Senator Tom Udall Reflects on Earth Day in the Time of Coronavirus

Image used with permission of Senator Udall’s office

Senator Tom Udall (D-NM) is one of the foremost conservation champions in Congress. From his recent bills to protect 30% of nature by 2030 and ensure that plastics manufacturers are held accountable for needless waste, Senator Udall was one of the first people we thought to reflect on this very important Earth Day and where we go from here.

TU: Across the United States, 20 million people of all ages and backgrounds united on April 22, 1970 to protect our planet and build an environmental movement from the ground up to protect our collective future. The people who lent their voices to the first Earth Day created a groundswell of political change that helped us enact bedrock conservation laws like the Clean Air and Clean Water Acts. Parents demanded change for their children, children demanded change for their future—and progress was won. 

Now, just a few days away from the 50th Earth Day, the threats to our planet have drastically worsened. We are facing down dual climate and nature crises that threaten life as we know it. We are in the middle of a sixth mass extinction – with 1 million species at risk of extinction – while climate change stands as an existential threat to our future.  

ODP: COVID-19 has drastically changed the way in which we were all hoping to commemorate this Earth Day. What lessons can we take from the pandemic as we commit to the next 50 years of fighting for our planet?

TU: As we approach the 50th Earth Day, we are facing a public health crisis that has profoundly shaken every aspect of American life. Grappling with the COVID-19 crisis carries with it a number of important lessons as we observe Earth Day. First: the destruction of nature and ecosystems is not just a threat to our planet, but it is a threat to our public health. Scientists tell us that as we destroy nature, habitats, and the natural barriers between humans and wildlife — we will only see more and more zoonotic diseases like the COVID-19 pandemic. Second: we must acknowledge and address that the people who are most vulnerable to this virus are communities who have been historically marginalized and live on the front lines of environmental pollution. And third: we also cannot afford to ignore how human-caused climate change and habitat destruction represent a chilling promise — that this is only the first of a series of devastating crises that threaten to profoundly alter and disrupt life as we know it.

ODP: How do we keep nature as a priority when there are so many pressing needs during the coronavirus recovery process?

TU: Even at this difficult time, the lessons are not all so dour. Because the American people’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic shows us that we are more than capable of rising to big challenges—together. We have the power to take collective action and to be bold. While we continue to fight to protect our frontline workers who are saving lives every day and keep American families financially afloat, we should also look to the future, and think about how we want to emerge from this crisis. We must recognize that we must save our planet to save ourselves. The challenges we face today are great but public support for conservation and climate action are stronger than ever. And with that energy, we can get this done – and save the planet for future generations.

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