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Earth Day celebrations around the Bay Area mix hope with realism

Earth Day celebrations around the Bay Area mix hope with realism
Earth Day celebrations around the Bay Area mix hope with realism 06:10

SAN FRANCISCO -- On Saturday across the Bay Area and the world, people gathered to commemorate Earth Day. The first one occurred more than 50 years ago.

On April 22, 1970, CBS News anchor Walter Cronkite led his newscast with a report on the first Earth Day: "A unique day in history is ending," he said. "A day set aside for a nationwide outpouring of mankind seeking its own survival."

The message back then was ominous and people alarmed by smoky skies pitched in to do what they could -- like planting trees. 

On Saturday in San Leandro, that effort continued as a group of volunteers and scouts, including 6-year-old Aydin Valani, planted trees in Cherry Grove Park.

"This is the fourth plant that I've dug today," Valani said. "This is the fourth one!"

He had a pretty good idea what Earth Day was all about.

"It's where you pick up garbage. It's one of the traditions and what we're doing right now, tree planting, is another tradition."

The tree-planting in San Leandro was part of a state grant to add 5,000 new trees to the community but the man supervising Saturday's volunteer event -- retired arborist Lawrence Abbott -- said just because something is traditional doesn't make it smart.

"In the past, there was really no scientific methodology behind planting trees," he explained. "Trees became 'in favor' because somebody thought they were cool and then, because we're all social creatures, we all sort of 'monkey-see, monkey-do' and we all followed along."

Now, Abbott said, there is thought behind the good intentions, like planting native cherry and oak trees instead of invasive species like eucalyptus and locating them in places where they will thrive and not cause problems.

"I think the best way to do things right for Earth Day is make sure that you're not just 'green washing' something," Abbott said. "You're really working in community with experts to make sure that if you're planting trees, you have arborists on board."

A lot of ideas of the past are being re-examined these days. At the Earth Day SF festival in Golden Gate Park, a group of activists promoted nuclear power as a carbon-free energy source -- something that likely would have been regarded as environmental heresy when Earth Day began.

"People in the past have been triggered by radiation, the accidents," said nuclear advocate Paris Ortiz-Wines. "But now, because we're looking at meeting our climate goals and the recent energy crisis, people are taking a second look at nuclear energy."

Everyone at the festival had an idea about what can help the planet, from autonomous electric cars to vegan foods to a fellow carving kitchen utensils made of wood.

One of the festival's organizers, Andy Pollack, said no one seems to be feeling much optimism these days.

"It's just that it's important that we try to make a difference," he said. "You know, from my generation, I think people are feeling a little bit hopeless because we don't seem to be going in the right direction."

People were worried in 1970 when they created Earth Day but the stakes seem even higher today so all ideas are on the table. But if the planet needs CPR, hugging a tree may not be enough.

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