BU Celebrates Earth Day Remotely This Year
50th anniversary events take place online today
The 50th celebration of Earth Day, the annual worldwide event celebrating the planet and promoting environmental activism, is this week. Typically, Boston University marks the event with two festivals, one on the Charles River Campus and one on the Medical Campus, where local businesses, nonprofits, BU departments and student organizations, and more take part in interactive and fun activities promoting sustainability. The two festivals typically kick off a weeklong series of on-campus events cohosted by BU groups.
But this year, after the COVID-19 pandemic moved all teaching and learning remotely and sent most students home, BU Sustainability had to find a way to commemorate the anniversary in a different way. Boston University Online Earth Day 2020 is Tuesday, April 21, featuring two panels addressing BU’s progress on sustainability, the ways coronavirus is impacting climate change, and the relationship between well-being and the environment.
Erica Mattison, BU Sustainability assistant director for communications, says the University shifted the focus of its Earth Day programming to ensure that its theme, tone, and content remained relevant and appropriate given the new reality of the pandemic.
“People are being deeply impacted, as deeply as ever,” says Dennis Carlberg, associate vice president for University sustainability. “It’s a very challenging time, but I feel that through this challenge, we will learn how to better plan and be more resilient for climate change, how this impacts our lives, and how it helps us innovate as we move forward.”
The first panel, from 4 to 5:30 pm, is titled Learning from Coronavirus: What Does It Mean for Sustainability, Climate Change, and Resilience? The conversation will include Carlberg, Sucharita Gopal, a College of Arts & Sciences professor of earth and environment, and Jonathan I. Levy, a School of Public Health professor of environmental health, discussing the University’s sustainability efforts and examining the impact of the current crisis on climate and sustainability work at BU and worldwide.
“Although we are all focused on the COVID-19 crisis right now, our environmental challenges have not gone away,” Levy says. “If anything, COVID-19 has emphasized how important it is to address global-scale challenges early and in a coordinated fashion to avoid catastrophic problems, an important lesson for climate action.”
Levy says that even in the midst of a pandemic, it is important to “not let the short-term challenges distract us from the long-term opportunities.” Coronavirus often manifests in the form of respiratory issues, and cleaner air will save lives, he says, adding, “I hope people come away thinking that embedding health and the environment into our decisions as individuals, as a university, and as a society is the right thing to do.”
The panelists will also provide an update on the University’s ongoing work, namely its Climate Action Plan.
“We have some really remarkable people at Boston University,” Carlberg says, “and the work our faculty has done with respect to climate change and our Climate Action Plan…will help us define a good path forward.”
Today’s second session, which begins at 5:40 pm, is titled Caring for Yourself, Others, and Our Planet: A Student Panel for Earth Day’s 50th. Cohosted by BU Sustainability and BU’s Wellbeing Project, the panel will highlight BU students talking about their experiences with nature and the environment as those things relate to their personal well-being.
“Right now with the COVID-19 pandemic, taking care of yourself is essential,” says Katharine Mooney (SPH’12), Student Health Services Wellness & Prevention director and cochair of the Wellbeing Project. “It’s also challenging because many go-to strategies, like exercising outside, being in green spaces, or gathering for climate activism, might be limited, or impossible, for students right now.”
During the online conversations, students will share how they’re taking care of themselves during this unprecedented public health crisis. “We look forward to hearing students’ stories and reflections, because we’re all in this together,” Mooney says.
Sustainability intern Azanta Thakur (Sargent’20) helps with planning and leading BU Sustainability’s signature events, the Sustainability Festival in the fall and Earth Day in the spring. This year, the virtual event is about more than informing the community, she says. It’s about connection—to one another, to BU, and to the mission of sustainability.
“With so many cancellation emails, we wanted to give students, faculty, and staff who look forward to our festivals every semester something to still look forward to,” Thakur says. “This is a chance for our community to come together and focus on what’s important after this pandemic ends and discuss what our futures will look like next year and after.”