Denis Hayes is chair of Earth Day Network. He was the national coordinator for the first Earth Day in 1970 and now earns his keep as president of the Bullitt Foundation in Seattle, Wash. He is also author of the new book The Official Earth Day Guide to Planet Repair.
Saturday, 15 Apr 2000
NEW YORK, N.Y.
I leave my house at 6:00 a.m. Saturday to catch a flight to New York. Earth Day New York is being held on April 16 to avoid Easter.
Pick up the New York Times at the airport. An op-ed by Gregg Easterbrook delivers the nastiest attack yet on Leonardo DiCaprio’s ABC interview with President Clinton on global warming. Easterbrook tosses off a long, incoherent paragraph referencing ocean-current fluid dynamics, anthropogenic gases, and carbon sequestration — implying that Leo wouldn’t have a clue what these terms mean. Trying to sort through Easterbrook’s weird verbal construction, I come to suspect that Leonardo understands them better than Gregg does.
In any event, does anyone really believe that America is holding its breath for a presidential assessment of “ocean-current fluid dynamics”? Does anyone think Sam Donaldson is prepared for a test on carbon sequestration?
What Easterbrook shares with all the dozens of other critics who rushed their comments into print is that none of them has heard the interview.
Yesterday’s episode was even juicier — a smarmy attack on DiCaprio’s environmental credentials by Republican House Whip Tom DeLay. Can you conceive of a more amusing example of a frog calling a prince ugly? Having your environmental integrity questioned by Tom DeLay is like having your table manners criticized by Jabba the Hutt.
DeLay, you may recall, is the nut who regularly attacks the EPA as “jack-booted thugs.” DeLay thinks environmental saint Rachel Carson was a wild-eyed extremist. A professional pesticide sprayer before entering politics, DeLay views Silent Spring as a market niche. If ignorance is bliss, DeLay inhabits a state of perpetual ecstasy.
In any event, these folks are all missing the point. Leonardo is a terrific choice to chair this year’s Earth Day. Let me explain why.
In 1970, the first Earth Day was principally organized by millions of young people. A key function of Earth Day has always been to enlist new generations of Americans into an effort to protect the world they will be inheriting.
But the average age of environmental group members has been getting older. Although young people tell pollsters that they care passionately about environmental issues, most of them don’t join or support environmental groups.
A year ago, the organizers of Earth Day 2000 decided that we wanted the event’s “chair” to be someone with a broad appeal to youth — someone who could help us enlist a new generation. In terms that Michael Jordan and Tiger Woods would understand, we were looking for a spokesperson to help position Earth Day for the youth market.
Celebrities have long lent their reputations to causes they believe in. Woody Guthrie performed hundreds of benefits for the labor movement. Sidney Poitier, Harry Belafonte, Marian Anderson, and scores of others helped inspire the civil rights movement. The antiwar movement enlisted half of Hollywood.
The environmental movement has benefited from the public support of Robert Redford, Harrison Ford, Sting, Ted Danson, Ed Begley, Jr., and myriad others. Tom Cruise chaired Earth Day 1990.
After I had my first long conversation with Leonardo, I knew he was right for Earth Day 2000. I have seldom found a star as thoughtful, knowledgeable, and deeply concerned about any issue as Leo is about climate change. Our talks reminded me of conversations I had a quarter century ago with the young Robert Redford when he chaired a similar national clean energy campaign that I organized.
That is what’s so ironic about this feeding frenzy of criticism over ABC’s choice of Leonardo to discuss climate and energy issues with President Clinton. Leo actually knows more about these subjects than most of the reporters I’ve encountered.
I haven’t heard the raw ABC interview, and I certainly have no idea what will be left on the floor of the editing room. But Leo and Bill both have interesting, unconventional intellects. Some years ago, I spent most of a day with Clinton and a few actors — Billy Crystal, Tom Skerritt, Christopher Reeve, Lindsay Wagner, and others. The president let his guard down and joked around in a way that he never would have with Sam Donaldson. I wouldn’t be shocked if Leo elicited some candid comments that no reporter could ever obtain.
