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Janelle Schroeder / MEDILL

Simple acts of green.

Polar bears, flash mobs: Celebrating Earth Day the Chicago way

by Janelle Schroeder
April 12, 2011

polar bear

Howard Wolinsky / MEDILL

The effects of climate change on polar bears is the focus of an April 23 Earth Day event at Brookfield Zoo. Here, one of the zoo's bears chills out on a hot summer day.

Polar bears, runners and flash mobs, oh my. In an effort to turn Earth Day into Earth Month or even Earth Year, Chicago is celebrating the 41st annual Earth Day with activities that will suit even the blackest thumb.

The Brookfield Zoo will host a Party for the Planet celebration from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on April 23. This year’s celebration focuses on the polar bear for the first time because it brings attention to the effects climate change are having on their habitat, according to Sondra Katzen, media relations manager for the Chicago Zoological Society and Brookfield Zoo.

“If it’s a nice weekend, we can get 15,000 to 20,000 people,” she said. The day includes live entertainment, crafts and activities, chats with animal keepers and volunteers and the opportunity to make a Polar Bear Pledge.

The pledge is an online form that registers participants to receive weekly tips on the modifications they can make in their lives to help fight global climate change, which will help the polar bear’s chance of long-term survival.

Among the zoo chats is a discussion with one of the zoo’s bear keepers who visited Canada to view polar bears in the wild. One will give a presentation about her travels and share ways people can help polar bears survive.

Visitors will also have the opportunity to help plant flowers. Children can take home an acorn to plant in their yards as well as receive a free tree sapling while supplies last.

If learning about farming is more your style, visit the Green Metropolis Fair on Saturday. New this year, the fair aims to focus on a smaller community level and is based on Chicago’s Green Festival in May. Mindful Metropolis magazine and Green Parents Network will host the event.

“The original initiative was to teach families and kids and individuals all sorts of ways they can incorporate sustainability into their lives,” said Richard McGinnis, publisher of Mindful Metropolis.

The fair, scheduled from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., includes workshops on composting, urban gardening and keeping backyard chickens.

“Even if people can’t grow an entire crop, they can appreciate it when they go to the grocery store,” said McGinnis. He hopes the fair will act as a stepping stone to re-establish the connection between people and food.

Transportation will also be featured, with a flash mob courtesy of Climate Cycle, a local organization that uses bicycling to promote environmental projects in school. I-GO will also be on site for a car sharing demonstration. Admission is free, but a non-perishable food donation is requested. The fair will be held at the Irish American Heritage Center, 4626 N. Knox Avenue.

Friends of the Parks is sponsoring its 22nd Annual Earth Day Parks & Preserves Clean-up from 9 a.m. to noon on Saturday. The event includes a clean-up effort at over 80 sites around the city and in the suburbs. The goal of the Friends of the Parks is to get neighbors, friends and children out in the community to embrace the spirit of Earth Day.

Last year, approximately 4,000 volunteers cleaned city parks and nature preserves. Tasks include litter pick-up, leaf raking, tree mulching, gardening, sidewalk sweeping and ecological restoration.

“First and foremost, it’s about litter,” said John O’Connell, vice president of Friends of the Parks. He said that pieces of litter that often are overlooked include bottle caps that have been ground into the soil and cigarette butts that have been tossed aside.

O’Connell said in the end, “spring cleaning is what it turns into.”

If residents would like to take part in the event, visit the Friends of the Parks website at to see what sites have signed up and which site captain to contact.

Chicago exercise enthusiasts can enjoy April’s unpredictable weather with the 5K for Earth Day. The race will be held April 23 and participants can run or walk in a family-friendly 5K race culminating with the Green Living Expo.

“The Earth Day 5K was designed in an effort to engage the community,” said Carlos Chavez, founder and CEO of Green Dot Environmental, the company that created the race.

In its first running last year the race attracted approximately 600 registered participants and an additional 100 student participants. Chavez said this year’s registration pace so far is higher than last year.

Registration is available online at through Wednesday. Race day registration will also be available starting at 7 a.m. The race begins at 8 a.m. and the expo starts at 9 a.m.

U.S. Senator Gaylord Nelson of Wisconsin started the first Earth Day in 1970. It led to the creation of the United States Environmental Protection Agency and the passage of the Clean Air, Clean Water and Endangered Species Acts.

The Earth Day Network, the organizers of Earth Day, grew out of the first Earth Day and this year, Earth Day 2011 is focused on A Billion Acts of Green: personal, organizational and corporate pledges to live and act sustainably. The A Billion Acts of Green website quantifies acts of green through an easy-to-use online registration tool.

Earth Day events and community climate meetings, a well as tree plantings, large-scale light bulb changes and workplace renewable energy retrofits are recorded as acts. Simple acts such as riding a bike instead of driving and washing laundry in cold water may also be recorded. There are currently over 85 million registered actions to date. The goal is to register one billion actions in advance of the Earth Summit in Rio in 2012.