What will you do to celebrate the 54th Earth Day?

What can we do to mend the living planet and our relationship with it?

As we are constantly enchanted by the natural beauty of Vashon-Maury Island, what can we do to mend the living planet and our relationship with it?

We can allow natural processes to resume by removing invasive species, reintroducing missing native species, enriching our soils, and allowing our forests and depleted ecosystems, wetlands, salt marshes, and marine fields to regenerate. All this could yield additional carbon drawdown.

We are very fortunate to have lots of re-wilding already going on here, thanks to the work of the Vashon-Maury Island Land Trust, Vashon Park District and King County Parks Division, and our own residents to help safeguard our planet for future generations.

Perhaps we can follow in the footsteps of projects such as “Rewilding Britain,” which resulted in a 54% increase in full-time equivalent jobs while providing for a sustainable future for local communities, enriching lives, and reconnecting with nature.

Rotary International has declared April to be “Environment Month” with a focus on environmental issues and initiatives. So what can we do here on the island?

Greta Thunberg’s 2023 “The Climate Book“ offers 23 things we can do as a society to end the climate crisis. Eleven of them can be done as individuals: educate ourselves, become activists, defend democracy, talk about the climate crisis, amplify the voices on the front lines, avoid culture wars, shift towards a plant-free diet, be skeptical, stay on the ground, buy less and use less.

We won’t solve this problem through our individual actions alone. As Thunberg says: “This problem cannot be solved solely by individuals — nor can it be solved without a system change.”

We recently learned from King County’s Cities Climate Change Collaboration (K4C) project that Vashon’s per capita annual greenhouse gas emission (a model-driven carbon footprint measure) was 21 tons of CO2 equivalent in 2019, above the average for the USA, which is 16 tons.

Looking at the big picture, it is not all about our carbon footprint, which may be easy to measure, but really about our “climate shadow.” Emma Pattee created that concept in 2021 to help visualize how the sum of our life’s choices influence the climate crisis.

Our climate shadow follows us everywhere we go, and includes our consumption, home energy use, and gas mileage. But it’s also how we vote, how many children we choose to have, where we work, how we invest our money, how much we talk about climate change to our friends, and whether our words amplify urgency, apathy, or denial. Our climate shadow is basically composed of three parts: our consumption, choices, and attention.

We are making progress on Vashon-Maury Island with the November 2023 King County Council decision to fund an on-island compost facility, preventing the export of our abundant organic resources — more than 1,100 tons per year for the last five years — to the Cedar Grove Compost facility in Maple Valley.

Instead, we’ll keep that material here to enrich our island soils, sequester carbon and reduce transportation-related greenhouse gases as well as saving more than $250,000 per year.

For the last four years, the Vashon Recycling and Transfer Station has recycled over 2,000 tons per year of our stuff, compared to the more than 9,000 tons per year of Vashon’s waste that goes to Cedar Hills Landfill. That is nearly five pounds of landfill waste per person per day — similar to the national average, but two to eight times that of many other countries.

Our island recycling rate is about half that of King County as a whole, so we have room for improvement. One solution could be an island re-use facility, where building and other useful materials (not accepted by Granny’s Attic, that is) could be repurposed and diverted from the landfill. Zero Waste Vashon is currently studying this opportunity.

Our Vashon Fix-It Cafe has diverted lots of items from the landfill by fixing them, thanks to our island volunteer fixers, the Vashon Eagles, and Open Space partners. We welcome your active involvement in this community-building endeavor. The Vashon Tool Library, Vashon Care Closet, Music Library and other island library resources also contribute to our shared economy, reducing consumption and waste.

This year’s Earth Day theme is Planet versus Plastics. According to a 2022 study by the National Academies of Sciences, more than 500 million tons of plastics are produced globally and eight million tons of plastic waste are dumped into the oceans every year, much of which is single-use plastics.

We must stop the production and use of these single-use plastics. We can choose to not use single-use plastics and demand action from our elected officials to enact legislation that eliminates them.

So, will you join me in celebrating Earth Day Every Day, not just once a year, and in doing all we can to reduce our climate shadow as we transition to a healed planet, so Earth’s future ecosystems might flourish?

Steve Bergman is a geologist, Zero Waste Vashon Board secretary, Vashon Tool Library librarian and Whole Vashon Project advisor. He regularly contributes to Green Briefs, a series of commentaries by eco-leaders on Vashon, presented in The Beachcomber in partnership with The Whole Vashon Project.