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Staff photo by Erin O. Smith / Clay Couch holds up a sign reading "we only get one!" during a Climate Strike Friday, Sept. 20, 2019 in front of the Tennessee Aquarium in Chattanooga, Tennessee. The event coincides with Global Climate Strike Week.

This year, amid coronavirus concerns, environmental organizations must forgo Earth Day marches and festivals.

But there are advantages to that — ones that go beyond reducing the carbon footprint associated with such celebrations.

Accessibility, for example, said Matthew Merritt, an 18-year-old McCallie School senior and Climate Chattanooga volunteer.

Climate Chattanooga is a grassroots organization dedicated to clean energy and sustainable development. In addition to working to enact policy change and promoting green initiatives such as tree planting and gardening, it organizes Chattanooga's annual Earth Day march. And this year, Merritt was to spearhead the effort.

He had just begun to plan, however, when COVID-19 knocked the march off course.

So, in lieu of a one-day event, the volunteers decided to host a virtual Earth Week, featuring free webinars. 

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Staff photo by Erin O. Smith / A sign reading "the future is green" is propped up for others to see during a Climate Strike Friday, Sept. 20, 2019 in front of the Tennessee Aquarium in Chattanooga, Tennessee. The event coincides with Global Climate Strike Week.

Climate Chattanooga's virtual Earth Week will feature a series of videos focused on different issues related to climate and sustainability in the Southeast.

For example, Erik Schmidt, Chattanooga's director of sustainability, will present interesting facts on local sustainable projects. Merritt plans to host a video discussing environmental injustice in regard to the historical pollution of Chattanooga Creek. And other Climate Chattanooga student volunteers will discuss the importance of voting and how to register. 

Throughout the week of April 20-24, Climate Chattanooga will share these videos on its Facebook page, each lasting 5 to 15 minutes. The content, said Merritt, will be curated for all ages, and he hopes to attract a wider audience to the cause.

He believes the virtual celebration has the potential to do that — more so even than a march.

"More people have the internet than the freedom to go to march," he said.

And while the webinar series "may be less visible than people chanting in the streets, it's so much more accessible and educational," he said.

To learn more about Climate Chattanooga or its virtual Earth Week celebration, follow the group on Facebook at www.facebook.com/ClimateChattanooga/.

Email Sunny Montgomery at smontgomery@timesfreepress.com.

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