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Earth Month: the five-week solution

Earth Month activities encourage residents to take change seriously -- locally and globally

One day dedicated to the Earth in a time of crisis just isn't enough any more. That's why Palo Alto has declared the five weeks (March 21 to April 25) "Palo Alto Earth Month 2008."

Margaret Suozzo, coordinator of the Palo Alto Earth Month 2008 Committee, said past celebrations have been great for raising awareness but "we're at a point where we need much more than awareness — we need commitment and we need action."

Each week, a different area of environmental concern will be highlighted by the committee — an organization made up of local activists and city staff members. The information will be posted on a new Web site (http://cityofpaloalto.org/environment/earthmonth ) to promote Earth Month and list events and programs.

The group was formed last fall, when the soon-to-be committee members determined that Palo Alto could and should put forth a broader effort to acknowledge environmental successes and bring attention to concerns — particularly climate change.

Global warming is "one of the most serious issues to face mankind," Carroll Harrington, a member of the committee, said of the urgency.

To set a good example, Mayor Larry Klein has pledged to cut back his energy use and reduce his "carbon footprint" — how much carbon-producing fuel or energy he uses. In his March 3 State of the City address, Klein said he plans to "go on a low-carbon diet."

"I urge every resident, to join me ... in taking the pledge ... for a cleaner, greener Palo Alto," he said. The committee will be publicizing Klein's and others' attempts and achievements throughout Earth Month and anyone can sign the pledge online.

The committee decided to break up Earth Month into themes and spread out its information and activities over a longer time period in order to avoid overwhelming people, Suozzo said.

And while Earth Month may officially last five weeks, the committee is hoping the lessons learned will endure for years to come.

"We chose to span a whole month to increase the likelihood that the habits inspired each week would become more fully ingrained into people's lives," Suozzo said.

Highlights of Earth Month 2008 include:

Green Business

March 21-29. This week will focus on eco-friendly organizations. Local businesses, schools, firms and faith-based groups that have made an effort toward environmental improvements will be identified. Castilleja School, The Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Palo Alto and the Wilson Sonsini Green Team are just a few of the many Palo Alto organizations being commended for their savvy mix of business sense and environmental awareness.

Energy: Forget Fossil Fuels

March 30-April 4. The committee will be spending its energy helping to promote energy-saving methods and celebrating organizations and individuals who have taken action to reduce reliance on fossil fuels. Examples include the Palo Alto Office Center and Vantage of Palo Alto, the Peninsula's largest solar-powered residential community.

Water: Be Water Wise

April 5-11. Thirsty lawns are out; ways to reduce residential water use (especially in yards and gardens) are in. Common Ground will hold a "Water Wise Landscaping" workshop April 12. Palo Alto and the Santa Clara Valley Water District offer incentives for "water-wise" landscaping, as well as water-use reduction in the home, even offering free high-efficiency toilets to city customers. This week, these programs will be in the spotlight, including "Cash for Grass."

Waste Reduction: Bag the Bags

April 12-18. Disposable bags get the sack, as the emphasis shifts to reduction of single-use shopping bags. The BYOBag Campaign, which rewards participating retailers who promote reusable bags, will be in full swing this week. Attention will also be paid to the success Stanford University has had with its Sustainable Food System, which involves composting of food scraps, giving a discount for reusable-mug use and creating biodiesel fuel from vegetable oil. The third annual Greenlight Film Festival, featuring films that explore environmental issues, will be held at the Cubberley Theater April 17. Entries will be accepted until March 21; see the city's Web site for details.

Transportation: Cool Your Commute

April 19-25. Reducing the environmental impacts of transportation is key during the final week of Earth Month. Palo Alto elementary schools will play an especially important role by launching "Cool School Commutes" programs, which assist families in reducing the use of cars for school commutes. Walking, biking, taking public transportation and carpooling will all be discussed and encouraged, and students will be able to pledge to make alternative-transportation choices. Stanford University will again be lauded, this time for its transportation system.

For further information and updates to the Earth Month 2008 program, visit http://cityofpaloalto.org/environment/earthmonth .

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