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Earth Day 2020: We Rise Together

by Elizabeth Harlow

This week we observe an extraordinary Earth Day, one in which nearly all of humanity has adjusted its normal rhythms to stop a global pandemic. It is not the collective action we imagined, but the recognition of our interconnectedness and vulnerability, and the global nature of the threat, are themes we have been organizing around for years. This collective pause offers an opening for reassessment, realignment, and dramatic change toward a more just and sustainable world.

Earth Day 2020 marks 50 years since hundreds of events across the country in 1970 made up the largest mass mobilization in U.S. history. The first Earth Day catalyzed remarkable change. The mobilization led swiftly to the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency and the passage of the Clean Air Act, and the movement raised public ecological awareness and engagement for decades.

Earth Day 2020 also represents a special anniversary for the Ecology Center, whose own history begins with our 1970 founding in the wake of Ann Arbor’s Teach-In on the Environment, the first and largest of the original Earth Day events. 

This year, we invite you to join us in taking part in what is projected to be the largest online mass mobilization in history, Earth Day Live, a three day livestream of inspiring and empowering storytelling, art, and solidarity for climate action and justice including activists and thought leaders, musicians and celebrities, and millions of participants at home like you.

We cannot gather in person to celebrate or to protest, so we rise up in virtual solidarity with people around the world. 

Many of us are experiencing anxiety, exhaustion, hardship, and grief in the acute crisis of COVID-19. Meanwhile, the Trump Administration is trying to use the pandemic as an excuse to weaken anti-pollution regulations, at the very same time that millions across the globe are struggling to breathe and at the moment we most need protections strengthened to meet the urgent existential threat of the ongoing climate crisis.

The good news is that the climate movement is gaining unprecedented momentum to push back, and to win climate justice policies across the U.S. and across the globe. We know from Earth Day history what is possible when we rise up together. 

Today, the Ecology Center observes Earth Day at 50 by connecting the spirit of 1970 to the challenges of 2020. We affirm that the struggle against coronavirus and the struggle against the climate crisis are intertwined in a shared fight for a healthier and a more just world. We remember that the first Earth Day, inspired by antiwar activism, emerged as a mass uprising in response to dire circumstances: communities blanketed in lethal smog, springs without birdsong, and sludgy, oil-slicked rivers catching routinely on fire. 

That world was not inevitable. Neither are the interconnected and unsustainable environmental harms and social injustices we face today, visible now more than ever in this time of crisis. 

And so we rise up.

P.S. For those of you in the Ann Arbor area, please also check out Ann Arbor's Virtual Earth Day at on Wednesday. Shortly after 9am, Ecology Center Director Mike Garfield will be presenting about the history of Earth Day, the Ecology Center, and the environmental movement.

Created in partnership with the Environmental Justice HistoryLab at the University of Michigan. More Information