Earth Daddy

Denis Hayes organized the first Earth Day, and all he got was this lousy planet

If you do nothing else this Earth Day, register to vote. And then, don't just vote: get in there at your congressman's town meetings and lay into him on the issues. And talk to your friends about the issues and pull them in with you. It's a part of friendship.

Another place of leverage is in the economic system. We're seeing more shareholder activism, some of it over environmental issues, where they're holding companies accountable for everything from disclosing greenhouse-gas emissions to sustainable forestry practices.

One important lesson successful social movements learned from religion is that if you're going to be successful, you have to really live the values you are preaching. As a consumer, that means when you're buying environmentally sound products, you're not just helping companies that are doing the right thing, but it also increases the integrity with which you are viewed by others, and that influences their commitment. It's like secular sacraments: buying the most fuel-efficient car that meets your needs, insulating the dickens out of your house, using superefficient appliances.

Despite the setbacks and issues yet to be confronted, do you feel the movement has changed the basic way we think about the environment?

I grew up in a small paper-milling community, and it produced an incredible amount of toxicity—sulfur dioxide, hydrogen sulfide and various kinds of effluents that went out the pipes into the Columbia River. There was zero pollution control. The biggest complaint people had wasn't the stench or that they woke up every morning with a sore throat because that's just how life was—you did wake up every morning with a sore throat. But people were pissed that this stuff corroded their cars, so the only pollution response of the mill was to install showers for automobiles on their parking lot.

I continue to think that my lungs are scarred from spending 18 years growing up with that stuff. But at the time, that was the smell of prosperity and the price of progress. The transformation from that is significant. If you ran a mill today the way they did then, you'd go to prison.

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