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Science and Innovations

Flagstaff Celebrates Cyber Earth Day

Ryan Heinsus

Fifty years ago today, an estimated 20 million people marched in the streets for the first national Earth Day. But this year’s celebration is taking place virtually because of the coronavirus disease. KNAU’s Melissa Sevigny spoke with Stefan Sommer, one of the organizers of Flagstaff’s Cyber Earth Day Celebration, about why he thinks it’s vital to stay focused on solving climate change in the midst of the pandemic.

Melissa Sevigny: Fifty years ago folks were marching in the streets for the first Earth Day. That’s obviously not something we can do at this current moment in time. So how are we going to celebrate Earth Day this year?

Stefan Sommer: So the Northern Arizona Climate Change Alliance and many other groups in town were working together to plan the usual Earth Day in Bushmaster Park, with lots of activities and involvement, and we were really frustrated when we realized we couldn’t do that. So this Earth Day Cyber Celebration is our way of adapting to the new situation and giving folks still a chance to come together, and in this case also hear from their elected leaders.

Give me the details, if somebody wants to log in and participate how does that work?

We’re going to have people tune in or join in by three possible ways. One is going to be Facebook Live, the other is going to be YouTube Live. We’re also going to have a dedicated Zoom meeting… Each of them, Flagstaff city council members and county board of supervisors will be talking about Earth Day and they’ll be talking about their vision for bringing Flagstaff’s economy through this climate change issue that’s coming, in a way that builds the economy and supports people’s livelihoods…. The city’s working on Red Gap Ranch and putting in a big solar array there as a source of alternative energy, but the county board of supervisors just recently approved the Chevelon Butte wind power plant south of Winslow…. It really will make it that much more possible for the City of Flagstaff and Northern Arizona to reach net zero by the time the scientific community says we need to, which is 2040 at the latest and ideally 2030…. So people will get a chance to hear about that.

So the Earth Day Network has made the theme of this Earth Day climate change, and that’s for everyone, not just us here in Flagstaff. Why do you think that’s important?

Earth Day is the moment in which we are supposed to reflect on the Earth and our reverence for it, and acknowledge our dependence in every possible way on the Earth and what Mother Earth provides us. We really need to celebrate that… and at the same time make plans so we can stop what we’re doing relative to climate change… In a lot of ways we had COVID-19 sneak up on us and suddenly hit us out of the blue, and now the scientific community is scrambling to get us out of it by finding a vaccine. In the case of climate change, we’ve known about it for a long time, and we know exactly what we need to do about it. But the thing is, if we don’t start doing that, reducing our emissions and getting ready for it and all of those things, it’s going to hit us harder than COVID-19 and in a more global permanent devastating way. We really need to get on board now… because we’re already seeing more and more climate disasters around the world, it’s already costing billions of dollars just in the United States alone, and we need to avoid going into the trillions of dollars of costs projected by scientists if we don’t curb our emissions.  

Stefan Sommer, thank you so much for speaking with me today.

Thank you very much, Melissa.


Melissa joined KNAU's team in 2015 to report on science, health, and the environment. Her work has appeared nationally on NPR and been featured on Science Friday. She grew up in Tucson, Arizona, where she fell in love with the ecology and geology of the Sonoran desert.
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