CORONAVIRUS

Earth Day goes virtual this year, with calls for action

Climate change solutions could provide stability during pandemics, Cedar Rapids Sen. Rob Hogg says

Kids and parents hold colored umbrellas representing species diversity as part of EcoFest during an April 2018 Earth Day
Kids and parents hold colored umbrellas representing species diversity as part of EcoFest during an April 2018 Earth Day celebration in the NewBo District in Cedar Rapids. The 50th anniversary of Earth Day went virtual this year because of coronavirus restrictions. (The Gazette)
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The solutions to climate change also would bring diversity and economic sustainability during a global crisis like the novel coronavirus pandemic, Sen. Rob Hogg said during a virtual Earth Day rally Wednesday evening.

Hogg, D-Cedar Rapids, admonished the Iowa governor’s office for not closing down meatpacking plants experiencing outbreaks of COVID-19 in favor of farmers who otherwise might have to euthanize animals destined for slaughter.

“This idea that we’re forcing people to work in dangerous conditions because otherwise we’d have to kill millions of hogs — that’s so offensive to me in so many ways,” Hogg said. “We have to build a local food system in this state that can provide the food needs for everyone here.”

Almost 60 Iowans attended the virtual Earth Day rally hosted on Zoom by Environment Iowa and co-hosted by a dozen other environmental activist groups, including the Sunrise Movement in Cedar Rapids. Environment Iowa and the Sunrise Movement advocate for political action on climate change.

This is the 50th year of Earth Day, which was first celebrated in the U.S. in 1970 to increase public awareness of the world’s environmental problems.

On this Earth Day, the first priority should be survival in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, Hogg said.

Hogg said it feels like the U.S. government is failing to protect its citizens from the virus and is not getting essential workers the personal protective equipment they need.

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“When I hear about how woefully unprepared the Trump administration was for this pandemic because of staff reductions and budget cuts ... let’s make sure we elect leaders who will invest in public health infrastructure, research, supplies ... so we are ready in case of a future pandemic,” Hogg said.

Other speakers were climate activist Lilly Hill, a student at Summit Middle School in Johnston, and photographer David Thoreson, an Iowa native.

Hill, who said she wants to be president someday, is working with her city council members to create a climate action plan for her city. She urged people to take up 50 actions for the 50th year of Earth Day.

Hill suggested composting, not using straws or plastic and, once the pandemic has subsided, using reusable grocery bags instead of plastic bags.

“Ever since I heard about animals dying because of climate change, like the polar bears, and the glaciers falling, causing sea levels to rise, it’s always been very important to me,” Hill said. “Whatever I can, I want to do it.”

Being a climate activist is lonely, Hill said. While some of her friends are supportive, others think climate change is a joke or her hobby, she said.

“For me, it’s life,” Hill said.

Earth and human life is being threatened by climate change, said Thoreson, the first American to sail the Northwest Passage in both directions.

“I think it connects to the coronavirus crisis we’re in right now because it’s a crisis of science, and we have to act to get out of the crisis we’re in,” Thoreson said.

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The most “eco-friendly” impact a person can have to combat climate change is voting for lawmakers who takes climate change seriously and will take action, said Jason Snell, with the Sunrise Movement.

“We have to find some sort of way to live in harmony with the environment that sustains us,” Snell said. “The consequences of not living in harmony is we will be destroyed. A lot of the damage is permanent. ... If we act now, we can keep the climate we have today, including the current level of risk and damage.”

Comments: (319) 368-8664; grace.king@thegazette.com

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