Officials in La Crosse and across the state celebrated the 50th anniversary of Earth Day on Wednesday, signing resolutions recognizing the milestone holiday.
The holiday started here in Wisconsin in 1970, when Gaylord Nelson, U.S. senator from Wisconsin and environmentalist, launched the global call to action.
La Crosse Mayor Tim Kabat and other elected officials, including U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin, all signed resolutions recognizing the anniversary.
“This grassroots movement began with one man from Clear Lake, Wisconsin, who had a vision and a deep commitment to keep our promise to future generations,” Baldwin wrote in a statement.
But this year’s celebration looked a little different than most, as the world hit “pause” during the COVID-19 outbreaks.
“It is unfortunate, and it’s a bit sad that we’re not able to have our usual celebration,” Kabat said, “and especially with the fact that this is the 50th year and that makes it all the more special and all the more sad that we’re not able to do that.”
Each Earth Day, La Crosse usually holds an Earth Fair and Kabat plants a tree in the city with the help of kids from the community, but both events were cancelled because of the pandemic shutdowns.
“We’re living in extraordinary times and we’re doing the best we can to try and keep each other safe,” Kabat said of the cancellations.
But he noted that despite not being able to publicly celebrate, the community could still learn from how the Earth is responding to this global halt.
“It is amazing to see what’s going on around the world,” Kabat said, noting places like India where communities were able to see the Himalayan mountain range for the first time in decades after smog decreased, and in Venice where empty canal streets saw crystal clear waters.
“Those are real examples that show us in real time what happens when we’re all taking a pause,” Kabat said.
“That shows the balance between our economy and the environment and how at this time, when people are on lockdown, how the environment is sort of either reclaiming or revitalizing itself,” Kabat said.
Kabat said, too, it’s made his own staff consider how they can take these results and use them to better the community once reopened after the pandemic.
“Wouldn’t it be great if we could still have a day a week, or some period of time where we could put the pause button on again?,” he said.
“And I’m hopeful that we will be able to take away, and learn something so that as we go forward we can have a better balance and perhaps keep the health of the planet and the environment more at a forefront, more at a focus as we’re looking at the economic decisions,” he said.
In the city, climate efforts are still underway. Last year, the city invested $4.2 million in energy efficient upgrades at several facilities, and solar panels are going up on four city buildings this spring.
The city is also taking the next steps to develop a climate action plan to meet its carbon neutral goal by 2050.
“We’re actively trying to do our part,” Kabat said. “It doesn’t take much time to see these types of results.”
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