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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

Earth Day Countdown

Air Date: Week of

Keith Seinfeld, of member station KPLU, in Seattle, reports on efforts to make Earth Day 2000 make a bigger splash than the event has in recent years. Earth Day Organizers say this year’s events, will be more than the litter patrols and tree-planting parties of years past. Instead, they’re trying to focus public attention on energy and on global climate change.


CURWOOD: The birds and the calendar say it's spring. So it's not too early to start making plans for Earth Day on April 22nd. In fact, the official organizers of Earth Day 2000 have been working on their plans for years. They're hoping to use the millennium as the theme to bring new life to an event that's lost a bit of its edge since the first Earth Day 30 years ago. In recent years, Earth Day celebrations have focused on tangible things close to home: recycling, tree-planting, and Earth-friendly products. This year the focus is on energy and the connection to global climate change -- and on a technological revolution which could bring us cleaner power for our daily lives. From Seattle, Keith Seinfeld of member station KPLU has our report.


CHILD: Whoa. (Shouts)

SEINFELD: Over the years, Earth Day has become foremost a national occasion for volunteerism, a time for neighbors to clean up creeks and plant trees. That's what these Seattle residents did on Earth Day a few years back. Thornton Creek flows from a parking lot through culverts and into a ravine.(Flowing water)

CHILD: We are picking up Styrofoam out of the creek, because it will get all brownish and go down the creek. Animals don't like it.

MAN: It's kind of an opportunity to actually get in and get your hands dirty and do something.

SEINFELD: Neighbors are still fighting to revive this urban stream, but it won't be a major focus for Earth Day 2000. Instead, organizers want people to address a global problem: climate change caused by greenhouse gases that come from the burning of oil, gas, and coal.

HAYES: What we're trying to do this year is to take these issues of clean energy and climate change and focus the spotlight on them for perhaps a month.

SEINFELD: Dennis Hayes is chairman and chief strategist of the campaign.

HAYES: A really successful Earth Day will focus public attention on some issue for long enough that it actually penetrates the public consciousness and gets catapulted to a different level of priority.

SEINFELD: If anyone knows Earth Day's potential to provoke change, it's Dennis Hayes. He helped organize the very first event back in 1970, which generated the political energy that led to the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, the Endangered Species Act and the Environmental Protection Agency. This year, Mr. Hayes hopes to force a showdown over our ever-growing appetite for energy.

HAYES: The only way that that fight can be won on behalf of sustainable energy is if the public rises up and demands it.

(Voices; a phone rings)

SEINFELD: The nerve center for the campaign is a storefront office near Seattle's downtown waterfront. Activists here are finalizing plans for what they hope will be massive rallies in about 40 U.S. cities. The main event will be April 22nd on the Mall in Washington, D.C., headlined by actor Leonardo DiCaprio. The donated desks here are a bit dingy, but the operations are state-of-the-art. Everywhere is the hum of new computers linking activists worldwide via Web sites and e-mail. There's even an online Earth Day store run by James Urbati.

URBATI: We're scoured the country and outside the country, looking for the products that have the best message. The toys are big sellers. The hemp teddy bears. The frisbee's a fairly big seller.

SEINFELD: It might seem funny that there's an official Earth Day stapler, toilet paper, and frisbee, but Mr. Urbati says the products are raising money. And some actually make arcane energy policy more accessible to the public. While there's great optimism for Earth Day 2000, organizers concede achieving their goal won't be easy. Media coordinator Michelle Ackerman says despite the sudden jolt of high gas prices, energy policy is not the sexiest topic for rallying the public.

ACKERMAN: Energy is a tough issue. It's very complicated, you know, it takes big plants burning stuff, you know, that's how we've done it in the past. And in a way it's kind of a mystery. You flip a light switch, the light goes on, and you know, you're just glad it does but you don't really think about why it does.

SEINFELD: And getting people to ponder over power lines is just a first step. Ms. Ackerman and other Earth Day activists would like to persuade the Senate to break its deadlock and ratify the Kyoto treaty to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Whatever their success, they plan to tackle other themes in future years. They say Earth Day will no longer be something we hear about every five or ten years on nostalgic anniversaries, but rather an ongoing voice for change. For Living on Earth, I'm Keith Seinfeld in Seattle.



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