While COVID-19 continues to instill uncertainty across our nation, Mother Earth is finally getting what she deserves: a much-needed break.
In some parts of the world, air pollution is the lowest it has been in years. With lockdown measures, factory shutdowns and travel restrictions in effect across the U.S., carbon pollution has decreased drastically, with some urban cities reporting a near 60% decrease in NO2 emissions. New York City, for example, has reported a 30% drop in pollutants compared to the same time last year. Los Angeles, notorious for its smog, has logged 20 days with an air quality score below 50 (the U.S. Air Quality Index considers any score between 0 and 50 “good”).
It’s an unforeseen silver lining to life under quarantine: The pandemic has shown us what a potential future with minimal air pollution can look like. This lull in pollution conveniently coincides with the 50th anniversary of Earth Day on Wednesday, April 22.
Since Andy Wood founded the Wilmington Earth Day Alliance (EDA) in February 1990, Wilmington and New Hanover residents have gathered annually to celebrate the eco-holiday in an outdoor setting, to better commune with Mother Nature. Previous years’ festivities were hosted at Hugh MacRae Park, where attendees enjoyed eco-friendly vendors, interactive learning activities and games, plus the annual Nature Brigade Parade. The parade is hosted to get kids into the environmental spirit by having them create (and later march in) costumes from upcycled and recycled materials. With lockdown tactics still in effect across the nation, 2020’s festivities will move to an online platform.
A virtual Earth Day festival will take place Saturday, April 25th through the Earth Day Alliance Facebook page. Events will be posted throughout the week starting on April 22. There will be a virtual scavenger hunt for ages 21 and up, with a chance to win a $50 gift certificate to Bill’s Brewing Company or Waterline Brewing Company; a children’s scavenger hunt in the Kid’s Zone; a virtual version of the annual Nature Brigade Parade (kids dress up as their favorite flora or fauna and parade around the house to tunes by Mr. Mark’s Music); and a musical performance by Jesse James Deconto from The Pinkerton Raid. The NC Aquarium at Fort Fisher will also join in on the fun with a Facebook Live event about ocean conservation at 1 p.m.
“Even though we cannot congregate at the park this spring, I’m excited people are connecting online, and we’ll be able to come together to share information about caring for the Earth,” says Valerie Robertson, Earth Day Alliance publicity chair and publisher of Cape Fear’s Going Green magazine.
Along with individual activities, there will be a virtual vendor meet-and-greet in the “discussion” section on the EDA Facebook page. Each post will provide a description of the vendor, as well as contact information and details of provided services. Local enviro-oriented organizations and businesses, such as Keep New Hanover Beautiful, En-Light by Aquamoon, North Carolina Coastal Federation and others, will be posted throughout the week. Festival t-shirts also will be available for sale through the official festival shop, with proceeds set to benefit future Earth Day celebrations.
Earth Day was founded in 1970 as a response to Rachel Carson’s book “Silent Spring,” which brought to light environmental impacts and dangers of pesticides on our planet. Carson’s book created a growing awareness of humans’ footprint on the environment and created a chain reaction that contributed to the establishment of the Environmental Protection Agency in 1970.
Wilmington’s EDA was born 20 years later from this growing wave of environmentalism. The organization hosted its first Earth Day celebration the same year when founder Wood concluded local environmental groups could be more effective if they collaborated. On April 22, 1990, nearly 750 individuals joined in coalition to march from Cape Fear Community College to Riverfront Park. They celebrated the 20th anniversary of Earth Day with environmental speakers, musicians, and community activists. The event has since grown to bring in nearly 5,000 guests annually along with dozens of vendors.
Festival organizers acknowledge the uniqueness of this year’s offering. “Normally, we’d hope for pretty weather in order to maximize attendance,” Robertson says. “This year a rainy day might work just as well or better.”
Due to unforeseeable circumstances surrounding our community and nation’s health, the EDA originally made the decision to cancel the festival several weeks ago. However, cochairs Elissa Anderson and Matt Williams, along with the rest of the committee, revoked their decision and decided to go virtual after seeing the growing need for celebration within our community.
“Once it was clear we needed to cancel in the interest of public safety, various members started to think up ways we might offer some of the individual Earth Day activities,” Anderson says.
While it may be difficult to replicate the celebration indoors, Anderson is grateful the community will still be able to connect. “Our exhibitors have been extremely helpful and easy to work with during the online transition process,” she says. “We are grateful they are going with the flow and navigating along with us so we can still bring this important event to our community.”
Earth Day 2020: 50th Anniversary Virtual Celebration
Saturday, April 25
Event details at the Wilmington Earth Day Alliance Facebook page