Editorial: COVID-19, the Environment, and Earth Week 2020

This editorial was written by Ella Postuma, co-president of the E-Club.

Update 4/22/20 at 10:08 AM to clarify that no formal registration is needed for the Earth Day Live event.

Today we kickoff Earth Week, and this Wednesday, April 22, we’ll mark the 50th anniversary of Earth Day! The 2020 theme is Climate Action, and although this presents an enormous challenge, it also comes with vast opportunities. 

It goes without saying that Earth Week will look very different this year. We are in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, which, for good reason, has caused widespread uncertainty and anxiety. However, this pandemic and the environment are very much connected, and there is still plenty we can -and should- do even from home. 

For starters, the way we have been treating our planet has caused pandemics to be more inevitable and exacerbated. As Global Health Expert Alanna Shaikh explains, when we exploit natural places, including plants and animals for our own objectives, we come into contact with new diseases, bacteria, and viruses we are not ready for. Similarly, air pollution, which has been steadily rising until this recent break, contributes to health issues that increase susceptibility to COVID-19. According to the Environmental Working Group, in the United States alone, the current “administration has or is in the process of repealing at least 95 environmental rules, with 25 having a direct and adverse impact on the nation’s air quality, and dozens of others that will indirectly increase air pollution…” Neglecting the planet is putting our own wellbeing at risk.

Perhaps the most noticeable impact of the coronavirus on the earth is nature “coming back” as a result of dramatically decreased human activity. As the Guardian noted, “With less human movement, the planet has literally calmed.” Around the world, rivers are clearing, animals are venturing back, and air pollution is lifting. Though this is encouraging, it reveals how much damage we have already done to our earth. Nonetheless, aside from the negative effects of a global pandemic, this could be a glimpse of what a cleaner, healthier world might look like. Achieving this will depend not on short-term impacts of the coronavirus, but on long-term political decisions, starting now. Although pollution has dropped significantly, with economies rushing to recover, damage to the environment will roar back later. That is, unless we demand, and our leaders support, environmental protection policies; investments in future security.

Satellite imaging shows pollution decreasing over the city of Los Angeles amidst COVID-19 shutdowns

This pandemic presents unique challenges and opportunities in fighting the climate crisis, including a chance to help three crises in one. Strategic investments in sustainability, especially renewable energy, could boost the economy, while lessening the impact of future pandemics. This global interruption could be our opportunity to make crucial advancements in tackling the environmental crisis, especially because so much focus has shifted from individual consumption to collective wellbeing.

This pandemic is teaching us important lessons we can apply to the climate crisis. First, early action leads to less impact and less cost. Taking early aggressive action against the coronavirus has flattened the curve, saving lives. This applies directly to the warming world. If immediate action had been taken as soon as the science was known, we would have more options and lessened the severity of the climate crisis. We cannot waste any more time. Second, disregard for science is dangerous. Listening to infectious disease experts is key in combating the coronavirus and minimizing turmoil. The same is true for combating climate change: science must be heard and acted upon. Third, change and risk are difficult to deal with, so foundational education and simple action steps are crucial to collective and effective movement forward. 

During this unprecedented time, there are important actions we can take to address the environmental emergency still at hand, and to just celebrate Earth Week!

Six Things to Do for Earth Week 2020 (and Beyond!) 

1. Join the Virtual Climate Strike and Earth Day Live:

“This will feature a 3-day livestream (April 22-24, Wednesday through Friday) where millions of people can join activists, celebrities, musicians, and more in an epic moment of community and hope for the future.”

It has never been easier to participate, visit https://www.earthdaylive2020.org/ to join. If you can join for all three days that is fantastic, but of course you can just tune in and out as you are able.

If your family is working from home during the week, a weekend option is the Citizens’ Climate Lobby’s Virtual Earth Day Event on Saturday, April 25 (as well as many other sessions during the week).

2. Join other Environmental Virtual Events:

Take advantage of environmental groups’ movements online. There’s something for everyone! Here are just a few of many options.

The Sunrise Movement’s Sunrise School is a low-commitment way to learn about current climate topics and how you can make a difference.

The IEC Lunch & Learn Series features a wide range of speakers and topics each weekday for an hour starting at noon. 

The Drawdown Ecochallenge is happening right now. You can get a great list of activities that are directly connected to the most effective and scalable solutions to climate change.

Earth Day Bingo is a fun way to engage everyone and has some fascinating resources linked.

3. Set some waste-reduction goals:

For example, do a trash audit or start your compost pile (simple way to compost indoors and awesome information on starting a compost pile of your own). 

4. Donate your time or money to an environmental organization.

5. Do you have seeds shoved in a corner of the garage, or indoor or outdoor plant(s) that need some care? Take this time to test out your green thumb!

6. Watch or read a sustainability-themed movie or book.

It has never been a better time to stay inside and enjoy a movie or book, and it’s a great way to learn about environmental issues and solutions. 

Share these with your friends and family to make this the biggest Earth Week yet! There is so much to know about the coronavirus in relation to the environment, and this is just scratching the surface. Stay tuned for more City Voice publications this week. 

The COVID-19 outbreak has put a hold on many things but environmental education, engagement, and action are not, and must not, be one of them.