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As Earth Day turns 50 amid lockdowns, environmental action goes digital

by Thin Lei Win | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Monday, 20 April 2020 10:54 GMT

With anniversary celebrations limited by the coronavirus pandemic, environmental campaigners are taking their gatherings online

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By Thin Lei Win

ROME, April 20 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - With many nations having banned mass gatherings to slow the spread of the deadly coronavirus, green activists are marking the 50th anniversary of Earth Day online, urging environmental action through apps, webinars and digital campaigns.

The annual push to raise public awareness about the environment and inspire actions to protect it, held each April 22, this year comes amid a health crisis that has forced unprecedented shutdowns in countries around the world.

But organisers and environmentalists are pushing ahead with celebrations - this year with low-carbon digital tools.

One, Earth Challenge 2020, is a mobile phone app that allows users to take photos and upload them to provide local data on key environmental issues, from air quality to plastic pollution.

Its backers - the Earth Day Network, organiser of the original Earth Day, as well as the U.S. Department of State and Washington-based think tank the Wilson Center - say the information can help create up-to-date assessments on the state of the environment around the world.

"An app by nature facilitates public participation," said Anne Bowser, the Wilson Center's director of innovation.

Creators of the app hope in coming months it can be expanded to help contributors report on insect populations and verify satellite data on what crops are being grown around the world, to better fight hunger, she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Observations on local air quality and food security can be contributed even from people's sofas when their movements are restricted during the pandemic, Bowser said.

The lockdown is also an opportunity for people with unexpected time on their hands to dig into the often overdue task of making their finances climate smart, said Sophie Cowen, media coordinator at Earth Day Switch.

The earthdayswitch.org website allows consumers in Britain to see if their banks and energy companies are investing in fossil fuels, whose use creates the majority of greenhouse gas emissions heating up the planet.

Data for the United States, France and Germany are expected to be added later this year, Cowen said.

"After COVID-19, we cannot go back to an economy based on dying industries like fossil fuels. It is bad for the planet and bad for business," she added.

And while the pandemic caused the postponement of key United Nations negotiations on climate and biodiversity agreements until next year, an online conference of about 100 of the world's top scientists, economists and environmentalists will go ahead starting Monday.

The six-day event, now in its third year, aims to discuss issues from sustainable consumption to climate-smart agriculture, noted We Don't Have Time network, one of the organisers.

The idea of the digital gathering, in part, is to show "action on climate change can be a low carbon experience", said Nick Nuttall, deputy spokesperson for Earth Day 2020.

"Bringing people together to discuss, to share ideas and to step up action does not have to be accompanied by carbon emissions linked with flying back and forth, to and from an event."

Read more:

Online classes, video meetings: Can coronavirus spur low-carbon habits?

Governments urged not to shirk climate action after summit delay

Coronavirus and climate change

(Reporting By Thin Lei Win @thinink, Editing by Laurie Goering (Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers the lives of people around the world who struggle to live freely or fairly. Visit http://news.trust.org)

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