16 Dirt Cheap Ways to Celebrate Earth Day 2011

The Franklin Institute's Climate Change Exhibit

Every April 22, we are reminded to do something good for the planet. The rest of the year, our relationship with Mother Earth might better resemble the one between the boy and the Giving Tree in Silverstein’s book. As a human race, most of us care about the environment, but we still take what we want without leaving so much as a “ME + T” carved in the bark.

What does it really mean to live like every day is Earth Day? Jennifer Iselin, Director of Special Projects at the Natural Resources Defense Council, offers up some easy green tips. “You should take stock of where you’re using the most energy or creating the most waste and try to find ways to minimize that,” said Iselin. “If you’re a gadget junky, make sure to unplug those chargers. If you’re a clothes-hound, switch it up by shopping vintage a little more often. If you’re a take-out fiend, be sure to recycle any packaging you can.”

When our lives are so busy, we struggle to remember to connect the dots in the big picture. But maybe if we leave little notes to self in the morning—My five-minute shower uses 10 to 25 gallons of water. In sub-Saharan Africa, women my age spend 15 to 17 hours a week collecting water that may or may not kill their children.—then it will become second nature to do the right thing. Conserve, reduce, reuse, recycle.

Whether you go online or show up in person, pick at least one of these 16 ways to celebrate Earth Day in 2011 and beyond.

1. Donate $1 to The Nature Conservancy’s Plant A Billion Trees project. $1 = 1 tree planted in Brazil’s Atlantic Forest.

2. Plan a wild, green activity-packed day outdoors at your local zoo. The Association of Zoos and Aquariums’ Party for the Planet event includes dozens of zoo participants across the country. Check the site for more details on what’s happening in your neighborhood.

3. Ditch the gas-guzzler, hop on a bike for the free family-friendly Rock to Rock Earth Day Ride in New Haven. Explore Connecticut’s lush sites, pitch in on an environmental service project, enjoy safe bike trails, and eat locally sourced food during a rock concert.

4. At the 2nd Annual Green Queens Earth Day Fair on May 15 in New York, let the kids try their hand at worm composting while you learn about organic chocolate, food coops, and eco cleaning products. Go home with free reusable water bottles, shopping bags and CFL light bulbs. [Fun factoid: If just one million people used one less incandescent bulb for one hour a day, that would save more than 50 million watts of electricity per day. Expand that to 100 million homes and we could reduce our dependence on foreign oil by many tens of millions of barrels every year.]

5. Attend a free lecture, “Here on Earth: A Natural History of the Planet,” at the Harvard Museum of Natural History on April 21. Even non-history buffs will be fascinated by what scientist Tim Flannery has to say, from the birth of stars to the human-driven demise of the planet’s ecosystem.

6. Plant a tree for free with two clicks of your mouse: Make envirosearch.org your home page and like it on facebook. Every time you do a search using this CarbondFund.org-produced browser you are helping to fund innovative environmental projects around the world. Bing!

7. Reconnect with the environment during National Park Week, April 16-24, when all 394 parks will waive the entrance fees.

8. The National Zoo wants you to challenge your child to develop outside-the-box solutions for lightening our carbon footprint. The best submissions will earn eight people a fabulous all-expenses paid trip to Washington D.C.

9. Over 800 spas across the country are set to participate in National Spa Week, April 11-17, when all treatments offered are $50, be it a 60-minute Swedish massage or an anti-aging Japanese facial. Support your local eco-conscious spas, like Epi Center MedSpa in San Francisco—the first one of its kind to be Green LEED Certified—or Turning Heads Salon & Day Spa in New York City.

10. Get your hands dirty before you feast at iCi restaurant in Brooklyn on Sunday, April 17. Slow Food NYC is hosting “Urban Gardening Class and Local Feast: Everything comes from Dirt,” an event geared towards urbanites that will get you ready to grow edibles to use in your own very locally sourced dishes. $45-$55

11. Even if you don’t have a choice, you can feel good about taking public transportation instead of a car. Before hopping on the train, enjoy the free “EarthFair Outdoors Grand Central Terminal” a two-day arts, music, and education festival extending three blocks on Vanderbilt Avenue on April 22-23.

12. Indulge in a green getaway; every city has one all planned out for you if you go to the tourism board’s website or take the initiative to call and ask. Philadelphia is one town that’s turning heads for its environmental growth—there are 100% sustainably run restaurants like Kennett, über eco accommodations with Hotel Palomar, compelling kid-friendly earth exhibits at the Franklin Institute, and 100% wind-powered and all-natural spas like Art + Science Aveda. Whatever metropolis you decide to visit, resist the urge to rent a car and use public transit instead. You will save money, time (and keep the carbon footprint light) while enjoying connecting with off the beaten path places you wouldn’t normally discover with structured directions and a steering wheel.

13. On April 22, at the Green Eggs and Land Earth Day event at Shirley Plantation in Virginia, learn how to start your own chicken farm alongside “Chicken Whisperers” and realize through hands-on workshops with farmers why it’s so crucial to our health and the environment to practice sustainable agriculture. Adults/$11; Students/$7.50; Kids/Free

14. Enter NBC’s “Green is Universal” contest for an all-expenses paid trip to Universal Studios Orlando. Show the judges—including Tori Spelling, Martha Stewart, and Lauren Bush—how you diverted wasteful items from the landfill and cleverly put the product to good (re)use. Snap photos, film a two-minute video, have fun, and maybe even get famous. Submissions are due online by April 8.

15. From the author of Cod and Salt, comes a new children’s book about being a real life super hero. Spice up storytime and let the kids read Mark Kurlansky’s World Without Fish to the adults. If you live in NYC, head to BookCourt in Brooklyn on April 20 to hear how tots and grownups alike can play a part in preventing fish from becoming extinct in 50 years. Amazon; $10.

16. Opening in theaters on April 22 and narrated by Samuel L. Jackson, Disneynature’s African Cats provides a stunning up-close portrait of life in the Savanna, the “wildest place on earth.” For every ticket purchased during the first week, April 22-28, Disneynature will make a donation to the African Wildlife Foundation. See a movie, make a difference. It’s that easy.

For more information on ways to celebrate Earth Day today and every day, check out the following top environmental resources below.

A Billion Acts of Green | http://act.earthday.org/

Earth Day Network | http://www.earthday.org/

Unites States Environmental Protection Agency | http://www.epa.gov/earthday/

National Wildlife Federation | http://www.nwf.org/

Grist.org | http://www.grist.org/

Sierra Club | http://www.sierraclub.org/

Tree Hugger’s Climate Culture Calculator http://www.treehugger.com/

Natural Resources Defense Council http://www.nrdc.org/living/

Photo: Courtesy of R. Kennedy for GPTMC