4 Ways To Celebrate Keep America Beautiful Month

4 Ways To Celebrate Keep America Beautiful Month And Prolong The Wonders Of Our Precious Planet

Because America's more than the Rockies and the Grand Canyon.

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April: the time of new buds on trees, Easter bunnies, cherry blossoms, and new Marvel movies. April also happens to be Keep America Beautiful Month, started by the aptly-named Keep America Beautiful organization. And while we all dream of taking a road trip to Yellowstone or hiking the Maroon Bells, you don't have to go far in order to appreciate American beauty-- in fact, it's usually right outside your window.

​​1. Bird-watching​​

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It sounds dumb. Old-man-like. Yes, I can hear your great uncle Herbert's knee replacement creaking from here. Hear me out. Freshman ecology will tell you migratory avians leave their wintering grounds during April and May. These birds have to stop somewhere, and with a little seed—and a little luck—some will inevitably come wandering your way. While it looks easy, bird-watching becomes more difficult the further you get into it. You'll start to recognize species and those that are common in your backyard, versus those that are only there for a short time. Beautiful little birds like Baltimore Orioles, ruby-throated hummingbirds and larger avians like American white pelicans can all be seen over most of the contiguous United States during spring. And, to help you keep track, the National Audubon Society has even put out an app that allows you to catalog and keep track of your birds.

2. Clean up a public space.

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For those of us in big cities, frequently there are one or two locally-known parks nearby. In Denver, for example, I was on the border between the Washington Park and Observatory Park neighborhoods. In urban and suburban areas, frequently there are already programs and organizations in place that clean up these spaces. For Wash Park, the City of Denver has a volunteer program where you can help public works employees (if you happen to live near Wash Park, you can find that here). In more rural areas, the programs might not be in place. Either create one (how about a park BBQ after a long day of plastic hunting?) or just be conscientious of the trash around you on your next walk. On a four mile run, I once collected so much trash I had to run by the dumpsters twice. Imagine if we all did that!

3. Plant a garden with plants/ trees native to your state.

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This is one of the easier ways to celebrate both Keep America Beautiful Month and Earth Day. By planting flora that are native to your home, you're saving water (this is especially true in desert climates, where Bermuda grass isn't the smartest option), saving the soil (plants tend to gravitate and like specific soils and by planting non-native plants you could possibly be messing up the chemical composition of the dirt), helping the animals (think pollinators like bees and birds that eat seeds) or even preventing an invasion (see: kudzu). While planting on your own property is simplest, helping out a park or even a business get jump-started on gardening can be the first step in freshening up a neighborhood block.

4. Buy local produce.

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In case you haven't heard, the "locavore" movement is alive and well. Buying local supports small businesses encourages smaller-scale farming (which tend less towards large-scale pesticide bombings) and reduces the energy cost and carbon footprints of the food by taking large-scale, long-distance transportation out of the equation. Buying local is buying sustainably. It's not possible to get everything you need from a farm in Minnesota or Kansas or Florida, and it doesn't have to be the goal. Even going to farmer's markets or picking out fruit that you know is in season around you contributes and can help. Remember: it's about the little steps that all add up.

While not all of us will be able to experience the Grand Canyon or the redwood forests or the Aspen trail system—especially during the final exam crunch that is April—these four ideas are easy enough for anyone to do, and a great way to ensure we all do our part to keep our country as pristine and beautiful as it is, and deserves to be.

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Are Plastic Straws Really Killing Sea Turtles?

It's no secret that plastic isn't great for the environment, but how sensationalized is this topic actually becoming?

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When I first saw a video of a sea turtle getting a plastic drinking straw removed from its nostril, I was obviously upset like any other viewer would be. I care a lot about the environment and about animal life and it was upsetting to see that a product of human consumption and ignorant waste was destroying precious parts of our world. I wholeheartedly jumped on the bandwagon of "plastic straws kill sea turtles!!!" but only knew about the issue from this video and what I heard from people or saw on social media. The whole topic of plastic waste into the ocean remained in the back of my mind until the recent pledge of Starbucks to stop using plastic straws in stores by 2020 reminded me of the issue.

As the topic of plastics and their pollution of the environment (largely the oceans) has become so recently powerful I decided to do some research of my own. If I was going to tell people to stop using plastic straws because they were killing sea turtles, I wanted to be sure that I wasn't just repeating everything I heard from social media.

