Leandra Mira
Leandra Mira (second from left) marching in the Youth Climate Strike. Photo by Mark Dixon/Blue Lens.

Since the first Earth Day ignited our collective conscience 50 years ago, Americans have stepped up to fight for clean air, water and land.

To kick off the 50th anniversary of Earth Day, dozens of Pittsburgh activists, musicians, artists and others will join together on Sunday, April 19 to declare a climate emergency — virtually, of course. The Pittsburgh Earth Week 2020 Teach-In is designed to amplify voices from a broad spectrum of organizations and communities, its organizers say.

Pittsburgh Earth Week will occur in two phases. Sunday’s Teach-In features speakers, artists and musicians talking about issues for marginalized communities such as housing, education, employment and environmental assaults. Topics include air and water pollution, petrochemicals and climate change.

The second event starts at midnight on Wednesday, April 22, a virtual 24-hour Youth Climate Strike hosted by Fridays for Future Pittsburgh. Broadcast on the group’s Instagram feed, this live-stream message will involve Pittsburgh students urging the adoption of a climate emergency declaration.

“What’s comforting to me is that in the darkest of times, when the material world is stripped away, the things we value most are communication, relationships and the health of our loved ones,” says Leandra Mira, an Upper St. Clair High School student leading the event.

Tracy Baton, project organizer of the Teach-In, warns that we cannot allow a second “silent spring” — the title of Rachel Carson’s groundbreaking 1962 book warning against pesticide use — to result from today’s neglect of science and the environment at the federal government level. Government-appointed scientists have cautioned against the recent weakening of environmental regulations.

“The current environmental assault is most brutal for those that are also most vulnerable,” Baton says.

Teach-In participants will talk about how to take action, personally and collectively, to address such things as food insecurity, urban housing, recycling and reducing our carbon and petrochemical footprint. Organizers will also remind voters to elect leaders who uphold their values in this year’s primary and general elections.

“On the 50th anniversary of Earth Week, let us listen to what our people have to say,” says Michelle King, a middle school teacher who is emcee and moderator of the Teach-In. “We are encouraging everyone, in communities across our city and region, to take the time to listen as we raise up the voices of our people.

“Whose stories are still invisible? Who are on the front lines of justice? Who is not at the table of these critical conversations? How might we recognize the interconnectedness of environmental, social justice, and public health issues?” asks King, who hopes to garner stories of triumph and challenge from people of varying ages, races, genders, backgrounds and lived experiences.

More than 50 organizations are supporting the event. A schedule and list of speakers can be found on the Earth Week Pittsburgh website, along with a list of coalition partners. People can visit the website to accept the challenge.

The 2020 virtual celebration “aspires to make Earth Day better than the original Earth Day 50 years ago, despite the challenges of having the event occur online to protect our community’s health,” says Matt Mehalik, executive director of the Breathe Project and a member of Earth Week 2020 Coalition Steering Committee.

“Our goal is to try to broaden and strengthen connections with more community members in the event … especially people who have been excluded historically from participating in a broader environmental movement,” says Mehalik.

Any proceeds raised during the Teach-In and Youth Climate Strike will support the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank.

There are three ways to watch Sunday’s Teach-In:

Sandra Tolliver is a freelance writer, editor and public relations professional in Upper St. Clair.