Renewable pledge for Earth Day; Worldwide events: Celebrations focus on clean, efficient energy to promote planet's health.


WITH LOCAL action and global vision, hundreds of millions of people will observe the 31st Earth Day today in events of unparalleled scope and connection.

The annual vernal event, which began in the United States in 1970 as a nationwide environmental call to action, is now a full-fledged international celebration.

From France to Burkina Faso to China, citizens of Earth will demonstrate their commitment to protect the fragile planet and to assess its environmental health. Borderless Internet communication has spread the message and organized the efforts of once-isolated action groups around the world.

The unifying theme will be a demand for Clean Energy Now! -- greater energy efficiency and more renewable energy that will retard global warming and reduce dependence on fossil and nuclear fuels. Whether that rallying cry results in official action, it will be heard by government leaders.

Over the past three decades, the powerful spirit of Earth Day has altered the American psyche and politics. Recycling of waste has become commonplace, through government and individual action. Four of five Americans say they take a conscious action to protect the environment, according to the Gallup Poll.

Laws to clean up air and water, toxic chemicals and landfills have had demonstrable results, endangered species and threatened open spaces have been preserved.

Yet the domestic danger signs persist. Oil consumption is rising, half of it imported. Energy consumption has climbed 40 percent since 1970; vehicle miles traveled are up 125 percent. U.S. population has increased 30 percent.

Worldwide, the population has doubled in the past 30 years, while fresh water consumption has risen even faster, sorely straining available supplies. One in four vertebrate animals has become extinct or is on the brink of extinction.

Scientists detect a one-degree rise in global temperature since 1970, linked to escalating human use of fossil fuels and a resulting increase in atmospheric warming "greenhouse gases" over three decades that exceeds the increase of the previous 220 years.

Renewable energy supplies -- biofuels, fuel cells, solar, hydroelectric, wind and geothermal -- are becoming more available and more cost-competitive with carbon-based fuels. But they make up less than 10 percent of the U.S. energy pie and will need significant subsidies to grow.

Global pressures to further reduce air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions will make these alternative sources more practical in the future, say Earth Day Network organizers, whose U.S. goal is for one-third of total energy from renewable sources within 20 years.

At local celebrations, such as at Oregon Ridge Park in northern Baltimore County, and at the national rally on the Washington Mall hosted by actor Leonardo DiCaprio, Americans will celebrate the achievements of past Earth Days and recommit to protecting our only home.

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