Understanding Earth Day and the significance

Ellis McGinley Copy Editor

Earth Day looked a little different this year — or maybe there just was not much to see, as even at a university publicly committed to climate leadership and sustainability, COVID-19 continues to put the environment in the backseat.

Earth Day was first pitched by Senator Gaylord Nelson of Wisconsin in 1969, with direct intentions of sparking student participation as it falls between most spring breaks and most finals. The first Earth Day was 1970, and since then, 1 billion individuals are “mobilized” each year and 190 plus countries have become involved, according to the Earth Day website.

This year we did not see many organized activities on campus. I’m only a first-year, so I cannot speak of what the university might have done prior, but I would have expected a lot from the first university in the U.S to declare a “climate emergency.” Instead, I think we can take this Earth Day and the blooming season of spring here in New Haven to reflect on how environmental concerns have had to come second in the wake of the pandemic.

I also am not exactly upset that environmental concerns have largely come second when it comes to preserving human life. It is just ironic, in a bitter way — only a few years ago, we were banning plastic bags here in Connecticut and disputing plastic straws. Now, disposable plastics are a larger part of our daily life than ever, with masks, take-out containers, gloves and more necessities to safely getting through the day. In parking lots, you can see those iconic blue masks, straps usually broken, soaking in puddles. Even across campus, you can find cloth masks tossed or abandoned on the sidewalks.

As for other sustainability measures, I’m sure paper waste has skyrocketed with wipes and paper towels. In local hospitals, hazardous waste and PPE has undoubtedly risen too. It is more difficult to organize large group clean-up events, which would require some physical labor and can be difficult with a mask. As we begin to afford it, I think it would be best for us to start revisiting both our personal accountability to the environment, and what we should demand from corporations and our government. It would be easier to reduce, reuse, and recycle in a world where industries package their products to be productive for those very purposes, wouldn’t it? It’s not like they have not had time to think about it.

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