following appeared on the front page
of the April 22, 2008 Lifestyles section in the
Day: Saving the planet still in style
By Ralph De La
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
The planet dying ... well, that just didn't get
our attention. Actually, that idea wasn't even part of the
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.
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
"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
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
"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
Today, allow us the luxury of tie-dyed
A full explanation of how the solar train works is
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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