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EARTH DAY HOOPLA OBSCURED THE REAL ISSUES

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A question: What was the serious business about Earth Day 1990?

Reports from Washington, New York, Chicago and other Earth Day celebrations around the nation suggest there was a message there, that the planet is doomed - maybe by global warming, certainly by trash - unless we mend our ways.Which raises another question: Will rock musicians and movie stars, using their loudness and prettiness, be able to save us from the greenhouse effect or holes in the ozone or paper diapers or whatever else it is that's going to do us in?

At the risk of quarreling with all the goodness and innocent fun of a spring day in the sunshine for hundreds of thousands of people, it can still be said that the environmental movement ought to have more to tell us by now than to recycle trash and use less hot water while showering.

And it ought to have more to show us than a collection of glitzy young celebrities in Earth Day T-shirts who lead cheers for each other.

The 20th anniversary of the first Earth Day passed with all its hoopla and rock band worship of Mother Earth with hardly a mention anywhere of great environmental issues that remain unresolved, not even approached by public debate.

For one example, after 45 years of its reality, 20 years after the first Earth Day and after billions of public dollars have been invested, what is our national policy on nuclear energy?

We are a nation and a world already on warning that our past use of fossil fuels has produced great harm throughout the world and continued such use will be devastating.

We have struggled since before the first Earth Day for decisive controls over air pollution caused by fossil fuels, and the recently approved clean-air bill is regarded as helpful but not all that ought to be done.

Nuclear energy, which now generates an estimated 20 percent of American power, is said by its proponents to be the logical alternative to fossil fuels. It's said to be cleaner, safer, even less expensive if nuclear power could shake loose from entangling lawsuits and layers of regulation.

But clear federal policy on nuclear power is absent. There are regulatory bodies and miles of legal red tape, but there is no ongoing policy at the federal level that says:

Yes, nuclear power is a safe alternative to fossil fuels. Or a policy that says, no, nuclear power is not safe and it should not be used.

The question is almost a half-century old now, but no presidential administration has approached that sort of nuclear policy and no Congress has debated it to conclusion.

Give Earth Day 1990 its due. The celebration did what, presumably, it was meant to do - raise the national consciousness, bring an awareness to the young folks, infuse a renewed militancy and inspire hope for the future.

But an Earth Day that traded mainly on entertainment and personal promises from movie people that they'll recycle trash seemed more like trivialization of the subject, not serious business.