Eco Talk: How to take part in Earth Day during COVID-19

Eco Talk: How to take part in Earth Day during COVID-19

Earth Day

This year, April 22 will mark the 50th anniversary of Earth Day. This annual event, always celebrated on April 22, was established by U.S. Sen. Gaylord Nelson, a politician and environmentalist from Wisconsin. Starting as a grassroots movement in 1970, Earth Day began a national awakening of environmental activism. Earth Day is now observed globally, often extending over a full week, and is called Earth Week, with a focus on living green.

The theme for Earth Day 2020 is taking action for the climate. Earth Day 2020 was designed to be celebrated through global cleanup, with the day focused on removing trash from all green spaces — rural, suburban and urban.

Then the COVID-19 global pandemic began, and organizers nimbly shifted the 50th anniversary to a digital format. While major cleanups will not take place as scheduled, individuals can do their part in their local neighborhoods as appropriate, with the hope that later this year, major global events can occur. Those interested in participating digitally can access the Earth Challenge at

According to Earth Day Network website (, the first Earth Day activities included teach-ins on university campuses with people gathering in public places to talk about the environment and seek ways to defend the planet. Twenty million Americans from coast to coast, across all political and socioeconomic levels, participated and recognized their common interest was the environment.

So much concern was generated about the amount of environmental pollution during the first Earth Day that on Dec. 2, 1970, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency was formed.

Earth Day expanded globally in 1990, with participation of over 200 million people from 141 countries. The focus of Earth Day 1990 was increasing recycling efforts worldwide. Earth Day 2000 saw 5,000 environmental groups in 184 countries reaching hundreds of millions of people with a focus on global warming and the need for clean energy. Earth Day 2010 resulted in a climate rally at the National Mall, in Washington, D.C., where a global tree planting project was introduced. Still successful today, the Canopy Project engaged 22,000 partners in 192 countries during the 2010 Earth Day observations.

As Americans observed Earth Day in 2016, a Gallup Poll found that 42% of Americans identified themselves as environmentalists, which was down from 76% in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Earth Day serves as a reminder to consider the threats our planet faces and seek ways to protect the environment. There are things each of us, as individuals, can do to manage and reduce our environmental impact.

It is coincidental that the 50th anniversary of Earth Day and a global health crisis are occurring at the same time. I suspect there will be some lessons learned from dealing with COVID-19 that can help with climate action. Perhaps it is my scientific background and education that makes me believe that science matters. I look for the best science to create an understanding of the problem and then seek solutions based on the facts. Some early indications suggest that the virus may be affecting people who live in large cities more because of possible damage to their respiratory system from air pollution. Over time, there will be research to determine if there are valid connections between coronavirus and our changing climate.

During this uncertain time of social distancing and remaining in our homes, many are taking time for a thorough spring cleaning. While a countywide recycling event has yet to be announced due to distancing and public health safety concerns, early planning is underway with the hope that this popular and necessary event can take place as soon as appropriate. Given the record-setting participation in the 2019 spring and fall events, past participants should expect some changes to reduce exposure for both participants and staff. In the meantime, please hold on to as much as possible for any future 2020 events.

Take some time this Earth Day, Wednesday, April 22, to consider how your activities may be contributing to climate change and take steps toward correcting these actions. If we each do a little bit, over time and through the accumulation of each little bit, we can slow negative impacts and hopefully provide a better environment for future generations.

Take time on Wednesday, April 22, to reflect with others around the world about what you can do as individuals and families to change our attitudes and behaviors toward the environment.

Judy Wright is the senior agriculture specialist with Cornell Cooperative Extension of Seneca County. For more information, visit or call (315) 539-9251 ext. 109.


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