Want to protect the planet? Start at home.

This post was written by #GenGeo community member and National Geographic Young Explorer Ghaamid Abdulbasat.

When I was younger, I was in love with aircraft engineering, so I set my eyes toward the sky. I thought studying engineering was the best path for me, but I took a sharp turn when my father suggested I add Environmental Sciences to my list of introductory university courses. I knew nothing about environmental sciences at the time, but my father is in construction and noticed how the engineers he consulted were increasingly collaborating with environmental scientists. He could never have imagined that his suggestion would dramatically shift my vision from the sky to one firmly rooted in the earth.

From that first course, I started seeing that environmental sciences interconnect with almost everything else. I dove headfirst into geomorphology, plant sciences, waste management, atmospheric sciences, technology, wildlife ecology, marine biology, water resources management and soil science. I was inspired. And I wanted to take action. My passion shifted from engineering to how engineers – and everyone else – could protect the environment. 

I began to connect the dots – just as my father had – and understand that every single person has a role to play in protecting the environment, regardless of their profession. Becoming environmentally conscious means changing our daily behaviors at every level – individual, family, community, and decision-making. This is why citizen science is such a critical step toward protecting our earth and its waters because each person has an opportunity to become more aware and responsible for our behaviors and habits. My work now is building the capacity of our community to create more sustainable habits.

As the Sub-Saharan Africa regional coordinator for the Earth Day Network, I focus on mobilizing communities, particularly young people, to pay attention to their waste habits through trash mapping using mobile devices. When people see a polluted area with plastics or other trash, they can take a picture. Using the power of satellites, the app will track the geolocation of the photo and upload it to the system. Then the data is collected and we can analyze the extent of pollution and use the data to influence local and national policies, empower stakeholders to take action, raise community awareness, and engage in ongoing research to protect the environment. We can also increase the protection of these areas by mapping trash points and advocating for proper waste management in those locations and others. Such collective initiative is a more motivating way to make the community accept and assimilate the new knowledge and techniques to fight the causes of the climate crisis because it empowers the individual.

We are extending these local efforts to also participate in the Global Earth Challenge, a “campaign using a mobile app to collect billions of observations in air quality, water quality, insect populations, climate change, plastic pollution and food sustainability, providing valuable environmental insight and a platform for policy change in these areas.” We are working to mobilize volunteers, bring in guest speakers, and host workshops to engage community members with this global effort. We want everyone to know that when we drop a plastic bottle onto the ground, it will eventually end up in the ocean. Our individual behaviors impact the earth, the ocean, and every person who lives on this planet. We all have a responsibility to change our behaviors and we all can.

Community action against the illegal dumping of waste restores hope in communities who have witnessed the drastic destruction of the local environment. These projects also inspire community organizing by giving individuals incentives to continue conservation efforts when we see how our individual actions can cause harm or create positive change. For example, I’m proud of my country of Tanzania because we have implemented a policy to ban plastic bags. While individual efforts create the ripple effects of broader change, shifting policies creates big waves and we are starting to see more of these waves occurring. We try our best to advocate, build the capacity of our people, raise awareness, and raise the voices of our youth. Sometimes it helps to make some noise. 

Ultimately, our homes and our families are essential starting points for protecting the earth and the ocean. We can take the time to think about where our trash goes, how we use energy, and how we use water in our own homes. The climate crisis will ultimately shift in our own backyards if we take the time to think about our daily habits, and young people are essential to raising this awareness – even in our own families. My father was the one who shifted my path toward environmental sciences by noticing the changes in his industry, but now I am the one who is shifting my family’s perspective on conservation. People in my family see me around and they put their trash in their pockets before they throw it on the ground. They know the work I am doing and they understand now how small choices can lead to a larger impact. Each of us has this power and regardless of our paths, we have to put this power to use to save our planet and its ocean. 

Take action like Ghaamid by visiting EarthDay.org to find opportunities to join more than 1 billion participants around the world in taking action on Earth Day, April 22, 2021. Activities include the Great Global Cleanup, a citizen science initiative called Global Earth Challenge, and taking a pledge to take personal action to help the planet.  

Earth Day Network’s mission is to diversify, educate and activate the environmental movement worldwide. Growing out of the first Earth Day in 1970, Earth Day Network is the world’s largest recruiter to the environmental movement, working with more than 75,000 partners in over 190 countries to drive positive action for our planet. 

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Feature image by Wolfgang Goymann

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