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5 Fun Ways You Can Help the Environment

Volunteer activities can make Earth greener

A small group of volunteers work to clean trash from the Watts Branch Stream.

A small group of volunteers work to clean trash from the Watts Branch Stream, which flows into the Anacostia River in Washington, D.C. — Getty

You're aware of your carbon footprint: the damaging amount of carbon dioxide you emit as you heat your home, drive your car and shop, shop, shop. So how about making a positive difference by boosting your oxygen footprint? With green volunteer opportunities, you can enrich our climate instead of depleting it.

Many environmental acts are familiar and fast — turning down your thermostat, shopping with reusable bags and switching to fluorescent light bulbs. But nothing is quite as gratifying as getting out of the house and caring for the place that gave us life.

Sure, you'll get your hands dirty. But you'll also get sunshine, meet new people and lay down some protective footprints on our global home.

Here's what you can do:

1. Put down roots

Trees are nature's power plants — superefficient oxygen emitters that also scrub carbon dioxide from the air. Foliage provides vital animal habitat; shade cools the ground. Neighborhoods with trees can be up to 10 degrees cooler than those in full sun, bringing down home energy use.

But in the past 8,000 years, the planet has lost 11,000 square miles of forest.

The Arbor Day Foundation tracks national and local planting projects that welcome volunteer green thumbs. In U.S. Forest Service land alone, a million fire-damaged acres await replanting.

You can also volunteer at home, of course, saving energy (and money!) by planting a new tree to shade a sunny window. According to American Forests, a nonprofit conservation organization, three well-placed deciduous (leaf-losing) trees on the east, south and west sides of a home can lower air-conditioning costs by 10 percent to 50 percent. A $10 membership in the Arbor Day Foundation will get you 10 flowering trees to plant.

Time: Half a day or more.

Consider this: Tree planters should be able to kneel and shovel without pain.

Gear: Garden gloves are a must to protect from blisters. Also bring a sun hat, sunscreen, water and snacks. Ask whether you should bring your own shovel.

Contact: Arbor Day Foundation, 888-448-7337

Next: Conservation trips »

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