So…2020’s over (finally). Despite the craziness of the past 365 days, I’m so grateful I launched my dream platform last year. I built a team, website, and Instagram, and spent hours researching and creating captions, graphics, and blog posts.
I want 2021 to be a year of creativity and growth for me and Protecting Planet A. Although it’s full of uncertainty, I also think it’s full of hope! I’ve noticed how eager people are to leave 2020 behind, but also keeping their expectations low for the new year. The problems brought to the forefront in 2020 haven’t gone away overnight, but 2021 provides a “fresh start”, and signifies to many the closing of a hectic and unprecedented chapter.
2021 has to be a year of climate action, because we are running out of time to stay below 1.5 degrees Celsius of global warming. I would love to aid Gen Z’s mobilization this year toward demanding climate prioritization in government.
For me, 2021 is going to include a lot of grinding to meet my goals. I want Protecting Planet A to expand to other platforms. I also have pageants, college visits, and environmental advocacy to do!
Usually around this time people say something like “cheers to making this year the best year yet!” But I doubt expectations are that high. So “cheers to making 2021 better than 2020, and a year of gratitude, hope, and faith!”
David Attenborough called for an immediate halt to deforestation in his Netflix documentary “A Life on Our Planet.” Let’s talk about why this is important.
We all know greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide cause climate change. And as I learned in elementary school, plants “breathe in” carbon dioxide and “breathe out” oxygen.
This is actually really significant, because it means trees can take carbon dioxide out of the air and help us with our climate change issue.
Trees hold carbon in them, but when you cut or burn them down, that carbon is released into the air. And then you no longer have that tree to take it back out.
To many, the solution might be to simply “plant more trees” to replace the ones cut down. But even if an American like myself could single-handedly plant enough trees to replace every tree cut down in the Amazon, that still wouldn’t replace the valuable ecosystem that was lost there. Forests are more than just trees; they’re intricate ecosystems, and every part – soil, plants, animals, climate – plays a role in circulating water and nutrients.
1.2 million trees are lost in the Amazon Rainforest every day, to be replaced by cattle ranches and farms. In Malaysia and Indonesia, the forests are being replaced with sprawling palm oil plantations.
Palm oil is actually the most productive vegetable oil, and boycotting it to switch to a less efficient alternative would require more land. There are ways to consume palm oil sustainably, by supporting brands that get their palm oil and palm oil derivatives from producers that aren’t linked to deforestation. Pressure from consumers on the worst of the palm oil companies sends a message to others in the industry to stop deforestation.
But let’s say you’re just cutting down a rainforest to make wood and paper products. You think to yourself, “the trees will just grow back! It’s nature, it’ll be fine.”
Not necessarily. A rainforest with no forest can quickly turn into a dry savanna, through a process called desertification. Forest ecosystems are more than just trees; the endangered species living there can’t just wait for a suitable ecosystem to rebuild itself. And what about the effects on the people that may use the forest as a source of food, habitat, or even just flood protection?
Biodiversity just isn’t that replaceable. And neither are forests. Preservation is key.
But let’s pretend you don’t care so much about “biodiversity” and the orangutans. Lucky (or unluckily) for you, forests are actually important for human beings, too.
Many Indigenous peoples live in the Amazon Rainforest, yet their future becomes increasingly uncertain as more of their land is taken and their forest is destroyed to be turned into farms.
Additionally, the Amazon Rainforest has an effect on global water cycles. Its deforestation is affecting the rainfall in regions hundreds of miles away. The ecosystem services it provides are priceless. And of course, the trees help sequester carbon, a natural service that only becomes increasingly valuable as more people realize our dire climate situation calls for immediate action.
Pressure on both companies and governments will likely be necessary to halt deforestation. But large, undisturbed, healthy forests are critical for decreasing climate change, saving endangered species, safeguarding functioning water cycles, and ultimately, protecting people.
9 ways you can start lowering your impact on the Earth today
Quick disclaimer. There’s a level of privilege involved in living sustainably, especially when it comes to sustainable fashion. Although this lifestyle can save you money, buying from sustainable brands can be expensive. Protecting Planet A doesn’t shame anyone for buying from fast fashion brands or choosing budget-friendly disposable options instead of more expensive reusable ones. We ask you to do the best with what you’ve got. If you have the resources to somehow be carbon neutral, go for it. If not, strive for progress, not perfection.
