Ash Awad, P.E., is McKinstry’s Chief Market Officer.
Fifty years ago, on April 22, 1970, the first Earth Day was celebrated at rallies across the United States. Led by Wisconsin Senator Gaylord Nelson and Pacific Northwest icon Denis Hayes, and inspired by the protests of the 1960s, Earth Day began as a national teach-in on the environment and was intended to bring environmental causes into the national spotlight. What followed was a decade of wins for the environment – including the passage of the Clean Air Act, the Endangered Species Act, the Water Quality Improvement Act, and the formation of the Environmental Protection Agency to safeguard our air, water and land. Today, more than 1 billion people are involved in Earth Day activities, making it the largest secular civic event in the world.
As we celebrate these historic accomplishments, we also look ahead and recognize that although much good has happened over the past five decades, we are still on a very important journey. What’s really come into focus for me during the past couple of months – and I hope also for you – is how interconnected our lives are with all people and with the natural environment. While the newest coronavirus, commonly referred to as COVID-19, is a public health crisis, it is also deeply related to environmental justice and our ongoing fight for clean water, clean air, land conservation and healthy ecosystems.
Our planet is hurting and we’re feeling the effects. Increasingly, we’ve seen longer and more ferocious wildfire seasons in the West, more severe hurricanes and tropical storms along our coastlines, and greater emergence of disease and infections globally. The impact for each of us is staggering. The anxiety we all face, the disproportionate health impacts on our most underserved community members, and the financial pain for those that already struggle day-to-day is unbearable.
Yet as a consummate optimist, I can’t help but have a positive outlook. Even as we find ourselves amid a global crisis, we have put aside our differences to do what is best for the greater good. The current crisis has exemplified collective global action on an unprecedented scale; nations, governments, organizations and all of humanity have come together to slow the spread of this virus. People across the world are staying home and doing their part so that healthcare systems are not overwhelmed. We are consuming less and being more mindful, considering what we really need and what we can reuse or repurpose. Organizations have demonstrated remarkable agility to work remotely. Traffic in cities has fallen, and air quality has improved. Globally, pollution and emissions have plummeted. The Himalayas are visible for the first time in decades in parts of India once enveloped by pollution, and migratory birds are filling the now-still canals of Venice. Donations to support those that have the least are up, and governments globally are mobilizing to relieve the economic burdens on individuals and small businesses.
As the old adage goes: this, too, shall pass. A statement of hope for all of us in the face of the unknown. I truly believe we will all come out the other side of this difficult time stronger and more resilient than ever. We know it will take time, yet we should all take comfort that historically we have always emerged better than when we enter major crises – wars, financial, and even pandemics. We know the need for, and commitment to, sustainability will survive this pandemic – and that globally we will emerge more committed than ever to address the climate crisis and fix systemic inequities.
With urgent, collective, and focused measures, we can begin to heal our planet. Our work at McKinstry is important because our built environment is a major contributor to the problem. Our teams are deeply committed to engineering and technology solutions for a more sustainable future, and we are actively planning the steps we can take as a company to decrease our footprint. Our innovations are leading the charge to pioneer zero-energy and zero-carbon buildings and neighborhoods that share energy. Our people are taking action in their personal lives – even mobilizing this week to conduct individual cleanups and tree plantings in their own neighborhoods, streets or parks. Together, we can ensure that our planet thrives. Together, on this Earth Day, let us all set our hopes and sights high for a stronger and more resilient future for all.