On the eve of Earth Day (22 April), the Environmental Coordinator for the Anglican Church of southern Africa, the Revd Canon Rachel Mash, considers the effects of the global Covid-19 closedown on the environment.
Fifty years ago on the first Earth Day, 20 million Americans took to the streets, to demonstrate against oil spills, air pollution and the extinction of wildlife. Fifty years later and more than two billion people globally are in lock down. What is the meaning of Earth day for us, faced with the Coronavirus?
Firstly: the Coronavirus is not a natural disaster, it is an ecological disaster. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the US national public health institute, estimates that three-quarters of the “new or emerging” diseases that infect human beings originated in wild or domesticated animals.
Ebola, swine flu, avian flu and mad cow disease were all warning calls. The more we use unhealthy animal agricultural practices and encroach on the natural eco-system, the more frequent such diseases will become. The World Wildlife Fund says that pandemics are the boomerang effect of destruction of eco-systems.
Secondly: in the words of Pope Francis we share one common home. We are realising the we are part of a web of life. Coronavirus teaches us that our safety depends on the actions of others just as climate change shows us that the future of the whole Earth depends on actions of all nations. Whatever befalls the earth befalls the sons and daughters of Earth.
Thirdly: change is possible. We have seen unprecedented change in lifestyles, transport, and debt relief for the poor. The Earth is breathing and the skies are blue. We have rediscovered the value of silence and the treasure of creation.
The world we go back to could be different, it is a chance to reset our values and priorities. Our economy, our society and our relationship with nature – these are all things we have been made to think differently about. We need to bail out people, not polluters. We need to honour our farm workers and treasure and protect the precious soil of life.
Two years after the first Earth day the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act and the Endangered Species Act had been passed.
Change is possible. Let us dream and work towards a new earth. This Earth day let us commit to renewing the face of the Earth.
Green Anglicans from Southern Africa, Central Africa and Kenya have prepared an Earth Day service on YouTube.