Karlton Laster, Cleveland Metro Director, April 21, 2020
First, I would like to thank all of the essential workers serving our country and communities across all sectors and industries.
Unlike many Earth Day celebrations of the past, I want to recognize that the vast majority of us are hunkered down at home, celebrating the 50th anniversary of Earth Day in the midst of a global pandemic. The global pandemic has posed an environmental paradox for us to examine— we’ve seen air, light, sound, and water pollution decrease, governments and utilities have declared moratoriums on utility shutoffs and restoration of service to low-income residents, and we’ve seen an increased awareness of the improvements needed in how we interact with each other and the environment, as well as its intersectionality with public health.
These trends are important and encouraging for us. And, as an environmental organizer, I believe it is imperative to act, both in organizing efforts and on policy. This is an important time to welcome and engage new and diverse groups to our coalition, focusing on comprehensive impacts and results. We must leverage this time to educate and emphasize our case for why environmental policy is paramount to national and global security in the 21st century and beyond. We aim to permanently elevate this discussion in the political discourse.
During this global pandemic, we’ve also seen serious environmental issues that require more attention, including issues of food waste and insecurity as well as stress on both local and national water and electric grid systems. While some may declare that climate change has been “mitigated” by way of quarantine, we know that we must invest in longer-term solutions which reduce pollution and lower greenhouse gas emissions. These issues pose immediate needs that our localized environmental and environmental justice movements must address in communities like Athens, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Lorain, and Toledo.
I believe environmental, democracy, and community advocacy organizations should work hand-in-hand at the local and statewide level to make environmental and environmental justice policies and programs part of our permanent policy dialogue. In my role at the Ohio Environmental Council, I am proud to work alongside organizations like the Alliance for the Great Lakes, the Trust for Public Land, Cleveland Owns Co-Op, Cleveland Votes, Environmental Health Watch, NAACP, and local community development corporations to do just that. Together, through our grassroots and grasstops work, we can address serious environmental questions while also diversifying the movement and focusing on equity and intersectionality within environmental policy in order to sustain the work for those most impacted.
As we celebrate the 50th anniversary and focus on the challenges of today, it is important to also look forward. How can we leverage the lessons learned during the coronavirus pandemic to improve our environment and act on climate change? How can we leverage other timely events— namely the Census and the upcoming Presidential election — to tie our passion for a healthy environment to a healthy and robust government that will utilize science and data to support strong environmental policies and community programs? How can we leverage our knowledge and willingness to help, to educate, and to act on this Earth Day and for the next 50 years?