HOUSTON – Lately, many people have been turning to nature to find some peace in all the craziness of the COVID-19 pandemic. As we mark the 50th anniversary of Earth Day, it’s the perfect time to reflect on how we can help the planet.
Jaime González, Houston Healthy Cities Program Director at The Nature Conservancy in Texas, shares some fun facts on the history of Earth Day, as well as how Houstonians can celebrate at home.
“As we celebrate the fiftieth Earth Day, we all know we have lots of work to do to make the environment even better, but this is also a big day of celebration. We’ve had some really big wins, and we need to celebrate that,” said Gonzalez.
Earth Day was founded on April 22, 1970 by Wisconsin Senator Gaylord Nelson. He organized a national demonstration to raise awareness about environmental issues. 20 million Americans participated in protests, fundraisers, concerts and other civic gatherings around the country.
“Many of them were students and they mobilized to try to get laws for cleaner air and cleaner water and to make sure we had a healthy environment for humans," said Gonzalez.
Their efforts were a huge success and in part resulted in the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency. Since then, Earth Day has grown to be the largest global environmental event. Today, it’s celebrated in more than 192 countries worldwide under the moniker International Mother Earth Day.
If you’re looking for ways to celebrate and give back to the environment, the City Nature Challenge is the perfect way to participate from your own backyard. From April 24 - 27, more than 150 cities worldwide, including the Houston-Galveston area, will be participating in this fun at-home challenge. In 2019, the Houston-Galveston area ranked #1 in the US and #3 in the world for species observed in the challenge.
“In the region, we have everything from bald eagles to bottlenose dolphins, and you can see how wild this region is," said Gonzalez.
Anyone with a smartphone can participate by using the iNaturalist app, which is free and easy to use.
HOW TO PARTICIPATE IN THE CITY NATURE CHALLENGE:
- Download the iNaturalist app to your smartphone.
- Create an account.
- Snap a photo of any wild species
- Observe and share your findings in the app.
You do NOT have to be an expert to participate. If you’re unsure of what the species is, experts are available to help identify it for you. For participants, the most important thing is to have fun while learning about the environment, though they are in fact completing valuable work as data collected aids local conservation efforts.
“You become a citizen scientist,” said Gonzalez. "You can see everything that other citizen scientists have already recorded. Here in Harris County, we’ve had over two hundred thousand observations.”
The 2020 City Nature Challenge has been modified from previous events to accommodate stay-home orders. This year, the focus is not on the competition, but rather on encouraging people to discover what’s in their own backyard and neighborhood. Participants are encouraged to promote the event with the hashtag #BackyardChallenge while emphasizing the importance of safety and practicing social-distancing.
“Do it safely, have a great time and use it as a learning resource for all the parents that are homeschooling right now,” said Gonzalez.