Even during pandemic, we can celebrate Earth Day, nature and Shedd Aquarium’s curious penguins

Though stuck at home, there are steps you can take to champion our natural world and contribute to climate action.

SHARE Even during pandemic, we can celebrate Earth Day, nature and Shedd Aquarium’s curious penguins
Penguin_Tour_1.jpg

A penguin takes an unexpected tour of Shedd Aquarium while it is closed during the coronavirus pandemic.

Shedd Aquarium

In the middle of a global pandemic, we are adapting to a new reality — a new normal. We’re quickly learning about what we cherish most, what we took for granted and what brings us joy.

Undoubtedly, one of these things is access to nature.

There is a growing consensus in the scientific community that connecting with nature benefits our mental health. Studies link nature experiences to increased cognitive function, decreased mental distress and an overall sense of purpose and meaning.

Thus, it is no surprise that when the spread of COVID-19 wreaked havoc on our daily routines, many of us looked to wildlife (often virtually) for respite and peace of mind.

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People across the globe have erupted with joy after watching videos of penguins demonstrating their natural curiosity as they explore an empty Shedd Aquarium. Social media users have celebrated positive nature stories, such as unique animal sightings and decreased pollution. And many have taken virtual tours of our national parks.

Although the immediate future feels uncertain, we know that nature remains a constant — for joy, for relaxation, for life. This is as true now as it was 50 years ago.

On April 22, 1970, 20 million Americans came together to stand up for nature on the very first Earth Day. That peaceful protest led to monumental environmental policies in the United States.

Congress amended the Clean Air Act to better protect the air we breathe, and the Clean Water Act was created to protect our drinking water. Then came the Endangered Species Act, which has saved species such as the bald eagle and prevented the extinction of 99% of the species protected by it.

Though we can’t physically gather for this milestone Earth Day like many did in 1970, we can still have a positive impact on the nature we cherish while we’re apart — and it starts at home.

Take this example: There are 9.5 million people in the Chicago metropolitan area, all using water and energy. Data show that a person can save about 100 kilowatt hours of energy in a year by reducing their shower time by only one minute, as heating and treating water requires energy. If all 9.5 million of us took the simple step of reducing our shower time, we would save 950 million (almost a billion!) kilowatt hours in a year.

When generating energy, we’re emitting gases such as carbon dioxide into our atmosphere, which have caused changes in our climate and impacted nature. When you consider how many kilowatt hours we can save together, that means we can keep about 940 million pounds of carbon dioxide out of our atmosphere with one simple action. That’s the equivalent of taking 92,000 typical passenger vehicles off the street for a year!

Even during this pandemic, there are many actions you can take at home to celebrate Earth Day and contribute to climate action.

To name a few, Shedd Aquarium suggests you eat more plant-based recipes, reduce how much food you throw away and turn off the lights when you leave a room. Further, tell your friends and family why you care about protecting nature! By following Shedd’s social media accounts this month, you can learn even more actions to take at home.

These small personal actions can help reduce the greenhouse gas emissions that harm our atmosphere. And if we do them together, our collective impact could be immense.

As the 50th anniversary of Earth Day approaches this month, on April 22, we must take a moment to celebrate what our collective action has accomplished over the last several decades. We must also promise to keep up the momentum, starting in our own homes.

Just as you might depend on penguins and good nature news for a brain break right now, they depend on you for their future on our shared planet.

No action is too small, if we act together.

Cheryl Mell is senior vice president of conservation partnerships and programs at Shedd Aquarium.

Send letters to letters@suntimes.com.


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