The world came together in common unity outside the COVID-19 pandemic on April 22 to celebrate Earth Day — as members of the Lehigh community found their own ways to get involved.
The first recognized celebration of Earth Day happened 50 years ago on April 22, 1970, marking the birth of the modern environmental movement, said Katharine Targett Gross, the sustainability officer of Lehigh. The day focuses on drawing attention to environmental issues around the world.
Troy Wilford-Hunt, ‘21, a mechanical engineering and finance major, has helped the planet by participating in yearly Earth Day clean-ups along his neighborhood road in Bangor, Pennsylvania. The event was started 15 years ago by Wilford-Hunt’s parents and has been a tradition ever since.
“It’s one of the few community events that we have. Since we do live in a rural environment, you don’t get a lot of opportunities to interact and talk and see your neighbors,” Wilford-Hunt said. “This is one of the events where people come together, do something good to clean up the environment and also reconnect with the people.”
The theme of this year’s Earth Day was focused on climate action, and the event included social distancing measures so the neighbors could safely continue to participate in their annual clean-up.
Although April 22 marks the official recognition of Earth Day, Dork Sahagian, an earth and environmental science professor, suggests every day should be Earth Day. Sahagian said he doesn’t think this celebration should be designated to a single day.
“Earth Day is a stark reminder to me that we do not sufficiently appreciate the global environment that provides us with all the goods and services we need for our survival,” Sahagian said.
Audrey McSain, sustainability program manager in Lehigh’s Office of Sustainability, said each individual plays an important role in keeping the planet clean and safe. She said we don’t need everyone to do sustainability perfectly, but we need “millions of people doing sustainability imperfectly.”
McSain encourages everyone to play their part and said “every action counts, big or small.”
Sahagian said we should behave as if we are guests on this planet and would like to be invited back. Earth Day provides an opportunity for people to remind others that Earth is our one and only home.
Although social distancing is crucial in the role of flattening the curve, it is also helping the planet itself. Sahagian said the greenest action individuals are taking right now — without even realizing it — is simply staying home.
“We are not going anywhere, and we are not buying anything, except necessary food,” Sahagian said. “Our drastic reduction in transportation and industrial production has greatly decreased energy usage globally, and even caused the price of oil to become negative.”
Sahagian said by shifting our mindset from being consumers and sustainers to being preservers or even restorers, we can begin to restructure for a future that is sustainable.
As the forge through COVID-19 continues, Sahagian questions how behaviors will shift after the pandemic.
“How will we behave after social distancing is over with?” Sahagian said. “This remains to be seen, but I hope that much will have been learned from all this. Perhaps the most important thing will be to have a change in mindset.”