April 22, 2020, was an extraordinary day — not just because the Earth Day movement celebrated its 50th anniversary, but because, as COVID-19 continues to affect lives the world over, the day was recognised through online activity.
The virus has cast a huge shadow over the Caribbean, with most territories in various stages of lockdown. As of the time of publication, the number of positive cases in the region has passed 9,000, with 385 deaths. On Earth Day, the Jamaican Government reported 19 new cases of COVID-19, bringing the island’s total to 252, with 131 of these originating from one workplace cluster.
Throughout the day, Jamaican netizens explored the connections between COVID-19 and climate change. In his Earth Day message, Daryl Vaz, the minister of parliament with responsibility for the environment, likened the determination needed to tackle climate change to the fight against COVID-19:
In this period of COVID-19, we have had to make significant adjustments to our lifestyles and our livelihoods. In like manner, we must consider the lessons from this new paradigm and apply it to tackling climate change. It demands the same commitment from all of us to guarantee the future we want. We all need to embrace the change if we are to realize the transformation necessary for a climate resilient and low carbon society.
Jamaican activist Jhannel Tomlinson, the most recent winner of the prime minister's youth award for environmental protection, also saw strong links between climate change and the virus. On Twitter, she urged her compatriots to post short videos on the topic, and ended up gathering a range of views:
@TeraLepido shares a very powerful message on the linkages between COVID-19 and climate change and urges us to do our part! 🌍 #EarthDayAtHome #GoingGreenInQuarantine #EarthweekJa pic.twitter.com/aU4Hr9JM6P
— jhannel tomlinson (@Jaybritz) April 22, 2020
She even managed to enlist the support of the local United Nations Development Programme office:
Organizer of the #EarthDay #QUARAGREEN vid Challenge @Jaybritz has the last word:
▶️We must take care of the vulnerable
▶️Effective communication is key
▶️Listen to the experts
▶️Stay Green while in quarantine
UNDP was happy to participate. Thanks @ycca4earth https://t.co/V56NiBkJ7k
— UNDP in Jamaica (@UNDPJamaica) April 23, 2020
On her YouTube channel, mental health advocate Tameka Coley saw the COVID-19 crisis as an opportunity to “really reassess what we are going to do going forward” in terms of environmental protection, which she views as closely linked to mental well being. Envisioning a world post-COVID, she urged Jamaicans to rethink society in general and to make a change for the better.
Another young climate activist and podcaster, Dainalyn Swaby, used the hashtag #GirlsCARE to highlight her own thoughts on climate change and food security, as well as the views of other Caribbean women:
— Dainalyn Swaby (@LynnSwaby) April 23, 2020
One young Twitter user reminded her followers:
Earth Day reminder that you can purchase young trees for really cheap ($50 jmd or less) at the Forestry Department on Constant Spring Rd.
“The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago, the second best time is now” – Chinese Proverb 🍃✨ pic.twitter.com/VMWvlUAIzc
— Ayanna (@AyannaCurated) April 22, 2020
(Fifty Jamaican dollars is equivalent to about .36 USD cents.)
There was so much enthusiasm for Earth Day that online events are continuing all week in Jamaica. On April 24, activists and creatives will host a Zoom meet-up to brainstorm innovative ways in which to respond to environmental issues, and members of the public are invited to register and join the discussion.
The Kingston Creative team, which regularly organises free artistic events in the country's capital city and has established a vibrant street art presence in its historic downtown district, has moved its activities online and is going ahead — via IGTV on April 26 — with its chosen theme of arts and the environment in honour of Earth Day’s 50th anniversary.
While the optimistic days of Jamaica being a signatory to the historic Paris agreement on Earth Day 2016 may seem distant in the COVID-19 era, young Jamaicans are taking up the torch of environmental activism.
Now, it seems more important than ever to keep that flame alight and to hold it aloft.