Amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, it is hard to think about much else besides the corona virus. Yet, today marks an important occasion that ought to be given some thought, and even some action: the 50th Earth Day celebration.
On April 22nd, 1970, environmental issues and concerns were brought to the forefront of American news coverage with the very first Earth Day celebration. In the previous few decades, concern about environmental protection, particularly regarding pollution from the ever-growing automobile and oil industries, had been on the rise. The government had largely been ignoring the environmental impacts of industrial growth in the United States, but this emerging awareness and consciousness among the public, as well as the student-led anti-war protests which had been going on around the country, inspired Senator Gaylord Nelson of Wisconsin to propose the first ideas of Earth Day in 1969. He wanted to create a large-scale movement which would force environmental issues into the spotlight and onto the national agenda, which is exactly what he ended up doing.
The creation of Earth Day galvanized around 20 million Americans—notably, people from across the political and socioeconomic spectrums—to raise awareness about environmental matters and call for action from the government.
That first Earth Day brought about great change, including the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency, and led, eventually, to the National Environmental Education Act, the Clean Air Act, and the Endangered Species Act, among many others. However, several of the ideas that the activists of 1970 had in mind—such as issues involving air and water pollution, non-renewable resources, toxic waste dumps, and decreased biodiversity—are issues that we continue to fight against in 2020 all over the world.
With the devastating effects of climate change becoming increasingly apparent and the amount of time we have left to save our planet constantly dwindling, it is now more important than ever that we focus on the Earth. Earth Day 2020 is the perfect opportunity to push these issues into the spotlight and pressure our governments to take real action against climate change.
Just as the first Earth Day was substantially led by students, especially college students on campuses across the country, today’s youth have been taking a powerful stand in the fight against climate change through global climate strikes and local action. Here in Sarasota, the student-led movement SarasotaStudents4Climate (SS4C) has brought these strikes to Sarasota. Pine View eighth-grader Devin Gulliver is involved in SS4C and their climate strikes, and he wants people to know that there are ways to be a part of the solution. “There are plenty of ways to be a little greener like recycling more often and using less water. These are small changes that you can make to your lifestyle that will make it greener, and if you’d like to start helping with climate change and climate awareness, start by educating yourself and learning as much as you can,” Gulliver said. SS4C even partnered with the Florida chapter of US Climate Strike to provide students in the area a way to get involved in Earth Day 2020 from their homes through three days of action, starting today, April 22. YouTube and Instagram livestreams to discuss environmental awareness and climate anxiety, along with outlined plans to contact local universities and fracking companies to divest from fossil fuels, are a few of the things on the agenda. To learn more about how to get involved, visit @sarasotastudents4climate and @floridaclimatestrike on Instagram, or send them a direct message.
The circumstances plaguing the world right now are undoubtedly scary, and have understandably resulted in much panic, apprehension, and uncertainty; but if nothing else, the corona virus pandemic has revealed how prepared, or perhaps unprepared, the world and our country are in the face of a crisis.
Climate change is nothing short of a global crisis, and just as the practice of social distancing will lead us to the end of the corona pandemic, there are ways that the climate crisis can be overcome.
Consider Pine View science teacher David Yotsuda’s words: “My hope is that everyone not only thinks about doing something good for Mother Earth today, but every day.”
So today, as we celebrate the 50th anniversary of Earth Day in quarantine, let it be more than a celebration of how far we have come in 50 years; let it be a step towards all the change we can make in the future by acting now.
Gallery images, provided by Mary Valente, feature fourth-grader Sadie Valente and second-grader Timothy Valente