicon longer than that at this point. "The partnership between United, Airlink, and Team Rubicon allows these 80 volunteers to provide disaster relief to communities in the Bahamas that have experienced devastating loss," he said. "Other than veterans, we also bring in first responders and other amazing civilians. We all come together to serve survivors who are looking for help and bring them steps closer to full recovery.
Team Rubicon's core capabilities include mucking out homes, tree branch clearing, heavy equipment operation, movement of piles of debris, and even medical care provided by EMTs with special verification granted by the World Health Organization to care for those they meet along the way.
"It's great that United is providing seats to this group," Davis said. "United and Airlink are team members of Team Rubicon. Without you all, we'd have to find another way to get ourselves there."
Angela Owen, senior program officer at Mercy Corps, says that her organization, too, could not be more thankful for the generous support it's receiving from United and its customers. "This helps incredibly with the response. Deploying staff quickly and easily to the Bahamas has been instrumental in our ability to distribute essentials like clean water, food and solar lanterns. Right now we are focusing our relief efforts on Grand Bahama island, one of the two hardest-hit islands where a large number of people who need assistance are located."
Retired Alaska flight paramedic Teresa Gray discussed the storm on the return flight from Nassau on Tuesday after finishing up a 10-day stint that began just a few days after Dorian hit. Gray founded Mobile Medics International three years ago to bridge what she identified as a unique gap in humanitarian response. "Our mission is to fill the gap from zero medical care [after a natural disaster] to functioning medical service."
As team leader, Gray notifies her volunteer roster of 150 physicians, nurses, and EMTs with plans for an activation, and they let her know if they want to take part. "We specialize in small teams," she said. "When you get into big teams, you're not mobile anymore. The more people you need, the more resources you need. We're never more than eight or nine on a mission, max. We went to Mozambique after the Category 4-equivalent Typhoon Kenneth, and a team of six people saw about 250 people a day."
Dorian, she said, was mind boggling.
"I've never seen anything like it. So much destruction and devastation. Hundreds and hundreds were washed out to sea. Abaco housed 40,000 people before. Now there are 300 to 400. The Haitians went to the smaller islands and Bahamians went to Nassau. All the shelters are overflowing."
The partnerships, the collaborations, the teaming and the sharing are all central features of disaster response, Gray said. "Your $5 donation matters. I can buy 1,000 doses of amoxicillin for $32. We also get a bit of intel about what else they need." Gray then goes back to World Central Kitchen's local feeding operation and shares information with other relief groups about what's lacking, where they need food and water, and where they need tents.
"There are no secrets in humanitarian medicine," she said. "You share what you get."
By the numbers so far:
- $560,000+ raised through Crowdrise
- 200,000 meals on Flight 2814 provided by Rise Against Hunger (RAH), including meals packed by United employees
- 4,460 hygiene kits and sanitation supplies delivered for Heart to Heart International
- Team Rubicon's 2 pallets on board of day packs, water, tents, filtration systems
- 197 relief volunteers transported (93 on the charter, 104 provided by United through Airlink)
- One humanitarian charter (Boeing 777-200)
- 30,000 lbs. of relief supplies transported
Want to help? You can join us in our disaster relief efforts by donating to our Crowdrise fundraising campaign here.
If you can't get to Mars, what's the next best thing? Apparently Iceland. A team of renowned explorers and researchers recently journeyed to Iceland to test a Mars analog suit in a Martian-like environment.
The United sponsored expedition, led by The Explorers Club — an internationally recognized organization that promotes the scientific exploration of land, sea, air and space — and in partnership with Iceland Space Agency, involved the team venturing inside the Grímsvötn volcano and across the Vatnajökull ice cap. The group traveled to the remote location and lived for six days in the Grímsvötn Mountain Huts and endured harsh weather conditions and unstable terrain.
Helga Kristin Torfadöttir, Geologist and glacier guide, using the LiDAR system to map the ground and test the suit's capabilities on the glacier.
The objective of the mission was to explore the potential of concept operations at the Grímsvötn location while testing the suit in an arctic environment similar to what would be found on the surface of Mars. "This mission was an important test of the design of the MS1 suit, but it was also incredibly helpful to understand the how to conduct these sorts of studies in Iceland," said Michael Lye, MS1 designer and NASA consultant and RISD professor. "No matter how thoroughly something is tested in a controlled environment like a lab, studying it in a setting that accurately represents the environment where it will be used is absolutely essential to fully understand the design."
The suit was designed and constructed by faculty and students at the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) with input and guidance from members of the HI-SEAS IV crew and NASA's Johnson Space Center Space Suit Engineering team. At 50-60 lbs, the suit is similar to what a planetary exploration suit would weigh in Martian gravity. The suit was originally designed to be used in the warm climate of Hawaii, however the martian climate is much closer to what would be found on top of the glaciers in Iceland. The data collected will inform the future of habitat and spacesuit design that can be used to train astronauts on Earth.