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Big Questions: How can kids help the planet?

Planting a garden

Adults aren't the only ones who can protect our planet. Kids can be planet protectors, too! You can start by learning what helps our planet and what harms it. Then choose to do the things that help. It's that easy.

Each of us has a "carbon footprint." That footprint is the amount of carbon dioxide released into the air by the things you do and the things you use. Carbon dioxide, or CO2, is a greenhouse gas. Too much of it is bad for the planet. Greenhouse gases get trapped in the Earth's atmosphere and hold in heat below. This warms the planet over time. Scientists call it global warming. 

One way to reduce your carbon footprint is by planting a tree. In this photo, kids get ready to plant trees in their school yard. Photo: Lavonda Walton/USFWS.
One way to reduce your carbon footprint is by planting a tree. In this photo, kids get ready to plant trees in their schoolyard. Photo: Lavonda Walton/USFWS.

A big carbon footprint harms Earth more than a small one. Here are a few ways that you can shrink your footprint. 

Plant Something

Plants help remove the greenhouse gas CO2 from the air. That is why it's a good idea to plant your own vegetables and fruits. If you don't have space for a garden, grow plants in pots. Tomatoes, lettuce, carrots, and strawberries all thrive in pots. 

You can also plant trees. If you don't have a yard, check out nature programs near your home. Many use volunteers to plant trees. Think of your new plants and trees as air cleaners. 

Power Down

The modern world is filled with things that use power. These items include lights, TVs, and computers. When you're not using them, turn them off. Then go a step further: unplug them! 

Any gadget you can turn on with a remote uses power even when it is off. Devices with power adapters, like laptops, do, too. Plug these devices into a power strip that has an on/off switch. Then you can switch them all off with one button.

Turning off and unplugging electronics when you’re not using them can help save energy. Photo from: Getty Images/Stefan Cioata
Turning off and unplugging electronics when you’re not using them can help save energy. Photo from: Getty Images/Stefan Cioata

Skip The Car

Choose your own two feet! Walk or ride your bike instead of hopping into a car. Even a 2-mile car trip puts 2 pounds of CO2 into the atmosphere. If you must ride, carpool with other people. 

Choose To Reuse

A throwaway planet is not a healthy planet. Making new things takes energy. It also uses resources such as timber, water and minerals. You can help by reusing. Instead of tossing things out, use them again. 

Ask your parents to buy reusable grocery bags. Then help them remember to take them into the store. You can also carry a reusable water bottle. Fill it with tap water instead of buying bottled water. Plastic bottles are a big problem. It takes hundreds of years for a plastic bottle to break down! 

A visitor at the Grand Canyon refills a water bottle. Reusable bottles help cut down on plastic waste. Photo: National Park Service.
A visitor at the Grand Canyon refills a water bottle. Reusable bottles help cut down on plastic waste. Photo: National Park Service.

Choose To Recycle

You can recycle all kinds of things! The list includes paper, aluminum cans, cardboard, plastic, glass, newspapers, magazines, junk mail and phone books. 

You may have to sort your recyclables and take them to a recycling center. But many cities pick up recycled materials. If yours does not, find out who you can talk to about starting this service.

Turn Off The Tap

Using too much water hurts the planet. In some places, people don't even have enough water to drink, much less to waste. You can help by conserving water. Start by becoming aware of how much water you use.

Do you keep the water running while you brush your teeth? How about when you wash dishes? Turn it off until you really need it. Do you spend five minutes in the shower or 15? Try to shorten your shower to five or 10 minutes. 

Ever keep the faucet running while you’re brushing your teeth? This ends up wasting water. Turning off the tap when you don’t need to use it is a small (but big!) way to help save water. Photo from: Getty Images/Miguel Sotomayor.

Ever keep the faucet running while you’re brushing your teeth? This ends up wasting water. Turning off the tap when you don’t need to use it is a small (but big!) way to help save water. Photo from: Getty Images/Miguel Sotomayor.

Ever keep the faucet running while you’re brushing your teeth? This ends up wasting water. Turning off the tap when you don’t need to use it is a small (but big!) way to help save water. Photo from: Getty Images/Miguel Sotomayor.

Go Green For Life

Some of the ways you can help the planet will have to wait until you're older. For example, you can choose to drive an energy-efficient car, which pollutes less than other cars. You can install solar panels on the roof of your house. These power your house with the sun's energy, which is a renewable resource. Renewable means we will not run out of it. 

You can even choose a "green career." There are many green careers to choose from. You could join NASA, the space agency, to design tools to study the climate. You can plan landscapes that don't need much water for homes and parks. You can repair green technology, such as solar panels and wind turbines, which catch the wind's energy. Many possible careers haven't even been thought of yet. One day, you could invent your own!