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Virus means Earth Day has never been so relevant on 50th anniversary

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Primary school students wearing face masks to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) touch a globe with their eyes covered during a class for the upcoming Earth Day, in Donghai county of Lianyungang, Jiangsu province, China. Photo: REUTERS

Primary school students wearing face masks to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) touch a globe with their eyes covered during a class for the upcoming Earth Day, in Donghai county of Lianyungang, Jiangsu province, China. Photo: REUTERS

REUTERS

Primary school students wearing face masks to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) touch a globe with their eyes covered during a class for the upcoming Earth Day, in Donghai county of Lianyungang, Jiangsu province, China. Photo: REUTERS

The 50th anniversary of the first Earth Day takes place today at a time when oil is of so little value it can't be given away, when streets are free of cars and congestion, and the air is cleaner than it has been for decades.

And yet the Earth has never been more imperilled.

The immediate impacts of Covid-19 offer a tantalising view of how the world would be now if everything learned since 1970 had been put into practice, and how it could be if we now act fast and unitedly.

Environmental groups are mostly taking the forward-looking view. 'There isn't time to lose mulling over time lost' is the prevailing attitude.

There are countless events taking place, showcasing projects, explaining ideas and encouraging engagement in the effort needed to stall climate change, preserve nature and ultimately save ourselves.

They are largely, unavoidably, online but no less ambitious for that.

Some of them are twee: see #hugatreenotme. They are fun: have a go at #ArtForEarth. They are erudite: tune in to Future Earth Ireland's series of discussions.

They are political: follow the Stop Climate Chaos Coalition's work or join Friends of the Earth Ireland's mass 'Call a TD' event later today. They are powerful: listen to Jane Goodall's 'don't give up' message.

Most importantly, the Earth Day organisers stress, they are not just for today. "Earth day is every day and everywhere" is their motto.

And that includes in the midst of a pandemic. Climate and environment ministers from 17 EU member states, including Ireland, have now signed a letter demanding a green recovery in the rebuilding phase post-pandemic. They want to ensure that climate action is central to the investment plans and aid packages to be drawn up in the weeks and months ahead.

The glass-half-full interpretation says it is great to see such focus.

The glass-half-empty version says it is worrying they felt that big industry and competing priorities might sway the European Commission to push elements of the much-trumpeted European Green Deal aside. The European Environmental Bureau has also released satellite imagery showing air pollution creeping back into post-lockdown China.

Meanwhile, US President Donald Trump tweeted: "We will never let the great US Oil & Gas Industry down" as he pledged to secure companies and jobs "long into the future".

Earth Day has never been so relevant.

Irish Independent