Why this weird Earth Day might actually be the best one yet

None of us lives here because it’s ugly. As my editor Jim always says, the one thing everyone in the Keys can get behind is the environment. And who can blame us? We’ve got miles and miles of coastline, 1,700 islands and 2,900 square nautical miles of protected waters in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary. Frankly, it takes my breath away and it’s worth every effort to protect it.

I moved here in 2018 as part of a quarter-life crisis. After years of work in Los Angeles as a renewable energy lawyer, I needed a change of latitude and attitude. I eventually found my way to Key Largo working for Coral Restoration Foundation. I started writing environmental pieces for The Weekly, and here we are. 

I regularly will join local dive shops and non-profit organizations for clean-ups. Plastic pollution and old fishing gear litter our waters. SARA NILSSON/Keys Weekly

I found purpose in writing about and advocating for our local environment, and I’ve stayed because I see that same love of sun and sea in most people I meet. It’s a shared bond, as if everyone who self-selects to live here has got an old sailor’s heart ticking in them. 

Fifty years ago today, the very first Earth Day was held. Against the backdrop of war protests and deteriorating air and water, 10 percent of the total U.S. population at the time took to the streets, classrooms and parks to march against the negative environmental and human health impacts of development. That’s 20 million Americans rallying in support of the Earth.

Watching the sun rise over the sea is one of my favorite quarantine activities. It reminds me just how beautiful the Keys are. TIFFANY DUONG/Keys Weekly

The moment is widely regarded as the birth of the modern environmental movement and achieved “rare political alignment, enlisting support from Republicans and Democrats, rich and poor, urban dwellers and farmers, business and labor leaders,” according to the Earth Day Network, the nonprofit hosting Earth Day 2020. It resulted in the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), and the passage of the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act and the Endangered Species Act. These agencies and laws have created safer working and living environments for millions while protecting many species from extinction.

A green sea turtle swims along Molasses Reef. Earth Day led to the passage of the Endangered Species Act, which protects animals like the green sea turtle. TIFFANY DUONG/Keys Weekly

In 1990, the Earth Day movement went international and now includes events in over 193 countries. Each year, over 1 billion individuals mobilize and take part in Earth Day celebrations, making it the single largest secular civic event worldwide. 

This year was supposed to be the most epic of the Earth Days, celebrating its 50th anniversary. There were mega conferences, film festivals and celebrations planned for the entire month. But, as with most things this spring, the lot’s been canceled or gone virtual. 

Funny thing is, it’s still going to be epic because it’s actually giving us what we need most to appreciate the environment around us: time and perspective.

Life as we knew it a few months ago, has morphed into a very weird alter-reality. We’re finding ourselves stuck in a Zoom-filled, pajama-clad groundhog day of sorts, where every day feels like the last, and we’re not sure when it will stop.

For many, it might be the first time in decades without set plans or obligations to tend to. There are no new restaurants to try or parties to show face at. So, we actually can slow down to appreciate our days and our surroundings more. For me, I’m noticing how much the little things mean a chance to go diving, a casual drive down Overseas Highway, an evening walk at the park. This place we live in it’s incredible and this weird alter-reality has perhaps provided (okay, forced upon) us the rare opportunity to savor it more fully. Time.

The Earth Day Network issued an Earth Day-inspired daily challenge. Choose any of these actions to make a difference for the planet. EARTH DAY NETWORK/Contributed

During this quarantine, I often watch the sun rise over the sea with my morning coffee. It allows me to pause and remember why this place is so special. We are all fortunate to live and work in such a supportive community unlike any I’ve ever known, surrounded by natural beauty unlike any I’ve ever seen. There are worse places to quarantine and ride this bug out. I’m happy to do it here. Perspective.

And so, this weird I don’t even know what to call it, because it doesn’t feel real segment of our lives has actually helped me appreciate our surroundings and the environment even more. 

Funny, that’s exactly what Earth Day was created to do to reinvigorate everyone’s connections to and protection of nature. 

And funny, that’s exactly what you’re supposed to do on big 50th anniversaries, right? Remember what you saw in the other at the start of all this, what you valued in them and what you’ve built together. Realize how much of them is in who you’ve become and how much of you is in them. And recommit to each other. 

So, Earth Day 2020 may look nothing like I thought it would, but it’s doing exactly what it needed to. It’s reminding me why I got into all of this in the first place to love and protect the beautiful place we have right here in front of us. I’m taking the time today to slow down and recommit for the next 50 years. Will you?

Diving in the Coral Restoration Foundation Coral Tree Nursery in Tavernier, I’m able to help as a citizen-scientists with restoring our reefs. WHITNEY WEMETT/Keys Weekly

Things you can do every day to help the planet:

  • Use reusable water bottles, utensils and to-go containers instead of single-use plastics.
  • Recycle.
  • Eat less meat. Try “meatless Mondays.”
  • Participate in or host a beach/mangrove/underwater clean-up.
  • Carpool (once we are allowed to go out again) or reduce your driving.
  • Become a citizen-scientist.
  • Plant a tree.
  • Fix and repair things instead of buying new.
  • Fly less.
  • Support renewable energy initiatives.
  • Talk to others about why the environment matters to you.
  • Vote for politicians and policies that protect the environment.
Tiffany Duong
Tiffany Duonghttp://tiffanyduong.com
Tiff Duong is self-made mermaid who loves all things cheesy (romantic and dairy) and thrives in the 3 am hour. She believes in leaving it all on the field and has never met a (mis)adventure she didn't love.

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