Raining on Her Own Parade
Earth Day Festival 'Great' Despite Mother Nature's Whims

By Valerie Strauss
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, April 21, 2008

Yes, it rained, and yes, the ground was slick and muddy, but no, it did not prevent thousands of people from coming to the Mall yesterday to join an estimated 1 billion people around the world who were participating in Earth Day celebrations to promote environmental awareness.

Despite downpours, the show went on for most of the day with singers and speakers under a huge tent as spectators under a sea of umbrellas hollered and hooted. The rain caused fits and starts; during one break in the program, some people headed to nearby museums for cover. And eventually, the weather did win out. Late in the afternoon the rest of the event was canceled, but not before the environmentally conscious had their say.

"It's great," said Isabel Vega, 9, who had come to the District last week with her father from Dallas to see Pope Benedict XVI on his historic U.S. trip and to attend Earth Day in the nation's capital. "You get to learn a lot of stuff here."

There were dozens of booths promoting environmental causes and products.

Events were also held in seven other U.S. cities, including New York and Miami, and in about 180 countries in what was billed as the largest campaign ever to promote action on global warming.

"This is the entry point for people to help with environmental change," said Kathleen Rogers, president of the nonprofit Earth Day Network, which co-sponsored the events. "We need to engage everybody in the fight against global warming, and we need to get Congress to know that what it is doing is not enough."

More than 1,000 college campuses were involved in an educational component of the event, with students airing public service announcements in the "Call for Climate" campaign to lobby Congress.

More events are planned today and tomorrow, the official Earth Day. Tomorrow, Steven Knapp, president of George Washington University in the District, plans to sign the American College & University Presidents Climate Commitment, which affirms the responsibility of schools to train a generation of leaders who can help reverse climate change.

Yesterday's events came at the end of National Environmental Education Week. Several million K-12 students across the country engaged in activities at schools, museums, zoos and aquariums to learn about their "carbon footprint" and to become involved in the campaign to slow climate change.

"Kids really want to know what they can individually do to help the environment," said Tracey Adams, program associate for the National Environmental Education Foundation, which organized the education week.

One of the fastest-growing ways that kids are trying to help other kids around the planet is through an unusual activity: defining words at http://www.freerice.com.

Twenty grains of rice are donated for distribution to the poor by the U.N. World Food Program every time someone provides the correct definition to words that pop up on the screen, the Web site says. With each correct answer, the difficulty of the next word increases, and 20 more grains of rice are donated. Advertisers bear the cost, the site says.

Yesterday's performers on the Mall included actor Edward Norton and O.A.R., a band with Rockville roots.

"I'm little, and it's hard to see over everybody's umbrella, but it's fun," 7-year-old Maya Friedson said as she tried to watch former American Idol finalist Blake Lewis sing a beat-box version of "America the Beautiful." Maya and her family came from New York City for the festivities.

There were lots of products being promoted that were said to be friendly to the environment, including laundry detergent and solar panels.

Perhaps the busiest booth promoted a product called Blade, a device that attaches to the tailpipe of a car or light truck and, its developers said, will reduce the emission of greenhouse gases while increasing fuel efficiency.

"It's great to plant a tree to offset your CO2output, but it's better to reduce your output and then plant the tree," said Bill O'Brien, chief executive of Sabertec, the Austin-based company that developed the device. He said the device has been independently tested according to federal testing protocols and has the potential to help reduce air pollution worldwide.

"Does this really work?" Benji Vega asked as he looked through the Blade literature. "I have a '91 BMW. Will it improve my gas mileage?"

Skip Hansen, Sabertec's chief technician, promised it would.

Amid informational booths sponsored by giant entities such as Google and Starbucks, small organizations worked to deliver their messages.

The Chesapeake Climate Action Network set up a display to drum up interest in its battle against the construction of a coal plant in Wise County, Va.

"We're the little guys, and this helps bring some name recognition -- and hopefully support in the fight," said Paul Burman, an organizer from Northern Virginia.

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