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CNN Sunday Morning

Earth Day Observances Planned for 32nd Anniversary

Aired April 22, 2001 - 08:37   ET


KYRA PHILLIPS, CNN ANCHOR: Observances are planned across the nation on this 32nd annual Earth Day. And they are a far cry from the first observance in 1970, during the hippie movement. But there is still interest in its purpose, which is to promote environmental protection.

CNN's Jason Bellini reports on one example from Portland College in Oregon.


JASON BELLINI, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Adam Werbach in his buttoned-down collared shirt is one of the young faces of today's environmental movement. And he's also a veteran of it. The 287-year- old former president of the Sierra Club received an invitation to speak at Portland College.

ADAM WERBACH, FORMER PRESIDENT, SIERRA CLUB: I don't know this as a really active school so this is going to be one of those -- well, we'll see. It's going to be a challenge, I think, to figure out if we can get these people going or not.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So how'd we do on the streets?

BELLINI: Hocking their handmade, tie-dyed Mother Earth T-shirts, a new campus environmental club is taking a modest stab at producing Portland College's first Earth Week celebration -- their bike parking lot, the main attraction.

CHRIS SPARKS: Just trying to get people to ride their bikes instead of drive, sort of promote different ways of transportation.

GINGER EMRICK: We don't want to be activists that scare people away. When people think of activists, they think of, I don't know, people that are kind of rude and out there and in your face activists.

BELLINI: This is not your hippie father's environmental movement. The first Earth Day in 1970, the dawn of the modern environmentalism movement was a flamboyant, psychedelic, counter cultural explosion. Thirty-one years later, the sons and daughters of the movement's founders are less radical and less visible.

MARK HERTSGAARD, ENVIRONMENTAL AUTHOR: There was a lot more political ferment on campuses 30 years ago then there is today. However, I think it's a mistake to think that young people today are somehow politically uninterested.

BELLINI (on camera): But why did you start the group?

SPARKS: Why? Because there's no group there and changes can be made.

BELLINI: What are the changes you've been able to find?

SPARKS: Like in terms of concrete changes, we're saying, you know, shower heads are leaking, we water the grass when it rains, you know, 250 days a year.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I agree. Open a logging center. Ultimately, I think that this whole environmental movement is going to move to the biggest frontier and like it's going to take businesses.

WERBACH: I mean you just nailed it. It's like if you can use the institution that exists to create change then it's so much easier than breaking down all these decisions.

BELLINI: Many environmentalists say that in the '90s the sympathetic presidency dulled their roar even as more scientists pointed to the dangers of global warming, air and water pollution and the extinction of species. At the same time, however, many of these same young activists hope a new president, who they perceive as hostile to the environment, will re-energize the movement.

WERBACH: When there's change back, in fact, to some of the emotionalism and some of the righteous and some of the faith, that was actually at the core of the environment's movement when it was founded.

BELLINI: After delivering his speech, Adam sat down with the organizers of the fledgling environmental group. They discussed a strategy for this Catholic school. He advises these Portland college students to partner with religious leaders.

WERBACH: This is their movement. I mean God, it's -- I mean it -- and 50 million Americans believe that the Bible is written by the hand of God. This is a religious nation and religion needs to be put to this.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Right now, what we're trying to do is just show people that we're here. You know, like maybe not that many more people are going to ride their to school but just having that presence here and having people -- I mean a lot of people came up to us today. And we're just like hey, what's going on.

BELLINI: They may not yet know where to go from here or how to take on the giant global issues they're concerned about. For now, they just want their Earth Week to be one worth repeating.

Jason Bellini, CNN, Portland, Oregon.

(END VIDEOTAPE) MILES O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: For more on Earth Day and what it means to all of us, we turn to Maurice Strong, who is hailed by the "New York Times" as the custodian of the planet. No a bad title. Maurice is at the United Nations and has written a weighty book entitled, "Where On Earth Are We Going?"

Mr. Strong, thank you for being with us on CNN SUNDAY MORNING.


O'BRIEN: All right. Answer the question that is posed in your title. Where on Earth are we going?

STRONG: Well, the real answer is that it's up to us. The level of human population and the scale and intensity of human activity has reached a point where we are literally affecting the very conditions on which human life and well being depend. And our future depends on how well we managed these processes. We're not doing it well at the moment.

O'BRIEN: Give me a sense of where the Bush administration stands on this. He's been criticized by many quarters of the environmental movement but as you look at his record, it is somewhat of a mixed bag. Most recently, he did back a treaty that seeks the ban of the so- called dirty dozen of chemicals, just to give you an example. We hear more about the other side of the coin. Would you give him a mixed review?

STRONG: Well, this is a new president. His first words -- his first statements were not reassuring. During the campaign, he was quite reassuring on these issues. But his first actions, first of all, in exempting coal-fired, electrical power plants from any emission controls. This was a very alarming indeed.

And then his repudiation of the Kyoto climate change negotiations has raised very serious questions. Now, recently, as you have indicated, he's done some good things in ratifying pre-actions of the previous administration.

I think the verdict is yet to be in. We've got to recognize that the President of the United States is the leader of the free world. The United States is a superpower but it's also the world's super polluter. What it does -- what the United States does or fails to do is going to make the difference on where on Earth are we going not only to Americans but to people everywhere. And that's why people everywhere are concerned and are looking for leadership.

O'BRIEN: As you look at some of these issues, it seems to me that the common thread, which runs through the Bush administration response to the environmental group says he makes decisions, which they pick a bone with. The common thread is that it affects the economy adversely. And when it affects the economy adversely, we have other problems. Is that necessarily -- is that equation something you accept? STRONG: No, I don't. I am myself a businessman. I ran one of the largest electric power utilities in North America. So I basically do not agree with that and I think President Bush when he looks a little further into it will find that a great many American business leaders and others do not agree with that. There's a lot of evidence today that in fact, caring for the environment and good economic performance could go together. For example, in Europe, the best performing economies, the best performing companies are those that are not -- that combine industrial efficiency with environmental responsibility.

O'BRIEN: Maurice Strong, the custodian of the planet, who is author of this book, "Where on Earth Are We Going?" also a representative at the United Nations. Thanks very much for being with us on CNN SUNDAY MORNING.

STRONG: And thank you.