If anyone deserves a little holiday cheer this year, it’s Mother Earth. She’s had just as rough a 2017 as the rest of us, if not worse. The planet gives us breathable air, drinkable water, as well as a place to live and grow food. And what do we do in return? Humans continue to take: We pump out and burn fossil fuels; we destroy land and tear down forests; and we pollute rivers, streams, lakes and oceans.
We can’t fix any of these problems overnight, but there’s still time to start making it up to her before the end of the year. If you’re wondering what a person could give the Earth, here are five gifts that might top the planet’s wish list for the holidays:
1) Protected natural areas. The number of places where humans have left the planet alone has dramatically shrunk over the past century – and we keep chipping away at what’s left with industry, development, agriculture and climate-related changes. Like a weary parent in need of some alone time the planet needs some sanctuary. The last remaining wild places on earth need to be protected so wildlife have a place to live and the planet has a way to replenish the damage we’ve done to the air, climate and water.
You can give this gift by calling your representatives and asking them to stand up to protect national monuments and other federal public lands and by supporting your local and state park systems.
2) Solar panels to replace fossil fuels. There’s nothing the planet likes about our addiction to fossil fuels. From destructive drilling and mining to greenhouse gas emissions, the entire process of extracting, processing and using fossil fuels harms the planet. All of that natural gas, coal and oil is hidden for a reason. It’s past time that we kicked our fossil fuel habit and turned to the sun instead. Solar panels installed on buildings and parking lots have minimal impact on the planet and the climate. By installing more solar panels – and removing barriers to solar power development – we can give a renewable energy gift that keeps on giving.
You can give this gift by choosing solar if you're able and calling your representatives to tell them you want laws that support solar-positive policies like net metering and community solar projects.
3) More vegetarians, vegans and flexitarians. Everywhere humans go, we take our livestock with us. And those animals trample sensitive habitat, pollute waterways, emit greenhouse gases and demand enormous amounts of feed crops and water. By reducing the amount of meat and dairy in our diets, we can reduce our environmental footprints. And you get a bonus gift since plant-based diets are associated with reduced risk of heart disease, diabetes, and certain types of cancer.
You can give this gift by serving less meat and more plant-based dishes at your holiday table, making a New Year’s resolution to reduce your meat and dairy consumption by one-third or more, and asking your favorite restaurants for more plant-based options.
4) Healthcare with contraception coverage. You might not think the planet cares about your sex life, but she definitely does. Human population has exploded over the past century from fewer than 2 billion people to more than 7.5 billion. Our numbers and our appetite for natural resources are growing faster than the planet can support us. And in the United States, where we use far more than our fair share of resources, nearly half of all pregnancies are unintended. By giving everyone affordable contraception and access to the reproductive healthcare they need to make sure every pregnancy is planned, we can start to slow population growth and ease the strain on the planet.
You can give this gift by calling your congressional representatives and demanding that they protect birth control coverage.
5) For people to stop giving each other so many gifts. The equivalent of 30 million trees is used each holiday season for wrapping paper alone. That’s not even getting into the ribbons, cards, and plastic packaging that toys, gadgets, and stocking stuffers come in. And then there are the products themselves – most them things we don’t really need, and some that we’ll forget about or toss within a few months. Many are made of plastic and will eventually contribute to the grim projections scientists have made that, by 2050, there will be more plastic than fish in the sea. All of these things we give each other use resources and have a carbon footprint. The planet is suffering under the weight of all those holiday exchanges. This year give the planet and your budget a break by rethinking your gift list.
You can give this gift by skipping the mall or online retailers and giving experiences that create memories, making gifts that are meaningful and useful and making honorary donations to organizations that help the planet.