Earthday 2000

Transcript of Leonardo´s Speech at the Mall in Washington D.C. on April 22, 2000


(Wow .... big turnout today, huh?

Thank you very much, Mayor Williams!)


It´s a great honour for me to chair Earth Day 2000. Ever since I was a kid, environmental issues have always sparked my interest. So let me start off by saying that the problem with doing a speech concerning our environment is that there´s so much to say about so many issues. So let me first take a step back and tell a story that comes from my family. My grandfather, who lived in Germany, told me this story. It was about an industrialist who owned the coal mine my grandfather worked for. Now, when the town demanded that the mine owner build a smokestack high enough to prevent smoke sift (?) from overwhelming the town,he reluctantly agreed. When they began construction, though, he proclaimed that the stack should not be built too high, as it would be a sacrilege if anything was built higher than the town´s church sepal. And of course, conveniently, it would save him money. Now, eventually, he lived to regret that decision. Not only did all his workers get sick, including my grandfather, but he also ruined the ecology of the town. That short-sighted industrialist only took into account the monetary cost, and eventually had to pay a much higher price: the hidden environmental cost.

Now, since that time, problems have compounded. According the scientists throughout the world, we are now on a downwards slope. Our fresh water and oceans are being polluted, soils are eroding, rivers are running dry, wetlands are disappearing, fisheries are collapsing, rangelands are deterioting, temperatures are rising, coral reefs are dying, and not since a meteor hit the earth 65 million years ago have so many species of plants and animals become extinct in such a short time.. How did we let it get to this point? Quite simply, by making the same mistake that industrialist did -- by building a short smokestack. With the ever-increasing population now and the constant need to tap into our planets non-renewable resources, we are, quite frankly, creating our own scenario for disaster.

Which brings us to the solution: clean energy now and the theme of this year´s Earth Day. Now, the problem is we´re pumping too much carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, faster than the land and the seas can absorb it, and the accumulating gas is trapping heat and upsetting the world´s climate. Now it took only five to nine degrees to pull us out of the last ice age. Five to nine degrees. A couple of degree´s difference in today´s temperatures may not seem like much, but again, five to nine degrees is all that seperates our planet from catastrophic change. And we must break the cycle, and it must be a clean break. The industrialists or my grandfather probably never could have envisioned a time where we´d be able to produce energy without smokestacks or pollution, but today we have technologies that allow us to use renewable fuel sources. Solar technologies, for example, are real, proven, and used right now. Wind power is a mature technology with a great track record. And the hydrogen economy is the wave of the future. But unless we insist upon their use, technologies like these will never have a chance to develop, and they´ll never become a part of everyday life.

Now, the United States is only 8 % of the world´s population, but we produce 40 % of the world´s waste, and because of this experts say that it would take two new worlds in addition to our own to provide enough resources for everyone to maintain a living standard equal to that of North Americans. Two entire worlds. Enough is enough. We must now set an example and move environmentalism from being the philosophy of a passionate minority, like everyone here at Earth Day, to a way of life that automatically integrates ecology into governmental policy and normal living standards. We are now entering the environmental age wether we like it or not, and we progress into the 21st century, anyone who considers themselves a realist will have to make the environment a top priority. Now, the truth is our planet´s alarm is now going off, and it´s time to finally wake up and take action. Thank you very much.

(Ladies and gentlemen, Dennis Hayes, who was the national coordinator of the first Earth Day on 1970. He now chairs the national Earth Day network and was chosen by Time magazine as the hero of the planet. Have a good day.)