Turns out, plastic straws are hurting sea turtles and other marine life, but a lot of what I thought about plastic waste was exaggerated (at least from what I had heard from others). Sea birds are the most impacted creature by plastic straws, not sea turtles. About 1 million or more seabirds die every year from ingesting plastic straws and choking on them. In research from recent scientific studies, 80-90% of seabirds have some kind of plastic inside of their stomachs. Also, the ecological footprint that plastic straws alone leave on the planet is actually pretty small compared to food waste or fossil fuels.

However, all the buzz about sea turtles may come from the fact that globally 86% of sea turtle species are known to be affected by plastic debris. Overwhelming amounts of plastic garbage in the ocean have caused a steady decline of the leatherback sea turtle over the past several years, so much that they have been placed on the endangered species list. Plastics can hinder eating and consumption, breathing abilities, and even reproductive capabilities of all kinds of sea turtles.

So while plastic straws may not be killing sea turtles in hordes, they are killing sea birds, and plastic overall have caused huge and deadly effects to many sealife species. We have known that plastic is bad for the environment and the oceans for quite a while, given the fact that the Great Garbage Patch was discovered almost 20 years ago, so it's more than time to start caring about the problem. If we can eliminate single-use plastic straws that aren't biodegradable, we can stop using other single-use plastics and make a better effort to reduce our harmful impacts on the oceans. Individually, we can move towards small changes, which can move our society to a more sustainable and healthy place. If you are more interested in this topic, I would suggest reading about how you can make a change or looking at this article and checking out this scientific journal.

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Vinicius Amano

@viniciusamano

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Being Sustainable Is Hard But It's Not Impossible

Although we've all heard of climate change and have witnessed the disastrous effects that humans have had on the environment, it still seems like most people are not subscribing to the ideals of sustainability.

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Sustainability is a tricky term. Most people that hear about it eventually put in the back of their minds, the same place they put "student loans" and "crippling depression." Most people know that to adhere to this ideal would mean to change how they live.

Sustainability is about adopting behaviors and systems that will ensure that the Earth is around for many generations after ours. Sustainability aims to preserve the Earth in terms of seven generations ahead. Seven generations after ours and societies on Earth will be using entirely different systems than what we do now, therefore, we should start this process now to ensure that they will be able to live comfortably and sustainably.

This is where most people tune out, understandably so. It's hard for us to think about the implications of our actions and how they will affect life on Earth much after our own deaths. It suddenly seems like an incomprehensible problem that no one person can ever solve.

"My actions won't make a difference," most people say, convinced that just because they stop eating meat or buying plastic or start drinking from paper straws, that nothing will change. However, what they fail to consider is how their actions will influence the minds of others around them, and one person who stops eating meat or using plastic sends a ripple effect through the people surrounding them. One person making lifestyle changes in the name of sustainability leads others to suddenly consider, "maybe I should eat less meat?" or "maybe I won't use single-use plastics anymore?"

The idea is not that any one person picking up plastic on the beach is going to save the planet, but rather that through education and awareness, we will all take small steps to preserve our home. Large groups of people all taking small steps leads to big changes, and politics and the economy will follow the demand of the people.

The most difficult thing for most people to do is to adopt those small behavioral changes. Not everyone can afford to stop eating meat, but everyone can afford to opt out of single-use plastics. Buying a personal water bottle is one easy way to do this. Stop buying plastic water bottles just to throw them away. If you need to buy them, make sure to recycle them. Instead of taking plastic silverware and straws from restaurants, bring your own reusable set.

Understandably, most of you are already cringing. It's hard to go against the grain and commit to living a plastic-free lifestyle for the sake of sustainability. And what about when you go to Chipotle with your zero-waste kit and somebody asks you a question about why you have that? Fear or convincing themselves that it's "inconvenient" will keep most of you from adopting these little changes that, over time, make a huge difference in the amount of plastic we put in our oceans.

Although we can't all be leaders of huge sustainability efforts to clean our oceans or buy an electric car, we can all make small changes to mitigate this tragic problem. On our current track, the last half of our lives will be starkly different from the first half, for the worse. Educate yourself and be part of the solution instead of the problem.

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