For example, I want to know whether Clinton thinks that Congress, at the behest of the coal and oil industries, will force America to abdicate leadership in the coming energy transition, and what this will mean for our long-term national security. I’d like to get Clinton’s candid political assessment of the coal industry’s duplicitous lobbying effort to scuttle the global warming treaty, and his opinion about why this twilight industry still has so much clout. Cutting closer to the bone, I want to know why the Clinton administration allowed American carbon dioxide emissions to increase by nearly a fifth during the last eight years. I can see Leo asking those questions, and others like them.
I hope ABC sticks to its guns and runs the interview.
About 4:30, I land in New York. It looks like the Seattle I left — gray skies and cold drizzle. I grieve for the New York Earth Day organizers, and hope for sun tomorrow.
On the taxi ride into town, I get Kelly Evans, Earth Day Network’s executive director, on the phone to find out what’s happening in Washington, D.C.
Good news: 500 people came to our volunteer meeting this morning.
Horrible news: The Washington, D.C., police have cordoned off the Earth Day office as part of the World Bank-IMF exclusion zone. Unless we can crack the police line, we will have no access to our files, lists, computers, phones, etc. until Tuesday.
Maybe the Global Climate Coalition hasn’t lost all its clout after all.
Sunday, 16 Apr 2000
NEW YORK, N.Y.
My hotel is bursting at the seams with teenagers who are attending some sort of choir festival. I am awakened at 3:00 a.m. by a song sung at a decibel level I’d expect of a bull moose in mating season. Or a horny 14-year-old boy. Don’t schools send chaperons along to these things anymore? My tentative sleep cycle spins on to “wake.” I reluctantly get up and go down to the lobby for an early New York Times.
Big mistake. There is still more Leonardo idiocy — a six-inch banner cartoon of him on the top of the front page of the style section, and a truly GIGANTIC article entitled “When Celebrity Hearts Bleed.” Worse, the piece quotes me as making a sarcastic remark that I never uttered.
Great. All I need now is for Leo to start thinking that I’m part of the attack squad. (It isn’t until mid-afternoon Sunday that I learn from Leo’s publicist, Ken Sunshine, that the quotations attributed to him were also misstated.)
At 4:00 a.m., I decide to stroll around the block to loosen up. The rain has driven the muggers off the street. I arrive back in one piece. The hallway is quiet. I go back to sleep.
Sunday morning, the New York sky is gray, and the ground is wet. I head over to the main part of the NY Earth Day rally in Battery Park. Exposed wiring from the renewable energy systems shorted out in the rain. Ron Ka
men — EDNY’s electrical wizard — is busy patching things back together.
The stage was located so that the Statue of Liberty would be directly behind the speaker. This was a great visual concept, except that the fog this morning is so thick you can’t see the nearby shoreline, much less the statue on a distant island.
However, the sky seems to be brightening (and the sound system on the stage is shorted out) so we hold off the opening ceremony for a while. Finally Ron wires the sound system to life and we start.
EDNY gives awards to hard-charging NY Attorney General Elliot Spitzer (an environmental hero), to the Shaklee Corporation (the first company in America to be certified as “climate neutral” in its operations), to reporter Andrew Revkin of the New York Times (who gets his quotes right, and his facts right, too!), and to the Green Guerillas (a local group that I don’t know but that everyone seems to love).
I’m the final speaker. The sun is out. The Statue of Liberty is visible in all her glory. Moved by the famous inscription, I launch into a rap about waves of immigrants “yearning to breathe free — not yearning to breathe smog and sulfur dioxide and sub-micros particulates — but breathe free!” I say it is a triumph of the environmental movement that we’ve guaranteed everyone a right to breathe free. If James Watt or Tom DeLay tries to take that right away, the children of those immigrants will rise up as one and crush them!
(Reflecting calmly tonight, I realize it is better as rhetoric than history. My starving grandparents would have sucked acid mist if it were necessary in order to get a job.)
I hang around for a while with a crew that is preparing a video news release to send out Monday by satellite to 400 TV stations across the nation. I do a piece in front of the globe at the World Trade Center Plaza about the scope of this Earth Day in other countries. I do another quick piece in front of a pre-fab, stand-alone, solar-powered, super-efficient house by Kiss & Cathcart, designed to sell for about $36,000 (including the solar cell arrays). It’s a very small dwelling by U.S. standards — just 600 square feet — but it can be expanded with additional prefabricated modules.
