What The Older Generations Owe The Young 50 Years After The First Earth DayRoundup
tags: environmental history, Earth Day, activism, Environmental Movement
Matthew D. Lassiter is professor of history and director of the Environmental Justice HistoryLab at the University of Michigan and the co-creator, along with eight undergraduate students, of “Give Earth a Chance: Environmental Activism in Michigan.”
Fifty years ago on the first Earth Day, 20 million participants demanded immediate action on a pressing public health issue: environmental pollution. “A disease has infected our country,” the young leaders of the central organizing committee warned. “The weak are already dying. . . . It has brought smog to Yosemite, dumped garbage in the Hudson, sprayed DDT in our food, and left our cities in decay. Its carrier is man.”
While the covid-19 crisis has disrupted the planned commemorations of Earth Day 1970, the pandemic also has reinforced the urgency of its core lessons of ecological sustainability, environmental justice and the power of youth-driven grass-roots activism to challenge corporate pollution and government inaction.
Covid-19 has devastated the global economy, laid bare the ecological interdependence of our natural and human worlds and disproportionately harmed our most marginalized communities, including not only the elderly but also nonwhite and poor residents of urban centers that already suffer the most from environmental pollution and other preventable public health inequalities. Young people in the United States, although at much lower risk for the disease itself, also will face damaging consequences from the collapse of the job market in a society marked by extreme economic inequality.
Public health experts have received a rare opportunity to redirect public policy because of the dire threat the coronavirus poses. But in recent years, the U.S. government has repeatedly sidelined public health solutions for the global climate crisis and other deadly social and environmental emergencies. It’s past time to embrace the agenda of the youth-based climate strike movement, which builds on 50 years of grass-roots activism for environmental justice and sustainability.
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