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Coronavirus Disrupts Climate Change Demonstrations Planned For Earth Day


Fifty years ago this week, the planet celebrated its very first Earth Day. Climate change activists hoped to mark the occasion with demonstrations and conferences. But those are now all canceled because of the pandemic. As NPR's Jeff Brady reports, the events are moving online.

JEFF BRADY, BYLINE: Seventeen-year-old high school junior Naina Agrawal-Hardin is one of the young activists the world has heard a lot from over the last year and a half. On Wednesday, she was hoping for the biggest climate strike yet.

NAINA AGRAWAL-HARDIN: Obviously, now our plans have had to pivot. We cannot have millions of people in the streets.

BRADY: Instead, there will be three days of online activism, wrapping up with a day focused on encouraging young people to vote. Like other students, Agrawal-Hardin hasn't been to class at her Ann Arbor, Mich., school for the last month. She misses that and meeting up with fellow climate activists to organize.

AGRAWAL-HARDIN: We originally envisioned Earth Day as a really critical turning point for the movement. But if it's not this Earth Day, that doesn't mean that that turning point's not coming.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Agrawal-Hardin sees potential for a turn in the country's coronavirus response. While the Green New Deal she supports has been criticized for costing too much, she's encouraged by the $2 trillion relief package that passed in Congress last month.

AGRAWAL-HARDIN: When and if the climate crisis is viewed with the same urgency as this COVID-19 crisis, trillions of dollars can be procured for relief and solutions. That is absolutely reassuring to me. And it's also evidence that our movement has really important work to do and can win if we do it well.

BRADY: Some wanted climate-centered policies included in that last relief package. But efforts to do that failed. In Ketchikan, Alaska, another climate activist, Kiera O'Brien, says her Earth Day plans were interrupted by the coronavirus, too. She is a senior in college. But she's back home because commencement is happening online now.

KIERA O'BRIEN: I first got involved with climate policy as president of the Harvard Republican Club.

BRADY: O'Brien planned to speak at a business-focused environmental conference in Dallas. She founded and heads the group Young Conservatives for Carbon Dividends. She supports a proposal that puts a price on carbon emissions aimed at reducing them over time. The money collected would be distributed to taxpayers. Like the Green New Deal, it hasn't received much attention on Capitol Hill, where legislation is required to make either plan happen. O'Brien hopes that will change once the pandemic is over.

O'BRIEN: What I would like to see is proactive action on climate. But that will have to happen after we get back on our feet. After the economy gets going again, then we'll be better positioned to turn back toward the risks of climate and mitigating those risks.

BRADY: O'Brien is confident that will happen, especially now that she sees young activists across the political spectrum pushing for action on climate change, even if they can't do it in person for now. Jeff Brady, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Jeff Brady is a National Desk Correspondent based in Philadelphia, where he covers energy issues and climate change. Brady helped establish NPR's environment and energy collaborative which brings together NPR and Member station reporters from across the country to cover the big stories involving the natural world.