Earth Day 50 Years Later

Spring flowers are blooming unseen in the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area this Earth Day, as humans struggle to cope with the Coronavirus pandemic. This photo was taken during the Superbloom following the Woolsey Fire—an encouraging reminder that nature has a reminder that nature has tremendous powers of recovery. Photo by Suzanne Guldimann

The first Earth Day took place on April 22, 1970, and involved the mobilization of 20 million Americans who came together to support environmental justice. On April 22, 2020, more than a million people on Planet Earth will be fighting for their lives against the Coronavirus pandemic, and activists and protestors will have to find virtual ways to come together.

The coronavirus pandemic does not shut us down,” a statement issued by the organizers of the annual event states. “Instead, it reminds us of what’s at stake in our fight for the planet. If we don’t demand change to transform our planet and meet our climate crisis, our current state will become the new normal—a world where pandemics and extreme weather events span the globe, leaving already marginalized and vulnerable communities even more at risk.” 

Organizers of the annual event say the call for environmental protections has never been needed more.

“Despite that amazing success and decades of environmental progress, we find ourselves facing an even more dire, almost existential, set of global environmental challenges, from loss of biodiversity to climate change to plastic pollution, that call for action at all levels of government,” said Denis Hayes, the organizer of the first Earth Day in 1970 and Earth Day Network’s Board Chair Emeritus.

“Progress has slowed, climate change impacts grow, and our adversaries have become better financed,” said Earth Day Network president Kathleen Rogers. “We find ourselves today in a world facing global threats that demand a unified global response. For Earth Day 2020, we will build a new generation of environmentalist activists, engaging millions of people worldwide.”

The theme for Earth Day 2020 is climate action, and this year’s event will include 24 actions for the earth that participants can take during the 24 hours of April 22.

The COVID-19 Coronavirus Pandemic has focused global attention on several aspects of climate change, including how deforestation and the illegal wildlife trade and exotic animal “wet markets” in Asia contribute to the creation and spread of pandemics.

Researchers speculate that the disease may have originated with bats and could have been transmitted to humans by the highly endangered pangolin, a small anteater that is illegally traded for use as a medicine in Asia. Research conducted at Guangxi Medical University and the University of Hong Kong and published in the March 2020 issue of the journal Nature, found that pangolins seized in raids in 2017 and 2018 carried coronavirus RNA similar to that of SARS-CoV-2. 

Humans have no natural immunity for diseases that originate in other species. Climate activists hope the magnitude of this disaster can lead to changes. However, the wild animal trade in China is a multi-billion dollar industry. As China recovers from the coronavirus and reopens for business, the wild animal trade is expected also to resume, despite pressure from other nations. Look for carbon emissions to rise drastically as Asia goes back to work as well.

One surprising side effect from the global Coronavirus Pandemic shutdown is a massive decrease in carbon emissions. According to EPA data, Los Angeles has experienced its longest stretch of good air quality since 1995. 

The change in air quality over major metropolitan areas is so dramatic it is visible from space. That’s ironic, in light of new research that indicates that the rate of COVID-19 deaths is higher in areas with elevated air pollution.

For climate activists, the drop in carbon emissions, however temporary, is living proof that change can happen, even if the changes forced by the pandemic are only temporary. 

In fact, even the Earth is quieter at the moment. New seismic data even shows a measurable drop in the amount of vibration in the upper crust of the Earth caused by the slow down in industry, construction, and transportation.

Thomas Lecocq, a seismologist at the Royal Observatory in Belgium, found that levels of “cultural noise” vibrations had fallen as much as 30-50 percent after his county shut down schools and nonessential businesses in mid-March. 

The same drop has been observed across Europe and the world. Brian Baptie, a seismologist at the British Geological Survey (BGS) in Edinburgh, recorded a similar reduction in seismic noise levels.

“We measure ground vibrations from earthquakes using seismometers,” he explained in a press release from the British Geological Society. “These are incredibly sensitive so they also pick up other sources of vibration, including human activity, such as road traffic, machinery and even people walking past. All these things generate vibrations that propagate as seismic waves through the Earth.”

CalTech geophysics PhD student Celeste Labedz tweeted a graph showing the change in Los Angeles’ noise power. “The drop is seriously wild,” she wrote.

 “We have two crises: one is the COVID-19 Coronavirus Pandemic, the other is a slowly building disaster for our climate,” the earthday.org website states, issuing a call to action. 

It’s possible that some of the solutions to the one crisis can help solve the other, and it’s clear that 50 years after the first Earth Day, this movement is not just relevant, it’s critically important.

“We can, will, and must solve both challenges,” EarthDay.org promises. “The world was not prepared for the novel coronavirus. We still have time to prepare—in every part of the world—for the climate crisis.”

 

To join in this year’s Earth Day events, visit earthday.org and on social media @earthdaynetwork.

 

Suzanne Guldimann
Suzanne Guldimann

Suzanne Guldimann is an author, artist, and musician who lives in Malibu and loves the Santa Monica Mountains. She has worked as a journalist reporting on local news and issues for more than a decade, and is the author of nine books of music for the harp. Suzanne's newest book, "Life in Malibu", explores local history and nature. She can be reached at suzanne@messengermountainnews.com

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