I check in by cell phone with the D.C. organizers and learn we will not be able to get into our office today or Monday because of the IMF demonstrations. I reflected on how delighted we’d been when we found an office three blocks from the Mall. The real estate gurus are wrong. Location isn’t everything. Access to the damned property counts, too. I’d move the office to Bethesda if we could just get into it.
We decide to rent a hotel hospitality suite for Monday. Kelly manages somehow on Sunday afternoon to get a promise that six phone lines will be installed first thing Monday morning. No one will be able to call us, because there is no way to list the new numbers. We cannot get into the office to reprogram our answering machines to re-direct calls. But at least we will be able to initiate our own calls.
Lesson for would-be organizers: An unsatisfactory solution is better than no solution.
I spend a half-hour making a last-minute email pitch for coverage of international Earth Day groups to some foreign correspondents I know who happen to be assigned to key cities. As usual in Manhattan, my phone line disconnects randomly and frequently. And the baud rate is about what I’d expect in Outer Mongolia on a bad day. Once, my modem actually operates at 98 bytes/second for several minutes before it disconnects. (That’s bytes, not kilobytes.)
Why doesn’t this city work better? As I waited for my baggage at Kennedy yesterday, I remembered that I’d received my bag in one-fourth the time in Beijing — although the airplane had been twice as large! No wonder New Yorkers are so often angry.
I go for dinner with the EDNY organizers. We break about 8:00 to work on the video news release. It is always humbling to work with video editors who are looking, among other things, at shots of you. They’ve seen it all. They know that the average TV viewer doesn’t have the attention span needed for, say, USA Today, and that the average TV news editor thinks anything worth saying can be said in 11 seconds. I watch as a brilliant but complex sentence is diced into two workable sound bites, with the interstitial words blipped into the ether. (“Microturbine? What’s that? A little tiny Middle Eastern hat?”)
I close out the day with a nice long run, 15 minutes of in-room exercises, and this diary entry.
Phooey. There are a half-dozen teenaged girls singing outside my room. It is 1:30 a.m. I am going to go out and scare the living hell out of them. Give them a story to take home about crazy people in New York.
Monday, 17 Apr 2000
These days, I always sound hoarse. Like Clinton. Talk, talk, talk … (I hear there’s a support group for recovering politicians: “And on and on Anon.” )
I start the day with a couple sound bites for Ximena Cuevas on the Hispanic Radio Network. Next, a long, complex interview with Al Meredith on WCBS on the 17th floor of Bill Paley’s once-controversial Black Rock in mid-Manhattan. Then a bunch of “pre-interviews” with shows I’m doing later in the week. (The pre-interview is a recent innovation to reassure the producer that the proposed guest will not be a gross embarrassment.)
On the Amtrak Metroliner from New York to Washington, D.C., I field questions from the Wall Street Journal, CNN, the Associated Press, and Creative Loafing, an Atlanta weekly. You’d think by now the most-traveled rail corridor in the United States would have continuous cellular coverage. But I get disconnected about a dozen times, much to everyone’s annoyance.
I polish an op-ed I’m coauthoring with Sen. Patty Murray.
And I sit quietly on the train, worrying about the presidential situation.
We have repeatedly said that a core objective of Earth Day is to force every candidate for office — whether the presidency or the local city council — to say what he or she would do to combat global warming. So, a few weeks ago, we invited Bush, Gore, and Nader to address the crowd on the Mall to tell us what they would do.
Gore accepted almost instantly — though with the usual White House caveats about things possibly changing. Bush’s and Nader’s staffs lost the invitation. (Actually, Nader’s staff lost one Federal Express and two faxes.)
This morning, Bush turned us down.
Ralph remains enigmatic.
Gore is re-issuing Earth in the Balance on Earth Day. And it has a tough new foreword that reasserts its original values and explains why he wants to phase out the internal combustion engine. He gives some signs of taking off the gloves on this issue.
My train eventually arrives in D.C. I have pizza with the staff.
