Hi there! My name is Reema, and I’m a Master’s student at UC Irvine. As a Carbon Neutrality Initiative Engagement Fellow, my role is to educate students on the sustainability efforts being made by UCI, and how they can play their part in helping their campus achieve net-zero carbon emissions by 2025. With the help of my colleagues at UCI’s Sustainability Resource Center, I have launched this blog to act not only as a platform for any voice passionate about sustainability, but to also make valuable information told from the perspectives of your university peers accessible to all. If you’d like to make a contribution yourself, don’t be afraid to reach out and send your piece to firstname.lastname@example.org !
Welcome and Happy Earth Day!
By: Reema Bzeih
Throughout history, we have seen the impact organized public protest can make when calling attention to various issues. COVID-19 has transformed everyday activity into an unfamiliar lifestyle of isolation, and although this pandemic has presented challenges to those trying to figure out how to be productive while working at home, it also reveals the emergent consequences of the erosion of living systems and the exploitation of communities on a planetary scale. Today, the world will recognize the 50th anniversary of Earth Day, and this year’s celebration in particular can act as a worldwide platform to inspire people to mobilize for a healthier future that is accessible to all.
The origin of Earth Day began in 1970; a time where the energy of the anti-war movement dominated the American public. After witnessing the extensive damages created after a major oil spill in Santa Barbara, CA, then U.S Senator Gaylord Nelson decided to take advantage of the surrounding activist atmosphere and dedicated a national day to the environment in order to raise public consciousness on air and water pollution. While Nelson is considered to be a pioneer in increasing environmental awareness, this formalization of an “Earth Day” is actually built on centuries of stewardship and environmental protection led by indigenous communities and people of color from around the world. Some examples of this have been seen with the Standing Rock protests led by the Sioux tribe to protect the surrounding drinking water sources, or Cesar Chavez’s leadership in drawing attention to the environmental and health dangers of pesticides being used in farming practices. These movements uphold a world view that humans are part of the environment rather than separate from it.
On Earth Day’s inauguration in 1970, over 20 million Americans flooded streets and college campuses protesting for systematic change to ensure protection of the environment. UC Irvine was one of these college campuses, as the all day event included rallies, guest speakers and workshops open to all students and the general public. Soon after the first Earth Day, the federal government responded and passed landmark environmental laws such as the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act and the Endangered Species Act. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) was also formed in order to help enforce regulation on pollutants and unsustainable development. Unfortunately, the public call for systematic change has recently shifted from asking for the initiation of these policies to asking to keep the original intentions of these policies; as the federal government under the current administration has been trying to weaken the environmental regulations outlined in these laws in favor of economic development and profit.
On this Earth Day, a call for a healthier future is clearer than ever. Deforestation and expansion onto natural habitats has resulted in the displacement of animals into human settlements, where the increased likelihood of infection being passed between animals and humans has led to outbreaks like COVID-19. During these times, we can look to the leadership of indigenous peoples and communities of color and be inspired to protect our environment for the sake of our well being. Today will not only reflect a demand for government officials and corporations to properly address climate change, but also recognize that it will be impossible to ensure a safe and healthy future for all if our planet is not safe and healthy.
COVID-19 has presented us with the challenge of living in uncertainty. I wanted to help the SRC create this blog because we believe the student perspective is extremely valuable when talking about system-wide change. Earth Day presents an opportunity to mobilize and motivate others to participate in something that can move us toward a healthier future, and this blog will help us keep that conversation going.
Be sure to keep checking out the SRC’s blog for weekly posts on various topics related to sustainability and healthy living!