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Envisioning a post COVID-19 planet: 50 years since the first Earth Day

SELCO Foundation, on its 10th year anniversary, spoke to Dennis Hayes on the significance of the 50 years of Earth Day- its relevance today and what we can learn to develop a more inclusive and sustainable post COVID-19 world

Envisioning a post COVID-19 planet: 50 years since the first Earth Day
Bengaluru, First Published Apr 22, 2020, 12:24 PM IST
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Bengaluru: Every year, April 22 is celebrated as Earth Day to raise public awareness about the environment and inspire people to save and protect it.

This year marks the 50th Earth Day bringing people together globally to observe climate change and how to combat it. Started in the 1970s, it stands for one of the biggest civil society movements  which captured the imagination of the United States of America and rapidly spread to the rest of the world.

Today, Earth Day is widely recognised as the largest secular observance in the world, marked by more than a billion people every year as a day of action to change human behavior and create global, national and local policy changes.

The Earth Day Network works towards climate action, science and education, mobilising people and communities, conservation and restoration, plastic and pollution across the world.

Dennis Hayes: Hero of the Planet

In 1970, Dennis Hayes, a young environmental activist along with Wisconsin senator Gaylord Nelson kick started the movement with teach-ins on college campuses to generate awareness on the evils of climate change.

They chose April 22 to observe Earth Day which immediately sparked media attention and through the support of students, civilians, civil rights groups, civil society and local politicians who participated in this historic rally.

“We managed to have 1 in every 10 Americans participate. This was made possible by building channels and getting public media to participate,” said Hayes. He looked back and recalled how for many Americans it was the first political movement that they had participated in.

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“It (Earth Day) was recognised as a broad encompassing movement that dealt with social justice, peace, non-violent, human rights- tying all these issues with the environment.” The Earth Day saw humans as a function of a larger natural system and not separate from it, and according to Hayes that is what made the world unify behind it.

The movement however, grew bigger than Hayes could have anticipated 50 years back and went on to gather political support and influence policies where they were able to pass 20 critical pieces of bills like clean water act, clean air act, endangered species act, environment protection act, etc. One of the most influential campaigns of the movement was the creation of the US Environmental Protection Agency.

And that was not it. Hayes was determined to make changes through policy, and when policy makers were not convinced, he built demonstrable projects on the ground that showed how environmental sustainability could be achieved in a financially sustainable manner.

Over the years, Hayes has led the Bullitt Foundation which has worked towards protecting ecologically valuable lands, restoring natural habitats, climate activism and much more. The landmark Bullitt Building has been deemed as the “greenest office building in the world” by World Architect magazine.

Hayes explained, “40% of all energy in the United States goes into running buildings and machinery housed in them which led us to think of the foundation building as something dramatically more sustainable at no increased cost. The entire building is solar powered- it is a net energy positive building; we capture rainwater - about 50,000 gallons; and an in-built sewage treatment.”

It was also connected to public transportation, reducing the need of a parking lot. All these measures and careful scrutinization of what is of critical importance to the building and its sustainability, makes the Bullitt Building perform better than any building with a Lead Rating, while also making it commercially viable. A model that should be replicated across the globe.

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