BYU students and faculty find unique ways to celebrate Earth Day during the pandemic

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BYU students Emilee Severe and Sierra Curtis worked with faculty members and University Communications to create a video highlighting perspectives of “divine stewardship” from students across campus. (Sierra Curtis)

Students and faculty from various departments across campus had big plans for the 50th anniversary of Earth Day this year, including live dance performances, music played through bike-powered sound systems and a series of speeches. Unfortunately, the global pandemic caused a cancellation of those plans.

But BYU students Emilee Severe and Sierra Curtis didn’t let COVID-19 ruin their Earth Day celebrations. The two environmental science majors used social media to reach out to professors and University Communications to help them in their efforts to organize a pine tree planting by the BYU Duck Pond and to create an Earth Day-themed video highlighting the importance of divine stewardship in caring for the Earth.

The video was inspired by President M. Russell Ballard’s BYU devotional address last month and features students from 10 different majors across campus answering questions pertaining to religion, divine stewardship and environmental stewardship.

“It was the most uplifting project I’ve ever done,” Curtis said. “Everyone was so positive and had such beautiful views of the environment.”

In another act to commemorate Earth Day, Severe, Curtis and four BYU professors put on some face masks and met Wednesday morning to plant a Rocky Mountain Bristlecone Pine next to the BYU Duck Pond.

“I saw it as a celebration of everything BYU has done so far, almost like a mark of how BYU is going to try and be more sustainable in the future,” Severe said.

BYU Photo
Students Sierra Curtis and Emily Severe help plant a Rocky Mountain Bristlecone Pine near the Botany Pond on the BYU Campus in celebration of Earth Day during the COVID-19 pandemic. (Nate Edwards/BYU Photo)

Historical significance of Earth Day

BYU had its first Earth Day celebration on April 22, 1970 — a time when the nation was entering the environmental decade. The university celebrated with an all-day lecture series held on the west-side of the Wilkinson Student Center.

When Earth Day was first celebrated 50 years ago, protection of the environment was seen as a nonpartisan issue, according to BYU law professor Brigham Daniels. Most of the environmental laws that passed in the following years, including the Clean Air Act and Clean Water Act, either passed unanimously or with just a few dissenting votes in Congress.

Daniels acknowledges that the environment have since become a more divided issue. But he also points out the significant progress that unified protective efforts have had on the environment since Earth Day was established 50 years ago.

“Every year since then, our environment has gotten better,” Daniels said. “We’ve had challenges for sure, but we have made substantial progress over the past 50 years cleaning up air and water in this country.”

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