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For Earth Day, How About a New Congress?

What do you get Mother Earth on her big day (Tuesday is Earth Day)? She's just so hard to shop for and, after all, she already has everything.
Earth Day is April 22. What do you think Mother Nature wants for her big day?
Earth Day is April 22. What do you think Mother Nature wants for her big day?
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What do you get Mother Earth on her big day? She's just so hard to shop for and, after all, she already has everything.

She might appreciate one of those self-help books, although few moms want a gift that implies they are fat or "polluted," but aren't her kids the reason she might be feeling worn out and depleted in the first place? Well, here are my top five tips to help you pick out something in her size and color that might just brighten her coming year:

A new U.S. Congress

OK, so you'll have to give her a gift certificate for that, because you can't actually deliver this before the November elections, but let's face it, her current Congress needs a total makeover when it comes to sustainability.

For example, one survey shows 163 members of Congress took nearly $60 million in campaign contributions from the fossil fuel industry last year and, not surprisingly, deny that climate change is a problem. When the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change meets again in Paris in 2015 to hammer out a new global "post Kyoto" agreement to tackle climate change, we need a Congress that will support real engagement by the U.S.

Tell your electric utility: No new nuclear power plants

And no relicensing of existing ones either. Chernobyl and Fukushima have demonstrated that although nuclear accidents are rare, when they do occur, the cost and devastation is biblical (according to the U.N., $235 billion for the former and as much as twice that for the latter). Moreover, we'll live with the toxic waste, even from the power plants that function normally, for generations with no viable way to neutralize or safely store it, meaning we're risking the lives of our kids and grandkids for "cheap" power today.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who holds a doctorate in physical chemistry and therefore knows a thing or two about these matters, has persuaded her country to end its use of nuclear power completely. Instead, the German government has adopted an 80 percent renewable-energy target for 2050 (renewables already account for 25 percent of the national electricity mix), proving you can have a robust industrial and manufacturing economy based on clean energy sources.

Switch to organic food

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, runoff from agriculture "was the leading source of water quality impacts on surveyed rivers and lakes, the second largest source of impairments to wetlands, and a major contributor to contamination of surveyed estuaries and ground water." And recent research shows a decrease in intelligence for kids exposed to pesticides while still in the womb. That's right, before they take their first breath, babies from mothers living near fields where pesticides are sprayed are poisoned unnecessarily. Until now, healthier organic choices were hard to find and more costly, but a recent announcement by Walmart to revive the Wild Oats brand in its grocery stores is sure to change that.

Support strict regulations on fracking that protect water and air quality

The promise of a cleaner fossil fuel is alluring and natural gas can indeed deliver on that hope, but not if companies exploiting the resource pollute groundwater and allow methane to escape into the atmosphere (it is about 25 times more potent as a greenhouse gas than CO2). If strict government regulations are put in place and enforced, companies can compete on a level playing field and don't have to sacrifice air and water quality to get a product that can help our economy and environment to prosper.

Invest in companies that embrace Nos. 1 through 4

Let's face it, moms like flowers and novel kitchen utensils as gifts, but a gift card lets her get what she really wants. Mother Earth is no different and the "gift card" in this case can be your investments in companies that understand our planet has finite resources and we will all be rewarded by putting our money where our mouth is (not to mention our lungs, stomach, and brains). And that will make Earth Day 2014 worth celebrating for years to come.

Commentary by Terry Tamminen, former secretary of the California Environmental Protection Agency. He is also the president of Seventh Generation Advisors and co-founder of the R20 Regions of Climate Action. The views expressed in this article are solely the author's and do not reflect the viewpoint of NBC News.