As schools and businesses worldwide continued to close down Tuesday due to the coronavirus pandemic, global organizers announced the first ever Digital Earth Day, an online mobilization planned for April 22 to mark the 50 years since an estimated 20 million people took to the streets to demand greater protections for the planet.
"The last few weeks have also demonstrated that our society, even at the international level, is capable of mass shifts across all sectors to meet a crisis head-on. We must apply the same scale and urgency of our response to climate change."
—Kathleen Rogers, Earth Day Network
"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,” said Earth Day Network president Kathleen Rogers, whose group organizes the annual worldwide day of action, in a statement Tuesday.
Earth Day Network noted that some communities across the globe may choose to still hold in-person events, and urged organizers and participants to follow recommendations and advice about COVID-19 from the World Health Organization (WHO) and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
"Whether it be coronavirus or our global climate crisis, we cannot shut down," said Rogers. "Instead, we must shift our energies and efforts to new ways to mobilize the world to action."
— Earth Day Network (@EarthDayNetwork) March 17, 2020
The announcement came as the global number of COVID-19 infections surpassed 185,000. Since the first cases were reported in China late last year, the virus has killed over 7,300 people. Governments around the world have struggled to manage both the public health and economic problems caused by the ongoing outbreak.
"Our current pandemic demonstrates that governments must embrace science early. As we see now, many governments were slow to respond or even indifferent about the science of the coronavirus pandemic," Rogers said. "But the last few weeks have also demonstrated that our society, even at the international level, is capable of mass shifts across all sectors to meet a crisis head-on. We must apply the same scale and urgency of our response to climate change."
Climate scientists and world leaders continue to warn that the international community is not taking adequate steps to curb planet-heating emissions and limit global temperature rise—such as phasing out fossil fuels and overhauling agriculture—and is thus endangering the planet and all species that call it home.
"Solidarity, science, and common sense will get us through any crisis. Let's keep that in mind."
—Greta Thunberg, Fridays for Future
"We hope you will stand with us as we fight for a safer, healthier and more just future for all," Rogers added. "Together, we can build an Earth Day unlike any other—an Earth Day that defines us as a global community, united by our challenges yet unshrinking from the bold, urgent action needed to overcome them."
Earth Day Network's statement emphasized that despite the shift to a digital gathering, the goal of the annual event remains the same. Denis Hayes, board chair emeritus of the group and the principal national organizer of the first Earth Day, explained the intentions of those who joined the inaugural action in 1970.
"When 20 million Americans participated in the first Earth Day, they believed the warnings of scientists, as did the U.S. Congress," Hayes said. "In a decade of bipartisan support for science, Congress passed a set of forward-thinking laws that protected human health, species, and the planet."
Along with the April 22 mobilization, Earth Day Network is partnering with Exponential Roadmap and We Don't Have Time for Earth Day Week April 20–25, featuring the third annual #WeDontHaveTime online climate conference. There will be more than 20 hours of live talks and events.
Coronavirus? Climate Crisis? Earth Day 50 years? With so many physical events closing down - we're stepping up to show that online conferences are the future! Join us online on April 20-25th. https://t.co/FxWhqwrVF0#EarthDay #WeDontHaveTime #ClimateStrikeOnline pic.twitter.com/ytmEe06tEs
— We Don’t Have Time (@WeDontHaveTime0) March 15, 2020
According to Earth Day Network, the concluding event that was set to held April 25 on the National Mall has been postponed to October 24-25, 2020 to mark Earth Day's half birthday.
The digital mobilization announcement also comes after Fridays for Future youth climate strikers worldwide held a digital strike last week in response to public health experts' recommendations for containing the new coronavirus.
Fridays for Future founder Greta Thunberg had told fellow strikers ahead of the digital event that "we must unite behind experts and science," aligning her coronavirus commentary with her statements on the climate emergency.