UNA-GP Celebrates Earth Day

The world celebrated the 50th annual Earth Day on April 22, 2020! In honor of this milestone, the United Nations Association of Greater Philadelphia (UNA-GP) hosted a discussion panel called “No Warming, No Waste, No Wars,” which also celebrated Philadelphia’s legacy in championing environmental protection. 

In particular, Earth Day traces its origins back to Wisconsin Sen. Gaylord Nelson’s work in the 1960s to raise awareness for the pollution threats driven by the U.S.’s dependency on nonrenewable resources. Inspired by this, the University of Pennsylvania pioneered Philadelphia’s sustainability movement by hosting a week-long environmental event in April 1970 to discuss concerns about pollution and share resources for formulating a solution. 

Today, international powers are still racing to implement a sustainable solution to combat these problems. However, one silver lining of the COVID-19 pandemic is its array of environmental benefits. For example, with people staying indoors in accordance with public health guidelines, pollution levels around the world have decreased: skies have cleared for the first time in years, rivers have lower level of pollutants, biodiversity is improving in oceans and so on. As a result, it’s important now more than ever for people to become aware of their environmental impact on the world so that we can preserve these improvements when the pandemic is over. 

The UNA-GP panel created a forum for speakers and audience members to discuss the ways we can achieve this in Philadelphia. Discussing the ways Philadelphians can reduce and reuse, the panel was hosted by Danielle Alura, who will represent Pennsylvania as Elite Miss Pennsylvania Earth at the Miss Earth USA Pageant this summer. In particular, she focused on how we can cut down on food scraps and donate to meal share programs, highlighting Philadelphia’s intention to open a community compost center later this year. Alura also mentioned how people can reuse bathing water for plants since it can act as a natural pesticide (from the residue of organic body products). 

In addition to Alura, the first panel speaker was Ed Aguilar, the Pennsylvania Director for the Coalition for Peace Action. Aguilar spoke about the global ceasefire initiative, in which the UN urged those in conflict to lay down their weapons as a way to prioritize recovery efforts in the midst of the pandemic. Aguilar also encouraged people to help overcome food insecurity by creating their own gardens or community gardens as well as supporting organizations like Philabundance. Further, he discussed a proposed plan for green energy initiatives that could create more than 100,000 jobs as well as reduce Pennsylvania’s overall pollution levels.

Next, UNA-GP Executive Director Christian Morssink spoke about the UN’s Mother Earth Day 2020, which promoted global aid and vaccination efforts to combat the pandemic. He also discussed Earth Pledge, an educational outreach program that seeks to elevate earth consciousness by teaching younger generations how to protect the planet (particularly in light of population growth). Further, Morssink mentioned the threat that monoculture (planting a single crop in one area) poses to reforestation efforts. In particular, he urged Philadelphians to join local community and environmental groups in calling for companies to go green. 

Following Morssink, the next panelist to speak was Tim Dodd, the Director of Engagement for Voice For Impact. Dodd spoke about the growth of food insecurity in the midst of the pandemic as well as ways to improve accessibility to SNAP benefits. Dodd concluded by discussing how programming and advertisements can be used to share information on how to access local aid and resources. 

The final panelist was UNA-GP President Manisha Patel, who sought to raise awareness for the alarming amount of waste that the U.S. produces in comparison to the rest of the world. Patel further discussed the importance of supporting the organizations that are spearheading the global effort to combat the pandemic, such as the World Health Organization.

The panel concluded with a question and answer session, in which audience members were able to speak directly with the panelists about their environmental concerns. During this time, the panelists advised that non-English speakers should contact Philadelphia’s Office of Immigrant Affairs and/or local community groups if they are experiencing difficulty accessing information on the pandemic. 

For more information on UNA-GP, visit their website here: https://una-gp.org

Article by Jonathan Fragozo-Gonzalez on behalf of the Global Philadelphia Association