Okay now let’s get into it.
1: Reduce, reuse, recycle
You’ve definitely heard that before. The 3 R’s are best done in that order, too. Reduce how much you buy first (hint: reuse the things you already have as much as possible!). Every time you buy something new, it impacts the environment. Minimalist living is sustainable living. And of course, recycle. Make sure you know the guidelines for recyclable materials in your area.
2. Reduce single-use plastic use
8 million tons of plastic end up in our oceans every year. You’ve seen the pictures of beaches lined with plastic, of scientists pulling plastic out of sea animal’s stomachs.
But it’s difficult to go plastic free when you go to the store and almost everything you see is made of plastic, isn’t it?
Start with using plastic that’s not single-use. Half of all plastic produced is designed to only be used once, then thrown away. Make a goal not to use single-use plastics for a day. Then a week. Get yourself reusable bags, water bottles, straws, and tupperware. Avoid products with excess packaging. Opting for recycled and recyclable paper is also progress. Use reusable cloths instead of paper towels and single-use makeup remover wipes.
“half of all plastic produced is designed to be used only once — and then thrown away.”
If you can, buy products made of glass or paper instead of plastic, and always make sure to recycle them afterward! Only 9% of all the plastic ever produced has been recycled. But glass can be recycled infinite times without any decrease in purity or quality! And finally, start looking for companies that are plastic free. Check out Plastic Free Pursuit to get started!
You’ve heard of global warming, right? I explain how our energy use causes it (in Gen Z friendly vocab) in a different blog post, here.
Lowering your energy use helps mitigate the effects of global warming, and saves you money! So always remember to turn off the lights when you leave a room, don’t leave the water running, unplug your electronics, and ride your bike instead of driving!
Uh oh. Am I about to tell you to stop eating meat? That you’re not allowed to eat burgers and steak and Chick-Fil-A sandwiches anymore?
In ecology there’s this thing called the 10% rule. It describes how energy is lost as we move up the food chain. It’s not as much math as it sounds.
Grass (or any plant), has 100% of the energy. If a worm eats the grass, it gets 10% of the energy. 90% of the energy is lost, mostly through heat. If a bird eats the worm, it gets 10% of the worms energy. But compared to the grass, the bird gets 1%. If you eat the bird, you only get .1% of the energy. You would have been better off eating the grass with 100% energy, right?
That’s why it’s more energy efficient to have a plant-based diet. It also takes a lot of food and water just to grow one cow.
Industrial agriculture and the meat industry is just all-around horrible for the environment. Buy your produce locally, and buy produce that’s in season. And don’t be afraid to buy GMO’s. If we want to continue to feed our growing population, it’s either GMO’s or pesticides.
And if you don’t want to give up eating meat, try eating just a bit less. The environment will thank you for it 🙂
5. Slow fashion
Just to reiterate, buying new clothes from sustainable, ethical brands can be really expensive sometimes. We’re here to educate, not shame others for purchasing from fast fashion brands.
That being said, the fashion industry is one of the most pollutant industries in the world. So wear the clothes you have for as long as possible. Buy second hand clothing from thrift stores or on the numerous online secondhand clothing websites (Depop, ThredUp, Etsy, etc.)
Also, SUPER IMPORTANT! When looking for sustainable brands, be aware of companies that greenwash! Greenwashing is a marketing technique that you’ve definitely seen your favorite brands doing, even if you didn’t know it. Water bottle brands do it a lot. It’s to convince you that the company is helping the environment, when they might not really be. They include pictures of pretty lakes or forests, and include buzzwords like “eco-friendly”, “sustainable”, and “natural”, without any real specifics on how they’re lowering their environmental impact. Sometimes they’ll literally just change the color of their packaging to green.
If you have the money to buy from truly sustainable brands, don’t be fooled by greenwashing. Instead buy from companies that genuinely prioritize sustainability throughout their whole business model.
6. Plastic Water Bottles !!
Speaking of water bottles, you’re trying to do your part in protecting the planet? Ditch the plastic single-use water bottles. Forever. Water bottles aren’t recycled nearly as much as they should be, they use a lot of fossil fuels in manufacturing and transportation (energy costs 1,000-2,000 times greater than tap water), and they’re unnecessary because you could just be using a reusable water bottle.
