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Guest Voz: Earth Day 50 reminds us to demand strong & just climate action amidst pandemic

By Sonia Rangel

This public health crisis is an important reminder that the worst of times has the power to bring out the best in us.

That was certainly true 50 years ago when the United States commemorated its first Earth Day to fight back against the environmental degradation that was threatening our air, water, and natural resources.

In 1970, the U.S. was at a crossroads, our natural systems were at risk of falling into permanent disrepair. That first Earth Day paved the way for landmark environmental protections like the Clean Water Act and launched a new fight for the future of our planet.

As we celebrate the 50th anniversary of Earth Day, the spread of coronavirus has put our communities once again at a consequential crossroad. This virus has taken the lives of thousands of people and has brought our economy to an unprecedented stand still.

But like the crises we have overcome in the past, we now have the power to unite and rise to fight for a better tomorrow.

This Earth Day, let’s start the work to protect our planet. From the air we breathe, to the earth we stand on – we’re in this together.

As a climate advocate and Texan, I have seen climate change wreak havoc on my state. In my home city of El Paso, extreme heat due to climate change continues to soar. According to Climate Central, El Paso ranks second in a list of fastest warming cities in the country.

Our dry region is especially vulnerable to drought due to climate change, which threatens our supply of drinking water. In other parts of the state, hurricanes and floods have hit more frequently and severely. In 2017, Hurricane Harvey devastated Houston and its surrounding areas with flooding and hurricane damage.

Now the economic downturn caused by the coronavirus has hit El Paso hard. Many have already filed for unemployment and thousands are forced to go without much-needed unemployment benefits or stimulus checks due to their immigration status.

While our locally elected leaders continue to work to ensure our hospitals and medical systems have the resources they need to combat the virus and save lives, soon it will be time to debate the economic policies that families, businesses, and workers will need to recover.

It is no secret that our undocumented communities and communities of color shoulder a disproportionate amount of the negative impacts of climate change and the spread of coronavirus. Communities of color are often located in areas with higher amounts of air pollution, which research has linked to poorer health outcomes for patients diagnosed with the coronavirus.

We need our elected leaders to understand the urgency these communities are facing and take strong steps to promote solutions that prioritize our public health and safety.

In 1970, the first Earth Day served as a catalyst for a monumental wave of environmental action; policymakers answered the people’s call and made sweeping reforms to protect the air we breathe and the water we drink. 50 years later, we need our lawmakers to step up and put us back on track toward cleaner air, cleaner water, and better public health.

(Editor’s Note: Artist Favianna Rodriguez)

Sonia Rangel is a climate advocate from El Paso, Texas

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