By Beam Furr, Broward County Commissioner
Every year on April 22, thousands of Americans take to the streets – marching, chanting, and carrying homemade signs in celebration of Earth Day.
It serves as a yearly reminder of the importance of protecting our precious environment, and the ominous threats we face from the warming climate. It is both a celebration of our planet and a call to action.
This year, Earth Day is certainly a little different. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, there will be no marches. The homemade signs and chants have moved to Zoom. But that does not mean that Earth Day is any less important this year.
In fact, the COVID-19 pandemic has helped us understand why Earth Day is more important than ever. The coronavirus has highlighted two important lessons that we should take to heart as leaders and environmental stewards.
First and foremost, the pandemic has highlighted just how much spending time outside means to our mental and physical health. For many during this time of crisis, the daily outdoor walk or bike ride might be the only solace they find.
All of us miss the parks and beaches that make South Florida so beautiful, even as we recognize that we are safer at home. I hope that staying indoors is a stark reminder of how much we treasure our natural environment. That means we have to do everything we can to protect it, including conserving green spaces, ensuring clean waterways, and providing funding and protection for our parks and beaches.
Now more than ever, we should be reminded of the need to be good environmental stewards.
The pandemic also demonstrates the need for government to be proactive in preparing for a crisis. The federal government was not fully prepared for COVID-19, leaving a shortage of tests, ventilators, and hospital beds. Local governments have had to step up and fill in the gaps.
The same dynamic is happening with climate change. The federal government has gutted the Environmental Protection Agency of funding and withdrawn the U.S. from the Paris Climate Agreement, instead of preparing us for the great challenge of our time.
In place of that, local governments like Broward County have risen to the challenge and taken steps to mitigate the effects of climate change. For example, the county is implementing our Climate Change Action Plan to increase sustainability and build resiliency. That is a good step, but it is not enough.
We need our federal and state government to lead when it comes to confronting climate change. Every level of government must be prepared if we are to meet this challenge. Otherwise, we will be unprepared for another crisis, just like we were with COVID-19.
I will miss the sight of so many Americans physically coming together on Earth Day. That said, I know millions across the globe are still organizing and taking part in their own way this year.
I hope we take the lessons from the COVID-19 pandemic to heart and prepare our environment for the coming challenges. Stay safe, and let’s work together to protect our planet.
Beam Furr is the Broward County Commissioner for District 6.
“The Invading Sea” is the opinion arm of the Florida Climate Reporting Network, a collaborative of news organizations across the state focusing on the threats posed by the warming climate.