Judy O’Leary and Laura Sacks

COLUMN: A spark of hope on Earth Day’s golden anniversary

Laura Sacks and Judy O’Leary write on Earth Day’s 50th year

On this 50th anniversary of Earth Day we cannot gather together to celebrate, but we can spend some time considering our relationship with the natural world around us. We can think about our interdependence, and how this can help us to build a better post-COVID world.

Our world is interconnected, whether in the spread of this virus, or in the greenhouse gases that we put in our shared atmosphere. Our response to the COVID outbreak illustrates that collective and government actions matter, locally, nationally and globally. Inaction is not an option when faced with a crisis.

During these past few challenging weeks, many of us have been reflecting on what really matters to us, as individuals and as a community. How can we take what we’ve learned about the pandemic and apply that to our urgent climate and ecological crises?

We have been humbled by our vulnerability to this virus and to precarious global supply chains. We see the importance of building local resilience. This is ever more important as we face our growing climate crisis. We need to be prepared for uncertainty and be nimble in our response. Re-localization of food, energy systems and basic manufacturing means we can better respond to future crises. How can we help local farmers earn a decent living, so that local food can be a more significant part of our diets?

We appreciate our local businesses now more than ever before. How can we support them as we recover? We need stimulus dollars going to our communities to create local and sustainable jobs. We do not need more money going to sunset industries like oil and gas that already receive enormous subsidies. When we invest in climate solutions like renewable energy and energy efficiency, we create considerably more jobs per dollar invested than in the fossil fuel sector.

This pandemic has exposed the vast inequities in our culture. Low wage workers in our care homes, cleaning services, and food systems keep our community safe and cared for in this pandemic, as well as in ordinary times. Poor communities around the world are being hit the hardest by this pandemic. Similarly, climate change impacts the poor and vulnerable the most, although no one is spared from its impacts. As we recover and rebuild, let’s be sure solutions improve the lives of the most vulnerable, and consider non-human life as well.

We are listening carefully to scientists’ recommendations to keep ourselves and our community healthy and safe during this pandemic. Scientists have been warning us for decades that we need to take care of our planetary health. We need to flatten the curve of climate change to rapidly reduce our climate pollution to avoid disastrous outcomes. We know we have the tools at hand to shift to clean energy, implement sustainable forestry and agricultural practices, and restore landscapes that have been degraded by humans. Making it more expensive to pollute helps make this shift easier.

Recognizing our shared humanity, we have participated in untold acts of kindness and caring during this pandemic. We are staying better connected to loved ones, helping neighbours and strangers alike. Even the act of physical distancing has care for others at its core to limit spreading the virus to vulnerable populations. Extending our kindness to the rest of life with whom we share our planet is a good next step. Indigenous cultures and many faith groups consider caring for the earth as a fundamental moral obligation.

On this golden anniversary of Earth Day, please consider how we can work together to recover our own health, our local economy, and our planetary health after this pandemic passes.

Laura Sacks and Judy O’Leary lead the Nelson–West Kootenay chapter of Citizens’ Climate Lobby.

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