APU Editor's Pick Environmental Original

Planetary Sustainability: The 2021 Celebration of Earth Day

By Dr. Kristin Drexler
Faculty Member, School of STEM

Author’s note: This article is part of an ongoing series on planetary sustainability. This series will examine socioecological systems — ecological and human factors – of sustainable Earth from the macro-view, using the United Nations global Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and other tools to better understand the complex whole of Earth sustainability and local applications for planetary protection.

Happy Earth Day! We celebrate Earth Day every April 22nd since the first Earth Day back in 1970, the birth of the modern environmental movement.

Learn more about the online B.S. in natural sciences at American Public University.

According to EarthDay.org, Earth Day is known as the largest civic event on Earth, and there are many ways people all over the world can celebrate it. This year, the plan is three days of climate action from April 20-22.

Earth Day’s 2021 Theme: Restore Our Earth

EarthDay.org notes that “Every one of us needs a healthy Earth to support our jobs, livelihoods, health and survival, and happiness. A healthy planet is not an option — it is a necessity.”

This year’s theme for Earth Day is “Restore Our Earth.” Occurring parallel with the Biden administration’s Global Climate Summit, the theme of “Restore Our Earth” relates to “natural processes, emerging green technologies, and innovative thinking that can restore the world’s ecosystems.”

EarthDay.org will hold a live event on April 22, starting at 12 noon ET. According to EarthDay.org, topics featured during this event will include:

  • Climate and environmental literacy
  • Climate restoration technologies
  • Reforestation efforts
  • Regenerative agriculture
  • Equity and environmental justice
  • Citizen science
  • Cleanups

How Earth Day Aligns with Planetary Sustainability and the UN’s SDGs

This year’s Earth Day theme “Restore Our Earth” has similar roots with the United Nations (UN) Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), a set of 17 goals comprising “the world’s best plan to build a better world for people and our planet by 2030.”

Directly related to the United Nations (UN) Sustainable Development Goals are functioning and sustainable Earth systems are directly connected to our own health and wellness, our jobs and livelihoods, and our equity and environmental justice.

SDG goals Drexler
Image courtesy of the United Nations SDGs website.

Although ALL the SDGs are included in Earth Day, the following are the most connected to 2021 Earth Day events and celebrations:

  • SDG #3: Good Health and Well-Being
  • SDG #6: Clean Water and Sanitation
  • SDG #7: Affordable and Clean Energy
  • SDG #8: Decent Work and Economic Growth
  • SDG #10: Reduced Inequalities
  • SDG #11: Sustainable Cities and Communities
  • SDG #12: Responsible Consumption and Production
  • SDG #13: Climate Action
  • SDG #14: Life Below Water
  • SDG #15: Life on Land

How to Safely Celebrate Earth Day Online

There are several virtual activities planned to help people celebrate Earth Day 2021 safely. Earth Day Live is a hub of activities targeting local issues in your community where you can participate in climate action, science and education, conservation and restoration. You can also learn more about:

  • The Canopy Project
  • Food and Environment
  • The Great Global Cleanup
  • Climate Literacy
  • Global Earth Challenge

Also, NASA offers educational Earth Day activities with downloadable posters, articles and other activities.

‘Science Talks, with Dr. Drexler and Friends’

Two ways to celebrate Earth Day include community service in STEM education and promoting citizen science. I want to share my story of science education during the COVID-19 quarantine.

Inspired by last year’s 50th anniversary of Earth Day and in response to schools shifting to online classes due to COVID-19 school closures, I wanted to use my strengths in science education to help teachers and students. So, as part of the “Skype-A-Scientist” program, I volunteered to help mentor Ms. Eva Wang’s 5th grade class in San Jose, California, as they prepared for their science fair projects.

Based on the first visits, we decided to do a weekly science lesson series called “Science Talks with Dr. Drexler and Friends” where I’d visit the class – many times with biologist friends. It grew into a year-long series of short science lessons; nearly every Tuesday between last year’s Earth Day and this one, I Zoomed into their class to share and discuss a variety of science topics. 

