Global Earth Day events make digital shift amid coronavirus spread

The fight for climate justice will continue online rather than in-person.
People hold signs to protest climate injustice.
Global mobilizations for environmental change and awareness will not come to a halt altogether, but rather shift to digital events in light of the coronavirus spread.

Earth Day is going to look a little different this year.

With the coronavirus pandemic continuing to spread, cities, counties, states and entire countries are taking measures to try and reduce its effects. Many have shut down businesses and have set travel restrictions, but each place is dealing with the situation differently. “Social distancing” is strongly recommended, but here in Wisconsin, Gov. Tony Evers placed a ban on gatherings of 10 or more people and will issue an order March 24 for all non-essential businesses to close in an attempt to suppress the virus spreading within state borders.

COVID-19 has also posed a challenge for what was predicted to be the largest global mobilization in history. April 22, 2020, marks the 50th anniversary of Earth Day. Madison Magazine had previously put together a list of Earth Day events taking place locally and around the globe. In light of the current situation, many of those events have been restructured or canceled. Many mobilization efforts are now taking a digital-first strategy to observe Earth Day unlike any other.

The Nelson Institute, a leader in environmental research, was scheduled to host a 50th anniversary Earth Day Conference titled “Earth Day@50: Aspiring for sustainability, striving for justice, crafting the planet.” The conference was originally planned to take place at the Monona Terrace Community and Convention Center on April 20, but will now deliver alternative programming in a free, online experience. Details are still in the works and registrants can check here for updates, but the bottom line remains that the conference will still be held.

The Nelson Institute is not the only organization shifting Earth Day events to an online platform. Kathleen Rogers, president of Earth Day Network, the global organizer of Earth Day, is encouraging people to rise up safely and responsibly for Earth Day 2020 rather than discarding the efforts all together.

“Whether it be coronavirus or our global climate crisis, we cannot shut down,” says Rogers. “Instead, we must shift our energies and efforts to new ways to mobilize the world to action.”

This action will come in the form of digital events like virtual protests, online teach-ins, social media campaigns and more. Earth Day Network will unify and track the online conversation with the hashtags #EARTHRISE and #EarthDay2020, and plans are in the making for a larger digital event to be held on April 22.

Although this might not be the Earth Day we planned for, the intent for environmental and legislative change remains intact, even in an online platform.

“We hope you will stand with us as we fight for a safer, healthier and more just future for all,” Rogers says. “Together, we can build an Earth Day unlike any other — an Earth Day that defines us as a global community, united by our challenges yet unshrinking from the bold, urgent action needed to overcome them.”

Hannah Twietmeyer is an editorial intern at Madison Magazine.