New York Earth Day celebrates with "virtual" forests

Fri Apr 22, 2011 11:02am EDT
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By Bernd Debusmann, Jr.

NEW YORK (Reuters) - A "virtual" forest sprouting on Times Square's renowned billboards, 1,000 free rain barrels for gritty city backyards and a parade of clean energy vehicles including hybrid garbage trucks are all helping New Yorkers go green for Earth Day on Friday.

Earth Day New York's managing director Joanne Black said accompanying giant forest images of dense vegetation and nature in the quintessential lit-up, crowded and chaotic urban landscape of Times Square will be "a visual call to action."

On Saturday, supporters of the environment can text message "tree" to the number 85944, pledging $5 for the United Nations' Year of Forest. The running tally will play out on large screens supplied by corporate sponsors including CNN, MTV, Reuters and Toshiba.

The onetime $5 dollar donation will be debited from cell phone bills to fund the planting of trees in degraded lands as far afield as Mexico, Kenya, India and the Philippines.

"It's rare for so many companies to give up their screens," Black said of the colossal, often dazzling billboards that hover above the so-called crossroads of the world and are seen by tens of thousands of people daily. "For this, they have."

"We hope to engage a broad segment of the public and show that even a small contribution can really make a difference," Earth Day New York Executive Director Pamela Lippe said.

Although the Times Square Alliance does not keep a figure on the total amount of electricity used by the billboards - which are run independently of one another - a spokesman said the billboards used today run on considerably less energy than those used in previous years.

On Friday, a convoy of more than 30 electric and alternative fuel cars, including an Inizio, the world's fastest electric sports car, will tour Manhattan, their GPS-tracked progress followed on the Times Square screens.   Continued...