On the 50th anniversary of Earth Day GreenPAC’s Executive Director, Sabrina Bowman, shares her thoughts on how political cooperation during COVID-19 can also be applied to cooperation on working towards a healthy environment.
This year, Earth Day is occurring at a unique moment in political history: we are seeing unprecedented cross-party cooperation as politicians recognize the importance of non-partisanship in the fight to re-establish a healthy and prosperous Canada.
Fifty years ago today, millions of people in America gathered together on the first Earth Day to push for a similar goal: putting in place stronger protections of air and water to reestablish a healthier ecosystem. This led to the passage of several pieces of key environmental legislation and spurred a global Earth Day movement, including the first Canadian Earth Day in 1990.
What’s less well-known is that Earth Day started as a multi-partisan effort. The first Earth Day occurred largely because a Democratic senator convinced a conservative Republican congressman to be his co-chair for the event.
Today, we are seeing political cooperation at a rarely-experienced speed. Canadian parliamentarians and party leaders came to an agreement in record time to look after the millions of people in Canada who are sick or who have lost their livelihood because of COVID-19.
Of course, political cooperation hasn’t been without minor hiccups. And there’s still a good dose of vigorous partisan sparring (as there ought to be in a healthy democracy). But this example of being united on a cross-cutting issue provides a glimpse of what’s politically possible beyond COVID-19.
I started working with GreenPAC because I believe the environment does not act within partisan lines and in fact, can be a uniting issue among partisans of all political stripes.
Today, capitalists and conservationists alike are discussing what we can learn from this pandemic when it comes to the environment, and they are debating how we can align our recovery with longer-term sustainability and climate change goals. Political leaders are beginning to look longer-term as well, that includes exploring how this terrible time could also be a moment for long-term economic and environmental sustainability.
Parliamentarians would be wise to remember that good health for Canadians (from reducing the spread of a virus to actively working towards a healthy environment) is a unifying issue. If, after the pandemic is over, parliamentarians can continue to work with a good dose of kindness, creativity, and open-mindedness towards each other (and a pinch of good humour) Canada could lead the world in establishing a prosperous economy, a hopeful democracy, and a flourishing natural environment across the country in which everyone can thrive.
I can’t imagine a better way of honouring Earth Day.