NCDEQ Secretary Michael Regan's Message

As we ushered in the new year, the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality had grand plans to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Earth Day, but as we all know, the coronavirus crisis significantly altered our agenda.  Right now, our first priority is working together to stop the spread of COVID-19 and protect our public health and safety.  The same “all hands on deck approach” is also required to solve Climate Change, the biggest challenge facing our generation and one that is at the heart of Earth Day and the environmental movement.

Across the country, people are staying home and many are working remotely. Our children are getting their education virtually, and graduates will have to forgo the treasured ceremony of walking across the stage to receive their diplomas. So, when we can do so safely, many of us are finding solace outdoors, in our own neighborhoods and backyards, because when we are stressed and uncertain, we turn to nature for moments of joy and peace. After all, spring in North Carolina is one of the most beautiful times of the year.

Growing up in Eastern North Carolina I spent a lot of time fishing and hunting with my grandad and dad. I can vividly remember sitting near the edge of the river waiting to catch the first fish of the day or watching our beagles chase rabbits. My love for the environment was instilled in me as a kid, and it has never left me.  It is the reason I chose to make environmental protection my life’s work.

This year’s call for ‘Climate Action’ as the theme of Earth Day is especially important. We must take immediate actions to combat the impacts of climate change, to curb greenhouse gas emissions and to ensure a cleaner, safer future.  The same spirit of working together that we see in trying to stop the spread of COVID-19, from the government to individual citizens, is what we need to combat climate change. We cannot wait any longer.

The good news is, this is not an impossible task and it helps that environmental awareness is more mainstream than it was on the first Earth Day in 1970. Today, being an environmentalist is cool. The very nature of environmentalism has evolved from simply protecting the environment to ensuring we preserve our way of life. Even the term ‘environmentalist’ has evolved. Environmentalists are no longer primarily known for wearing Birkenstocks, but are also recognized as business leaders, students, celebrities, children, and moms and dads trying to leave the world better than how they found it. The tent has expanded and everyone can participate in saving the planet through seemingly small actions that have long-lasting impacts.

With the expansion of the tent, environmentalism has also become more inclusive of the complete discussion concerning social justice, equity and the economic implications of our collective decisions. Whether it’s recovering from more intense and frequent storms or removing an island of trash from the ocean, environmentalism has embraced sustainability and technological advancements as a source of economic growth and the jobs created from a clean energy economy.  

North Carolinians are embracing environmentalism and paving the way for future generations to have a clean, sustainable environment in which to live, work and play.  Much of that is thanks to the talented environmental educators across our state who share the wonder and science of our natural resources with our students of all ages.  Through environmental education, those who didn’t grow up fishing and hunting like I did, can still learn about the natural world and develop the foundational understanding of how important and precious our resources are and why we need to protect them.  Even now, as those lessons are happening online and in backyards across our state, we are inspiring the next generation to take Climate Action, so they’ll be able to celebrate Earth Day milestones for the next 50 years.