MOST DAYS, JEFF SOFTLEY IS HAPPY TO DIRECT YOU TO HIS WEB SITE, http://www.earthday
energyfast.org, where he's amassed googols of data on the wastefulness of American consumers (to wit: 7 percent of our energy resources go to home temperature control -- more than most countries use for everything). But on Earth Day, April 22, Softley, a lone activist of the grassiest roots (he hasn't filed for nonprofit status and does no fund-raising) asks that you not turn on your computer at all -- or your thermostat, or your iron, or even your toaster oven. "Don't even go to the movies," Softley urges. "Read a book, hang out with friends, go on a long walk. The idea is to shift your focus back to nature."
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 Newsweeksaid 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."