Fifty years ago, the first Earth Day brought out 20 million Americans across the land to parks, schools, college campuses, stadiums, the Mall in DC and for hundreds of river, beach and trail clean-ups. The first Earth Day actually precipitated legislative action — the Clean Air, Clean Water and Endangered Species Acts were created in response to the first Earth Day in 1970, as well as the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Other countries soon adopted similar laws.
In 1970, I was 13 and living in Europe with my military family. But from age 17 on, I have been a North American environmental activist fighting for whales, entire ecosystems, human and animal communities. In addition, I organized several Earth Day celebrations with thousands showing up in Spokane. I was the Earth Club faculty advisor at two colleges where I taught.
I participated in river clean-ups, outdoor guerrilla banner drops on buildings and young and old creating bird houses and bat boxes while listening to live bands and eating sustainable food from a pop-up farmer’s market.
This should never be the new normal — online education, online activism, online earth awareness.
“We’re trying to make this one an upper rather than downer,” said Otter Rock artist Bill Kucha, who directs 350.org Central Oregon Coast. “We want to invigorate folks.”
Last year’s Newport Earth Day was held inside the Newport Public Library, this year’s is virtual, on Zoom. There will be 100 slots for people to sign up and watch musicians, speakers and youth. The Zoom event on April 22 will begin at 7 p.m. Anyone can join the meeting at https://zoom.us/j/97202954094 using the webinar ID 972 0295 4094.
If you miss it, it can be viewed later, as it will be recorded for posterity. Presentations are 5 to 8 minutes. It’s a pretty one-way communication event: sit back and listen and watch.
I asked Jane Siebert, with Our Just Peace Action Team from the Congregational Church of Lincoln City, her reaction to the virtual day. The church was planning to sponsor an Earth Day on April 18, but too many conflicting community events quashed that, she said.
“For me, this time of quarantine brings me out in the garden to appreciate spring and its slow unfurling of new life once again,” Siebert said. “This slow time of closely noticing the miracle of the earth can deepen our commitment to its future. I hold to the idea that Earth Day is every day and we must stand up to assaults on the natural order.”
I have had students research the energy use for each Google search, and I’ve led youth to do ecological footprints and check out the water foot print of some of the major items in our consumer society.
Life cycle analysis, embedded energy, cradle to cradle manufacturing, negative carbon architecture, tragedy of the commons and more get my juices going.
Just following the energy consumed by the coffee bean plant grown in Costa Rica as it is picked, shipped, roasted, reshipped, repackaged and then brewed is telling of every step we make in planet earth. Students are jazzed about exactly how much oil — in plastic, transportation, fertilizer, packaging, production — is used to produce the various products they have come to rely on.
“Most of my life I have lived sequestered as an artist,” Kucha said. “I am more politically active now. I think this (coronavirus) could be a tipping point.”
Living slower, more intentionality, and, for Kucha, the pandemic in his mind is making us more egocentric: “In one fell swoop, we are all left with each other.”