You might think think that the water is healthier or cleaner because they come from “pristine mountain springs,” but a lot of them come from the same type of place your tap water comes from. Furthermore, the US government strictly regulates tap water, but requires almost nothing of bottled water corporations, so you could bet that the tap is actually healthier. A lot of bottled water is just filtered tap water sold for up to 1,900 times the price anyway.
Automobiles emit carbon dioxide (CO2), as well as comparably small amounts of methane, nitrous oxide, and hydrofluorocarbon emissions. You lessen your contribution to global warming when you walk or ride a bike. If your destination is too far away for that, take public transportation or carpool as much as possible.
8. Protect Native Ecosystems
Habitat destruction destroys entire ecosystems and contributes to the mass extinction going on right now. Plant native vegetation in your yard, and visit local wildlife preserves. Most State Natural Areas and things like that also have volunteer opportunities! Volunteer your time to protecting native ecosystems.
9. Raise Awareness
Almost everyone has some form of social media in 2020. You probably found your way to this website from Instagram.
We’ve seen a lot of awareness raised about the fast fashion industry this year from social media. When it comes to protecting the planet, education is always Step #1.
Re-posting something to your Instagram story for 24 hours might seem completely pointless, but you made everyone who saw that story think about global warming, fast fashion, deforestation, or pollution, even if it was just for a second. Otherwise those issues may not have crossed their mind that day.
Outside of social media, once you’ve implemented these steps into your life, you can have your friends join you! Get your friends bamboo straws as gifts. Don’t let them litter, even if it’s just one little wrapper. Watch documentaries with them, tell them about a sustainable clothing brand you’re buying from, and especially, tell them to follow Protecting Planet A!
A big part of Protecting Planet A’s mission is making environmentalism mainstream. Bringing the protection of the planet to the forefront of our minds, forcing people to think about how their actions affect the planet every single day. It’s not a trend, it’s a lifestyle we all should commit to.
These steps are just the beginning. Of course there’s a million more things you could do to protect the environment. But if you’re just getting started, we think these are great first steps!
My name is Hannah Etienne, and I’m a junior in high school who created Protecting Planet A. It started as an environmental pageant platform, then an Instagram account, then a Girl Scout Gold Award project, then a website, and now it is all four of those things.
I’ve always had a passion for protecting the environment, so I took AP Environmental Science my sophomore year of high school. I felt that so much of the material in the class should really be common knowledge. I can’t stress enough how important I believe it is for people to be educated about the Earth that they live on and the climate crisis.
Not only that, but it’s important for people to understand that environmentalists aren’t people that just care about trees and turtles. The health of our planet and the health of humanity is so interconnected, which is why I’m striving to keep Protecting Planet A intersectional.
I don’t know everything about environmental science, or environmental policies, or climate change. I strive for progress not perfection. But if there’s any chance you’re willing to learn with me, and help Protecting Planet A become an organization that can truly make a difference, please consider following the Instagram and subscribing to the blog. I’m launching a social media campaign on Instagram for my Gold Award that will hopefully be super educational but also super interesting (not that those two things don’t go together…) and I’m going to keep the captions as short as I can, don’t worry 🙂 I want people to easily digest and remember the information, so that they can apply it to their everyday lives.
A major part of protecting the environment is going to have to come from policy. Large corporations and governments with lots of money and influence are going to have to start prioritizing clean energy for us to really stand a chance against global warming.
But I know this can be intimidating, and I don’t want people to forget about the problem just because they feel like they can’t do anything to help. You can find actionable steps you can personally take to help the Earth on the Protecting Planet A Instagram, and on this website.
That’s all for now (thanks for reading all the way down to here!) and if you gave me a follow @protectingplaneta or @hannahetienne_, just know that I really appreciate it.
Hurricane Maria was a Category 5 hurricane that devastated Dominica, St. Croix, and Puerto Rico in September 2017. With winds as fast as 174 mph and 3,057 fatalities, it’s one of the worst natural disasters in recorded history to hit those islands.
Shortly after the hurricane, I did a project called the Rose Relief Foundation, to serve those who had been affected by the natural disaster. I raised over $2,000 with a GoFundMe, and collected hundreds of pounds of supplies to ship to Dominica and St. Thomas. We used the GoFundMe money to cover the shipping costs, and sent the supplies to Pichelin Gospel Mission Church in Dominica to be distributed to people who needed them.
