Earth Challenge 2020: A Global Citizen Science Experience for Good


Earth Day looks a little different this year, but Earth Challenge 2020 is making sure nobody misses out on the action

In a day and age where it feels that everything is changing too fast to keep up, and the uncertainty of life’s circumstances can be overwhelming, it’s easy to question what you can accomplish, or whether it’s even worth it. Though it’s natural to feel discouraged, it’s times like these that call upon our individual passions and skills, challenging us to come together and celebrate what we CAN do. When it seems that familiarity is slipping out of our fingers, we are reminded of what is constant, welcoming, and unchanging. We’re invited to take current conditions and create positive change on behalf of our future selves, those we will never meet, and the ground we walk on. This is the essence of Earth Day and Earth Challenge 2020.

Photo: Earth Day Network

Breaking records for Earth Day’s 50th Anniversary

Earth Day Network (EDN), The Wilson Center, and the US Department of State have combined efforts to create a record-breaking, global day of Earth stewardship, known as Earth Challenge 2020 (EC2020). This event officially kicks off on the 50th anniversary of Earth Day, April 22nd. EC2020 is already mobilizing millions of people around the world to participate in citizen science initiatives focusing on six crowdsourced science research questions. This first phase of the project will focus on two topic areas: plastics pollution and air quality. Later phases of the project will address water quality, insects, climate change and food security – issues that impact every single one of us. The emergence of the global health crisis we are currently undergoing has not disrupted EC2020’s gusto one bit. In the words of Earth Day Network, “The Earth needs us now more than ever.”

The strategy for Earth Challenge 2020 has seamlessly adapted to the current state of the world. Even though we cannot gather en mass to collect citizen science data or clean up trash, we can still have just as large of an impact, if not more. EC2020 resources are all online and people from all walks of life are able to get involved. What’s important is that each of us use our own capacities, strengths, and interests, directing our energy to cultivate progress- not fear, stagnation, or separation.

Be Part of the Action with the EC2020 Mobile App

The EC2020 mobile app currently has two widgets designed and informed by teams of researchers from UN Environment, Esri, the European Space Agency, and hundreds of universities and organizations from around the world. When you collect data with the app, you’re contributing data to help answer EC2020’s research questions. 

The Plastics Pollution widget contains two modes- “Wander Mode”, where you simply snap a photo of litter that you spot throughout the day, and “Clean-up Mode”, where litter can be tracked and categorized. “Clean-up Mode” is designed especially for group clean-up events and that part of the app will be made available probably sometime this fall when we can hopefully gather in groups again safely. Using these tools, you can do your part to protect the Earth within the safety of your own neighborhood.

There is a similar widget for understanding local Air Quality. Use the EC2020 app to take a picture of the horizon where you live and rate the air quality you think the photo represents. Your photo will become part of a database of millions of photos being used to better understand air quality around the world. After you submit your photo, you will be given a reading about your air quality from the nearest research grade air quality sensor to your location.

Screenshot of the EC2020 Plastics Widget
Screenshot from the Earth Challenge 2020 Plastics Widget

Open Data for all to explore

What’s more, EC2020’s commitment to Open Data for all means that the information collected and progress made is shared with the world. If you like to explore maps, there are a few phenomenal, interactive resources for you. Did you know that nearly half of all plastic debris found in oceans globally is made up of plastic bottles and tops? Play around for yourself on the maps showcasing Citizen Science Plastics Research From Around the World and the Global Marine Debris Top 10 and Air Quality Monitoring.

Making the movement move

Still feeling discouraged? I hope not. The spirit of scientific discovery is to work with current circumstances, improve life for everybody, and always learn along the way. In just a couple of weeks, Earth Day marks a symbolic chance for all of us, as a global community, to rise up in the face of challenge and use it as fuel for change. 

Although we cannot physically band together in these times, the power of our collective voice and actions is ever-strong. I invite you to take the challenge. Download the app and be a part of this global movement.

And for the social media oriented, follow and share the journey using hashtags #EarthChallenge2020, #EC2020, #EarthDay2020, #CitizenScience, and #CitSci.

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