Earth Day 2020
This past week has marked the 50th Anniversary of Earth Day. Notes Jim Antal, environmental activist and public theologian, “Fifty years ago, some rivers were so polluted that they caught fire. The smog in major cities was so thick it was equivalent to smoking a pack of cigarettes a day. Thirty-five miles of pristine beach from Santa Barbara to Ventura were covered with 3 million gallons of crude oil from a recent spill.” 
It is hard to fathom, but in the 1960s there were no environmental regulations or laws in place to protect even our water supply or the air we breathe. Perceived as a hindrance to the nation’s economy and a stumbling block for consumers, nothing was in place to protect the very ecosystem that sustained us. It was in this context, that the first Earth Day was conceived and gained widespread support.
In fact, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), came on the heels of a bi-partisan commitment that enacted numerous laws including The Clean Air Act, The Clean Water Act, and the Endangered Species Act. It was wholeheartedly adopted because it recognized that clean water and clean air, the safeguarding of wilderness and the species that inhabit it, are wholly necessary for health and well-being; no matter what side of the political aisle you sit on and what demographic you belong to.
Yes, this pandemic has shaken us to the core. But the onset of this devastating virus has also exposed a dangerous dualism, perpetuated by those who insist on returning to business as usual. As if the care of God’s creation AND protecting public health are two entirely different issues. As if being a good neighbor to current as well as future generations and all species on this planet, IS AT ODDS with protecting our children from asthma and contaminated drinking water.
In the months and years to come, what will be said of us? Will it be said that out of expediency and fear – we like Pontious Pilate – washed our hands of injustice, abdicated responsibility, and turned our backs on the destruction of God’s people and creation? Or will it be said of us – that we did not yield to the temptation of returning to business as usual – but instead built a more just and sustainable world.
 Image is from whatsnewindonesia.com.
[2} Jim Antal, Earth Day Sermon, Sunday, April 19, Riverside Church, NY