by Whit Gibbons

January 4, 2015

We are only a few days into the new year but already most people have realized their rock solid pledge to eat less, exercise more and play fewer video games may have been too ambitious. To ease the guilt, how about adding a New Year’s resolution that anyone can readily complete and feel good about?

This year I am suggesting that your single environmental resolution be to offer the half dozen goals below to a student to complete. For my purposes here, a student is defined as someone who is in grade school, high school, or college, so the field is wide open. Finding someone to fill the bill should be easy. If you do not have ready access to grandchildren, nieces, nephews or neighborhood children, send this column to a teacher or guidance counselor at a local school. Some teachers will appreciate having a ready-made assignment for their science class.

Dear student, please try to complete the following checklist of six environmental resolutions. With a determined effort, they could all be done in a single day, but you have all year or, if this is a class project, until the end of the semester to complete the assignments. Two of the resolutions require access to the Internet.

1. Pick out a tree in your neighborhood. If you do not already know what kind it is, ask someone. Then go to several reputable sources to learn about the ecology of the species. Printed books and encyclopedias are reliable sources, but most students will probably prefer to use a computer, so a word of caution is in order.

Because most websites have not been subjected to rigorous scientific and editorial reviews, misinformation is rampant on the Internet. Most sites sponsored by a university, museum or government agency would classify as “reputable.” Use the scientific name of the species in the search to help pull up sites that are likely to be trustworthy. Learning all you can about the ecology, geographic distribution and close relatives of a target species will ensure that you appreciate it for the rest of your life. Likewise, learning how to use the Internet to acquire scientific information is a worthwhile exercise in itself.

2. If you are in high school or college, examine the ecology programs of five U.S. colleges and rank them based on what you would look for in a degree program in environmental science. Include at least one university in your own state. If you are in elementary or middle school, find two institutions of higher learning that have an ecology program and write a paragraph about the program in your own words.

3. Visit a natural history museum, nature park, zoo or public aquarium. Many are highly instructional regarding fundamental environmental topics such as endangered species, air and water quality, and climate change. This will be a particularly easy resolution to complete if a school field trip is already planned.

4. Take a 30- to 40-minute walk around your neighborhood to look at trees, shrubs, birds, insects and other life. Sometimes we take nature for granted. Looking closely at the natural world around us is the best way to gain an appreciation of it.

5. Examine a book on the natural history of a group of plants or animals. Field guides are numerous as are the categories to choose from. A book on mammals or mushrooms, fish or ferns, birds or butterflies just might turn you on to how fascinating the outdoors and its inhabitants are. Merely looking at a book in the library can help you become more aware of the natural world.

6. Once you have completed 1 through 5 above, let the person who gave you the list know you have finished.

And if you are the person with the list of resolutions and cannot find a student to give them to, plan to curtail your daily exercise time for several days and fulfill the resolutions yourself. Happy New Year.

If you have an environmental question or comment, email

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