Earth Day’s 50th anniversary goes digital amid coronavirus pandemic, with virtual protests, video teach-ins and more

Earth Day’s 50th anniversary goes digital amid coronavirus pandemic, with virtual protests, video teach-ins and more

The 50th anniversary of Earth Day was destined to be a worldwide celebration. It still will be — just virtually.

With social distancing restrictions in place around the world to fight the spread of coronavirus, the millions of people who were expected to fill parks, stadiums, universities and plazas around the world on Wednesday to mark the annual day devoted to environmental protection will instead rally online.

“Amid the recent outbreak, we encourage people to rise up but to do so safely and responsibly — in many cases, that means using our voices to drive action online rather than in person,” Kathleen Rogers, president of Earth Day Network, said in a press release.

There are many ways people can participate: protesting virtually; creating a poster and sharing it on social media with hashtags like #EarthDayNetwork; attending a virtual presentation organized by students, universities and other leaders; watching a performance; playing trivia games; and more.

“We’re super happy that we have these great online activities, but we are looking forward to being outside and volunteering, planting trees, doing cleanups, signing petitions, registering people to vote,” Rogers told USA TODAY.

The Earth Day Network created a citizen science initiative called Earth Challenge 2020 with the U.S. Department of State’s Eco-Capitals Forum and the Wilson Center in Washington, D.C., that allows people to engage with science through a smartphone app.

“It’s sort of one-click activism,” said Rogers, adding that users can upload photos and alert their local government of any plastic pollution in their communities.

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This data will allow researchers to identify the world’s most affected areas.

The Earth Day Network also has an online database that people can search to find digital events across the world, such as a  Facebook Live in which local business owners in Arizona will discuss how they’re addressing climate change — this year’s theme for Earth Day.

Some organizers decided to start their events before Wednesday to allow people who work during the week the chance to participate on their days off. In Boston, for example, organizer Michael Kozuch began hosting various Facebook Live conversations over the weekend with local politicians and non-profit organizations.

Kozuch told USA TODAY that part of the desire was to provide people with comfort during the coronavirus pandemic by bringing on local musicians to play music, a live demonstration of tree planting and a cooking class on how to make plant-based meals. Earth Day’s 50th anniversary goes digital amid coronavirus pandemic, with virtual protests, video teach-ins and more

In Los Angeles, meanwhile, yoga teacher Kristina Nikols will have a free 30-minute guided meditation session to “send energy for the healing of Mother Earth,” according to her website.

Other events will focus on educating the public on environmental justice. Seattle University is hosting five-minute “Earth Talks,” where students, faculty and community partners will present research and ideas on how to take action on climate change.

The Jesuit Catholic university, and many others across the nation, will also join Interfaith Power & Light for a “Nationwide Climate Prayer” from April 20-25 on Facebook.

Phillip Thompson, organizer for Seattle University’s Earth Month, told USA TODAY he’s mostly excited to share an interview with Earth Day co-founder Denis Hayes.

Hayes coordinated the first U.S. Earth Day in 1970, and expanded it internationally in 1990. He is now on the board of directors for Earth Day Network and is president of the Bullitt Foundation.

“I think this year is more when we’re aware and it’s much more time to get serious about how we’re going to be bringing about the changes in the future,” Hayes told USA TODAY.

There are simple ways to do that, he said, including using public transportation, recycling, eating organic and voting for officials who want to help the environment.

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It may be difficult for people to feel encouraged and hopeful for the planet amid the coronavirus pandemic, and before that, the horrific fires in Australia and California, Hayes admitted. Don’t lose faith, he said.

“It is depressing,” Hayes said. “But I got a message for you: We’ve not reached the end of the line. We’ve still got time to be able to turn this around before we reach tipping points that do become irreversible.” Earth Day’s 50th anniversary goes digital amid coronavirus pandemic, with virtual protests, video teach-ins and more

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