Earth Day in DC: I'll never be dry again

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Extreme HybridAs the GO representative in the Washington D.C. area, I was privileged to cover the weekend Earth Day celebrations on the National Mall. Like any good sojourner, I did my best to plan ahead. I got directions to the Metro station (yay public transit!), I calculated my time, and – naturally – I checked the weather and packed a day bag accordingly. I knew it was supposed to rain so I avoided cotton, feeling that I didn’t need to buy an umbrella if I was ready to get a little wet. But in case you didn’t know, it did a little more than rain over the Mall for the Earth Day celebrations. No umbrella or plastic pancho could save anyone from the rain. It rained so hard they had to shut down Earth Day for almost an hour, for fear of lightning, and yet the crowd persevered. Many of us stood in the weather for six hours to enjoy the message and the show.

I was lucky because I ate a big breakfast Sunday morning, which sustained me until dinner. The first thing I encountered at Earth Day were the booths, which housed dozens of companies and organizations that came out to support the festivities. Usual suspects such as the U.S. Green Building Council and National Resource Defense Council were there, lined up along side Tetra Tech, Starbucks, Google, FedEx/Kinkos. I learned that the USGBC has a myriad of resources for your would-be green home, including remodeling.

Starbucks was handing out free samples of their newest brew, and FedEx was handing out bookmark-sized pamphlets with some of their green credentials and a paper flower with real flower seeds in it. Google has teamed up with Scholastic to help students learn about Earth Day and the environment. With three easy lesson plans students can use Google Earth to explore environmental issues around the world. I couldn’t help but wonder about some of these companies and how “green” they really are. I know from experience that any discussion involving Starbucks is bound to be contentious, but let’s leave that discussion for another day. More exciting things were already happening around me.

Also being showcased were a pair of “extreme-hybrid” SUVs by AFS Trinity. The plug-in hybrid claims a 40 mile range on the battery and 150mpg city/highway. Apparently AFS Trinity used “off-the-shelf components” with their patent-pending technology to transform two Saturn Vue SUVs. I assume that the two vehicles I saw at Earth Day were prototypes. Their informational display, housed in a large travel bus, focused on the cost of gasoline and benefit of hybrid and electric motors over conventional. There was also a promotional video on board.

Finally I made it to the main event: the stage. Using all of my many wiles, I managed to get a front-row view for most of the show. The music was excellent with an emphasis on change, and the speakers hailed from many movements and many nations. The rain even stopped for almost an hour! With the Capitol building hovering in the background, Ed Begley Jr. introduced a parade of climate scientists, activists, and business people who called out for legislative and cultural change for our society. The crowd numbered in the thousands. It wasn’t until an excellent performance by O.A.R. that the weather took its worse turn.

earth-day-dc-2008-11.JPGWe were asked to seek shelter from the lightning. The irony here was that there was no shelter, except the trees lining the Mall. Didn’t my wilderness survival teacher tell me that trees aren’t “shelter” in a thunder storm? I felt that staying low in the open, a good distance from electrical equipment, might be the safest place to wait, but the D.C. police disagreed. We were cordially encouraged to stand under the trees. Once the show was able to go on, Chevy Chase set the mood and Edward Norton campaigned against plastic bags. Despite the persistent rain (no one had been dry for hours), the crowd was upbeat and lively. Up front there were mostly young people, and admittedly many were more interested in music (“We want the Roots!”) than changing the world. But the message was clear. My favorite video of the day chronicled the total destruction of a swath of Bolivian rain forest via satellite photos taken over several years. Even the most disinterested individuals around me were shocked.

Finally it was time to go home; I’d been soaked to the bone for hours. I left just in time to see the Washington Monument get struck by lightning – maybe the trees were safer after all.

For more pictures, check out my Webshots account.

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