Monday, 19 Apr 1999

BOSTON

I start the day with Gay Vernon. Her interview show on WMJX (“Magic” Radio) has Boston’s largest audience among women 25 to 55. Gay has been up since 2:30 this morning, preparing for Boston Marathon coverage. She is high-energy and enthusiastic. Wearing running shoes. And (bucking the Larry King trend — “My listeners haven’t read your stuff. If I don’t read it, I’ll ask the questions they would ask”) she’s well-informed on what we are up to and does a spirited, intelligent interview.

Take the “T” to Cambridge (humming the old Kingston Trio ballad as I pass familiar stations), where I do a phone interview with Felipe Luciano of WLIB in New York. As the call letters imply, this is not a Rush Limbaugh outlet. Felipe mixes salsa, jazz, culture, politics, and commentary. He is a leading talk show host in the New York African-American community, and a huge part of his audience has Caribbean roots. We chat about his student days at Queens College where he was a serious radical in 1970 who thought of Earth Day as a diversion.

Today, Felipe is passionate about the connections between social justice and environmental justice. I mention that the worst water, the worst toxics, and the worst air pollution are always in the poorest neighborhoods. And the very worst air pollution in the world is indoors — inside tens of millions of Third World huts where women burn dung and twigs in open fires to cook their food. There, particulates and hydrocarbon pollutants are often 10 times worse than in the most polluted urban air — and this indoor air is all breathed by poor women and their children.

The interview with Felipe (and his call-in listeners) was scheduled for 15 minutes. It swells into an hour, as Michelle (Earth Day’s super-organized communications director) paces back and forth outside the room, letting me know that my schedule is going down the toilet.

We grab a quick lunch at the Harvard Faculty Club with Steve Curwood and Jesse Legman of NPR’s “Living on Earth.” Steve covers the environmental beat as thoroughly and thoughtfully as any journalist I’ve ever met. He’s an incredibly nice guy, while at the same time he asks the tough, skeptical questions about everything. A disarming combination. Jesse is young, smart, and has just placed his first piece in the Atlantic. Celebratory mood.

We race off to the Boston Globe for an editorial board meeting with Bruce Davidson. I know I am starting to sound like a suck-up to journalists, but Bruce turns out to be terrific. He lets me spend the first five minutes framing the discussion, and then he plays a deft game of interview poker — showing just enough of his hand to keep me on my toes. Starts with a set of tough questions about serial hybrids, photovoltaics, fuel cells, and biofuels. After I pass the technology exam, he settles in and we spend an hour traversing the entire terrain of the politics and policy of energy and climate change — and what the Earth Day campaign plans to do about it.

Catch the T back to Harvard. Chris Fox, who dropped out of Yale 10 years ago to be our New England college coordinator for Earth Day 1990, is now at Harvard Divinity School. He has not let his organizing skills get rusty. He’s assembled a roomful of activists and experts from around the region to start thinking about what they can do for the Earth Day 2000 campaign. I can’t recite all the names in the space available, but I could not have handpicked a better roomful of folks. One random example: Bill Moomaw from Tufts announced that he and his colleagues had persuaded the university administration to meet the Kyoto CO2 reduction targets. The president of Tufts will announce the commitment this Earth Day. Bill is now working with Ted Smith and others to get other colleges, churches, businesses, and others throughout New England to make the same commitment. Why wait for the Senate? Let’s just do it!

From 6:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m., Chris has organized a public Earth Day forum at the Kennedy School Auditorium. The room overflows. I start my talk with some reflections about my decision to
drop out of this same Kennedy School 30 years earlier to accept Gaylord Nelson’s invitation to move to Washington to assemble a national staff for the first Earth Day. After the funny stuff and the moist-eyed stuff, I roar into the energy/climate change agenda.

The panel of respondents is a forceful reminder of the intellectual firepower of Harvard. The moderator is Professor Phil Sharp, a 10-term member of Congress who was the principal author of (among other things) the National Energy Act. Professor John Holdren — a friend for more than 30 years — is simply one of the smartest people in the world. He chairs President Clinton’s Council of Scientific Advisors. Professor Mike McElroy is one of the world’s most distinguished climate scientists, and the head of Harvard’s Department of Earth & Planetary Sciences. Veronica Eady, a dynamic African-American attorney, used to teach environmental law at Stanford. She now works where the rubber meets the road on environmental justice, running the ACE group in Roxbury and serving on the national board of the Sierra Club. Bob Massie, a former leader of the South Africa divestment campaign and a former Democratic nominee for Lt. Governor of Massachusetts, is now the executive director of the Coalition for Environmentally Responsible Economies. It would be hard to assemble a more stellar panel of Homo sapiens.

The forum adjourns to a smaller reception. The reception adjourns to a still smaller dinner for the panelists and organizers. At the end of it all, I trundle back to my hotel to catch a few hours’ sleep before heading to Washington, D.C. What a great day!