Perhaps one of the only unintended benefits of the COVID-19 pandemic across the world has been the lowering levels of pollution owing to reduced human activity. Levels of pollution in New York have fallen by nearly 50% and in China by 25% because of measures to contain the virus. Photographs of clearer water bodies making rounds on the internet are putting people in awe, much like the memes made on the wild animals returning to their habitat.
In the uncertain times of a pandemic, the healing of the Earth is just about the only good news one can cherish. However, while things are certainly looking up for the climate movement, scientists believe that COVID-19 may not necessarily slow climate change. Wim Thiery, a climate scientist at Vrije Universiteit Brussel stated in this report by Science Business, that “when we talk about air quality, yes, less traffic, fewer planes and factory shutdowns mean less NO2 and other pollutants over cities. But for the climate, it’s much more complex.”
There is fear that as the world returns to normalcy, carbon emissions will shoot up dramatically. The main priority of the governments all over would be to get the economy back on its track, and the climate movement will again be sidelined. This is why it is especially important now, to continue caring for the Earth and tackle climate change — which is why Earth Day has made it its theme for this year.
April 22, 2020 marks 50 years of Earth Day Celebrations. It was on this day in 1970, that almost 10% of the U.S population at the time — about a million people – emerged out on the streets to protest environmental ignorance and pave a new, more ethical and a safer path for planet Earth’s future. This not just launched the first Earth Day, but also the ‘Modern Environmental Movement’, believed to be the planet’s largest civic event.
Ever since then, Earth Day has come to acquire an international significance, triggering important environmental laws and movements surrounding clean water, endangered species, and more. Earth Day 2016 was chosen as the day to bring the Paris Agreement on climate change into force.
As this historic day marks its golden jubilee, the theme for Earth Day 2020 is ‘climate action’ — to understand the ‘vast opportunities’ and the ‘enormous challenge’ it presents to life-systems in an effort to further help the planet heal.
However, as the situation demands, most activities for Earth Day celebrations, much like those of Earth Hour, will have to be done at home or virtually. EarthDay.org has several ideas and events planned for this.
Their ‘Vote Earth’ campaign encourages one to get three of their friends to commit to voting wisely in order to demand policymakers to be able to make better and informed decisions to reduce carbon emissions to the minimum. One can sign up their friends’ details here.
Their ‘Citizen Scientist’ campaign is calling for people to download the ‘Earth Challenge 2020’ app that lets one gather and record important scientific data, such as air quality and plastic pollution around them. Available on both Android and iOS, you may find more details about this effort here.
There are also several virtual panels, talks, poster-making and art competitions, and interesting webinars being delivered by leading climate activists, scientists, and youth leaders. These are both from local and global perspectives. This interactive map will let one look up the details of digital events happening across the world.
Another interesting initiative is the Earth Day Live, a three-day Livestream featuring a ‘star-studded lineup’ that includes Joaquin Phoenix, Moby, and Patricia Arquette in conversation with journalists and youth activists. The live stream will also include musical and cultural performances. Happening from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. ET on April 22nd, 23rd, and 24th at www.earthdaylive2020.org, it will be accessible on Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, and Twitch.
In an attempt of a ‘global digital mobilisation’ people are also being encouraged to speak up about their views on Earth Day and talk about climate movements in their own areas and upload them on social media with the hashtags #Earthday2020 and #Earthrise.
While we need to care about the earth every day and our actions need to be much more than just symbolic, celebrating Earth Day 2020 is a great way to understand our planet better, learn about the community effort happening across the world, and most importantly believe that each individual action and thought is important towards this movement. We may not have been prepared to fight the COVID-19, but the planet has given us enough warnings about climate change. It is never too late to start.
- Devyani Nighoskar is a 24-year-old SOAS Digital Ambassador from India. A former journalist, she is currently pursuing her M.A in Critical Media and Cultural Studies. You may check out her work on Instagram @runawayjojo
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