Sustainable Missoula: For Earth Day, let’s commit to creating a more vibrant future

Zeta’s Earth Day chalk.

As the 50th Anniversary of Earth Day approaches, we are in the midst of a global pandemic which has led to “the great pause.” A very difficult but unique moment where nearly the entire globe has stopped business as usual, and the promises and systems based on endless growth are cracking apart. Much of it is awful, tragic, and could have been avoided, but there is light shining through.

Let’s not miss it or forget it.

While the federal response to the cataclysmic COVID-19 pandemic can be categorized as “political” at best, and a complete failure at worst, state and local responses to the COVID-19 crisis have been largely competent, cooperative, compassionate and creative.

Communities and states have rallied in powerful ways, forming mutual aid groups overnight and expanding public services, despite facing tough conditions and rapidly rising need as the number of sick and unemployed have skyrocketed.

In Montana, we’ve had our state and local officials show coherent and strong leadership, taking smart, pre-emptive actions to stop the spread of the virus and keep us safe (though we challenge Governor Bullock’s decision to proceed with Keystone XL).

We’ve seen science leaders develop vital testing media needed to improve testing access here in the state, seeking little to no financial gain from their efforts. Local alliances have made 3D-printer-produced reusable masks for health-care workers, churned out cloth masks, and created free delivery of groceries for vulnerable community members. Neighbors are calling on neighbors to make sure they’re okay. We greet each other on the street more often, with comforting smiles, asking total strangers, sincerely and deeply: “How are you holding up?”

While the positive responses to this crisis cannot erase the massive losses, grieving, and economic devastation that has occurred, and is yet to occur, they can become our North Star for moving forward toward an equitable, healthy, thriving future.

In the United States, our decades-long neglect of the social safety net and diminishment of science have proven in this crisis to be a deadly and costly combination. Both trends must be abandoned as we rebuild systems to be more effective and resilient in the  face of new challenges including the growing climate crisis.

Poster created by Luke Orsborne

So instead of “getting back to normal” perhaps we should ask “where do we go from here?” As Margaret Bullitt-Jonas and Leah Schade write in an article for Earthday.org, “What would it look like if we emerged from this pandemic with a fierce new commitment to take care of each other? What would it look like to absorb the lessons of pandemic and to fight for a world in which everyone can thrive?”

Let’s use our innate impulse to help each other to create a future where our shared humanity is our guide; where everyone is taken care of–no matter what–not because we are perpetually in crisis, but because we want to avoid crisis–the trauma and the costs–altogether.

Let’s build a future where being safe and well-cared for–i.e. fed, housed, educated, and healthy–is a human right, and let this right become our main priority, along with the right to a clean environment. Let these ideas guide us as we rebuild our economy and communities and our neighborhoods.

Let’s build a more just society, a clean economy, and a livable future for all, where we continue to conduct ourselves as community members and citizens first, and empty consumerism disappears.

Fifty years ago, the first Earth Day brought attention to environmental injustice and helped catalyze citizen engagement and enact landmark legislation to protect our air and water. This year’s Earth Day calls for a similar seismic shift in awareness and activism to address the crises we face today.

To celebrate Earth Day this year, let’s hold our space on the Earth as if it mattered to everyone, because we have seen so palpably during this pandemic that it does. We can stay home to help, and we can move forward with this same community spirit in mind.

As we move forward, let’s stay connected through mutual aid, creative community efforts, and harness our collective power for systemic change.

Here in Missoula, though we are not able to gather in person, various groups are creating ways for our community to engage in this work. From now through April 22, make a pledge to the future and join in these Missoula Earth Day activities:

  • EARTH DAY ART FOR ALL – Healthy People, Healthy Community, Healthy Planet
    Co-sponsored by Climate Smart Missoula and Families for a Livable Climate,
    JOIN US between now and Earth Day for a community-wide art project! Create a banner, window hanging, or sidewalk chalk art – anything for your home, lawn or apartment that has to do with Earth Day. Send a photo to alli@climatesmartmissoula.org and we’ll curate a virtual art show. And post on social media with the hashtag #MissoulaEarthDay. RSVP and spread the word on Facebook!
  • TAKE THE PLEDGE FOR HEALTHY COMMUNITIES & A HEALTHY PLANET
    This Earth Day, Montanans pledge to stand together, though physically apart, to advocate and build more resilient communities and a healthy planet. Make a pledge to stay connected and make change, and then join us on April 22 for the rally. Sign now!
  • EARTH DAY VIRTUAL RALLY – Wednesday, April 22 – 12 p.m.
    The community is invited to participate in an online rally at 12 p.m. on April 22, with speakers and performers from across the state, covering a variety of topics related to both the climate crisis and the pandemic, as well as how the two are interrelated, and what you can do to slow these rapidly accelerating crises. Pledge to join Earth Day events and get involved at this link or RSVP via Facebook, to receive online rally log-in information. 

Winona Bateman coordinates Families for a Livable ClimateThis Sustainable Missoula column is brought to you – via the Missoula Current – every Friday by Climate Smart Missoula and Home ReSource.

Upcoming events and what we’re reading and doing amidst these challenging times:

This column usually ends with a list of community events to engage with and go to. COVID-19 has postponed or cancelled most events, although some have moved on-line. We are all trying our best to redefine what it means to bring people together.

Here we offer ideas about ways to stay involved and healthy, followed by articles and perspectives that we believe are particularly valuable. If you like these readings, consider signing up for Climate Smart’s eNewsletter here. And sign up for Home ReSource’s eNews via their homepage here.

Don’t miss it: The International Wildlife Film Festival is going virtual. April 18-25, Find out more and join in here. And check out the Earth Day short film block anytime on April 22.

Individuals can join the April 18 Climate Rise with Climate Ride. Learn more here.

Celebrate the Earth by choosing sustainable transportation! From Women Bike Missoula: Put a Bike for the Earth sign on your bike and  pledge to bike for all your errands and also for recreation. Alone or in small groups, take a bike tour of the city looking for yard displays, including those supporting  community and health workers.

Share your creativity! In addition to our virtual art show (see above), written words or messages for Earth Day are being collected by the Jeannette Rankin Peace Center here. And MUD hopes you’ll share how you’re celebrating with their Earth Day Challenge here.

Take part in Earth Challenge 2020 – a worldwide citizen science effort in honor of the 50th Anniversary of Earth Day.

Channel your coronavirus cabin fever into fun for a cause with BINGO for the Climate Activist – with suggestions of how to stay sane and stay connected in this time – if you get a BINGO we’ll donate to the Missoula Food Bank in your honor!

What we’re reading at Climate Smart Missoula:

Why care about Earth Day during coronavirus?

6 lessons coronavirus can teach us about climate change

What plants can teach us about surviving a pandemic