Earth Day goes digital for milestone 50th anniversary as coronavirus keeps everyone inside

Activists protest near Trafalgar Square during the second day of climate change demonstrations by the Extinction Rebellion group in central London, on October 8, 2019.
Activists protest near Trafalgar Square during the second day of climate change demonstrations by the Extinction Rebellion group in central London, on October 8, 2019.(ISABEL INFANTES/AFP via Getty Images)

Much of human activity is on “pause” due to numerous coronavirus pandemic lockdowns, and the animals are digging it. Even in the few months since things shut down around the world, Earth’s denizens have been emboldened, taking back some of their spaces.
On the 50th anniversary of the first Earth Day, experts say we need more of this.
The organizers of this year’s events, while thwarted from holding the huge gatherings that were originally planned in 180 countries, are undeterred. The events were to feature youth climate activists, environmental groups, Pope Francis and other religious leaders, heads of state, leaders from the corporate and labor spheres, plus museums, colleges, universities, schools, zoos, aquariums and botanical gardens.
And they still will. But it will all be online.
“While the coronavirus may force us to keep our distance, it will not force us to keep our voices down,” Earth Day’s organizers said. “The only thing that will change the world is a bold and unified demand for a new way forward.”
Earth Day’s organizers will broadcast all day, starting at 9 a.m., and “flood the world with messages of hope, optimism and, above all — action,” the site says. Digital events abound. There’s also a Citizen Science initiative, in which people worldwide can send in data on air quality, plastic pollution and other issues. There’s even an app.
This year’s theme is climate action.
“The enormous challenge — but also the vast opportunities — of action on climate change have distinguished the issue as the most pressing topic for the 50th anniversary,” Earth Day’s site says. “Climate change represents the biggest challenge to the future of humanity and the life-support systems that make our world habitable.”
Coronavirus has succeeded in doing, at least temporarily, what no climate agreement has been able to so far. Skies are clearer, jellyfish are once again undulating through Venice’s canals, and people report becoming aware of how busy their lives were, how full of distractions.
Earth Day organizers are jumping on this opportunity, though they’ve had to take years of meticulously laid event plans online, as Denis Hayes, chief organizer of the original Earth Day, wrote in The Seattle Times. Back in 1970, the first Earth Day mobilized more than 20 million people, all demanding environmental action from the nation’s leaders. A half-century later, no fewer than 190 countries observe Earth Day, including nearly 100,000 organizations, and more than a billion people participate in related events, according to the organizers.
This year, the coronavirus pandemic has all but overshadowed the climate crisis and environmental issues. Yet the two have much in common, as former U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry wrote in a recent op-ed outlining the “long-term parallels between this pandemic and tomorrow’s gathering storm of climate crisis.”
Already, 250,000 people a year die from climate-related conditions, Kerry wrote in the Boston Globe. The impacts and costs are projected to increase exponentially if nothing is done, he wrote.
“This moment in life — social distancing in full effect — is inseparable from this moment on Earth," he wrote. "Spending Earth Day inside, separated from one another, has made many of us think harder about what we do with the time we have.”
Longtime conservationist Jane Goodall thinks the coronavirus tragedy could double as an invitation and a realization. She will be part of an entire day of programming on the National Geographic Channel for Earth Day.
“The big hope is that this time we will pay attention to the cause of the pandemic, which is our disrespect of nature and the animals and the destruction of the environment," she said recently, according to Scientific American. “And we’ve got to start changing the way that we act and we’ve got to rethink the way we live.”

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