|The only extra-terrestrial life that truly matters is if it's in the form of cacao.|
I keep seeing memes everywhere that are all like "EVERY day is Earth Day!"
So aside from pithy images with text, how else are we spending our time trying to make a positive difference on the planet?
To be honest, I feel overwhelmed when I read articles about global climate change, or the gigantic garbage patch floating in the Pacific, or see the trash piling up in Baltimore's inner harbor area. How the heck can I, an average person, make a difference on that scale?
|:( My view walking to work|
I feel that as animal care professionals in a zoological setting, we feel this sense of hopelessness more acutely than the average person. We know what human-related nightmares wild animals face in their natural habitats. We also interact with people on a daily basis and hear some really depressing things. For those of us living in touristy areas, we see the aftermath of high season on our beaches, state parks, and other natural recreational areas.
That's not to say all of our encounters with guests are disappointing. And it may depend on what sort of zoo/aquarium you're at, and the context in which guests are interacting with you. For example, at one place I used to work in a touristy-part of Florida, I expected to get really awful comments/questions regarding how "stupid" it was that it was illegal to feed wild dolphins, or watch people toss their trash in animal exhibits, or leave tons of trash on the beach.
|Jetskiers chasing a dolphin mom with a newborn calf.|
Even when you're talking to guests who care, how many of you ask yourselves, "Am I getting through to someone? Anyone?" when you're doing a narration, keeper chat, or a one-on-one discussion with a visitor? Conservation messages are fine and dandy, but how well do they empower individual guests to go DO something? How well do they empower US to do something?
On TOP of all of this, it's virtually impossible to be a purist when it comes to making your carbon footprint zero, or living totally green. I shudder to think about the waste I produce when I toss out a bunch of my kid's diapers. Cloth diapers would be "greener", but then how much energy is required in electricity/water to wash them? How many chemicals are being dumped into environment? Sometimes it feels like no matter what path I choose, I'm still creating a huge problem.
Sometimes, it makes me super sad to think that I can't make a difference no matter WHAT I do!
Let me tell you how I spent my Earth Day.
It started on Earth Day Eve, when I went to an exercise class that meets outdoors in a gorgeous city park. The instructor had this super amazing idea: we were all to grab gloves and a (recycled) plastic bag, run as fast as we could to different corners of the park, and pick up as much trash as possible in five minutes.
It was so. much. fun. It was a great workout, sprinting to the place where I thought there'd be tons of crap, then stooping 6 zillion times to pick up all kinds of junk people had left. My bag was bulging by the time the five minutes were up. There were twelve of us, with tons of trash we'd picked up in FIVE minutes. If we'd spent the entire 60 minute class picking up the park, I bet we would've picked that place clean.
Then you know what our trainer did? She picked a piece of garbage (with gloves, obvi) out of each person's bag. Each item had a corresponding exercise (so like an aluminum can was 12 burpees). It was one of the most intense high-impact exercises I've ever done, but all of us had a blast. Plus, it meant less trash. And then the trainer stayed after the class to sort through what everyone had found to make sure the proper items went into recycling.
That was so inspiring. That felt amazing, to have a small group of people spend a super short (i.e. highly doable) amount of time making a positive change for the environment. The other people in the park took notice of us. One guy even thanked me. So maybe it inspired someone else to do the same thing.
|I'll pick up trash with a seal pup ANY day.|
Okay so then the next morning, on Earth Day itself, I got an email from National Aquarium's 48 Days of Blue Campaign. Click on this link. CLICK IT. DO IT NOW. It'll take you to the website where you can sign up to do these super fun challenges every day.
Each day you do something different that's eco-conscientious. Like yesterday, the challenge was to eat dinner with the lights off. Later, there will be a tougher challenge, like a Do It Yourself Compost. How cool is that?
The concept behind 48 Days of Blue is to fill the time between Earth Day and World Oceans Day with lots of things we can do as individuals that make a huge difference. Multiply that by how many people are signing up to do this campaign. If YOU sign up, you'll probably talk someone else into signing up to because it's so much fun! Maybe it'll help start a new good habit.
|Grab a flashlight, light a candle. Read a scary book. Boom, that's an eco-friendly awesome evening.|
Anyways, my day wrapped up with talking to a lot of guests about dolphins, including two adorable little girls. We talked about dolphins forEVER. And when it was time me to go, the 4 year old looked at me and said, "I love you! And I love animals!" That was so freaking cool to hear a young kid be so excited about just learning about an animal, that she couldn't contain the passion she felt!!!
|All the good feels!!!|
So no, we are not perfect. No, we won't usually get the satisfaction of knowing how much we positively impacted the environment (including inspiring other people) by making small changes in our lifestyle. But it DOES make a big difference. The more of us who know that, the more of us can rally. And the enthusiasm is contagious, both to people you know and to complete strangers.
The most inspiring zoos and aquariums live their conservation mission: do their animal care/education staff take pride in having meaningful discussions with visitors? Does the staff as a whole lead by example (like having a reusable water bottle?).
Lots of facilities do incredible things! One thing I love about National Aquarium is we don't sell bottles of water; we have reusable water bottles for sale. We also have a compost and recycle area in our café, with a visual guide to help visitors (and staff!) know what sort of waste goes where from their lunch. They sell sustainable and locally-sourced food (let's talk about the invasive species of catfish they had featured in a po-boy sandwich....SO GOOD).
|YES! THE ANSWER IS ALWAYS YES.|
If we as zookeepers can live our mission the best we can, we can help our guests realize that yes, a super easy task really DOES make a positive impact. But it is so critical to lead by example, in whatever way we can.
There are many wonderful people in very different fields leading the charge on conservation efforts on small and massive scales (read: that doesn't mean "insignificant" or "more significant" scales). But as animal care professionals, we are at a fantastic advantage to be the catalyst for change in a 4 year old, or a 40 year old, or a group of teenagers, or whatever. We really DO make a difference!!
Keep up the great work, guys. :D