Wednesday, April 22, 2020

Earth Day 2020- The 50th Birthday the Earth Needs

As an environmental educator, every day is Earth Day to me. 
I have really been struggling during the last month of self-isolation with the grief of not being able to share this beautiful spring with my regular afterschool kiddos, or the middle schoolers I had just gotten to know and planned the next six weeks of adventures with. This winter was especially challenging and I was greatly anticipating an active Spring. But one thing I have learned from studying and immersing myself in nature is how to adapt.  
If you think about it, we all know how to adapt. It may be a cause of anxiety for us as individuals in our current situation within our societies, but if you think about it from an evolutionary point of view, our ancestors were excellent at adapting. Or, if you really think about it, our ancestors may have merely had a deformity or mutation that happened to make them better at a specific situation than their peers, but that’s a great metaphor also. Anyway, the point is that everything around us in nature is here because it successfully adapted to environmental changes--and so can you. 
Look out the window at the closest tree. If it’s a cottonwood, it has a relatively low life span, about 100 years. If it’s a pinon, the state tree of New Mexico, it has a life span of about 600 years, which is similar for most pines. Think about what a world that tree has experienced. Although your tree doesn’t recognize time like we do, science has increasingly shown that trees perceive the world around them, sending chemical and other imperceptible signals to neighboring trees. Think about the droughts, floods or windstorms this tree has endured, and yet it is still standing. Nature shows resilience as well.

This year is the 50th anniversary of an annual event that celebrates this resilience and adaptability.  The first Earth Day took place in 1970, when senator Gaylord Nelson witnessed a massive oil spill and wanted to model an anti-pollution movement after the energetic anti-war movements.  
The first Earth Day, 20 million people (10% the US population at the time) took to the streets to demand clean water and clean air standards for our earth (and obviously, ourselves), and as a result the Environmental Protection Agency was created. Because of this movement of political unity, the National Environmental Education Act, Clean Water Act, and OSHA were created. 

It has been 50 years since that critical movement, and although Earth Day has been celebrated annually, and our environment has seen many successes, the EPA currently has the least amount of authority it has seen since its creation. What makes this Earth Day anniversary especially unique, though, is the fact that this Earth Day falls amidst a global pandemic., the prime authority non-profit to organize Earth Day events proclaims that this year’s Earth Day is “digital”. But before I unroll the incredible list of Earth-loving activities for you and your families to do while at home avoiding Covid-19, I want to point out the unexpected effects of the world slowing down.  
What an interesting gift for the Earth, for all the hustle and bustle of business as usual to slow to an unprecedented halt. With China’s strict stay-at-home policies, shutting down and slowing factories and businesses, The average number of "good quality air days" increased 21.5% in February, and graphic comparisons of nitrogen dioxide and carbon dioxide just one month apart show a drastic reduction in the hazardous substance. 
And while this is an incredibly stressful time for health care workers, it’s an incredible opportunity for scientists. 
Seismically, the Earth has calmed enough that trained researchers can feel the difference, and interested but untrained people can see the decrease in movement on a seismometer. “Right now, day time in Brussels resembles Christmas Day,” observed Thomas Lecocq, a seismologist at the Royal Observatory of Belgium. Other researches have noticed a decrease in noise level by as much as 30 decibels in usually-busy cities like New York, and a calming of underwater noise pollution in oceans. “We’re experiencing an unprecedented pause in ocean noise that probably hasn’t been experienced in decades,” observes marine ecologist Michelle Fournet.
And, as you may expect, wildlife is thriving as our species hunkers into our homes. Coyotes, wild boar and even peacocks have been spotted in areas that would otherwise be bustling with humans. Even zoo animals grieving the lack of visitors have had the unique opportunity to get to know other creatures, an experience that a dolphin and sloth seemed to enjoy at a zoo in Texas
(There is some fake and misleading news out there as well about sudden animal appearances. Also, as Outside Magazine pointed out, not all of our sudden isolation is good for wildlife).  
As much as I have enjoyed these strange stories, I recognize as one article pointed out, that “The respite for nature will be less important than what follows.” Although most of the following activities are not immediately earth-saving measures, they promise to encourage some reverence for our natural world, and inspire some small changes. Some may argue that the floating rock we live on deserves more than one day of honor, but Earth Day serves as a specific time to come together to celebrate, advocate, or just learn about the world around us. Whether you use the following resources on Earth Day, all of Earth Week, or allow them to inspire your actions every day of the year, it is my greatest hope

As our children grow up with the memory of this 50th anniversary of Earth Day celebrated in and around our homes in the midst of a pandemic, I hope that some of the resources below can remind us of the beauty, adaptability and resilience of nature.  

Local Earth Day Activities
Enjoy Earth from Home, and Share a Photo on FIT’s Facebook page
Statewide Idea- Plant a Sunflower!
Earth Day Livestream (April 22nd-24th featuring activists, performers, students, senators and more. 

Earth Day Events 
Celebrate the 50th anniversary of Earth Day and show your support for the environment with our limited-edition Earth Day 2020 sticker from The Sierra Club. 

At home Earth Day Activities (For now or Later)
Daily Outdoor Challenges by Pajarito Environmental Education Center 
Scan through 50 Years of Environmental Victories, in Photos

Take Action 
Get to know the Environmental representatives near you, and pledge to vote for Earth in your upcoming election. 

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