Opportunities to plant trees and pick up trash were traded for virtual presentations on the 50th anniversary of Earth Day last week. (Courtesy photo)

This year’s Earth Day celebration was quiet, but determined

The 50th anniversary of Earth Day last week wasn’t the moment many anticipated.


The 50th anniversary of Earth Day last week wasn’t the moment many anticipated. There were no calls for climate action echoing from San Francisco’s streets. New environmental policies weren’t announced from the steps of City Hall. Opportunities to plant trees and pick up trash were traded for virtual presentations; at least one of which was interrupted by a purported Donald Trump supporter and who had graphic images to share.

“We were disappointed by this ‘zoom-bombing’, but it has not discouraged us,” Fabrice Florin, the founder of the local nonprofit Green Change, told me after the event. “As we shelter in place there are many simple actions we can take to make our homes greener.”

Thankfully, dogged determination is characteristic of environmentalists. Despite facing disappointment countless times, we continue to fight for clean air, clean water and a livable Earth. This unfettered fidelity should guide us now and in the future as we all work to rebuild the economy.

Already, the environmental movement has grown considerably since the first Earth Day in 1970. In San Francisco, it has swelled to a whole month of action. This year, the Department of Environment connected with over 60 organizations to share nearly 100 online events for the first virtual “Climate Action Month.”

“I was expecting to spend today on the street making a statement,” Raphael told Manny Yekutiel, the founder and namesake of the Mission-based meeting space, during an Earth Day virtual interview. “We can’t afford for our climate goals to slow down.”

While significant shifts are needed to address the many crises facing our planet, there are small changes we can make to now during the shelter-in-place. Florin’s tips for greening our homes include switching to LEDs, which are more energy efficient than incandescent bulbs, and electrifying home appliances, such as stoves and water heaters. City residents can also opt into the CleanPowerSF’s SuperGreen — a service that supports 100 percent renewable electricity procurement.

But the real question is how we will protect the planet once our world becomes bigger than our homes. Thanks to reductions in traffic and the recent partial closures of Golden Gate and McLaren Parks to cars, people and wildlife in the Bay Area are experiencing cleaner air and more room to roam. Many San Franciscans are learning to stretch our food and supplies to avoid visiting the store. Communities have also united to protect the most vulnerable.

The City should incorporate these lessons as we prepare to undertake a massive effort to rebuild the economy. Already thousands of people have lost their jobs in the Bay Area, and reports indicate that number could climb ro more in May.

But it’s possible to address the economic crisis and multiple environmental crises together. We need people who can help repair and reuse electronics and clothes, so San Franciscans aren’t always forced to consume more. More people need access to healthy, local package-free food. When we start driving again, we’ll need more electric vehicles and charging stations to keep our air clean. And we need to expand renewable energy and housing near jobs, so we can improve efficiency, reduce commutes and make space for biodiversity.

With proper funding and incentives, these demands should create jobs and benefit the planet. To provide the necessary resources and support, San Francisco should adopt the same regional approach that has successfully flattened the Covid-19 curve; at least, so far.

“When multiple counties come together it makes communications easier, and policies are more defensible and scalable,” Raphael told me. “I am curious to see how we can do the equivalent of a regional health order for the environment.”

The 50th anniversary of Earth Day may not be what we expected, but it offers an opportunity. Environmentalists haven’t been deterred by disappointment or Zoom bombers in the past. Now it’s time for San Franciscans to build on our dogged determination to reshape our homes and our worlds, so we can all have a better future on this planet.

Robyn Purchia is an environmental attorney, environmental blogger and environmental activist who hikes, gardens and tree hugs in her spare time. She is a guest opinion columnist and her point of view is not necessarily that of the Examiner. Check her out at robynpurchia.com

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