The 50th anniversary of Earth Day will be eclipsed by the COVID-19 pandemic.
There won’t be any exuberant marches or rallies celebrating environmental protection.
“We have to stay home and stay safe,” said former Green Party leader Elizabeth May, who will be celebrating her first wedding anniversary today. “But we’re encouraging people to find documentaries on Netflix about the living world, about the environment and about the climate crisis. Learn more while you’re at home. Think about the fact that this is Earth Day. Think about the fact that our economic recovery plans post-pandemic can be focused on keeping the sky clear and the air pure.”
Environmentalists are finding a silver lining in the midst of the pandemic.
“In the short term, we are all hands on deck to deal with the pandemic. And when we get through this, and we will, we have to make sure our recovery plan is all hands on deck to deal with the climate crisis,” said May. “Now we know government can turn on a dime and we can generate programs in the billions of dollars to respond to a crisis when we have to.”
Fifty years ago on April 22, 1970, May organized her Grade 10 class for a day of action.
“People were excited to learn about the environment, which was a new concept at the time. Talking about the environment was fairly new when Earth Day got started,” said May.
The issues of the day were pesticides and pollution, especially phosphates in laundry detergents killing the Great Lakes. Phosphates were banned not long after the first Earth Day.
Today, she will join fellow Green MP Paul Manly, who represents the riding of Nanaimo-Ladysmith, and Jenica Twin, MP for Fredricton, for a virtual teach-in focussing on climate action.
Close to 800 people have signed up for the national webinar. A session on the science of the climate emergency that was to be held on Parliament Hill has been cancelled.
May said she is looking forward to the day when the virus is in check and people can have physical gatherings again.
“But I don’t think we’ll ever go back to the ‘normal’ because our ‘normal’ was a climate emergency which was dangerous. We can’t go back to that. We have to make quite dramatic changes.”
Such as Milan, Italy for example, which wants to reallocate street space from cars to cycling and walking, in response to the coronavirus crisis, said May. “They’ve decided when they start opening up again, the first step is not to let cars on the street. They want people to get around on bikes and have physical distance.”
In post-pandemic Canada, more businesses can think about having their employees working from home, which is a plus for the environment, she said. People can also think about holding on to our greenhouse gas reductions.
If you want to celebrate Earth Day, May recommends watching a few episodes of Our Planet, the British nature documentary series made for Netflix, narrated by David Attenborough. People might also enjoy the adventure documentary A Plastic Ocean, which is also on Netflix. It reveals the causes and consequences of plastic pollution and shares solutions.
The Biggest Little Farm, also on Netflix, is a film about reinvesting in soil.
“It’s not a documentary, but it educates and it’s perfectly family-friendly and the animals are as cute as anything,” Ma said.
May also recommends An Inconvenient Truth, Al Gore’s documentary on climate change, and The Day After Tomorrow, starring Dennis Quaid and Jake Gyllenhaal, in which a climatologist races to save his son after a series of cataclysmic natural disasters sets the stage for a new Ice Age. However, if you prefer a little romantic comedy, May suggests The American President, starring Michael Douglas as the president and Annette Benning as a lobbyist for climate action.