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Thousands at National Mall for Earth Day

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Thousands of people converged Saturday upon the muddy grass of the National Mall to celebrate the 30th anniversary of Earth Day in a festival that mixed passionate environmentalism with the mellow atmosphere of a weekend outing.

Holding small tree saplings and wearing assorted environmental stickers, celebrators wandered through displays of electric cars and solar panels under leaden skies while various religious leaders offered prayers for the Earth.

Vice President Al Gore helped kick off the daylong festival of speeches and songs, calling the next 10 years “the environment decade.”

“When it comes to our air, our water and the Earth itself, we all have a responsibility to look not just to ourselves, not just to the politics or profits of the moment, but to future generations,” he said.

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“We have to stand against the apologists for pollution, those who believe in the old politics of environmental irresponsibility.”

Gore outlined his environmental priorities for the next decade, including protecting public land, encouraging livable growth and taking steps to reverse global warming. He also stressed the need to work to cut air pollution generated by power plants.

DiCaprio, as Chairman, Scores Hit With Crowd

The Democratic presidential contender has been stressing his environmental credentials and encountered a warm reception Saturday, as many in the audience booed the mention of Republican candidate George W. Bush and yelled, “We love you, Al!”

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Nevertheless, a few dissenting signs bobbed in the crowd. “Hey Al--read your book,” said one.

Earlier, actor Leonardo DiCaprio drew even louder screams and whistles as he spoke of the need to invest in renewable energy sources.

“Enough is enough,” said DiCaprio, chairman of the Earth Day celebration. “We must now set an example and move environmentalism from being a philosophy of a passionate minority, like everyone here at Earth Day, to a way of life.”

After he spoke, several hundred people raced to the back of the stage for a glimpse of the actor. When Gore took the stage a few minutes later, some in the crowd were still straining to see the teen idol, oblivious that the vice president was speaking.

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Earth Day also was the topic of President Clinton’s weekly radio address to the nation Saturday. Clinton, who did not attend the Earth Day celebration, announced two new initiatives to help reduce greenhouse emissions and prevent global warming.

Clinton issued an executive order requiring federal agencies to reduce petroleum use by 20% in the next five years and announced a program allowing federal workers to spend up to $65 a month tax-free for public transportation.

Some Huddle to Talk; Others Just Sightsee

On the Mall, meanwhile, thousands signed petitions for clean energy sources and protecting ocean wildlife and open spaces. A large inflatable Earth bobbed in the shadow of the Washington Monument.

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Some visitors expressed ardent environmental views, huddling in small groups to talk about renewable resources, while others said they came to take in the sights. The mood of many could be perhaps best summarized by the most popular button at vendor Jose Rodriguez’s stand, which read: “Suburbia--where we tear down the trees and name streets after them.” Rodriguez had sold all of the buttons by noon.

Young people dominated the crowd, as many children and teenagers wandered among the booths collecting information about various environmental causes.

Becky Nimmich, 19, of Ellicott City, Md., toured the fair with a group of young friends.

“I do things to take care of the Earth, like recycling, but I could do more,” she admitted. “This is a good reminder.”

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MARINA DEL REY CLEANUP

An armada of volunteer sailors converged on Marina del Rey for an Earth Day cleanup. B1


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