The quotes page in the new Newsweek features an anti-Earth Day tirade from an irate columnist at USA Today who ran items from the April Fools’ edition of Daily Grist as straight news.
Two prime-time television series have Earth Day themes Monday night. Unfortunately, both run at the same hour, 10:00. I arrange to have Now and Again taped while I watch Family Law. It has a playful subplot that results in a senior partner trading in her SUV for a Toyota Prius to recapture her youthful idealism (and win her daughter’s admiration). Nice note to close the day on.
Tuesday, 18 Apr 2000
More of the same. A drive-time radio show in Boulder. A spot on CNN Headline News. I miss a satellite interview with a Miami station (Ea
rth Day and Elian — together at last). I’m abject, and the station graciously reschedules for tomorrow.
On it goes. The Washington Post. The Toronto Globe and Mail. Grassroots.com. The Washington CBS affiliate. (The weather man who interviewed me said it was going to rain in Washington, D.C., on Earth Day. I said, on the air, “No it won’t.” I may have burned that bridge.)
Mixed with all this, I have to spend quality time with one of our lawyers over some legal matters that simply cannot wait. I continue my game of tag with prominent business executives and a couple stellar scientists who still haven’t decided whether to talk on the Mall. Finally, I leave a message for one that it’s too late. It’s past time to reach closure.
I sort through an avalanche of email, too much of it from nuts and opportunists. I may have to change my email address again; this is out of control.
I body slam a couple organizational crises by simply making arbitrary decisions. I hope they are the right decisions, but in the end that’s less important than that we choose and move on. We have three days left until Earth Day.
Wednesday, 19 Apr 2000
I wake up early. Stretch. Run a couple miles. Lift some weights in the hotel gym. Just pump out the tension. Push 10 extra bench presses, thinking about a particularly nasty customer I have to deal with today.
Yesterday, we had a crew out in 45-degree rain erecting a massive stage on the Mall. Horrible for morale. But today it is sunny.
I shower and return several phone calls before heading across Washington for a satellite interview with Jim Altman of WAMI-TV in Miami. Jim, a young guy who mentions that he wasn’t around for the first Earth Day, says he’s taking a lot a crap from his colleagues because he just bought an SUV. So I give him some more crap, and say he should trade it in for a Prius. He says he needs the acceleration. I challenge him to a drag race — him in his Cherokee and me in a Prius. “Hey,” he says, “that might be good television.”
I return to the hotel, make some phone calls to people who need to vent. Lots of people need to vent. These are the days of saying “no.” (George Bush may not want to speak on the Mall for Earth Day, but apparently every other American does.)
It seems there will be an anti-Earth Day protest by people who are infuriated that the park vendors, whom we persuaded to serve some vegetarian fare for Earth Day, also plan to sell hot dogs to any carnivores who show up.
We’ve worked our tails off for a year on this campaign in order to build global momentum to get serious about climate change. If we attract only vegetarians, we guarantee failure. So Earth Day is bringing in people like singer Clint Black and AFL-CIO President John Sweeney to appeal to folks who don’t ordinarily attend environmental rallies. The commercial vendors correctly calculate that some of these folks will want to buy their kids a hot dog, and Earth Day can’t control what the vendors sell. (I don’t plan to serve any hot dogs, eat any hot dogs, or buy my daughter any hot dogs, but for some reason the attacks seem mostly aimed at me.)
I just hope the protestors aren’t so photogenic that they step all over our “Clean energy is ready now!” news story.
The Mainichi Shimbun science reporter stops by. A couple phone-ins, including what sounds like a great follow-up feature by Dan Jones of the Hartford Courant. I debate a libertarian on public radio. I do a stand-up in the Mall with a local weatherman. Bloomberg wants to know whether clean energy was prominent in the first Earth Day in 1970.
Finally, Michael Pitts and Todd Fetterman scoop me up and run me out to Dulles where I catch an AirTran flight to Atlanta. Cheap, but no food. So dinner is a PowerBar, again. (I just checked the label; it’s meat-free, as best I can tell. Some of the ingredients are a little mysterious, but it’s made in Berkeley, so I’m probably safe.) The guy next to me is reading The Fountainhead. We don’t talk, though I’m tempted to ask whether he was the other guest in the NPR debate this afternoon. He doesn’t look like he has much of a sense of humor.
