Fifty years ago, millions of people in New Hampshire and nationwide celebrated the first Earth Day.
Today, this celebration is now international and looks a lot different - we're in the midst of a pandemic that’s interrupted the world’s growing response to climate change and brought much of society to a standstill.
NHPR has been talking to activists and concerned citizens of all ages about how COVID-19 has reshaped their thinking about global warming and the future of efforts to fix it.
Here’s some of what listeners have told us in emails, interviews and survey responses, lightly edited for clarity.
Susan Fine in Sunapee: “The pandemic is showing the ability of societies to make difficult decisions in face of clear and present threat. If a global consensus on the threat of climate change can be forged, collective action is possible. I also hope that some changes in response to the pandemic like working remotely and supporting local farms and businesses that are good for climate change will stick even after the virus threat is reduced.”
Cheri Schmitt in Bedford: “I’m concerned. Climate change is a long term, incrementally occurring crisis that people are unwilling to address for a variety of reasons – inconvenience, expense, etc. We’re in the middle of a health crisis now and too many people aren’t taking even this seriously when it’s literally breathing down their necks! People tend to think that society will magically pull something out of the hat later to address an issue, rather than put in the smaller steps now that would allow us to avoid the problem in the first place. We’re good reactors, not good planners. I wish people would take this more seriously as an actual issue rather than just trying to frame it as a political one.”
James Graham in Lyme: “It is imperative that we take the pandemic as an opportunity to push policymakers to elevate science and work to silence the deniers. We cannot do this as individuals – we need government leadership that creates policy that promotes clean energy.”
David Sax in Madison, Connecticut: “I was already very concerned about climate change, but the pandemic actually has me more worried about it. The past few weeks have given us a taste of what a disrupted life could be like. While climate change has different effects than a pandemic, the scale of the impact on daily life could be similar. We will have to adapt and take advantage of the many opportunities that it brings. We no longer have to imagine the kind of future we could have if we don’t.”
Melissa Paly, a Seacoast environmental advocate in Kittery, Maine: “Though imperfect to be sure, we are seeing a global response to a global challenge happening at warp speed. We're watching citizens, governments, industries, philanthropies and media mobilize massive resources, technology, and collective action to address this pandemic. Imagine if we could do the same to address what is surely a much more serious threat to our survival.
There's been so much introspection about the fundamental ways this health crisis has impacted us, it's like a window blown open into a climate-changed future. We have slowed down, focused inwards, found strength in family and community, suffered inequitably, exposed systemic flaws in our health care system, seen distant views through what had been pollution-clouded air, baked bread, planted victory gardens, radically reduced fuel consumption.
Which of these lessons will we take with us if and when we're on the other side of COVID-19 so we can both avert, and be resilient to, a changing climate?”
Shannon Jackson, a high school activist in Nottingham: “I know a lot of people had doubts about how sweeping climate legislation like the Green New Deal could be implemented. Seeing the government’s response to the coronavirus has solidified, at least in my mind, that we can definitely do this – it’s just that people are choosing not to. We can definitely take trillions of dollars out of seemingly nowhere, and that just solidifies my convictions.”
Ruby Carr, a high school activist in Nottingham: “Climate activism is kind of the one thing I do have control over and the one thing that’s remaining constant right now. It feels nice to be able to work on fixing something, because obviously you can’t activism away a virus."
Kai Parlett, a high school activist in Randolph: "The climate crisis doesn't stop just because the world is imploding from another crisis. We're still seeing fossil fuel pollution and fracking and the Granite Bridge pipeline [proposal from Liberty Utilities]. None of that stops because of the coronavirus, which should also mean that we shouldn't stop fighting those things."
Geraldine Veroneau in Salisbury: “I was a senior in high school on the first Earth Day and I couldn't be happier and more distressed that these students are carrying the torch for Mother Earth. Fifty years and change is so slow … I think this virus is an opportunity, in the face of those who said we couldn't make the lifestyle changes needed to save the planet, to stop, consider what we need to do, slow down the consumption, and rebuild thoughtfully.”
Lisa Clark in Candia: "Sorry to say the COVID crisis has left me feeling utterly hopeless and in despair with regard to climate change. Just look at the denial, lack of leadership and willingness to sacrifice the very lives of people alive right here and now for the sake of the stock market. I now realize that as a society we will not accept any economic sacrifice to mitigate the climate crisis. Before COVID-19 I used to ask myself: don't these climate deniers care about their grandchildren's lives? Now I realize they don't even have compassion for the more vulnerable among us right now. I am very sad and I can't shake it. I was more hopeful before."
Andrea Folsom in Hopkinton: “Today [on Earth Day] I’ll be doing two things: Participating in the Hopkinton town-wide cleanup, doing my small part separately – but together – with my fellow community members, and donating to local candidates that have a focus and history of involvement with climate action. It’s clear we need a fresh perspective – folks who recognize the importance, especially in New Hampshire, of protecting our local and global environment because, in part, it has such an impact on our local economy and health.”
Anne Kopp in Berlin: “I have become more aware of how often I order from online companies. I was leery of it before, but the new guilt of exposing warehouse workers (in addition to the emissions related to two day shipping) have stopped me from ordering even essentials from warehouse-style online stores.”
Alexander Apodaca in Bethlehem: “The pandemic is a test of a smaller, non-existential threat to human civilization, compared to climate change. Government failure to respond to the pandemic properly is a symptom of general lack of disaster preparedness.”
Don in Portsmouth: “As a student at the University of Pennsylvania 50 years ago, I vividly remember the first Earth Day. Hard to believe our generation did so much to ruin the earth. We lost our way as we put making money more important than doing the right thing. Hopefully the young people who are so worried about the future of the planet stick to their ideals.”