Earth Day in the Midst of the COVID-19 Pandemic

I am pleased to host a guest blog on Earth Day from Claudio Ferreira Ferraz, BC Law LLM ’15, of Ferraz, Pinto, Lino & Nemer. As a student, Claudio taught in BC Law’s unique seminar program, where senior law students teach their own individualized course in environmental law and policy to Boston College undergraduates, under the supervision of BC Law professor Zygmunt Plater.

This post was also published today at the Bar Association of Espirito Santo State, in Brazil.

Claudio Ferreira Ferraz, BC Law LLM ’15

On April 22, the Earth Day is celebrated all over the world.

The idea started 50 years ago in the United States, when activist Senator Gaylord Nelson, influenced by the environmental disaster caused by the oil spill in Santa Barbara, California, in 1969, decided to unite the energy of student movements against the Vietnam War and the growth of environmental awareness in the country

Nelson initially devised an educational event on university campuses aimed at fostering academic discussions focused on environment protection. He chose April 22nd as the ideal date to maximize student participation, since it was a Wednesday, that is, in the middle of the week, and it was located between Spring Break and the final exams.

The positive repercussions of Earth Day went far beyond Nelson’s initial expectations. More than 2,000 universities participated, along with thousands of primary and secondary schools and communities, large and small. Fifth Avenue in New York was closed and Congress stopped when two-thirds of its members spoke at events.

Earth Day has inspired millions of Americans to take to the streets, parks and auditoriums to speak out against the growing negative impacts of the lack of environmental protection. For many, Earth Day marks the beginning of the modern environmental movement.

Other important events preceded Earth Day marking an emerging concern for the environment in the United States, such as the creation of the conservation group Sierra Club by President Theodore Roosevelt, in the late nineteenth century, the creation of Parks and National Forests during the President Franklin Delano Roosevelt administration, the movement against nuclear tests in 1954 and the remarkable edition, in 1962, of the book Silent Spring, where biologist and writer Rachel Carson warned about the danger of the use of pesticides, among others – but none of these events individually o on the aggregate had the capacity to unite the most diverse groups that individually struggled against isolated events (such as oil spills, air pollution, construction of power plants, dumping of toxic waste, pesticides, construction of highways in conservation areas, extinction species and deforestation) in a single voice that materialized a broad awareness for emerging environmental policy and put concern for environmental conservation as a national priority.

Earth Day in 1970 reached a rare political consensus, with the support of Republicans and Democrats, rich and poor, urban dwellers and farmers, business and labor leaders. That same year, as a result of the debates and political climate that took place after April 22, the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA – Environmental Protection Agency) was created and the first North American environmental protection laws were enacted.

In 1990, Earth Day was internationalized, mobilizing 200 million people in 141 countries and raising environmental issues to the world stage. On that occasion, a major boost was given to recycling efforts across the world and paved the way for the 1992 United Nations Conference on Environment and Development in Rio de Janeiro.

The importance of April 22 was finally recognized by the United Nations in 2009, when the organization instituted “International Mother Earth Day” on the same date.

Today, April 22, 2020, there is little to celebrate. Humanity is going through a moment of great challenge. If the threats arising from the phenomenon of climate change on earth were not enough, we now face an enemy that, unlike the first, no one can deny its existence: the pandemic of COVID-19 (Corona Virus Disease 2019), which is clearly related to the health of our ecosystem.

The interference of man, which affects biodiversity and the level of protection of nature, can increase the transmission of infectious diseases from animals to humans (zoonotic diseases), as occurred with COVID-19. According to data released by the United Nations, 75% of new infectious diseases that arise in humans come from animals. In addition, an unbalanced environment is fertile soil for the spread of diseases as serious as, or even worse than, COVID-19.

In the midst of the pandemic, issues such as health, life and the economy, that always guided discussions around the environment, are on the top agenda. If mankind had any doubts about the need of changing its behavior and lifestyle as a matter of survival (largely because the existence of the phenomenon of climate change is still questioned by many, incredible as it may seem), the arrival of COVID-19 seems to have clarified this inexorable situation for the skeptics.

We now have a concrete, indisputable enemy, and mankind will be forced to drastically alter its way of life.

We can already read on social networks many predictions of what life on earth will be like in the post-pandemic period, some of them imagining the digital transformation and the “new normal” with people getting used to being cloistered and away from large gatherings, all as a way of preparation for an inevitable and new pandemic every decade.

What matters, however, on this Earth Day, is to think about what we can do so that this concrete enemy does not visit us periodically. One answer may lie in the old and good philosophy of environmental movements. The world needs to slow down and perhaps shrink. Humankind needs new habits and a profound reassessment of values ​​and cultures, because unbridled development costs us too much.

It is always worth remembering, Mother Earth does not need us. It will survive even if it becomes an inappropriate environment for our survival.

Happy Earth Day…

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