Celebrating the Champions of the Environmental Movement

Leader of Knology's Biosphere research reflects on Earth Day 2020

by Rupu Gupta
Apr 22, 2020

Every year, Earth Day is a reminder of our commitment to protecting our natural systems and the people who are an integral part of them. For the environmental movement, including dedicated professionals and active members of the public, this day reinforces our deep connection to nature around us, and ultimately, the community that we are part of in this lifelong endeavor.

This year, Earth Day comes at a somber time for the environmental community. In the backdrop of the devastating impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, the repercussions for workers in the environmental sector, like so many others in the US, has been dire. Layoffs and furloughs have been widespread across institutions whose lifeblood is inspiring the public’s environmental connection with diverse flora and fauna (here is just one example). For those environmental workers who are unpaid for their work, the picture is undoubtedly alarming as well.

Now, more than ever, we need to support and emphasize the resilience of the environmental community.

On a normal workday, environmental workers are no strangers to the emotional stress inherent in their work to advance environmental and social goals. The “wicked problems” they grapple with on a daily basis are complex and intersect with other societal issues, underscoring the fundamental relationships that humans share with nature in various forms. Contemplating and planning for future scenarios of environmental collapse on a continuous basis has led to these workers living through a daily experience of trauma.

Despite this, we know that they bravely persist and continue their very urgent work. Recent research has shown that being part of a connected network of peers can strengthen their environmental work and serve as a critical support system for their long-term emotional and mental health. Our hope is that this same psychological sense of belonging to a community, however ephemeral with the many virtual meetings and phone calls, will offer the strength as workers continue their work during the pandemic. Already, we’re seeing the field become increasingly creative as they continue to strive for a better world through their work in both the informal and formal learning sectors.

After all, that is the trademark of resilient individuals and groups, such as the environmental community. In the face of unanticipated disruptions, they acknowledge the barriers and bolster their ability to continue to thrive.

For the environmental movement, our hope for future times is that there is energy and enthusiasm to invest in the multi-layered skills and capacities needed for stewards to flourish, whether through work or vocation. We especially urge this approach to be an intentional part of environment-focused programs and interventions, including those for youth. Focusing on current and future members of the environmental field will be central to building a strong community of stewards, as exemplified nationally by these conservation and environmental education organizations.

In the meantime, let us take a moment today, to celebrate the diverse environmental community and appreciate all the challenging work they do to take care of our planet.

Photo credit: Reuben Teo on Unsplash

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