Earth Day 2025: The things we left behind
April 23, 2020
It feels especially hard to celebrate Earth Day this year, so let’s journey together through time to imagine a better future for ourselves and the planet.
By Todd Paglia, Executive Director, Stand.earth
Happy Earth Day — the year is 2025.
Back in 2020, in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic, the 50th anniversary of Earth Day was a virtual affair, like so much of our social life at that time. It was not much noticed by a nation mourning its dead and fitfully trying to come back to life economically, a struggle that went on and on.
The future is always hard to imagine, especially in the midst of catastrophe, but even so very few saw what was coming our way. Even as late as mid-April 2020 the stock market floated so far above reality it is breathtaking when we look back on this moment. But let’s start with the basics.
The months of social distancing did nothing to repress our need for physical contact, but some of the tools we used during that strange and lonely period fundamentally changed our world.
We now travel less, and Zoom is mentioned among the tech titans Google, Apple, etc. There are fewer airlines, but the ones that survived are greener. Taking a flight is considered a last option, rather than something you do all the time for work or play without even thinking about it. All the virus screenings before and after flights is part of this shift, but that’s not the whole story. For several years, each new novel coronavirus flare-up was linked to air travel. A lot of the travel we used to do now seems gratuitous, a luxury for me but a risk to my community.
Looking in the rearview mirror of our lives, all that travel was risky and unnecessary.
Our wanderlust is still satisfied, but now we’re staying much closer to home. Slow vacations joined the slow food movement — almost all vacations are local, within a few hours’ drive. Vacation options like taking a cruise still exist, but like air travel, there remains an underlying distaste for the extravagance and the pollution.
Cruise ships were banned entry into so many ports around the world that today there is one major cruise company left. That company is smaller, it pays real wages and it is on the path to becoming a climate champion by leading the entire shipping industry toward decarbonization. This was no easy feat for a company that used to run its ships by burning toxic waste, and staff its ships with a system that was practically indentured servitude.
Forests are beginning to thrive. After the destruction of forests and wildlands was clearly linked to Covid-19, SARS, Ebola, Lyme, MERS, and more, the priority of protecting and rehabilitating half of the world’s historic forests became inescapable. We were slow learners, and the process will take decades — but it is happening.
A huge, but secondary benefit, is that these forests are sucking up millions of tons of carbon, which has helped stabilize our climate. What was once thought to be too expensive now looks like a bargain given what the world’s leaders spent trying to stop Covid-19. And today there are millions of jobs around the world in reforestation, making us healthier and safer. One of the many greens jobs programs we started.
Supply chains are still ridiculously complex, but not for everything. Basic necessities like medical equipment are made regionally, not globally. The concept of resilience is no longer relegated to the New Age and Self Improvement sections of independent book stores.
Resilience is a real discussion in the US, and in the last few years we made massive infrastructure investments in local renewable power, battery storage, and mass transit. This green jobs initiative is really what helped pull us out of the Great Covid Depression.
We know that Covid-19 took a far larger toll on people of color and the poor. Studies proved to us that even small differences in air pollution led to dramatically more deaths. The global conversation linked this to the hundreds of thousands of people who die every year due to climate pollution.
If we could collectively defeat the virus, which killed far fewer people than climate pollution, why couldn’t we use the immense power of collective action we mustered during the pandemic to tackle air pollution, too? We did.
It’s 2025, and most of the fossil fuel companies that had been in decline for a decade are now gone. In so many nations around the world, people rebelled at the idea of going back to business as usual. After breathing clean air for so many months during the pandemic while the world stopped driving and flying and stayed at home, the thought of firing up coal plants, refineries, and drilling, operating like nothing had happened, was sickening. We had had enough.
When we look back on our lives before the Covid-19 pandemic, the word “enough” seems to have not even existed. In 2025, we hear it all the time. It turns out that having enough is actually a lot.
Todd Paglia is the Executive Director of Stand.earth.