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Earth Day 2020

In the midst of fear and isolation, we are learning that profound, positive change is possible.
—Rebecca Solnit

Dear Friends:

As we head into Earth Week and the 50th anniversary of Earth Day, we are at a pivotal point, just as we were 50 years ago. What’s different today is our unprecedented opportunity to communicate across borders and boundaries to get through a global crisis with shared thinking and innovation for the world we want going forward. As we struggle our way through this pandemic, the good news is that we’re seeing hope, kindness, and compassion, and new ways to find meaning. This doesn’t take away from the suffering that so many are going through. But we do have an opportunity to use this sheltering at home as a time of reflection and to strengthen our commitment to figuring out better ways of addressing the wicked problems facing society—from climate change to the economic and racial disparity that have been glaringly exposed during this crisis. As author Emily Esfahani Smith wrote in the New York Times, “this certainly won’t be remembered as a happy period in the history of the world, but it may be remembered as a time of redemptive meaning and hope.” We’ve gotten a taste of what resilience can look like in natural systems, as people in Wuhan report hearing birds for the first time in years, as air quality improves in our most populated cities, as the water quality in Venice’s canals improves with the absence of boat traffic, and as our carbon dioxide levels worldwide drop.

As we collectively reflect on Earth Day 2020, many of us are accomplishing our work in new ways, while simultaneously preparing for a new future. And we know it’s a challenge.

Here are ten things that all of us can do as we move through the next few months together:


Provide Critical Information to Shape the Path Forward: We are collaborating with a number of colleagues to gather important information that will help us as we think ahead. Several surveys ready now or in the works include those focusing on:

  • Impact of COVID-19: We’re assisting the Lawrence Hall of Science in their efforts to help capture the impact of the novel coronavirus on the field of environmental education. Help document how this pandemic has impacted your work, including loss of staff, revenue, and other changes. You can fill it out here.
     
  • Your Evaluation Needs: We are working with Marc Stern from Virginia Tech and Bob Powell from Clemson University to find out more about evaluation needs in the field. We’ll circulate a survey in the next few weeks to get your thoughts on how we might best support evaluation in the field.
     

Learn Something: This is a good time to join free webinars and take online courses to learn new things and pick up insights for your work. NAAEE is offering a number of webinars in April, May, and June; please see this list of upcoming opportunities. Also check with our partners for online learning opportunities, including the Children and Nature Network, Association of Zoos and Aquariums, Cornell University, and so many others, who have wonderful webinars and courses to offer. Stanford is offering the ee360 Research and Practice webinar for four weeks for free, starting soon. And if you have expertise that you think others would benefit from, consider offering a webinar to the people in your networks about something unique you have to offer. (For help, watch the “Webinar on Webinars” that Andy Goodman just presented for NAAEE.)
 

Support Educators and Environmental Education: Highlight the work that educators are doing in your community and beyond. Focus on the creativity that you’re seeing around the world—from new ways to transform place-based learning to engaging virtual experiences. Consider writing a letter to the editor of your local paper or an op-ed to reinforce the importance of environmental education and spending time outside during this time and beyond. (We will be offering a template that you can use to help highlight the value and impact of our field. Check the Advocacy, Policy, and Civic Engagement eePRO group for updates.)
 

Support an Institution: Many of our partner organizations have had to close their doors during this pandemic. We want everyone to re-open once it’s safe—so please do what you can to support all the groups that have supported you or your family. Post on their Facebook pages, help with GoFundMe pages, and do what you can to support these institutions during this shutdown, including making a donation if you have the means. Many people are contributing the cost of canceled events they would have attended or services they would have had to help offset the financial burdens organizations and small businesses are facing.
 

Advocate with Other Educators: Join NAAEE’s action network and work with other partners to make sure that students most likely to get left behind in times like this—don’t. That can mean writing to your elected officials with specific requests that will help students in your community. It can mean supporting the work to expand broadband access so all kids have access to the Internet. And it can mean helping others understand the value of experiential learning rather than rote testing. Reach out to other fields and work together on common issues, including health care providers and garden center owners.
 

Build Your Cultural Competency: This crisis has highlighted the economic and racial disparities that exist throughout society. How culturally competent are you? Here are some resources that might help you and colleagues keep learning. Thanks to Olivia Griset, executive director of the Maine EE Association, for assembling these. And if you’re in a position to offer training to your team, check out these resources recommended by Whitney Tome, executive director of Green 2.0: resource database and best practices library (requires password: buildingpower).
 

Offer Jobs for Interns and Consultants: For those of you who have the funding, do you have work that an intern can help with during this time? Can you offer a virtual internship? Do you need a consultant who understands education? If you’re in a position to use consultant help, reach out to experts who have worked at zoos, aquariums, museums, nature centers, school systems, and other institutions. There is a wealth of talent out there! Advertise on eeJOBS so we can match needs with people who have time and can help during this crisis.
 

Practice Self Care: The world has changed, and that means we are all experiencing a sense of loss and grief. And no matter what happens going forward, we will continue to experience a mix of emotions and the impacts of this will linger far beyond the end of the shutdown. Here are resources from the CDC that can help you and your teams cope during this stressful time.
 

Spark Creativity: Although many of us are distracted and worried, there will also be opportunities for creativity to break through. If we all use this time for design thinking (see ideo.org/) about how to overcome the barriers of the past, maybe we will find new solutions and new ways to change the world for the good.
 

Post the Positive: NAAEE is joining with the Walton Family Foundation's campaign to post and share positive news stories and ideas that will provide a welcome lift to our audiences. This social media toolkit includes sample posts and visuals that serve as a jumping-off point for organizations participating in the #EarthDay2020 campaign. Share your photos, videos, and stories of how being outside recharges hope and connection to the outdoors and one another, using the #EarthDay2020 hashtag. Thanks to the Walton Family Foundation and its partners for pulling this toolkit together, and feel free to tweak these ideas to meet your needs.

And remember to check out your state EE association as a great resource for information and community at this time, and see the list of resources from NAAEE and our many partners.

We environmental educators have a critical role to play in helping others find positive meaning in a very difficult situation. We help create the environmental problem solvers of the future. Now, more than ever, we can focus on the skills, knowledge, and motivations that we need to prioritize for a more resilient future. Let’s use this Earth Day to, as Kristen Grimm, the president of Spitfire Strategies suggests, focus on “the collective adaptive challenge before us and take the best of what we do and invent new ways to doing things.”

Just as a whole generation was inspired to create huge environmental change during the first Earth Day on April 22, 1970, we can ignite the same passion and persistence in the current generation to carry us forward into the next half-century.

Please stay safe and let us know how we can help you!

Judy Braus
Executive Director

We may have all come on different ships, but we’re in the same boat now.
—Martin Luther King, Jr.

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