HighTechScience.org Earth Day 2008 Article on our "Solar Express" exhibit
at the South Florida Science Museum

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The following appeared on the front page
of the April 22, 2008 Lifestyles section in the

Earth Day: Saving the planet still in style

By Ralph De La Cruz
South Florida Sun-Sentinel
Posted April 22, 2008

   The first Earth Day was in 1970. I was in the sixth grade, a time when kids are attracted to new ideas.

   Yet, I remember more about my geography teacher's description of her train trip across India than that first Earth Day.

   It wasn't just that Mrs. Purcell could weave a fine yarn. Earth Day seemed a contrived, new-age kind of holiday. Didn't have the sense of immediacy and urgency of, say, Pearl Harbor Day. War, death, deception, betrayal and revenge. Now that was the stuff of a compelling commemorative day.

   The planet dying ... well, that just didn't get our attention. Actually, that idea wasn't even part of the discussion.

   Not when gas could be had for 30 cents a gallon and the V-8 engine ruled the American highway.

   The Earth Days of my youth were about ecosystems, biosystems, and air and water pollution. Our quality of life. Not the survival of life.

   It was about tie-dye T-shirts, "getting back to nature" (for an hour or two) and learning a neat new word: ecology.

Cool.

   We read about recycling in our Scholastic magazines, but there wasn't any organized recycling going on. And conserving, well, that was for somebody else.

   What do you expect? In a few years we'd be in platform shoes, polyester pants and disco shirts.

   Earth Day was a quaint hippie distraction.

   As we moved into the me-'80s, that magic age of banality and over-consumption, Earth Day became an afterthought. A fashion statement. It was the era of Madonna, MTV and designer water.

   And things hadn't improved much for Earth Day in the years between Material Girl and Hummers with onboard navigation and satellite TV. Until now.

   "It's taken on much greater meaning," said Rick Newman, who built an interactive solar-powered exhibit at the South Florida Science Museum in West Palm Beach called "The Solar Express."

   "Today, kids are a lot more aware," Newman continued. "They know what's going on. They watch TV reports and read newspaper stories. And they've heard their parents b---- about the cost of gas."

   As a result, 38 years later, after we dolled it up, undervalued it, forgot about it, put it aside, got too busy for it, Earth Day finally feels real.

   Could it be that capitalism, of all things, saves The Day?

   Biofuels are becoming cost-effective. Florida Power & Light is investigating wind power. And after the Florida Legislature passed the 2006 Energy Act to spur alternative energy, almost 3,000 Florida households have applied for rebates and grants for solar energy systems.

   "When we were kids, we had little solar panels to play with," said Newman, 52. "But that was about it well, except for maybe Disney's House of the Future."

   Now, Newman owns electric cars and lives in one of those Houses of the Future. Five large solar panels provide about a quarter of his Boca Raton home's power.

   Yeah, baby. If I were building a new house today, solar panels would be right up there with a pool as things that I'd install.

   But wait, warns Newman. Don't oversimplify things.

   "Solar energy is a lot more accepted," he says. "But it still has some flaws. For instance, you still have to have a large bank of batteries. A lot of people think all they have to do is throw up some solar panels and then they can plug their TV right into it. It doesn't work that way."

   OK, Rick. But let's have that conversation on another day.

   Today, allow us the luxury of tie-dyed possibilities.

A full explanation of how the solar train works is at sfsm.org/solarexpress.html.


The South Florida Science Museum is located at:
4801 Dreher Trail N., West Palm Beach.

   For more info, call 561-832-01988 or visit www.SFSM.org


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