On Christmas Eve of 1968, the crew of the Apollo 8 mission, during the first manned expedition around the moon, witnessed the Earth rising above the moon’s cratered horizon. Astronaut Bill Anders snapped a famous color photo of our small blue planet known as “Earthrise.”
The Earthrise image shows our planet as a little blue bubble amid the endless black of space. Looking at the Earth from that perspective, it becomes apparent how interconnected we are.
This monumental shift in perspective culminated in the first Earth Day on April 22, 1970, when 20 million people took to streets across America to demonstrate their commitment to the environment. Their movement sparked a revolution for human and environmental rights. The next three years resulted in new legislation (such as the Clean Water Act and the Clean Air Act) and the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency.
Fifty years later, we simultaneously face a global pandemic and a global climate crisis, and the two issues are not unrelated. Populations who are impacted most negatively by environmental issues, such as people living with higher levels of pollution, will also be most vulnerable to this and future health crises. New research from Harvard University reveals that even a small increase in air pollution can make COVID-19 more deadly.
The hard truth is that our world will face more emergencies like this if we do not work to mitigate the catastrophic effects of global climate change. Yet, here we have a valuable opportunity to learn from the pandemic.
As business has nearly ground to a halt in efforts to slow the spread of the virus, cities around the world, namely in India and China, have seen dramatically improved air quality. Even in our daily lives we can see how simple actions like travel habits, diets and purchasing decisions add up to create a larger impact on others and the world around us.
We don’t have to simply bounce back from this pandemic to the way things used to be. We can use it as a springboard to launch forward into new ways of living and new ways of seeing the world. Today, we are proving our individual and collective responsibility to preserve human health. (Yes, we are doing it!) And now we know that we can also be responsible for our environmental health. We must use this time to reflect on how our personal habits have changed for the better and to develop new habits that are more environmentally responsible.
Though we will remain physically distant on this 50th anniversary of Earth Day, we can still feel connected and inspired. Join community members from across Champaign County and beyond for C-U on Earth Day this Wednesday at noon, by emerging from your home and standing outside for 15 minutes to demonstrate your support for the environment. With that time, you can do whatever is most meaningful for you. You might make a personal pledge or resolution, show your stance on climate change with a sign or a song or wave hello to your neighbors. Whatever it is, commit to doing something. Our collective response moving forward is vital for the future of humanity on our planet Earth.
C-U on Earth Day is being organized in partnership with the Urbana Park District, Faith in Place, the Champaign County Forest Preserve District, the cities of Urbana and Champaign, University of Illinois Extension, the School for Designing a Society and more!
Learn more at cuearthday2020.wixsite.com/event or search for the event on Facebook.
Savannah Donovan is the environmental public program coordinator for the Urbana Park District. Email her at email@example.com.