Earth Day +50 in a COVID-19 reality
Today is the 50th anniversary of Earth Day. It is also a day where the world is standing still. Social distancing measures around the world are so great, so widespread, that the Earth is now actually moving less! Scientists have reported a drop in seismic noise.
As COVID-19 threatens health, economies and livelihoods around the world we are forced to recognise our shared humanity but are also made increasingly aware of the local environments that sustain us. In my own privileged version of UK lockdown (I have a house with outside space, I haven’t lost a job and am healthy physically and mentally) I am starting to notice the natural world around me more and more. I am appreciating the grass under my feet in my backyard, the trees full of birdsong that provide music to the quiet and planeless skies, the fox cubs ever bolder as they play. I crave my hour of allowed exercise – being outdoors with the sun on my skin and with the world blossoming around me is now a highlight in my day.
Earth Day is a day we reflect upon our relationship with our Earth, our home. The youth strikes of 2019 and 2020 have woken the world up to the climate crisis. COVID-19 has now given us a violent shake. Earth Day 2020 cannot be business as usual. No longer is planting a new seedling enough. We don’t need jump-starting into action, activism or awakening. We know the odds and we know what is at stake (thank you Greta!) We now need to move far beyond that.
At this intersection between ‘life before’ and ‘life after’ COVID-19 we must also remember we stand at the crossroads between action and inaction on the climate crisis. COVID is destroying lives. It is crass to think of the current emergency as an opportunity. Yet, we do need to make a choice. Already businesses and governments alike start to talk about recovery from COVID-19. We must ensure that a green, clean and just recovery is on the lips of all of us. If we don’t, we are going to emerge from one crisis and plunge straight into the next. This is not an opportunity, it is a however a chance to reset.
In an ideal world every day would be Earth Day. But we are not in an ideal world, COVID-19 has made that painfully clear. We are in a world wracked with injustice and inequality. Just as we are not all experiencing the impact of this pandemic equally, nor do we experience the climate emergency in the same way. The poorest, the most marginalised, those in the Global South, are suffering most. Critics of Earth Day have said in the past that it detracts from big issues like poverty, conflict and racial discrimination.
However, we are now increasingly aware of how intersectional the climate crisis is. Climate change creates conflict, it exacerbates poverty, it amplifies inequalities. Earth Day is only problematic when we think about our planetary health as separate from human rights – the two are inextricably connected.
In our new-found lockdown consciousness of how closely our own lives are linked to the lives of others all over the world perhaps this Earth Day might be a chance to change things. No more snug or self-righteous ‘one day only’ actions, instead a firm commitment to recovery that goes far beyond this COVID-19 pandemic and that might mean recovery for our planet too.
My hope and prayer this Earth Day is that our new reality will not ever mean returning to life as it was.