Meg Ryan O’Donnell, our knockout southern regional coordinator, meets my plane. We take the MARTA downtown. My Thursday schedule is coming out of the hotel fax machine as I approach the front desk. Just-in-time organizing prevails again. I crash for the night.
Thursday, 20 Apr 2000
The day starts with an ice-cold shower. Not by choice. But it certainly gets the sleep out of my eyes.
My email has an international update. Some sexy items include:
- An anticipated 1 million people at the Clean Air Rally in Mexico City.
- One million Indonesian automobile owners turning off their cars for the day.
- Dozens of Italian cities banning cars from their central business districts.
- A series of environmental justice rallies in South Africa against the toxic emissions of oil refineries. (Environmental justice, with a special focus on energy, is also the dominant theme of the huge rally planned for Los Angeles.)
- The launch of the first national environmental campaign in the history of China.
- An Eco-festival in the Millennium Dome in London.
- Colorful parachutes streaming toward the earth in Croatia (as a metaphor for solar energy).
This international dimension will be completely ignored by virtually all of the American media. But reality is not determined by American newspapers. I’m allowing myself to start feeling really good about this campaign.
I do a quick call-in interview with KINK radio in Portland, Ore., where I worked as a student intern in the summer of 1969 — just before the first Earth Day. Then a bunch of legal and organizational phone calls.
We head over for a rally at Georgia State. Great bunch of kids. They have bought a dogwood tree in my name, and they plan to plant it on their concrete-dominated campus with a plaque. It’s really touching.
Head to the CNN Center to help present an award to Ted Turner. Ted and I go frolicking in a mountain of recycled videotape for the photographers, and then head across the street to the Chamber of Commerce where I deliver a candid assessment of the perils of the sprawl that has come to define Atlanta in the public mind. Then a quick race back to my hotel room for a session with populist radio host Jim Hightower.
From the Atlanta Chamber of Commerce to Jim Hightower. I have spanned pretty much the responsible limits of American democracy in the space of one hour.
I head to CNN to record some “substance” stuff for them to have in the can for Earth Day. Peter Dykstra, CNN’s science editor, is one of the smartest, nicest people in journalism.
Take MARTA to a wonderful session with our key Georgia organizers. Learn that the Southface Institute, which I’ve admired since I first learned of it, is actually the renamed organization that sponsored “Sun Day” in Atlanta back in 1978. I chaired Sun Day, and am delighted to find this vibrant, healthy descendant of that campaign, still headed by Dennis Creech.
Meg scoops me up and we take MARTA again to the airport, arriving at the gate with almost 10 minutes to spare. I squeeze in a three-minute actuality by cell phone with a D.C. radio station to use during drive time tomorrow.
Speaking of “drive time,” public transportation has really worked for this trip. I could never have negotiated Atlanta’s congested freeways fast enough to catch my plane.
Back in Washington, D.C., I tour the stage on the Mall, handle some signage problems (I actually get to say “yes” to someone), meet with a delegation visiting from Japan just for Earth Day, go over the Saturday Mall program with Kelly, downlo
ad my schedule for tomorrow (it starts at 5:30), and hit the sack about 1:15.
Friday, 21 Apr 2000
I roll out of bed at 5:30 a.m. Heavy early media schedule. Shave, shower, read Washington Post. And recoil. A front-page article is titled “Reno Decides to Remove Elian From Miami Kin.” The article says the attorney general will move at the optimum moment based on variables ranging from Miami traffic to the weather forecast. I have a bleak premonition about when the “optimum moment” will come.
Within five minutes, CNN’s Early Edition calls to cancel my interview. Soon, my once-intimidating early morning is entirely free. (Wish we’d thought ahead to invite Elian to attend Earth Day.)
At 9:00, I take a group of kids to see the solar exhibit on the Mall with Undersecretary of Energy Ernie Moniz, and then to see a wonderful traveling rainforest exhibit with Susan Seligman. Brent Blackwelder is inflating the massive Friends of the Earth “earth balloon,” but says it’s just a test. They plan to deflate it immediately because the weather bureau has issued tornado warnings for Washington.
