Earth Day goes online amid coronavirus pandemic

Earth Day goes online amid coronavirus pandemic
© Greg Nash

 Instead of marches and rallies, the 50th anniversary of Earth Day will have Zoom calls and livestreams. 

The coronavirus has made it impossible for large crowds to gather safely, leaving activists to commemorate the event online.

Many had spent months planning Earth Day events, which had to be scuttled amid the outbreak, leaving them to quickly put together virtual ones.  


“As an organization whose two public pillars are marching and science, what do you do when the science tells you not to march?” asked March for Science President Matt Tranchin. 

March for Science’s inaugural event took place on Earth Day in 2017 and drew tens of thousands of people in cities across the country. The organization advocates for science-based public policies. 

This year, the event will be different.

“We are pivoting to virtual convenings as ways that we can still build up support and mobilize advocates around campaigns, initiatives and solutions around the world,” Tranchin said.

For many organizers, the coronavirus changed not just their plans, but also their message. 

The youth-led Sunrise Movement is focusing a large part of its Earth Day messaging on how a fair response to the coronavirus is necessary. Its message is going beyond environmental issues. 


“Our Earth Day plans are really focused on ensuring that we are facing the pandemic at hand as opposed to an entirely climate-centric message,” said Lily Gardner, a Sunrise Movement organizer. 

The group has been putting leadership training programs online for the past few weeks that focus on topics including the Green New Deal and organizing in the face of the pandemic.

Gardner said that prior to the coronavirus, Sunrise hubs had planned events such as mobilization in the streets.  Now, in addition to its “Sunrise School,” the group will be encouraging members of its local hubs to do livestreams as part of an event called Earth Day Live. 

 The Earth Day Live event will be a three-day livestream featuring politicians including Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-CortezAlexandria Ocasio-CortezNew York City issues Monday night curfew amid protests Engel primary challenger drops out, endorses fellow challenger Trump says he will designate antifa a terrorist organization MORE (D-N.Y.), former Vice President Al GoreAlbert (Al) Arnold GoreCNN coronavirus town hall to feature science author David Quammen, 'Empire' actress Taraji Henson Top Democratic pollster advised Biden campaign to pick Warren as VP Melania Trump to appear on CNN coronavirus town hall Thursday night MORE and former Secretary of State John KerryJohn Forbes KerryThe continuous whipsawing of climate change policy Budowsky: United Democrats and Biden's New Deal Overnight Energy: 600K clean energy jobs lost during pandemic, report finds | Democrats target diseases spread by wildlife | Energy Dept. to buy 1M barrels of oil MORE

It will also feature celebrities including actors Jane Fonda, Joaquin Phoenix and Mark Ruffalo.

The pandemic is also encouraging more groups to have national events.

“We were not planning to do something on the national scale because in normal times our volunteers are out in their community heavily during the whole month of April,” said Madeleine Para, the vice president of programs at Citizens Climate Lobby, which is putting on a virtual Earth Day this weekend. 

“In March, we started to plan this event because we saw that things are getting canceled and our volunteers are really hungry to stay connected and stay engaged,” she said.