Six months to Earth Day: Global leaders kick off countdown
October 22, 2019
Today, October 22, begins the six-month countdown to Earth Day 2020 and the 50th anniversary of Earth Day. To mark the occasion, Earth Day Network hosted a global briefing call with some of the world’s leading voices for the planet.
The call included speakers who represented the youth climate movement, human rights campaigns, artists, faith groups and indigenous perspectives. Denis Hayes, the global coordinator of the first Earth Day in 1970 and board chair emeritus of Earth Day Network, kicked off the conversation with a passionate call to action.
“On Wednesday, April 22, 1970 — the first Earth Day — 20 million angry people launched an environmental revolution,” said Hayes. “Next spring, the 50th anniversary of Earth Day — the core of which we are calling EARTHRISE — will be vastly larger, more diverse, more global and more consequential.”
EARTHRISE is an intergenerational global movement for climate action that will mobilize around the world on April 22, 2020. Driven by youth climate groups in coordination with Earth Day Network, EARTHRISE will combine a half-century of action with the energy and demands of today’s global student strikes.
“The climate crisis is continuing to get more urgent,” said youth climate activist Alexandria Villaseñor on the call. “Every new dire report that comes out about the timeline we’re on to combat the climate crisis only just makes our activism become even louder.”
Bill McKibben, author and co-founder of 350.org, also joined the call. 350.org has been organizing climate rallies around the world for several years now, in conjunction with youth climate strikes and coordinated shutdowns to pressure world leaders to act on climate change.
“We need people out in numbers like we’ve never seen before,” said McKibben. “Earth Day 2020 marks the beginning of the last crucial decade.”
For over a century, industries and fossil fuel companies have spewed greenhouse gases unchecked into our atmosphere. Meanwhile, politicians did little to nothing to curb emissions, despite decades of knowledge of the deteriorating effects on health and the environment.
Now, the proverbial chickens are coming home to roost: Last year, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released its special report on 1.5 degrees of warming, which warned that the world has until 2030 to halve our greenhouse gas emissions to limit the worst effects of climate catastrophe.
The report, which was reviewed by thousands of scientists, stated that as the planet warms, climate change won’t just cause warmer seasons; it’ll spur a cascade of unrelenting extreme weather events, droughts and mass migrations — as well as mass refugees and casualties.
“Today, climate change constitutes a mass death penalty facing all the people on this planet,” said Kumi Naidoo, secretary-general of Amnesty International, on the call. “The terrible injustice of climate means those that contributed least to the problem, of emissions for example, are the ones paying the first and most brutal price.
“Our leaders … need to stop playing political poker with the futures of our children,” continued Naidoo, “and they need to act to the urgency that the situation calls for.”
With six months till Earth Day 2020, Earth Day Network and thousands of its partners will launch major announcements across some of EDN’s campaigns for action: EARTHRISE, Earth Challenge 2020, Foodprints for the Future, Artists for the Earth, the Great Global Cleanup.
In the face of challenges as immense as climate change, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed or powerless. And though the challenge before us is great, it’s not insurmountable. Many climate change problems are global, but many solutions also lie squarely with the actions of individuals.
“Each and every one of us has the power to make a positive impact three or more times a day with every food choice we make,” said former cyclist and Olympic medalist Dotsie Bausch on the call.
As the founder and executive director of the nonprofit Switch4Good, Bausch advocates for dairy-free and plant-based diets. She’s also an ambassador for Foodprints for the Future, Earth Day Network’s campaign that connects plant-based food choices with climate solutions.
“We do still have a fighting chance to slow down the pace of climate change and minimize the drain on our natural resources,” said Bausch.
Though schedule restraints prevented her from joining the call, Hilda Heine, president of the Marshall Islands, declared her support for Earth Day 2020 via email, marking the date as a key moment for global and civic mobilization on climate change.
Heine and her administration also declared the 50th anniversary of Earth Day — April 22, 2020 — as the deadline for countries to submit their next, more ambitious, climate action plans under the United Nations’ 2015 Paris Agreement on Climate Change. The Paris Agreement is the international climate agreement that aims to limit temperature increase to “well below 2 degrees Celsius” by the end of the century. With current plans submitted by U.N. member states, we are on pace to greatly overshoot this two-degree mark.
Per the terms of the Paris Agreement, nations are expected to increase the ambition of national climate commitments every five years, with the first deadline at the end of 2020. President Heine’s announcement would put her fellow leaders on a much shorter timeline for action, with new plans in six, not twelve, months.
The call Tuesday morning brought together voices from all over the world, representing diverse interests and perspectives. These voices, and the movements they represent, can drive us into a new era of activism, one that demands a new way forward.
On Wednesday, April 22, 2020, EARTHRISE will mobilize across the globe, engaging students and young people as well as supporting parents, school administrators, faith leaders, businesses, policymakers and civic organizations to demand immediate action on climate change.
“When a billion angry people — representing all nations, all ages, all races, all sexes, all religions, all professions — come together to demand radical change, the fossil fuel titans and political lackeys who bought us this mess had better run for cover,” said Denis Hayes on the call. “EARTHRISE will mark a new beginning.”