Tornado warnings? I look closely to see whether Brent is pulling my leg. Nope. We have erected a dozen tents and a giant covered stage, and there might be a tornado? With stern Janet Reno, flood threats, and now tornadoes dominating my immediate future, I feel like I’m auditioning for a role in the Old Testament. No locusts or frogs yet.
James Urbati, the Earth Day Network marketing director, extricates me at 10:15 for a taped radio interview with WWDB. From 11:00 to 11:30, I do a program with public radio’s Marty Moscoane, Professor Willett Kempton, and Peter Huber, a high-profile libertarian polemicist with the Manhattan Institute who claims to love the environment but is ideologically opposed to all efforts to protect it.
At noon, I switch to a live CNN Interactive web chat. The CNN hosts are skilled professionals with great senses of humor, and it goes smoothly. I’m always shocked to discover that, 24 hours a day, there seem to be people all around the world tossing questions and comments into zillions of these chat sessions.
A couple more networks cancel sessions due to the Elian frenzy, but NPR’s Science Friday holds fast from 2:00 to 3:00. (Thank God no one bought Elian a chemistry set for Christmas.) Ira Flatow interviews Mark Hertsgaard and me about the environmental movement and global warming. It lasts an hour and displays the depth that we expect from NPR. I make a note to myself to increase my NPR contribution this year.
I join Kelly Evans, Gaylord Nelson, and a bunch of ED2K’s celebrities as they head to the White House to watch President Clinton record his Earth Day presidential address. He’s on message with global warming, and he announces some executive orders on federal energy use that don’t require congressional approval. I look out the White House window and see a torrential downpour. It looks like Washington, D.C., has been transported to the bottom of Niagra Falls.
Then it’s Planet Hollywood for a pre-Earth Day party with a lot of the folks who have been helpful. Ed Begley, Jr., and I lead the crowd in some chants. Chevy Chase and I cut a ceremonial Earth Day cake. Kelly Evans, our media-averse superstar executive director, consents to an interview with Oxygen Media, the new women’s medium.
Saturday, 22 Apr 2000
Long before dawn on Earth Day, I awake with a premonition of dread. I flip on CNN and watch the tapes of armed INS agents removing Elian from his home. So regardless of what happens today, Earth Day will be largely ignored. All the early morning television shows quickly cancel us from their schedules.
I look out the window at the rain, and remember I have to pump some public optimism into my weary bones. People will pick up my mood. It does not help at all that I’ve been averaging under three hours of sleep for the last several nights.
My daugher, Lisa, is my “handler” today. (A handler keeps you on schedule, stays in communications contact with the key site managers and the press secretary, and orders you to leave conversations that it might be rude for you to terminate yourself. Lisa takes some pleasure in this newfound authority. She hauls me to the Mall at 9:00 for a pep talk to the assembled volunteers who, as always, will bring so much of the good-natured magic that will make the event work. I talk about good results that are starting to drift in from Asia.
It’s raining, but only lightly.
I race off to a breakfast sponsored by oneworldlive.com for the ED2K speakers, artists, celebrities, and Green Group members. I read everyone some excerpts from the sensational lead editorial in today’s New York Times:
Today, on the 30th anniversary of the first Earth Day, there is much to celebrate and much to remind us of the unfinished business of protecting the planet. While the job of cleaning the water, air and land continues, the world must begin tackling the less visible threat of global warming, an issue largely unknown 30 years ago. This new threat is less immediate and less easily solved, and therefore will require an even stronger commitment in the years ahead. This is essentially the message of the organizers of Earth Day
Curbing [greenhouse] gases requires intensive energy conservation and the promotion of cleaner energy sources such as solar and wind power. The political and economic hurdles are substantial, both in this country and abroad. They can be overcome if the public is educated about the importance of this issue. The 30-year history of the Earth Day movement shows that when people are awakened to an environmental crisis, they will ultimately demand change in the way we live.
I finish with an upbeat pump about this year’s international scope, and a stirring tribute to Gaylord Nelson. The room gives Gaylord a long standing ovation.
