50 years ago, on April 22 1970, more than 20 million people came together demanding a better future on the first-ever Earth Day. Their actions helped to launch the modern environmental movement, inspiring countless conservation efforts, and led to the creation of Greenpeace and Environment Canada in 1971. Within the democratic society we’re privileged to live in, these early steps showed that actions of any magnitude can cause genuine change.
Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s more important than ever to collectively come together and rally for positive change from our top decision-makers. While many have labelled the virus as an “equalizer” as it hasn’t shown to discriminate between the more and less fortunate, it is anything but. Those living in precarity – such as vulnerable populations residing in areas with poor air and water quality – have been shown to be most affected. These same populations are subsequently the most at-risk under our rapidly changing climate as well.
An overwhelming majority of scientists conclude that our climate crisis will have dire and extreme consequences in the near future. Zoonotic diseases, such as COVID-19, are likely to be recurring, coupled with extreme weather that bring droughts, fires, and floods to our doorsteps. However, just as with the first Earth Day in 1970 where communities joined together, as we collectively sit at home, we can also join together to create a better world.
Takeaways from our response to the pandemic can inform how we act on our climate crisis, such as:
1. Science Matters. Lives are saved when we fund reputable research and make it accessible to the public. As with trusting public health professionals, we need to place trust in scientists and reputable sources instead of following myths or misinformation.
2. Nature Informs Our Wellbeing. When we deplete resources and destroy land, we create conditions for lethal diseases to spillover into human populations.
3. The Sooner We Act, the More Effective We Can Be. Just as with rapidly mobilizing the public to stay home and flatten the curve, we can create the right policies and mandates that can act to reduce sea level rise, resource shortages and natural disasters. As we’ve seen from governments and societies all around the world, we have the ability to make a difference by making drastic changes.
4. Risk is Unequally Distributed, Though We are All Vulnerable. As we’ve seen from COVID-19, societies that suffer from socioeconomic inequality are more likely to fall apart. When we shift society to one where we can all access livable wages, affordable childcare, equitable healthcare, and sustainable transportation, we build resilience.
On this Earth Day, we encourage you to imagine a world where we emerged from our homes with a new commitment to look after each other and take small steps to protect our planet and everyone on it. Today, in this time of many unknowns, it is more crucial than ever to know we can create the future we want.