This Science Talks series will end on April 27th as the school is re-opening and the kids are headed back to class. I want to bid a fond farewell and express a big “THANK YOU” to Ms. Wang for letting me share the excitement of science to her 5th grade class this past year.

In many ways, this series also helped me personally and professionally in using my skills and enthusiasm for science to impact young minds. I brought them lessons in the scientific method as we conducted backyard biodiversity surveys during their quarantines; I also brought them wildlife experts who showed them images or actual wildlife from different parts of the world.

My professional biologist/science friends and I shared our areas of expertise on various topics. Science topics we covered included wildlife science, biology (especially viruses and vaccines), fire science, national parks, space exploration, climate science, natural history, plants, geology, geographic information systems (GIS), marine ecology, sustainable development, film and photography, and other topics.

We also learned from the students as we used scientific principles to examine environmental problems and solutions in their local area. It was fun for everyone. I told Ms. Wang, “These visits were like outdoor recess for me!”

Science Talks is one of my proudest accomplishments this past year. Ms. Wang recently said to me: “You have helped me spark their interest in science and revealed their passion for nature and the environment!” Ms. Wang also noted, “And the one-hour, weekly visits — called Science Talks with Dr. Drexler and Friends — were a big hit with my class. 

“Every week, Dr. Drexler and a guest would speak to the class about what they do as scientists and field researchers. Through her connections, we have traveled to a bird rescue/sanctuary in Belize, explored native animals at the Belize Zoo, learned about the exciting lives of wildlife photographers and marine researchers, and been introduced to the role science can have in the public forum through film and other avenues of informing the public. 

“Dr. Drexler has skillfully woven the topics of her talks with the interests of my class and the science curriculum planned for the semester…Dr. Drexler’s talks appeal to all ages. Sometimes, parents and siblings have huddled next to their kids while watching/attending her talks! I have received as many rave comments from the parents as I have from the kids in my class.”

A “Thank You” Zoom message from Ms. Wang’s class. Image courtesy of Dr. Drexler.

Celebrating Earth Day at the University

The university’s organizations celebrate Earth Day principles through various student organizations, including:

On April 19 from 8-9 p.m. ET, The Wildlife Society, AWIS, wSTEM and NAEP will host a special event featuring Assistant Director and Wildlife Biologist Liz Olsen of BiodiversityWorks (passcode 575241). Ms. Olsen will share her organization’s fascinating research on bats.

Also, the university has a number of degree programs, certificates and classes related to environmental science, space studies, Earth studies, and natural science. For more information, please contact the university.

About the Author

Dr. Kristin Drexler is a full-time faculty member in the Space and Earth Studies programs. She teaches geography, environmental science, earth system history, and conservation of natural resources for the School of STEM. She earned her Ph.D. in educational leadership at New Mexico State University by researching socioecological systems, sustainable agroecology and community education. She earned her Master of Arts in international affairs with an emphasis in natural resources management from Ohio University.

Kristin has conducted numerous community surveys in Belize regarding agroforestry, conservation and sustainable agriculture. Until she became a full-time instructor with APU in 2009, she was an environmental scientist in New Mexico, conducting field biology surveys and environmental impact analyses. Drexler founded the Belize Field School Program at NMSU, coordinating short courses in Belize in wildlife, agroforestry, marine ecology, and documentary film (2006-2014) and produced an award-winning short film, “Yochi” in 2017 about youth conservation and action against poaching and illegal wildlife trade. In the late 1990s, she served as a Peace Corps volunteer in Belize. She co-founded and serves on the board of directors of Full Basket Belize, a U.S. nonprofit that provides high school scholarships and community grants in Belize. Kristin serves as a faculty advisor for the university’s wSTEM and AWIS chapters. She also founded the “Science Talks with Dr. Drexler and Friends” lesson series for primary school (2020-21).

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