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EARTH DAY 2005

Time to honor the planet, every day

by Stephen Hesse

‘If the environment is a fad, then it’s going to be our last fad,” warned Denis Hayes at the first Earth Day on April 22, 1970, having given up his own graduate studies at Harvard only months before to organize this historic event.

“We are building a movement, a movement with a broad base, a movement which transcends political boundaries. It is a movement that values people more than technology, people more than political boundaries, people more than profit,” said Hayes, now a 61-year-old advocate of solar energy and environmental conservation.

Since that spring day in 1970, 35 Earth Days have passed, as well as 20 International Earth Days. So, with decades of awareness-raising under our belts, it seems reasonable to ask: How are we doing in our efforts to preserve the planet?

The short answer from the experts is: very poorly.

If you are wondering why the experts are so concerned, here is an eye-opening test you can take. Go online to www.earthday.net/footprint/index.asp and answer a few questions about where and how you live — choosing the specific region you live in. The Web site will then tell you how big your environmental footprint is, based on how many Earths it would take if everyone lived at the same level of consumption as you.

If you live in a developed country, you may be shocked to find out how many planets are needed for everyone on Earth to live as well as we do. Mea culpa: I’ve seen the facts before, but I was still shocked.

On the first Earth Day, 35 years ago in the United States, millions of individuals, organizations and communities took part, and for many children, including myself, that was our first taste of civic and environmental activism. As a 13-year-old, to be part of a nationwide movement supported by parents, schools, politicians and the media was an intoxicating mix of individual empowerment and community optimism.

“Earth Day worked because of the spontaneous response at the grassroots level. We had neither the time nor resources to organize 20 million demonstrators and the thousands of schools and local communities that participated. That was the remarkable thing about Earth Day. It organized itself,” writes Former Wisconsin Senator Gaylord Nelson, who is credited with spearheading the first Earth Day with Denis Hayes.

Twenty years later, in 1990, Earth Day went global, once again organized by Hayes. That year, 200 million people in 141 countries participated in the first International Earth Day. Five years later, Hayes again returned to serve as chair of the 30th Earth Day. Today he heads the Earth Day Network, which coordinates Earth Day activities worldwide, and he is president and CEO of the Bullitt Foundation, a $100 million environmental foundation in Seattle, Washington.

Considering the threats that face our planet and the serious concerns of those who know it intimately (see accompanying interview with David Suzuki and C.W. Nicol), it is disconcerting how little attention the media focus on Earth Day events, even once a year.

In contrast, in 1969 — long before ozone depletion, climate change, melting glaciers and barren seas were on the horizon — and five months before the first Earth Day had even been named, The New York Times (Nov. 30, 1969) ran an article on the spread of environmental concern in the U.S.

“Rising concern about the environmental crisis is sweeping the nation’s campuses with an intensity that may be on its way to eclipsing student discontent over the war in Vietnam . . . a national day of observance of environmental problems . . . is being planned for next spring . . . when a nationwide environmental ‘teach-in’ . . . coordinated from the office of Sen. Gaylord Nelson is planned,” wrote Gladwin Hill.

Of course, people today are concerned as well, but perhaps we have become numb to all the talk.

A Google search of environmental problems turned up about 2,630,000 sites, while a search for Earth Day activities found only about 153,000.

The problem seems to be too much talk and not enough action. If you are in Japan and interested in doing something this weekend for Earth Day, see below. As many as 100,000 people are expected to turn out for this year’s activities, the same as in 2004.

If you are outside Japan, the Earth Day Network is a good place to begin ( www.earthday.net ). The EDN reaches more than 12,000 organizations in 174 countries, with more than a half a billion people participating in EDN-related campaigns every year.

EDN also has networks in Spanish, French, Bulgarian, Albanian, Macedonian and Serbian, and there are events April 22 — and everyday across the globe, from Japan and China to Israel and Palestine, and from Serbia to Quebec and Mexico.

As Mahatma Gandhi said, “Be the change you want to see in the world.”

That is what Earth Day is all about; taking action every day.

On Saturday and Sunday (April 23 and 24), Earth Day events in Tokyo will center on Yoyogi Park in Shibuya Ward, where a stage and activity area will be set up by the Earth Day Tokyo staff. Entertainment will include music, food, dancing, crafts, a fair-trade market, activities for kids, a free market and a hemp exhibit, to name a few.

On Saturday, there will also be a Spring Stream Clean Parade, a 15-km clean-up action beginning at Yoyogi Park and proceeding to Shibuya, Ebisu, Azabu, Hamamatsu-cho, the Rainbow Bridge, Odaiba, Ooedo Onsen Monogatari and along the river to Tokyo Bay.

In the evening there will be a candle-light event with music in Yoyogi Park.

For more information, visit: www.earthday-tokyo.org