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Eco-Justice Notes
The E-mail Commentary from Eco-Justice Ministries

Get Ready for Earth Day 2020
distributed 2/28/20 - ©2020

Earth Day is 45 days away -- that's just under eight weeks. How will you, and your congregation, mark that occasion?

Will you "celebrate" Earth Day? If so, there are gazillions of options for cheerful greeting cards that say "Happy Earth Day" that you can send to family and friends. Although, as I look at the state of our planet, happy is not the emotion that is stirred in my heart and soul.

Will you "observe" the historic date? That verb has connotations of sitting in the bleachers while a parade goes by. It is a passive response. Many churches observe this date on the calendar with the only worship service of the entire year that has a specific focus on environmental themes. If this is just a way to check off the annual obligation, your community might be better off skipping it.

Will you "participate" in Earth Day? Now we're getting to some level of activity and engagement. Participation can cover the range from signing a petition, to being arrested in an act of civil disobedience. I'm hoping that your level of participation -- individually, or with a community -- will be significant. There are a number of links and suggestions below about ways to be active on Earth Day and the related occasions before and after.

Most importantly, I hope the question about how to mark the occasion of Earth Day leads you to think beyond a few days in mid-April. What is desperately needed is an ongoing, vibrant and assertive movement for social and cultural change. If April 22 can be a date that helps focus and energize the movement, that persistent activism can be something to celebrate.

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This year is the 50th anniversary of the first Earth Day in 1970, and I'm pretty sure that a substantial number of Eco-Justice Notes readers are old enough to have some recollection of that groundbreaking event. (I was a senior in high school, and I helped to organize some of the "teach in" events.)

The Earth Day Network has a few paragraphs on the history of Earth Day, which makes several important points. The 1970 project "was a unified response to an environment in crisis." 10% of the US population took part in protests, and that outpouring "is credited with launching the modern environmental movement." Within just a few years, many of the nation's most significant environmental laws were passed with strong bi-partisan support.

Try to imagine a comparable turnout for today, with 32 million people in the US joining in coordinated projects, rallies and protests. If you can begin to imagine such a thing, then also imagine the kind of organizing and recruiting that would be needed to stimulate such a massive outpouring, and decide how to join in those efforts.

Looking back across a half-century of environmental activism, I do see a critically important difference between 1970 and 2020. The first Earth Day brought together people with a wide range of environmental concerns, from roadside litter, to factories and cars belching air pollution, to rivers and lakes so polluted that they caught fire and with fish unsafe to eat (if there were any fish at all), to oil spills from coastal drilling. It was a broadly inclusive movement, educating and acting on a lot of issues. This year's event map from the Earth Day Network does have that mix of clean-up projects, film showings, and rallies.

But in 2020, there is a strong emphasis on the climate crisis. The movement these days isn't about a lot of local problems. There is one overarching issue that captivates our attention and that demands our action. The climate crisis is the dramatic focus of Earth Day and the contemporary movement for environmental justice.

Creation Justice Ministries always produces Earth Day resources for churches. Their theme for 2020 is "The Fierce Urgency of Now." The free packet of resources includes suggestions for taking action and liturgy materials, but the bulk of the packet is a theological reflection about urgency and kairos -- the fullness of time when (in the words of Martin Luther King, Jr.) "history is pregnant, ready to give birth to a great idea and a great movement." The recognition of Earth's climate crisis drives home "a ten-year window of opportunity" which calls churches to ongoing leadership, action and programming. I strongly urge your congregation to use this study and action guide.

From everything that I've seen and heard, the core of substantial activism around Earth Day this year will be tied to the youth-led climate strikes. Building on the foundation of events like last September's strike -- with 650,000 people taking part in 1,300 events in the US -- #StrikeWithUs is organizing three distinctive days of action in April.

  • On Earth Day, Wednesday April 22, thousands of strikes are planned across the US. Most of those will "will center and hear from Indigenous people and people of color and reflect on our personal connections to the earth."
  • Thursday, April 23, will focus on community action, especially dealing with financial activism. Young people on college campuses will be demanding their schools divest from fossil fuels, while adults target financial institutions with a clear ask: quit profiting off the destruction of our planet.
  • Friday, April 24, will focus on escalated actions targeting elected officials, with a demand that the climate crisis is addressed urgently.

The Strike With Us website will have a listing and map of these events. Check back there to find out what's happening near you, and make plans to participate. Details on specific actions will also be spread by the organizations included in the youth coalition, the adult coalition, and the many movement partners (where Eco-Justice Ministries shows up, way down at the bottom of the page!). As April approaches, Eco-Justice Ministries and those other organizations will be continuing to recruit your participation, and providing ways for individuals, congregations and communities to join the movement.

For example, in mid-March the 2020 report "Banking on Climate Change" will give updated figures on "the role of banks, asset owners and managers, and insurance companies in fueling climate change," and "the leverage to be had by pressuring financiers to exit fossil fuels and pivot to financing the transition to a decarbonized and more just world." Eco-Justice Ministries is endorsing the report (as we did last year), and we'll share information about how that data can shape financial activism, on April 23, and other occasions.

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April 22, 2020, is the 50th anniversary of Earth Day -- and we still need "a unified response to an environment in crisis." It is not enough to celebrate or observe the event. We are called to participate in movement building and activism throughout that week, and around the year.

Clear your schedule for the climate strike events on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday of Earth Week. Join local events if you can. Take part in political activism with calls, letters and meetings targeting local and national politicians. Show your support -- in conversations and social media -- for those who are engaging in civil disobedience and other substantial actions.

If you're involved in a faith community, push to make sure that your congregation is engaged, hopefully for more than one day. Use the resources from Creation Justice Ministries to study and plan ways of faithful participation in this kairos moment. Plan now for how to bring climate justice into the worship life of the congregation, and how to get church members involved in activism.

We don't have another 50 years to nibble at environmental action. Within ten years, dramatic change has to be underway, and significant reductions in climate impacts will need to be accomplished. Recognizing "the fierce urgency of now," use this Earth Day to get involved, and to deepen your involvement.

Shalom!

Peter Sawtell
Executive Director
Eco-Justice Ministries

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