Friends and Colleagues,
We mark the 50th Anniversary of Earth Day in the midst of a global pandemic that is a tragic – but some would say much needed – reminder of our collective vulnerability and utter dependence on Earth for our physical sustenance and spiritual nurturance. If there is any silver lining to this crisis, it is that the inequities in our economic and social systems brutally exposed by the COVID-19 virus will make a return to business as usual impossible.
The imminent danger of death from COVID-19 has most of us holed up in our homes, doing our best to avoid catching and spreading a lethal respiratory virus. Yet one of the paradoxes of these enforced quarantines is that people around the world are celebrating Earth Day with bluer skies and cleaner waterways due to reduced pollution and carbon emissions, marveling as Earth expands its lungs and breathes deeply for the first time in decades. Wildlife, banished to the farthest corners and driven to the brink of extinction, are venturing back into our cities along with a silence that is allowing us to hear once again the blessings of our Earth in Spring.
The now severe impacts of planetary warming – vicious wildfires, mega-droughts and deadly storms – are added to the creeping rise of our oceans which threaten, in slow-walk, the millions of people living in teeming cities built at the water’s edge. A recent UN report warns of a looming biodiversity crisis, with extinction rates currently tens to hundreds of times higher than they have been in the past 10 million years. How long before we recognize our own fate in these statistics and act to address the climate crisis?
The good news is that we have the ability to transition to an economy that works for people, one that delivers clean air and water, nutritious and abundant food, energy systems that make use of Earth’s renewable power, and meaningful work that provides a decent living for families. Renewable energy technology is effective and eminently affordable. Battery storage, needed to manage large amounts of renewable energy on the grid, is dropping in price, and increasing in capacity. What is needed to make our complex interconnected systems more sustainable, durable and equitable is the social and political will to change – to shift our energy, agricultural, transportation, finance and manufacturing sectors towards a more sustainable and just global economy. It will not be easy but we can do this.
The first Earth Day, fifty years ago, saw a massive mobilization of people demanding protection of our environment from destructive pollution. We see a similar mobilization today – moved to digital platforms, but urgent nonetheless – of millions motivated by the existential threat posed by the climate crisis. Members of ICCR, along with other investors, are pressing the companies they own to transition to a low-carbon economy rapidly and with care and justice for workers, and affected communities. To make the necessary changes at the scale and pace our planet needs we will have to work together and listen carefully to one another. This listening will ensure that all communities, particularly the most vulnerable, are considered and included in the transition. A recent industry roundtable convened by ICCR and IRI that focused on a Just Transition gives proof that there is a will, and with this, assurance that together we will find a way.
While the COVID-19 crisis has reminded us of our vulnerability, it has also clearly demonstrated the importance of a rapid response to a global threat. On this Earth Day, let this lesson remind us of our collective power to face down the climate crisis with the same resolve.