Earth Day 2020 marked its 50th anniversary on Wednesday! To commemorate the event, Toronto350 co-sponsored the LIVE webcast organized by ClimateFast, Earth Day 2020: Toward a Green and Healthy Recovery.
On the first Earth Day in 1970, 20 million people from “groups that had been fighting individually against oil spills, polluting factories and power plants, raw sewage, toxic dumps, pesticides, freeways, the loss of wilderness and the extinction of wildlife,” marched together to raise awareness about the harms caused to the environment and to human health(1).
Fast-forward 50 years, and we continue to face similar grave threats to Earth's natural ecosystems. Now though, we are running out of time(2)! Global heating and biodiversity loss have only gotten worse - increasing air pollution, viral spread and other threats to our health and wellbeing. In this context, and in the midst of COVID-19, Earth Day events moved online.
As Dr. Antonia Sappong, one of the speakers for the Toward a Green and Healthy Recovery webcast expressed it: “Our relationship with the Earth is unhealthy, and it’s making us sick….we need to draw the connections between human health and the health of our planet, and really fight for that.”
(1) History of Earth Day at earthday.org
(2) 2-degree Future from SkyNews
The webcast featured many inspiring speakers, calls to action and music by Cassie Norton, Néo Givord-Serrano, Akeem Raphael and Ahsan Shabbir. One of the most beautiful moments came when, near the end of the program, the musicians did a rendition of the “Resolution Song,” a piece written for the world to sing in solidarity with the planet and everything on it.
In another artistic moment, the webcast featured the poem And the People Stayed Home by Kitty O'Meara, interpreted by Colleen Lynch. Although it does not reflect everyone's experience (not everyone can stay home for one thing), it expresses the potential in re-thinking our lives, prioritizing healing and moving forward with compassion and creativity.
Following the poem, Katharine Hayhoe spoke. She said that one of the most important things we can do for the climate might surprise us - we can talk about it! We can all make a difference by speaking up. For ways to start building your voice, see Oh, Canada, a video about climate change in Canada and, Global Weirding with Katharine Hayhoe.
The speakers and participants recognized the intersection of many crises - climate, biodiversity, social and health - Lily Phan, speaking on behalf of the National Farmer’s Union, reminded us that even the soil is in crisis! I felt an overwhelming motivation towards building stronger foundations for our economy, our communities and our families; one rooted in the need to protect nature and care for each other. I felt the desire for positive change informed by science and Indigenous knowledge systems and with justice at its core.
The Just Recovery Principles put forward by Amara Possian of 350.org during the webcast, call for such positive changes. In Amara’s words, “it’s really important right now that we are decisive in saving lives but it is also really important that we are decisive and bold in charting a path forward towards a generally healthier and more equitable future through a just recovery.”
Dianne Saxe spoke to the need for science-based policy decisions, encouraging us to explore what we can do as individuals, but not to stop there! She counselled us to speak to elected officials, asking for the regulatory and investment shifts necessary to prevent things like urban sprawl and new fossil fuel infrastructure. You can hear more from Dianne Saxe on her podcast, Green Economy Heroes.
With knowledge and power, we must advocate for policies that will provide a just recovery from COVID-19, ensuring our planet can thrive for generations.
Deborah McGregor, Co-organizer of Indigenous Environmental Justice Project, explained the importance of Indigenous knowledge systems, that “the foundation of a relationship with the earth is one based on responsibility to the earth as a living entity.”
She encouraged participants to “think about having a relationship with the earth itself, and entities and beings within the earth” and to work on “creating that reciprocal and sustainable relationship with the earth.” See her newly published book, Mother Earth.
Speaking further on the need for justice in the recovery process, Dr. Sappong put it powerfully:
“Any vulnerabilities that someone has are shared vulnerabilities. There are social and economic disparities. We need to fight for people who are most at risk. And we also need to fight for biodiversity – animals, plants, insects that are our brothers, sisters – that are the foundation for our success. This work begins at the community level. And what this coronavirus has been really powerful in showing is that our communities are a wealth of generosity and goodwill and resilience. We need to build on these communities of care to really support our earth going forward….
As climate activists, our time has come to demand systemic change. We have to be coherent and specific and we cannot leave anyone behind. Coronavirus has shown how we are all interconnected and it has shown that our health is the earth’s health and the earth’s health is our own health.”
It is time to step up and act, to find the courage to raise our voices. The global response to the COVID-19 pandemic shows that the impossible is actually wonderfully possible when we listen to the science and to nature, see peoples’ needs as interconnected and act as one.
In Catherine Abreu, Executive Director of Climate Action Network’s words:
“Let’s stand on this precipice that we are on, from one world to the next and dream about how we can co-create societies that support the life-giving abundance that gives us life….
[In] this moment, we are being reminded of the incredible richness and resourcefulness that we have at our disposal to address these crises, and build resilience. We know that material wealth can be distributed more equitably, and indeed we’re seeing that happen in some of the “best case scenario” responses to the crisis – so how can we amplify that?
We know that there are forces that benefit from the status quo, lining up to ask governments to do just that – to double down – to provide them with unnecessary subsidies and unnecessary regulatory rollbacks.
We have the solutions, so as governments and communities mount relief and stimulus efforts, we have to emphasize as a community that we can’t return to a status quo that will keep us vulnerable to future shocks that will continue not to work for people and the planet.
This moment is transforming us, and we have to transform with it.”
Allie Rougeot of Fridays for Future Toronto, who masterfully MC’d the program, ended with a question for the speakers paraphrased here: “What do you reach for when you need encouragement and would recommend for inspiration?”
Answers included Isaac Day, Norval Morrisseau and the poem by Wendell Berry, The Peace of Wild Things:
"When despair for the world grows in me…
I come into the peace of wild things….
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free."
This webcast revealed a growing community with a growing understanding of what needs to and can be done to ensure healthier, safer and more secure futures. As one of the first big online climate rallies, word is that the speakers were “amazing and inspirational,” that the event “so exceeded expectations,” and was “impressive”. A good beginning as we work together and advocate for a green and healthy recovery!
If you missed the live stream, not to worry! You can view the event recording whenever you wish!
Find a complete list of action links and speaker’s bios on ClimateFast's Event Page.
Other speakers with calls to action included:
- Jennifer Henry, KAIROS & Willard Metzger, Citizens for Public Justice - For the Love of Creation - A Faith-based Initiative for Climate Justice
- Isaac Crosby, Evergreen Brickworks - @BrotherEarth7824
- Lella Blumer, For Our Kids - For Our Kids #GreenRecovery campaign
- Rommel Bellosillo, Greenpeace - Bailout campaign petition
- Katie Krelove - wildernesscommittee.org
- Angela Bischoff, Clean Air Alliance - petition for Ontario gas plant phase-out
- Lily Phan - NFU publication, ”Tackling the Farm Crisis and the Climate Crisis"
- The Council of Canadians - Local Green New Deals