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Hannah Jones

Going into Earth Week, a look at metro Atlanta’s greatest gifts and top issues

The 52nd Earth Day theme is "Invest In Our Planet." (Photo by of Photo Boards, Unsplash)

By Hannah E. Jones

For over five decades, Earth Day has been reserved for going outside, showing love for Mother Earth and, through small acts and large-scale efforts, serving as a steward and champion of the natural environment. 

With the 52nd annual Earth Day approaching, SaportaReport asked local experts to reflect on the current state of the metro area’s natural environment and hopes for its future.

(L to R) Michael Halicki and Jared Teutsch

Executive Directors Michael Halicki with Park Pride and Jared Teutsch of Georgia Audubon see Earth Day as an annual reminder to advocate for the planet, which can’t vouch for itself. 

“I look at Earth Day as this nationwide awakening to the importance of the environment, putting it on the map,” Halicki said.

Teutsch added: “Earth Day is a reminder that human beings are really a part of nature. We’re animals too. Our long-term viability as a community, as a nation, and as a world really depends on nature. So it’s a good reminder for us to reconnect with nature and stay connected to nature.”

While he notes climate change as the “greatest existential threat,” Teutsch is optimistic about the future of the city thanks to Atlanta’s leadership. Georgia Audubon and Park Pride both serve on Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens’ new Greenspace Advisory Council.

“Mayor Dickens is keenly aware of [the environment] and how it impacts community,” Teutsch said. “[Affecting] everything from public health, jobs, mental health, access to clean water, clean air and food. People are more aware now than ever before. So that’s really good to see.”

Metro Atlanta is ripe with activities for outdoor lovers, including natural sites like Arabia Mountain or built infrastructure like the Atlanta BeltLine. Halicki praised regional attractions like the Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area, SweetWater Creek and Panola Mountain. 

Teutsch said the city’s greenspace “a reason to celebrate,” with “iconic” parks like Piedmont Park to a plethora of neighborhood greenspaces. But, he worries that not enough is being done to protect our city’s greenspaces and tree canopy. 

“We are losing some greenspace to development, so we need to be a little bit smarter about how development is happening,” Teutsch said. “Maintaining the tree canopy is so important for that connection to nature, but [also] maintains the air quality, water quality and helps mitigate the effects of the heat island.”

It’s no secret that Georgia is sweltering in the summers, and according to a Climate Central study, Atlanta is an average of six degrees warmer on a summer afternoon than the surrounding metro area. 

That’s a major concern for local environmentalists and one reason why experts call for investment in neighborhood parks.

“Parks are the lungs of our city,” Halicki said. “[It’s crucial] that we’re investing in that network of parks so that people have places to go and have a cooling effect on our city and region.” 

The car is king in Atlanta, but by Earth Day 2023, Halicki hopes to see increased connectivity in the city’s trail network through projects like the Atlanta BeltLine and the PATH Foundation.

“[The trails] are not just for recreation; they’re also for transportation where people can walk and bike more and drive less,” Halicki said. “It’s a chance to move beyond our past as a very auto-centric culture. I feel like we’re on that path.”

For those looking for ways to make a positive impact, Teutsch recommends starting in your own neighborhood by reducing your carbon footprint, planting native plants and volunteering with local organizations. He also recommends checking out this list of high-impact solutions compiled by Drawdown Georgia

If you’re looking to get outside on Earth Day, whether volunteering or going for a hike, here are a few ways to get active: 

Happy Earth Week, everyone! Let’s show Mother Nature some love.

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Hannah E. Jones

Hannah Jones is an Atlanta native who recently graduated from Georgia State University, with a major in journalism and minor in public policy. She began studying journalism in high school and has since served as a reporter and editor for two newspapers. Hannah managed the Arts and Living section of The Signal, Georgia State’s independent award-winning newspaper. She has a passion for environmental issues, urban life and telling a good story. Hannah is excited about the opportunity to serve the City of Atlanta and its people. Hannah can be reached at hannah@atlantaciviccircle.org.

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