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USA: Earth Day 2000 Targets Global Warming, Clean Energy

Inter Press Service
April 20th, 2000

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WASHINGTON -- In Earth Day 2000 celebrations around the globe, environmentalists plan to highlight the culprits of global warming and the solutions: renewable energy, including wind and solar.

From Chile to Tokyo, millions are expected to commemorate the 30th anniversary of Earth Day on Apr. 22 by participating in events in more than 150 nations.

Here in Washington, a rally on Saturday focusing on global warming will be hosted by actor Leonardo DiCaprio.

While people enjoy live music and theatre, environmental groups and clean energy companies are expected to demonstrate various new eco-friendly technologies, such as energy efficient appliances and devices that run on wind and solar power.

Renewable energy, unlike fossil fuels such as coal, oil and natural Gas, does not release heat-trapping greenhouse gases which most scientists believe cause global warming and disrupt climate and weather patterns.

One of Earth Day's founder, Denis Hayes, says compared to when the event first started, now the "opportunities are amazing" for alternative sources of energy.

Hayes, now head of the Seattle-based Bullitt Foundation which funds environmental projects in the U.S. Pacific Northwest, says many clean technologies are available, including fuel cells, solar cells and hydrogen.

Indigenous communities on several continents have joined Earth Day's clean energy campaign. They say the quest for fossil fuels has led to the pollution of their land and human rights abuses.

"We call on governmental and international financial institutions to cease all fossil fuel subsidies and to invest immediately in clean, renewable and decentralized forms of energy," says a statement signed by the U'wa of Colombia, the Ijaw of the Niger Delta, the Mirrar of Australia and the Karen of Myanmar.

In the Niger Delta, it says, the Ijaw and other ethnic minorities say gas flaring and pollution from oil operations have fouled the region. In southern Myanmar, formerly Burma, the Karen said they have been forced to work as "virtual slaves" on the Yadana gas pipeline for the military and California-based UNOCAL, its corporate partner.

In the northern mountain region of Colombia, the 5,000-strong U'wa indigenous group is fighting the plans of Occidental Petroleum, the U.S. oil giant that wants to drill for oil on land claimed by the tribe.

In northern Alaska and Canada, the Gwich-in People continue to oppose attempts by oil companies, including BP Amoco, to gain access to the coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, said the Earth Day statement. The Refuge is the birthplace and nursery ground of the caribou herd that the Gwich-in depend on and consider sacred.

Student environmental organizations, including Sierra Student Coalition and the Student Environmental Action Coalition, are supporting the Gwich-in for Earth Day 2000 by organizing a boycott of London-based BP Amoco.

"The refuge is home to an array of unique biological treasures whose value is incomparable to the four to six months worth of oil" the U.S. Geological Survey expects it to contain, says a statement released by the student groups.

As Earth Day has become more popular since its founding three decades ago, many companies have begun promoting various eco- activities. But some corporate sponsors have less than perfect environmental records, according to the Transnational Action and Resource Center (TRAC), based in San Francisco.

Ford Motor Company, for example, while funding Time Magazine's "Heroes for the Planet," a special Earth Day issue out this week, promotes gas-guzzling cars and Sport Utility Vehicles (SUVs) that emit large amounts of carbon dioxide.

Amit Srivastava with TRAC says in the 10 years after global warming first became a public concern, average vehicle emissions for Ford actually increased by 7.4 percent, the most of the three major automobile makers.

In honor of Ford, and other corporate polluters bolstering their environmental public relations campaigns, TRAC presented several tongue in cheek "greenwashing" awards.

Ford still downplays the threat of global warming, says Srivastava. On its website, it says that developing countries must be part of the solution.

"Nowhere does Ford note that cars and light trucks in the United States alone account for more CO2 emissions than all but four countries in the world (the United States, Russia, China and Japan)," says the environmental group.

Other organizations are rallying behind 90-year old Doris Haddock for Earth Day 2000. Haddock, known as "Granny D" recently completed a protest walk across the country calling for campaign finance reform.

On Friday, she will join environmental groups like Ozone Action and the Rainforest Action Network on the steps of the Capitol to unfurl a banner to highlight the influence corporate campaign contributions to legislators have had on environmental policy.

The stranglehold oil and gas companies have over Congress, for example, is the main obstacle to ratification of the Kyoto Protocol on Climate Change, which seeks to reduce the emissions of greenhouse gases, they argue.

Campaign finance reform is "one reform that can prevent the pollution and degradation of both our civic and natural environments," says Haddock.

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