April 20, 2007

How to Enjoy a Fabulous Earth Day

By Javier Sierra

Remember the fable of the grasshopper and the ant? In the summer, the grasshopper would spend the time doing nothing but enjoying the good weather, singing, eating and mocking the industrious ant who worked hard to make sure she would have enough food for the winter.

As we celebrate Earth Day, this fable fittingly explains the actions of another grasshopper —who is risking not only its future but the future of the planet— and the actions of other ants —who, tired of waiting for the lazy procrastinator, are working hard toward that future.

This new grasshopper is the Bush administration, which, for six years, has been loafing around neglecting its duty to fight the greatest challenge humanity has ever faced: global warming.

In these six years, the Bush administration has weakened the laws and regulations that for decades have protected our environment and our health, and has turned the federal government into servants of its most generous campaign contributors.

It also has stubbornly rejected taking the single most important step to curb global warming gases —improve car and light truck emission standards so those vehicles yield at least 40 miles per gallon. Had it done so back in 2001, by 2011 we would save every drop of oil imported from the Persian Gulf.

On the opposite corner of this fable we find Cool Cities, a national movement already comprised of 435 communities that are determined to reduce their global warming emissions to 7 percent below 1990 levels by 2012.

Cool Cities represent more than 61 million people who are already benefiting from programs to acquire green municipal vehicle fleets, sources of clean and renewable energy (such as solar and wind), and efficient homes and buildings that require much less energy.

Thousands of people from throughout the country are joining this green army. People like Richie Villavicencio, a Bolivian living in New York City, who has joined the Sierra Club’s 2-percent Campaign, that is, a commitment to reduce his global warming emissions by an annual 2 percent through the next 40 years.

Richie has installed a solarium and a solar panel on his home, which, on clear days, reduce his heating bill to zero dollars. His home also has double-pane windows, weather-stripping on doors and windows, and a new thermostat, which all have cut his heating bill in half.

All light bulbs in his home are compact fluorescent, which consume a fraction of the energy used by conventional ones. Thanks to his new high-efficiency washer and dryer, the use of these machines costs him $10 a year.

Richie bought a hybrid car, which yields up to 45 miles per gallon, double what his former car did. Also, he used public transportation as much as possible and has bought a small moped for short trips that yields 80 miles per gallon.

“Saving energy saves a lot of money,” he says. “But it is also my obligation to do as much as possible in order to leave a livable planet for the next generation.”

Luis Raymundo —a 15-year-old of Salvadorian origin— is a member of that next generation, and although he is legally blind, he is leading the way to a sustainable planet in Manchester, NH, the city where he lives.

Luis convinced his family to distribute hundreds of post cards requesting support for the Cool Cities project, which were sent to his Mayor in order to join this national movement.

“Protect the planet is cool,” Luis says. “All my family, my parents, my grandma, even my dog, Brownie, would go to Latino festivals to distribute the cards in order to get the community involved.”

Luis also lobbied other city officials until Manchester finally became a Cool City.

We all know how the fable ends; the ant comfortably survives the winter with a full pantry, whereas the grasshopper dies of cold and arrogance.

But real life does not always follow the script. It is up to all of us, up to heroes like Richie and Luis, to join this ant army working for the future of the planet and to fight the grasshopper.

It is also the cool way to have a fabulous Earth Day.

Javier Sierra is a Sierra Club columnist.

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