Putting the green back in Earth Day

This Just In...

April 21, 2000|By DAN RODRICKS

TOMORROW is Earth Day 2000. I'm going to eat a salad from Fresh Fields. I'm going to eat a salami sandwich, but with sprouts. I'm going to wash my car in the rain. I'm going to mulch everything, even my children. I'm going to glare menacingly at people driving expensive, oversized, gas-guzzling SUVs -- and that includes members of my immediate family. I'm going to make a party mix from Wheat Chex and recycle the box. Instead of watching "The Ten Commandments" on video and wasting electricity, I'm going to have Joey Amalfitano come over and act the whole thing out; Joey knows all the parts and all the lines. He does a great Edward G. Robinson as Dathan.

Other Earth Day thoughts:

Ralph Nader for president!

Or Martin Sheen, who plays one on "The West Wing." The guy is more principled than any real president of recent tenure.

But seriously...

I like Earth Day. You can start a good argument on Earth Day. It marks one of the great divides in this big, beautiful and piggy nation of ours. Millions of Americans, the smug and the cynical who hate public transportation and spray chemicals on their sprawling lawns in sprawling suburban communities, ridicule Earth Day as the touchy-feely stuff of sentimental left-wingers and green-thinkers. And for the left-wingers and green-thinkers, Earth Day is a one-day guilt trip back to their roots in a movement that once embraced environmentalism, smart consumerism, holistic living, community activism and the music of Ravi Shankar.

Some people have never let green-think enter their lives -- unless it was something Martha Stewart suggested in the way of landscaping -- and some have let it drive them to radical extremes and a steady diet of organic broccoli.

Where are you?

In the middle?

On the green side of the middle?

Well, shove over and make room for me and most of the country.

We've been at this for a few decades, and none but a blockhead could doubt that Green Think in America has improved our lives. Mock it all you like, kiss off environmentalists as tree-huggers, but if not for the efforts of the founders of Earth Day -- the earth mothers and fathers of the 1960s -- this country would be an even bigger mess than it is now.

Even Rush Limbaugh might concede that.

But here's the thing: There was a falloff. The original Green Thinkers got old, tired, cynical, disillusioned with a political system ruled by the business class and the wealthy elite, and frustrated with the idea that they could change the way people behave.

We went from a Green Movement to a Greed Movement.

And yet, we all know there needs to be a new wave. Smart Growth is a wonderful thing, for instance, but it doesn't go far enough. The environmental movement -- and by that I really mean a social movement that profoundly changes the way we behave as citizens of Earth -- needs a fresh supply of youth, vigor and leadership. (And I'm not talking about Al Gore.)

The movement needs big thinking.

Big, green, radical thinking.

For instance:

Howard County needs to spend millions of dollars to expand U.S. 29, between Route 100 and Interstate 70, so that thousands of suburban commuters can waste even more hours of their lives sitting in congestion, getting stressed and wasting gasoline.

In honor of Earth Day, here's a wild-eyed, long-term solution to all of this baloney: Use millions of dollars from taxpayers in the affluent suburbs -- yeah, right, redistribute the wealth! -- to overhaul the Baltimore city schools so that more middle-class people can move here with the confidence their children will receive a solid education. Their parents can have shorter commutes to work or use public transportation. The city gets new tax revenues from new residents whose commitment to Baltimore will attract economic development, creating more jobs and opportunities, making the city a healthier and happier place, and saving more open space throughout the metropolitan area.

Let's have a maximum wage of $10 million for the next two years. How's that for Green Think?

Let's tell Bill Gates he can live on $10 million a year -- he ought to be able to do that, right? -- and the rest will be put to use treating drug addicts, eradicating lead-paint poisoning among children, planting the seeds for new business in cities, outfitting needy public school districts with computers and buying up open land from retiring farmers.

Let's declare a moratorium for two years on any millionaires running for Congress or the U.S. Senate. Democracy needs a break.

Is there any reason -- besides the fact that they can afford it -- for anyone to own a Toyota Land Cruiser or Lincoln Navigator or Ford Excursion? Here's a nutty, Earth Day thought: Instead of buying a road monster, buy a midsize car that gets superb mileage, and if you have leftover cash, take the difference -- $25,000 to $30,000 -- and give it to the St. Ambrose Housing Aid Center in Baltimore so Vinnie Quayle and the staff there can convert more low-income renters to homeowners.

Too big? Too radical? Too commie-pinko-greeno- socialist-wacko?

OK, then. How about we end this Earth Day screed with something simple, from the think-globally-act-locally school?

If you have one of those sprawling suburban lawns with almost no trees, plant something, anything. This is a good time of the year to pull maple tree sprouts out of the ground; they're all over the place. Gather a bunch and plant them. They grow fast. They're good for the Earth. And, in a couple of years, you won't have so much grass to cut.

Peace, baby.

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