By Chloe Kiernicki
Sustainable Investment Group (SIG)
Earth Day is on the horizon! Keep your calendar marked for April 22 and be on the lookout for remote educational opportunities and socially distanced volunteer experiences in the weeks leading up to the international day of action, as well as a global climate summit on Earth Day itself. This year’s Earth Day theme is Restore Our Earth, a concept that incorporates ideas of planting trees, food and the environment, cleaning up pollution, climate education, and citizen science.
Restoration involves bringing the Earth back to an earlier condition — before human impact has driven greenhouse gas emissions, polluted waterways, increased the rate and impact of natural disasters, and so many more pressing challenges we now face.
The food and environment pathway toward restoration involves implementing practices of regenerative agriculture to return and store carbon in the soil. Based on tactics utilized by indigenous peoples around the world, regenerative agriculture provides a toolkit to implement changes from the scale of the individual house garden to large agricultural cropland that spans thousands of acres. To aid the goal of holding global warming below 2 degrees Celsius, agriculture must reduce 11-gigtaons of expected greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.
As native landscapes have been converted to croplands, the stock of carbon held in the soil has drastically declined. A few recommended regenerative techniques to help restore carbon levels in soil at any scale are:
- Increase the use of cover crops.
Cover crops hold loose soil in place to reduce erosion, maintain biodiversity, capture needed nitrogen, and more. If cover crops were used on 85% of US cropland, they could sequester over 100 million tons of CO2 each year.
- Increase plant species diversity.
By growing various types of plants, the carbohydrates released from roots foster rich, varied, and nutrient-dense soils that can increase yields of target crops. This more resilient soil can better withstand climate change impacts, such as flooding and drought.
These techniques can be practiced in urban and rural environments, and, while the scale of the impact will be larger when larger farms implement these techniques, it is necessary for all food-consumers to understand their relationship with food and the earth. Building managers in urban environments can ensure that even if they are not hosting an edible landscape that they can work with their landscaping team to plant native species that maintain healthy urban soil and attract pollinators.
The pathway of citizen science is focused on an effort called the Earth Challenge that allows users to use an application on their smartphone to collect datapoints about air quality, water quality, climate change, insect populations, food supply, and plastic pollution. Through this pathway, anyone can directly contribute to scientific understanding about their community. A few of the specific widgets that one can utilize through Earth Challenge are:
- Air Quality
A user takes a photo of the horizon that they see, rates the perceived air quality, and receives an Air Quality Index score. This activity helps fill gaps in global air quality data to better track particulate matter.
- Insect Populations
The Bee Campaign asks users to classify the type of bee that they see as bumblebee, honeybee, or carpenter bee. This information is used to form datasets that build Machine Learning algorithms to automatically classify bee species and monitor global bee populations.
In the plastics pollution widget, users upload photos and their associated geolocation information to create mappings of locations that are most affected by littering and plastics pollution.
The Earth Challenge, and its focus on the ability of the individual to contribute to meaningful research, emphasizes the role that anyone can play in mitigating climate change and its numerous effects. By amplifying existing projects and global efforts, Earth Challenge creates an international digital community that has become the largest citizen science endeavor that has ever been initiated.
As Earth Day approaches, SIG looks forward to participating safely, while looking out for the health of humans and the planet. In this year of reduced corporate and traffic emissions, the Earth has started a process of restoration that must be continued through continuous and conscious effort.
To learn more about Earth Day 2021’s other pathways to Restore Our Earth and learn how you can get involved in your community, please visit EarthDay.org.
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