Earth 2020: Looking back to see forward

April 22, 2020

Former Peter Wall Insitute for Advanced Studies Director Philippe Tortell looks back at the very first Earth Day in 1970 to examine the history of climate change activism, and the lessons to be learned from the global response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The last 50 years have seen significant legislation like the 1987 Montreal Protocol and the 1992 Rio Earth Summit. Our societies have shifted through geopolitical shifts, economic expansion and technological advances, but the problems are embedded into the fabric of society. Tortell says combating climate change in a meaningful way will take no less than a re-imagining of the global energy sector. He points to the COVID-19 pandemic response, which demonstrated society’s ability to mobilize rapidly in the face of existential threats. 

Philippe Tortell is a biological and chemical oceanographer; he is a professor at UBC’s department of Earth, Ocean and Atmospheric Science. He has edited a number of books, including Reflections of Canada, Memory: Essays on how, why, and when we remember, and most recently Earth 2020: An Insider’s Guide to a Rapidly Changing Planet