Who could have imagined 51 years ago today on the first Earth Day, that our country would be in the 13th month of a tenacious pandemic that affects every aspect of our lives? Organizers of the first Earth Day sought to raise awareness about the degradation of our environment, and to encourage us individually and collectively to take action to protect the planet we inhabit.
During last year’s 50th anniversary, we were preoccupied with sickness and death, job losses and school closings, suspension of in-person Mass and celebration of the sacraments, shortages of toilet paper and hand sanitizer. We are wiser this year, more aware of our interdependence and our absolute dependence on God, the creator of our planet.
Pope Francis and his predecessors, Pope Benedict XVI and Pope John Paul II, all spoke and wrote about humanity’s interconnection with one another, with God and with all of creation. Pope Benedict, in his 2010 message for World Day of Peace, said, “The Church has a responsibility towards creation, and she considers it her duty to exercise that responsibility in public life, in order to protect earth, water and air as gifts of God the Creator meant for everyone, and above all to save mankind from the danger of self-destruction.” Pope Francis’ encyclical “Laudato Si” inspired, in part the Global Catholic Climate Movement. Watch this newspaper for updates on the initiative.
Our interconnectedness clearly played out in the coronavirus pandemic, which spread swiftly around the world and spared no one on this planet. Print and digital media contain many stories, articles and graphics about the threats to and the wellbeing of Earth. Our mounting, disposable waste is a byproduct of the pandemic that reinforced a “to-go,” “single-use” culture.
A Sept. 23, 2020, article in science.org states, “At the regional and national levels, prioritization of human health over environmental health has led to the delay or reversal of policies aiming to reduce single-use plastic. As a result, demand for recycled plastic material has dropped, the profit margins of recycling have decreased, and the environmental footprint of plastics has increased. We need urgent and coordinated commitment to circular economy approaches, including recycling practices and strict policies against plastic pollution. Companies should continue efforts to curtail virgin plastic use and increase plastic recycling to live up to their corporate social and environmental responsibilities. Without a concerted effort to protect the environment during and after the pandemic, we are unlikely to meet the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals.”
Meanwhile, a study reported in the U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health (tinyurl.com/t5mzxfdt) in September 2020 found that COVID-19 has resulted in positive and negative effects on the environment. The study “indicates that the pandemic situation significantly improves air quality in different cities across the world, reduces GHGs (Greenhouse Gas) emission, lessens water pollution and noise, and reduces the pressure on the tourist destinations, which may assist with the restoration of the ecological system. In addition, there are also some negative consequences of COVID-19, such as increase of medical waste, haphazard use and disposal of disinfectants, masks, and gloves; and burden of untreated wastes continuously endangering the environment.”
The study proposes strategies to foster global environmental sustainability, such as sustainable industrialization, use of green and public transportation and renewable energy sources (solar, wind, hydropower, geothermal heat and biomass). Also, ensuring proper treatment of industrial and municipal wastewater before discharge, and recycling and reusing industrial and municipal waste. Proper management of hazardous and infectious medical waste should adhere to World Health Organization 2020 guidelines. Behavioral changes are necessary, such as consuming locally grown foods, making compost from food waste, switching off or unplugging electronic devices when not used and riding a bicycle instead of a car for shorter distances. International collaboration is essential.
What are some practical, doable first steps?
• Visit Project Drawdown and take their Climate Solutions 101 course (tinyurl.com/2x6dc6dn)
• Sign up for the Ignatian Solidarity Network’s 21-Day Catholic Enviro Justice Challenge (tinyurl.com/3nxujk2x).
• Participate in the Mississippi Rivers Cities and Towns Initiative, part of a global campaign to track plastic waste. People living along the Mississippi River use a mobile app to catalogue the location and type of litter flowing into the river. The “data collected will generate a critical baseline for decision-makers in both the private and public sectors, against which to judge the success of their efforts to reduce plastic pollution flowing into the river and to inspire effective policy action” (Quad-City Times, 4-18-21).
Other ways to care for our common home:
• Visit Iowa Interfaith Power & Light website (iowaipl.org/) for resources and action alerts.
• Participate in an ecumenical, virtual prayer service, April 27, 10 a.m., hosted by Our Lady of the Prairie Retreat in Wheatland. Pray for the Earth with fellow Christians. Call (563) 336-8414 or email email@example.com to register for the free event.
• Participate in “Prioritizing the Climate Crisis,” April 28, 4-5 p.m. The Franciscan Peace Center-Clinton offers this virtual “Living Room Conversation.” Consider these questions: What effective steps can we take individually, nationally, and globally to address the climate crisis? What changes will have the greatest impact on slowing climate change? How can we get more people involved in bringing about the changes needed? Register at tinyurl.com/vs2d9mks for the free event.
• Visit the Earth Day website for information about its history and the initiatives under way to “drive positive action for our planet” (earthday.org/earth-day-2021/).
Barb Arland-Fye, Editor