I speed over to the Mall in the Toyota Prius that I’ve been using to zoom around town for the last couple of days. I run into the CNN news team. They tell me that their camera man has been ordered to Miami. The only broadcast network remaining is C-Span, which covers us nonstop for five hours and then rebroadcasts it twice. RealNetworks is narrowcasting it continuously in web-based streaming media.
The rain has stopped, though it is still cold and wet. I spend some time discussing what’s happening around the world with Al Gore, who has arrived uncharacteristically early. John Sweeney, president of the AFL-CIO, comes over and talks with real enthusiasm about the labor-environmental ties that emerged out of Seattle. I seek out some quiet time alone with Leonardo to talk about his speech, and we commiserate about the wild-assed irrationality of broadcast journalism.
And then we kick it all off.
A particularly great jam session for my age group features Carole King, David Crosby, and James Taylor, while Peter, Paul, and Mary tie it back to Earth Day’s roots. Third Eye Blind, Monica, and Keb’ Mo’ show up for the kids. Clint Black sings to all the folks I grew up with in Camas, Wash.
Over breakfast, Clint had given me the lyrics to an awesome new song he’d just composed for Earth Day. It starts:
There’s a world of tears that words won’t wash away
Nor the footprints that run deeper each day
Mother Earth spins on borrowed time, showing more than her age
There’s already too much hell to pay
Happy Earth Day, rebirth day, let’s try something new
Stop doing the least we can do.
He sings it publicly for the first time from the stage, and the crowd goes crazy.
I duck over to NPR for a long interview with Steve Curwood and Alex Chadwick, part of it shared with Dan Reicher, the excellent Assistant Secretary of
Energy for Efficiency and Renewable Energy. NPR gives Earth Day two hours of prime-time coverage, with great cuts from lots of folks, including Bill Nye the Science Guy. (I really have to send my donation to NPR.)
Back at the Mall, Bill Nye gets more autograph requests than most of the movie stars. (A half-dozen people request mine, too, but it’s because they think I’m James Taylor. One even pulls out a 25-year-old 33-rpm record album of Taylor’s and asks me to sign it — causing my daughter to convulse with laugher. I tell the story to Taylor, who is even more baffled than I am.)
I won’t recount the whole D.C. event. I must, though, say a word about crowd size. On a very cold, very wet Saturday, Earth Day filled up a massive portion of the Mall. The Park Service doesn’t do crowd estimates anymore. But I’ve been to a lot of large events in my life, and I think I have a good sense of scale. I’d put the crowd size in the range of 150,000 at the start, growing to between 300,000 and 400,000 in mid-afternoon, and then scaling back. Because of lousy weather and turnover, more than that drifted through the event during the course of the day. More people were back in the display and exhibit areas, in and around the (dry, warm) tents, than by the stage where the C-Span camera was set up.
Considering (1) the weather, (2) that ED2K fell on the eve of Easter with Congress out of session, and (3) that the Washington Post gave us zero news coverage, our world-class outreach team built an awesome crowd. They got posters into thousands of store windows all over the region. They leafleted Metro stations day after day. (They also distributed free “Admission Tickets” as a gimmick through schools all over Washington. Several parents called asking where they could get tickets too! We explained that the Mall is a national park, and that they would be welcome whether or not they have “tickets.”)
I kicked myself and cursed my stupidity for not hiring a couple of video crews to prepare our own video news release (VNR). It had seemed like a totally unnecessary expense. If we were big, the networks would carry us. That was simply wrong. We should have had a VNR with highlights from the stage, cameras roaming through the jam-packed exhibit tents, a quick helicopter crowd shot. We could have had our own 30-minute streaming permanent news summary on the web.
Instead, we put all our press effort into pitching our story to the media. It worked until the last minute. We had lots of coverage lined up.
Then the Elian snatch sucked all the oxygen out of the news tent. (The Pope got only 20 seconds of coverage today for Easter.)
So it goes.
I spent the early part of the evening at a party at the National Air and Space Museum sponsored by ICRE and the ISSO and a couple dozen cosponsors in honor of Earth Day. The rest of the evening I spent in a Dupont Circle bar with scores of Earth Day volunteers. Then I walked with my handler back to the hotel and cashed in my chips for the day. Tomorrow I’ll start trying to get an inventory of what went on around the rest of the world.