Denis Hayes on Climate Change


(This 837th Buffalo Sunday News column was first published on April 8, 2007.)


Denis Hayes


On April 10, Denis Hayes, named by Time Magazine one of its 100 "Heroes for the Planet" will be here in Buffalo to give three talks related to the environment.


Hayes' main address, "The Solar Solution to Climate Change," will be delivered in Slee Hall on the University at Buffalo North Campus at 7:30 p.m. He will also speak at a noon luncheon on that day in Asbury Hall at The Church on Delaware Avenue at Tupper. His luncheon topic will be the more locally focused, "Greening Buffalo: Addressing Climate Change While Renewing Our Economy." In the afternoon he will hold a "Dialogue on Campus Climate Neutrality" with University at Buffalo students and faculty at 3 p.m. in Student Union Room 330 on the university's North Campus.


Here are some excerpts from that 1999 Time citation: "Where do you go when you need someone to rally 200 million people? An ex-President, perhaps, or a former dictator? Whenever the environmental movement needs someone to gather the troops worldwide, it turns to a tall, understated activist who rides his bicycle to work, wears flannel shirts and has a unique ability to herd the masses toward a common goal. His name is Denis Hayes, but you can call him Mr. Earth Day.


"Hayes didn't set out to be an environmentalist. He grew up in Camas, Washington, a small paper-mill town where the air stank from sulfur fumes. Like most other people there, he loved the outdoor life, but his concern over the damage the mills were doing to his beloved forest was tempered by the realization that the industry was also his dad's employer. Not until his undergraduate days at Stanford in the '60s did he become a rabble rouser, and then his target was not pollution but war.


"The activist settled down and entered Harvard Law School with an eye to influencing public policy, but a fateful assignment his first semester changed his life. Required to be an intern in a government office, Hayes called Gaylord Nelson, then a liberal U.S. Senator from Wisconsin, and volunteered to organize a series of teach-ins across the country to call attention to the environment.* Energized by the memories of the ravaged forests of his youth, he dropped out of Harvard and devoted his time to organizing rallies, street demonstrations and trash cleanups. It all culminated with the first Earth Day, when 20 million people put on the biggest show of flower power the country had seen."*


Hayes is clearly an environmental super star now. In addition to that Time Magazine accolade, he has received the highest awards given by the Sierra Club, the National Wildlife Federation, the Natural Resources Council of America, the American Solar Energy Society and the United States Humane Society.


As you might expect, hiss career since then has been extraordinary. He served as international Earth Day chairman in 1990 and 2000, expanding its reach to include more than 180 nations. It is generally agreed that this designated day has become the widest celebrated secular holiday world-wide.


Since 1992, Hayes has been president of the Bullitt Foundation in Seattle, Washington. In that role he seeks, according to his Wikipedia biography: "to make the Pacific Northwest the best-educated, most environmentally aware and most progressive corner of America -- a global model for sustainable development."


We could use some of that leadership here on the Niagara Frontier.


According to Walter Simpson, coordinator of this visit for UB Green, Hayes' talks "will focus on breakthroughs in the solar energy and renewable energy fields which, when coupled with improved energy conservation and efficiency, can help us effectively address the growing danger of climate change. What's the answer to global warming? It comes up every morning and works even in Buffalo!" Simpson adds, "We sometimes think solar won't work here in the cold and sometimes cloudy Northeast but that's not true. I expect Denis will tell us about the proliferation of solar homes and renewable energy technologies in European countries whose climates are very much like Buffalo's."


April 10th is not quite Earth Day; that will be on April 22. But Hayes visit should stimulate this community to celebrate that day of increasing importance to our future.-- Gerry Rising

* The role of Denis Hayes in the initiation of the Earth Day celebration is somewhat overplayed in the Time article and in the title, "Mr. Earth Day", now assigned to him. While he certainly deserves great credit for his work on the original program, it was Senator Gaylord Nelson who had conceived the idea and moved it forward before he hired Hayes to act as his point man. For the full story see Bill Christofferson's The Man from Clear Lake: Earth Day Founder Senator Gaylord Nelson (University of Wisconsin Press, 2004).