“While the coronavirus pandemic and climate change are inherently different issues, they share two important characteristics: both are global crises that threaten the lives of millions of people.” – Helen Regan
This year marks the 50th anniversary of Earth Day.
On April 22, 1970, 20 million Americans took to the streets and to college campuses across the country to protest environmental ignorance and demand change for an environment in crisis. The first Earth Day was a critical moment in pushing environmental agendas into the mainstream and forcing governments to take action. In response to the first Earth Day, The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Clean Air, Clean Water Act and the Endangered Species Act were created.
In 2019, we saw the rise of Greta Thunberg and students joining peaceful protests via Friday’s for Future, we saw Extinction Rebellion bring the bustling streets of London to a standstill and our favorite celebrities arrested on behalf of our planet. We even saw Beyond Meat take over the financial marketplace. And now only four months into 2020, we have seen Australia ravaged by bushfires and society crippled by COVID-19.
As we rapidly approach the critical deadline of irreversible damage to our planet, we are again called to action to demand change for ourselves and for future generations. According to the United Nations General Assembly, we have just over 10 years to stop damage from climate change from having irreversible effects. While consumers have pushed big brands to rethink their environmental impact and switch to more sustainable practices, we still have a lot of work to do. There remains a yawning gap between our current environmental impact, and where we need to be to ensure we have a planet to continue calling home.
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It is also important to call attention to the social impact of climate change on vulnerable and marginalized communities. The National Climate Assessment, included in its 2018 report that “lower-income and other marginalized communities, have lower capacity to prepare for and cope with extreme weather and climate-related events and are expected to experience greater impacts.” But not only that, many low-income communities are subjected to the toxic effects of factory waste and pollution — like in the town of Braddock, Pennsylvania. We have also seen this in the way coronavirus is disproportionately devastating black and brown communities across the country. The National Climate Assessment’s report also emphasized that “climate change increasingly threatens Indigenous communities’ livelihoods, economies, health, and cultural identities by disrupting interconnected social, physical, and ecological systems.”
As coronavirus has rendered our society largely inactive, there have been encouraging reports of positive environmental effects. The Himalayas are visible for the first time in 40 years, in China and Italy the air is noticeably clean, Venice’s Grand Canal is running clear and in Seattle, New York, Los Angeles, Chicago and Atlanta, the fog of pollution has lifted. Reportedly, global carbon emissions have even fallen. However, while these effects hold information about the staggering impact of our society’s everyday operations — clean air, clean water and climate stability should not come at the cost of millions of people losing their jobs and, for some, their lives.
While this year, we may not be able to gather in the streets together, join a local park or beach clean-up or plant a tree with our families, there are still plenty of meaningful ways to celebrate Earth Day while sheltering in place.
1. Join a Virtual Earth Day Celebration
The Earth Day Network is hosting a 24-hour Earth Day Celebration that will be informative, as well as inspiring with online discussions and performances. They have been providing tips every day for how to fight climate change and get involved in the movement. For future reference: you can also sign up to volunteer online, and they will connect you to local opportunities. President of the Earth Day Network, Kathleen Rogers, said “in the face of a challenge that unites us all, whether it be coronavirus or our global climate crisis, we cannot shut down. Instead, we must shift our energies and efforts to new ways to mobilize the world to action.”
2. Fight Climate Change with Diet Change
If going vegan seems impossible, try cutting out red meat. Replacing beef with chicken will cut your dietary carbon footprint in half, according to a study done on U.S. eating habits and their carbon footprint. Equally as important, if you are choosing to eat meat, dairy and eggs is to buy them sustainably and ethically sourced.
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3. Plant a Tree (Virtually) or Hug a Tree
Through organizations like One Tree Planted, you can make a donation or get involved online in the global reforestation effort. Just one dollar plants one tree, and you can even choose which project to be a part of. They have projects in North America, Latin America, Africa and Asia. If you are a business owner, there are also opportunities for partnerships.
The Brushwood Center in Ryerson Woods, a Chicago-area non-profit that aims to bring the healing of nature to veterans and low-income communities in the region, are offering free online activities to help children continue to learn about the outdoors while remaining indoors. They stress the importance of nature for our health and well-being: “from Vitamin D to stress reduction, our region’s natural areas offer beautiful, wide open spaces that increase immune system strength as well as our emotional resilience. Read this article from Dr. Suzanne Bartlett Hackenmiller, a physician who illuminates the critical role of nature during this pandemic.”
4. Visit a Museum or Garden Online
There are so many museums offering virtual tours in response to stay-at-home orders. This Earth Day opt for a museum where you can learn more about our natural world! The Chicago Botanic Garden also has tours of their gardens available online and some fun garden activities to do with the family. In San Francisco, the California Academy of Sciences is hosting a live stream on YouTube and Facebook for students in the fourth through eighth grade. The 45 minute program starts at 12:30 PDT on Earth Day and will challenge students to design simple, personal solutions for minimizing those impacts while meeting the needs of humans, plants, and other animals on our planet.
5. Ditch the Single-Use Plastic for Reusable Food Storage Containers
Spring cleaning is upon us! Only 1 percent of the estimated 4 trillion plastic bags used worldwide annually are returned for recycling. It is no secret that our plastic problem is a serious one. Stasher, a reusable, non-toxic silicone storage Bay Area-based bag company has pledged to give away 100,000 Stasher bags – which will keep more than 25 million single-use plastics out of landfills. As a member of 1% For the Planet, a portion of their sales goes straight to non-profits like Surfrider and 5 Gyers, which are dedicated to preserving and rehabilitating the oceans.
6. Invest in Reusable Straws and Water Bottles
From stainless steel to glass to BPA-free reusable plastic, there are tons of choices when it comes to investing in a reusable water bottles. And, there’s also lots of options to choose from when it comes to straws (even Sephora is selling reusable straws now!).
7. Plant a Garden
Bored during quarantine? As the weather turns to spring, what better time to get outside (in the safety of your own backyards) and plant a flower or vegetable garden. Some nurseries are even offering virtual learning services. Chicago-based, Chalet Nursery has online workshops and local residents can purchase corresponding kits.
Flowers for Dreams, an organization that sells locally crafted bouquets to the Detroit, Milwaukee and Chicago-areas, are also offering online workshops for both kids and adults! Their bouquets also benefit amazing local charities.
8. Watch a Documentary
Between Disney Plus and Netflix, there are hundreds of opportunities to learn more about our planet and making sustainable choices, discover new places and cultures and appreciate the beauty of the natural world. On Disney Plus, you can watch Jane or Before the Flood (National Geographic is available on Disney Plus!). And on Netflix, there is Cowspiracy, Chasing Coral, Game Changers and Our Planet – to name a few. Disney is also involved in protecting our planet. Since 1995, Disney Conservation Fund has directed $100 million to support nonprofit organizations working with communities to save wildlife, inspire action and protect the planet. Disney also launched a new website, Disney Magic Moments, with videos, games, and activities from National Geographic that families can do together to celebrate Earth Day at home.
COVID-19 has united our world in unimaginable ways, reminding us of our connection as a global community and our responsibility to take care of each other, and our planet. Let us take action this Earth Day to ensure a safe, healthy and happy future for our planet and the people that call it home.
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Madison Muller is a senior at Northwestern’s Medill School of Journalism, learning to navigate the contemporary media environment with compassion and candor. She enjoys writing about health, travel, and humanity. You can always find her with a coffee in hand. Madison is a proud supporter of the National Eating Disorders Association.