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Without Earthapalooza 2020, Outdoor Environmental Club still encourages students to consider meaning of Earth Day

Since well before the Class of 2020 arrived on the Beloit College campus, sunnier days during the spring semester have promised not only Mayfest and clouds of gnats, but also the Outdoor Environmental Club’s annual Earthapalooza celebration each Earth Day, April 22. On Chapin Quad after classes end that day, students have gathered for live music, free food, and environmental games and trivia. The rest of the year, an Earthapalooza banner created by members of the Class of 2019 takes up most of one wall in the OEC house.

When Beloit announced on March 14 that its in-person classes were called off for the remainder of the semester due to the COVID-19 pandemic, plans for Earthapalooza 2020 had been underway among the current OEC generation. Martina Pulido’22, who was spearheading the event alongside Coco Charles’20, told The Round Table in an email on May 7 that she had been considering the off-campus Buccaneer Boathouse as a potential new location for the celebration (Pulido is also an officer at the Boathouse).

At the new venue, attendees could have taken canoes and kayaks on the Rock River, and the Boathouse property would have been equipped for a larger crowd. Pulido and Charles had also considered adding a rummage sale to the Earthapalooza traditions.

After the college’s announcement over Spring Break, the campus community scrambled to put many of its traditions online, but for OEC, “the sudden change in our lives prevented us from even thinking about planning a virtual alternative” to Earthapalooza, Pulido wrote. “I think I just assumed that it would be unnecessarily difficult to create an elaborate virtual alternative.” 

However, she hoped that last month, “Beloiters were able to reflect on what it means to celebrate Earth Day.”

April 22, 2020 marked 50 years of Earth Day. The first, in 1970, was founded by Wisconsin Senator Gaylord Nelson in response to a crude oil spill in the Santa Barbara Channel in January and February 1969, which killed thousands of seabirds and other aquatic life. The 1970 Earth Day was largely celebrated on college and university campuses across the United States (the day is now recognized worldwide), where students demonstrated peacefully for environmental reform and cleaned up surrounding communities.

This year, earthday.org hosted a virtual event called “Earth Day Live” that featured virtual panels, art exhibits, cooking classes, and music. “On Earth Day, […] we have two crises: One is the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic. The other is a slowly building disaster for our climate,” the website read. The event page pointed out that rising temperatures and an increase in climate refugees forced to live in unsafe conditions will make future pandemics more likely. “Human health and planetary health are inextricably linked. To protect one, we must protect the other,” it read.

Humans protecting their own health by social distancing during the past several months indeed seem to have dramatically improved the health of the planet, although that may not have been quite what Earth Day organizers were trying to communicate. On March 17, just as many U.S. states entered lockdowns, Nadja Popovich reported “striking reductions” in air pollution such as nitrogen dioxide in the New York Times that in China and Italy, where the human movement had already been limited.

Studies have observed similar phenomena in the U.S. since this country followed suit, and photos have been circulating on social media of polluted bodies of water clearing up and wildlife returning to urban areas. Also on social media, some Beloit students have expressed hope that when social distancing is no longer necessary, U.S. residents will notice cleaner air in their communities, associate it with their reduced travel and consumption and adjust their habits more permanently.

During an Earth Day in quarantine, Pulido wanted fellow Beloiters to remember that environmental activists or not, “we are meant to […] care for Earth through political action and civic participation.” In a pinch, she wrote, the missions of both OEC and the Boathouse also include “seed planting, or actively engaging with nature, and appreciating Earth for [just] being Earth.”

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