In 2019, my family and I traveled to Dominica on vacation. My dad grew up there, and lived there until he was 18. As you can see from the photos, I met some of the people who were on the receiving end of my supply barrels. One woman who was selling souvenirs at a popular tourist site (Emerald Pool) gave me a free doll that she had handmade herself.
In a third-world country still recovering from a 2017 disaster in 2019, where many of the people have very little, that simple act of gratitude and selflessness meant the world to me.
My Rose Relief Foundation project showed me just how easy it is to make a real difference in someone else’s life. I thought I would struggle to raise just $500, but my family and friends were so supportive and helped me raise quadruple that amount!
Since then I’ve shifted my focus to a new project. This one. Protecting Planet A. My hope is that one day Protecting Planet A can have the same impact (or more) on real people that the Rose Relief Foundation barrels did.
Dominica is the most beautiful island, but when I traveled there I still saw so much under construction, piles of rubble on the side of the roads, even entire towns had been left abandoned since 2017. Many of Dominica’s 365 rivers overflowed their banks during the hurricane, and now the areas surrounding them are overgrown with forest instead of populated with people. They’re still in need, so I’m gathering supplies for another barrel to send soon.
I hope this motivates you, or inspires you to do a project like this. If you’re working on (or want to start) a similar project, contact me and I’d love to help you out! GoFundMe and your parent’s Facebooks are your best friend when it comes to fundraising, and we used AmeriJet to ship the barrels.
Giving back to your community, whether that be local or international, is so fulfilling and greatly appreciated by people in need.
helping the generation who decided uppercase letters were overrated pass AP environmental science.
every time you turn on a light, your TV, or your car, you use energy. every single thing you own also required energy to be manufactured (the materials for your house, your clothes, your phone, literally everything).
when i say energy i mean like electricity. there’s lots of different ways to make electricity, like with fossil fuels, biofuels (like wood and stuff), wind turbines, dams, solar panels, etc.
for most of them, the real goal is to spin a turbine. which spins a generator, which makes electricity. apparently that’s the best way to do it.
so what humanity has decided is that we’re also gonna use steam to spin the turbine. and to make steam you need water. but you also need heat, so you have to burn something.
so we burn coal, oil, or natural gas (your classic icky sticky fossil fuels) to make heat, which heats up water, which turns into steam, which spins the turbine, which spins the generator, which makes electricity. here’s a diagram if that’s too much.
when you burn wood you get smoke, right? well, when you burn fossil fuels you get a bunch of carbon dioxide, along with some other pollutants like nitrogen and sulfur oxides. the pollutants go up into the atmosphere and trap heat. heat comes in from the sun and can’t leave. our global temperatures rise. thus, global warming.
so how do we fix it? renewable energy. you’ve probably seen dams, wind turbines, and solar panels. you may have assumed they’re more expensive.
there’s pros and cons to every source of energy. i break that down here (jk not yet, blog post coming soon though!). but really, fossil fuels are only getting more inefficient. we dug up all the easiest coal first, but now they have to spend more money digging deeper just to get the same amount of coal, natural gas, and oil. geothermal, nuclear, solar, hydroelectric, & wind energy have higher Energy Return On Investments (EROI) than natural gas or oil, meaning they’re more cost efficient.
another way to stop/slow global warming is carbon sequestration which is why everyone wants to plant so many trees.
so how are fossil fuels still in business? why do we still use them?
well you give them money everyday. look back at the first paragraph of this post. chances are everything you own was made with fossil fuel energy, and chances are you get your electricity from them too. the energy that’s powering whatever device you’re using right now probably came from fossil fuels.
also we use petroleum to make plastic so everything made out of plastic is made out of oil.
also the government subsidizes them a lot and if you don’t know what a subsidy is, it basically means the government gives them free money. from 1950-2010, the U.S. government gave $594 billion of its citizens’ money to oil, gas, and coal corporations. the government subsidizes renewable energy a lot less, giving $171 billion in that same time period, mostly to hydro-power and corn ethanol.
fossil fuels are non-renewable by nature, but coal will last us for over a hundred more years.
if you want our government to stop subsidizing fossil fuels and start prioritizing using renewable energy in the USA, let them know. vote for politicians who actually care about the environment. put pressure on local, state, and national government to create & enforce policies that protect the planet.
i think that’s all! if you have any questions comment down below or send @protectingplaneta a DM on instagram and i’ll respond or make another blog about it.