Stay at home, shelter in place, practice social distancing. Earth Day this year is Wednesday, April 22, and for the first time in 50 years, there will be no parades, no gatherings to plant trees, no groups picking up litter on the beach. If you go to the official Earth Day website, www.earthday.org, the first page features a world map and the words “Register a Digital Event.” The precautions for the Corona virus, or Covid-19, will make celebrating the day a challenge this year.
From the website we read: The first Earth Day in 1970 mobilized millions of Americans for the protection of the planet. On April 22, 1970, 20 million Americans — 10% of the U.S. population at the time — took to the streets, college campuses and hundreds of cities to protest environmental ignorance and demand a new way forward for our planet. The first Earth Day is credited with launching the modern environmental movement and is now recognized as the planet’s largest civic event. The first Earth Day led to passage of landmark environmental laws in the United States, including the Clean Air, Clean Water and Endangered Species Acts.
This year Earth Day will be different. And while the majority of the country is under some kind of stay at home rule, there are still some things you can do to help the planet:
- Pick up litter while you walk – take a bag with you and collect any litter you pass.
- Choose reading over streaming, which is notoriously carbon intensive.
- Eat more plant based meals – with more time on our hands, it may be easier to look up vegetarian recipes and cook healthy meals.
- Volunteer for digital activities and candidates who support a climate change agenda.
- Take stock of how your consumer habits have changed. Are you shopping online more? Where have you cut down on purchases? Now is the time to go through your closets and your pantry and reassess what you really need, and what is not necessary.
- Donate any excess food, clothing, cleaning products to charity.
- Start a garden, even if it’s in small containers. Exchange seeds and produce (at a safe distance!) with your neighbors.
- Spend time in nature – not only will this reduce your stress and anxiety, but it will allow you to reconnect with the earth and appreciate this brief window of quiet and better air quality.
Aerial photographs of cities that have shut down due to Covid-19 , such as Wuhan and New Delhi, show a huge reduction in air pollution. The waters of Venice and other coastal cities are visibly cleaner since tourism and most industrial output have ceased. Turtles and other sea creatures have been able to lay their eggs, undisturbed on empty beaches. The immediate lesson is that the earth can recover quickly, in just a matter of weeks, if given half a chance.
The long term lessons will be for us to determine when this quarantine is over. Do all the companies that insisted for years that their workforce must come to the office really need them all to return, or have we proven that telecommuting is a viable option for many? Do we need to drive or fly everywhere, all the time, or would Zoom or Skype do the job? Will we put in place new regulations that correct the global warming that most scientists say is linked with the increase in viral outbreaks? Do we really need health care to be linked to having a job? Now is the time, when we have so much time on our hands, to begin to imagine how we want our future to look.