Columbia Climate School
State of the Planet
Earth Day 2021: What We Can Learn From the Past Year
BY SARAH FECHT |APRIL 7, 2021
As we go about celebrating Earth Month and Earth Day, it’s worth reflecting on how far we’ve come since last year’s Earth Day. A year ago, we were a month into the pandemic and I remember foolishly pondering whether there might still be Earth Day events in person. Little did I know that we’d still be isolated after more than a year filled with fear, tragedy, loneliness, frustration, and boredom. At times, it has seemed like the pandemic was too big to solve and that it might never end.
It has been a dark year, but this Earth Day, the future looks brighter. Vaccines were developed faster than most experts would have previously imagined, and more than 107 million Americans have been vaccinated. Experts caution that we still need to be careful, but there is hope that we might safely gather in small groups for the Fourth of July, Labor Day, and Thanksgiving. I don’t know about you, but I have quite a few friends and family members that I’m looking forward to seeing and hugging as soon as possible.
How did the world achieve this seemingly miraculous turnaround so quickly? And what can we learn from this success that can be applied to solving complex environmental problems like climate change?
The pandemic and climate change have a lot in common. Last March, Elva Bennett, a senior research staff assistant at Columbia University’s International Research Institute for Climate and Society, summarized the similarities in a powerful blog post. “Both crises start with experts issuing warnings about big invisible monsters and end with catastrophic consequences that are nearly unstoppable by the time they can be seen and felt,” they wrote.