Hollywood tests tweaked delivery methods for Earth Day initiatives

Ever since Eddie Albert, the star of “Green Acres,” gave a series of speeches tied to the first Earth Day in 1970, a day that also was his birthday, Hollywood has been inextricably linked to the celebration — and the green movement in general.

This year, the 40th anniversary of the April 22 event, will be no different: A concert on the National Mall, a Disneynature documentary, “Oceans,” and even an extension of the “Avatar” with a special event at the Nokia Theater in Los Angeles.

But as industry activists continue this environmental crusade, boosted by their ability to raise awareness where others cannot, it’s easy to get dismayed that, despite countless projects, rallies and commitments in recent years, the message of the movement has been stalled. A Gallup poll last month showed that over the past two years, the public “has become less worried about the threat of global warming, less convinced that its effects are already happening, and more likely to believe that scientists themselves are uncertain about their occurrence.”

Just as disconcerting is the uncertain fate of the climate bill in the Senate, and the fear that it will get hopelessly demonized as the midterm elections approach.

Nate Byer, the campaign director for Earth Day Network, says that the “disconnect” is traced to the fact that other parts of the world, like the Maldives, see tangible effects in the form of rising sea levels.

“The environmental community has been fighting long and hard, and I think we are only beginning to realize the power of a strong message and a united message,” Byer says.

Lawrence Bender, the producer of “An Inconvenient Truth,” puts blame on the news media has done a “huge disservice” in their continued focus on whether climate change is real and man-made, drawing in global warming deniers to offer both sides to an issue resolved by years of research. “It is almost like having a debate as to whether the Earth is round,” he says, adding that the result has been “confusion in the public’s mind.”

“There is no question that the pressures of day-to-day surviving and living became more important,” he says. “But the recession we have had, as bad as it was, will pale in comparison to the money that we will have to spend [on climate change], not to mention the effect it will have on people’s lives.”

While 2006’s “An Inconvenient Truth” helped instill a sense of urgency in the public’s mind, the latest showbiz efforts illustrate that while the messages may be the same, the approaches are slightly different.

Disneynature’s “Oceans,” to be released April 22, is accompanied by a social action campaign organized by Participant Media called the Save My Oceans Tour, a series of concerts and art installations that accompanied a screening of the movie on college campuses.

Youtchi von Lintel, director of business development for Participant, notes that a big part of the effort is the followup, in the form of a Save My Oceans pledge in which students commit to choose reusable bottles and bags, or eat non-endangered seafood.

Teamed with Summit Entertainment, Participant also is diverging a bit with “Furry Vengeance,” starring Brendan Fraser, in which animals strike back against an encroaching housing development. Participant is also showing “Climate of Change,” a new documentary narrated by Tilda Swinton about the efforts of everyday people to combat climate change, at the Tribeca Film Festival.

As muddled as the message may have become, one big hope is that the success of “Avatar,” awash in ecological allegory, will boost Earth Day attention. Twentieth Century Fox is releasing the movie on DVD and Blu-ray on that date, and has teamed with Earth Day Network to plant 1 million trees around the world this year.

James Cameron will participate in an Earth Day event at the Nokia Theater called the “Avatar Home Tree Celebration,” with tickets $35 a pop.

He’s also set to give a speech at one of the larger events tied to Earth Day, the Climate Rally on the National Mall in Washington, being organized by the Earth Day Network. Pushed to Sunday April 25 to maximize turnout, the event also will feature performances by Sting, John Legend, Jimmy Cliff and Joss Stone, among others.

So far, it’s not quite as ambitious as Live Earth, the Gore led series of concerts in 2007 that drew marathon coverage on MTV. This event will be streamed live on earthday.org.

The intent of the event, Byer says, is not a concert but a rally, “a moment to move forward,” even in difficult times. The political climate was no less tumultuous in 1970, he notes, and yet the event “really did change the zeitgeist.”

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