In 1970, amid growing concerns about the impacts of industrialization like oil spills, air and water pollution and toxic waste dumps, a small group of activists decided to organize campus teach-ins. When the idea caught on and blossomed into demonstrations and events nationwide, the newly christened “Earth Day” was born, prompting celebrations and pledges of action each April 22. Over half a century later, Earth Day continues to offer a day each spring for the planet’s human inhabitants to take action to address the current climate crisis.
Thursday is Earth Day, but too often the sheer scale and magnitude of the climate crisis can cause even the mightiest among us to feel like a wee baby shrimp facing down a crushing tidal wave. So what can you do, ye mighty shrimp?
First, a few words by the American historian Howard Zinn offer a sage reminder: “We don't have to engage in grand, heroic actions to participate in the process of change,” he wrote. “Small acts, when multiplied by millions of people, can transform the world.”
For those that appreciate a good tree ― and who doesn’t? ―a simple place to start making a positive impact on the environment is to plant and nurture a sapling, and a new local nonprofit, Seas of Trees, has made doing so easier than ever. Founded last February by Joanna Kanow and her two daughters, Seas of Trees is on a mission to plant as many trees as possible in the local region as a means of combating climate change.
A 2019 study published by the scientific journal Science reported that the earth’s ecosystems could support approximately 25 percent more forest coverage than the planet currently has, some half a trillion trees, which would capture the equivalent of 20 years’ worth of carbon emissions from humans at the current rate. While scientists say that planting trees cannot be the only approach to addressing climate change, it does offer a tangible, measurable way to recapture emissions and reduce the level of atmosphere-warming gases.
“Seas of Trees is about getting youth involved in tree planting but it’s also for anyone,” said Kanow. “Last year we planted 1,000 trees, and this year we have 2,000 more trees coming in.”
To participate, Seas of Trees needs both volunteers to plant trees and property owners who are willing to provide a home to the saplings and to water and tend them until they can survive on their own. So far, native tree species like spruce, pine, cottonwoods and even historic apple trees have been planted at both private residences and in public parks and spaces all across the county.
“It’s a way for us to take immediate action towards the climate crisis and reducing emissions,” said Kanow. “And it’s something we can do right now.”
Another logical place to take action hits close to home, because, well, it’s at home.
“According to the greenhouse gas emission data that EcoAction [Partners] collects for our region, buildings are the greatest source for carbon emissions, then transportation, then waste,” Kanow said, who also serves on the Town of Telluride’s Ecology Commission. “That being said, working on getting our buildings, homes, apartments more energy efficient is one huge step we can take.”
To that end, the San Miguel Power Association (SMPA) offers a variety of programs aimed to help members ― that is, anyone who pays a power bill to SMPA ― get greener in their energy consumption. One program, Totally Green, offers members the opportunity to source their home or business’s electrical usage solely from renewable energy like solar, hydro and wind. For one cent per kilowatt hour used, participants in Totally Green can ensure their energy comes from renewable, clean energy sources.
“Totally Green is meant to be a very easy solution,” said SMPA Communications Executive Alex Shelley. “It’s meant to be something that someone can do once and then they know that moving forward it’s continually making an investment on their behalf into renewable energy.”
Beyond Totally Green, he said, the power association offers a wide variety of rebates to help homeowners invest in green technology like roof solar panels, energy appliances, and even things like electric vehicles and electric vehicle charging stations.
Kim Wheels, an energy specialist at EcoAction Partners, noted that “the most impactful actions are those that last,” so whether it’s a one-time action that continues long-term, like opting in to Totally Green, or a long-term habit change, like riding a bike to work instead of driving, focusing on manageable actions that last is key.
For those who wish to attend an Earth Day event, the Ridgway Secondary School is hosting an Earth Day celebration at 11:30 a.m. on Thursday, where more information on how to get involved in taking action will be available.