By: Kelly Mills
On April 22, 1970, 20 million Americans rallied in streets, parks and auditoriums to demonstrate for a healthy, sustainable environment. This first Earth Day led to the creation of the United States Environmental Protection Agency and the passage of environmental protection laws, with other countries following soon after. In 2016, the United Nations chose Earth Day as the day to sign the Paris Climate Agreement into force. The theme for Earth Day changes every year, and this year’s theme will come as no surprise: climate action.
It can be hard to asses how changes to our climate will affect our individual lives. On New Years Day I sat by the radio at my family’s property in rural NSW, Australia, anxiously awaiting updates on the status of the fires that surrounded us. At the time we had no power, no running water, no cell reception, and no road access out. The next day the fire would destroy the radio tower broadcasting these emergency updates to our region. Our retired firefighter neighbour gave us the advice to flee to the beach if the dark smoke,which glowed orange, transitioned to red. We were lucky, the winds changed direction and five weeks later the fires would be brought to an end by sweeping rain and floods, our community could be seen from space as a little region of green surrounded by black. Australia is now taking stock on the long road to recovery.
Attribution science quantifies the extent to which manmade climate change makes weather events more severe or likely to occur. A study published in the journal Nature has found that this fire season in Australia was made at least 30 per cent more likely by climate change. While a degree of wildfire activity is natural in both Canada and Australia, I hope that we never have to experience this same scale of devastation to our community in Fernie as I did at home this Christmas.
This Earth Day we will find ourselves in the midst of a global pandemic. This is a hard time for our local community. Many businesses have had to close, and everyone is working out how to be physically distant and stay home in a town built upon a love of the outdoors. I am touched by the ways in which our community has come together. Over 160 people have volunteered to join the Elk Valley Covid Support Team, delivering groceries and phoning to check in on those in isolation. Hand sanitizer has been donated to first responders as well as to the public, food parcels are being donated to those in need, free rooms are being offered to essential service workers, and local bands are hosting online concerts. This is far from over, but I am proud of how our little community has responded in the past month.
What these events have shown us is that we are capable of mobilizing and responding to significant threats to environmental, and human health and safety. Our actions have resulted in remarkable achievements. Over $500 million was donated in response to the Australian bushfires, vehicle companies are now making ventilators instead of cars, and scientists are sharing information in an unprecedented manner in the search to find a vaccine. This Earth Day we won’t be rallying in the streets, but instead I encourage you to use your time at home to join the Citizens Climate Lobby, and write emails or letters to government representatives at all levels. Ask that bail outs for companies come with the requirement to invest in pollution reduction initiatives, ask that your district and council representatives join the climate caucus to develop and implement solutions at a local level. The pandemic has shown us that we should have done more to prepare in advance, and the same is true for climate change. As the head of the World Health Organization Climate Change Unit, Diarmid Campbell-Lendrum stated, “If COVID-19 is a sprint to save lives, then acting on climate change is the marathon.”