WASHINGTON -- It's taken 1,000 years to get to the millennium changeover. A dozen or so forward-looking thinkers at a Millennium Institute forum Thursday had two minutes each to explain how they plan to make it an event of save-the-world proportion.
Nearly every speaker went over the time allotment, but their message was succinct: sustainable development. In layman's terms, that means they want to use the 2000 milestone to focus attention on behaviors that will avoid destruction of the planet.
They want the start of the next century to be more than champagne glasses clinking around the globe. The speakers, all representing groups with millennium projects, want it to be bigger than Earth Day celebrations and tree plantings.
"It is not the global drunk that's going to take place on Dec. 31, 1999. There is something significant here," said Gerald Barney of the Millennium Institute, an Arlington, Va.-based group that's trying to channel excitement about the millennium into excitement over protecting the Earth.
One by one, the millennial thinkers trooped to the microphone to relate their hopes for the future, as a timekeeper eyed a stopwatch. Those who went overtime were passed a warning note, but most kept talking anyway.
Denis Hayes, who organized the first Earth Day rallies in 1970, cautioned against getting caught up in millennial hoopla and losing an opportunity to prompt serious change.
Environmentalists must fight against 2000 trivialization, he said. Hayes lamented that there already are more than 600 trademarks and trademark applications for millennial products, including caskets, fishing tackle and bottled water.
"We are going to get hit with millennium everything and it's going to have an impact on those of us who are trying to turn this milestone into something," Hayes said.
His plan for Earth Day 2000: Blast mankind with repeated messages about the welfare of the planet.
"If it's all Monica all the time, if it's an O.J. Simpson, an Exxon Valdez or a Chernobyl -- if it's in your face long enough, you begin to think 'What does this mean to me?"' Hayes says.
Colin Bradford of the U.S. Agency for International Development wants to harness millennium fervor to address poverty. "What this century, our century, has left out is poor people and poor countries," Bradford said.
Martyn Williams, an expedition leader from Santa Fe, N.M., hopes to focus world attention on the environment with "Pole to Pole 2000."
Beginning in March 1999, 12 young people will leave the North Pole and travel by air, kayak, raft and foot to the South Pole. Along the way, they'll work with youth groups on projects such as restoring salmon streams in British Columbia, cleaning up the Hudson River in New York, supplying water to villages in Central America and cleaning up trash on Mount Fuji in Japan.
Jillaine Smith's agenda for helping save the planet is closer to home.
The District of Columbia woman is part of one of the Sweden-based Global Action Plan household ecological teams now in 14 countries. She and her husband and residents of seven other households meet every couple of weeks to assess their impact on the Earth.
"We've been weighing our garbage, analyzing our energy bills, and have been horrified," Ms. Smith said. "We're timing the time we spend in the showers. I've got it down to about three minutes."
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