Softley began his campaign in '91 to counteract Earth Day's co-opted identity: Because founders Gaylord Nelson and Denis Hayes put the label Earth Day in the public domain when they launched the event in 1970, even Exxon can use it to greenwash its image. As a result, Earth Day has begun to seem like a corporate marketing gimmick, a cleanup day for school kids or a day out in the park. "One editor at Newsweek said to me, 'Earth Day! That old tired horse again?'" Softley says. "I personally think it's a lightweight event," he admits. "What impact do any of these events have on behavior? Every school has an Earth Day, but Gen X smokes more and made auto racing popular again. I mean, did they really get the message?" Still, he claims, "70 to 80 percent of Americans declare themselves environmentalists on opinion polls. I'm saying to them, 'If you care about the environment, prove it.'"
After nine years of telling Earth Day's national leadership to make Earth Day "a time of action," Softley may have finally found an audience: Earth Day Network, the event's Seattle-based national office, has launched a year-long campaign focused on new energy solutions, leading up to Earth Day 2000. "When you fast, you really miss food," Softley notes. "If you go without energy, you'll realize how much of it you waste. As Energy Fast gets known, people won't go back to their wasteful ways so easily."