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University Earth Day events combined with UNM Fiestas

Solar energy, recycling and voter registration are just a few of the topics UNM's chapter of the Public Interest Research Group will promote during its Earth Day celebration Saturday on Johnson Field.

The group has teamed with Student Special Events, adding its usual bill of speakers and interactive events to the University's revived Fiestas celebration. PIRG's activities will be concentrated on the event's second stage and in an Earth Day tent at the event that runs from noon to 7 p.m. Eight bands and a variety of community and student organization booths round out the dual-purpose celebration.

"It's the first time we have ever worked with SSE, and it has been very nice because both groups have seen a lot more interest than they normally would for their events thanks to the partnership," PIRG director Shannon Lumpkin said.

PIRG, the Student Photo Initiative and the Art Student Association also are sponsoring a display of "smART," which is art that promotes environmental, political and social responsibility. The exhibition included a competition that was judged by Steven Robert Allen, arts director for the Weekly Alibi, and Michael Certo, educational curator for the UNM Art Museum and owner of (AC)2 Gallery.

Reprints of some of the work can be bought Saturday, with 30 percent of the proceeds from the exhibition going to fund the re-establishment of the Art Student Association Gallery, which was closed during Student Union Building renovation.

Event visitors also will be encouraged to participate in a national campaign urging Pepsico Inc. to use 25 percent recycled materials in its plastic beverage containers. Lumpkin said that Pepsi, the second largest retailer of beverages in the United States behind Coca-Cola, uses no recycled material in its plastic bottles.

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Subscribe, along with representatives from the Grassroots Recycling Network and other groups, kicked off the "Take It Back" campaign to convince consumers to send their empty plastic bottles back to Pepsi so that the company can use the plastic to make new bottles, rather than allowing the empty bottles to be sent to landfills.

Activists nationwide are expected to send thousands of empty plastic bottles back to Pepsi during the next few days. Lumpkin said a similar campaign against Coke led to a commitment by the company to use 10 percent recycled content in its plastic containers.

The Earth Day speakers take the second stage shortly after 1 p.m. Secretary of State Rebecca Vigil-Giron will speak about the importance of voter turnout and youth participation in elections.

"I think that it's significant that the Secretary of State will be speaking during Earth Day because she will be addressing an important issue that we've been working on all year long," Lumpkin said. "We have such a huge block of students in this district who don't vote, and we've seen a real decline in democratic participation among young people. It's really important that we work to change that."

At about 2 p.m., Rachel Bruhnke of the Global Exchange will speak about renewable energy use in Cuba and how the same principles can be applied in New Mexico.

"We are not only talking about solar energy, which New Mexico clearly has, but also wind energy," Lumpkin said. "The EPA has said that the wind in the Southwest has the potential to provide as much energy as oil has in the Middle East."

Lumpkin added she considers an emphasis on renewable energy key to the state's future.

"It can lead to a lot of economic growth in a very healthy manner that this state needs," she said. "If we were to come up with the best way to capitalize on the natural resources that we have, the state would likely experience an economic boon that would be similar to those experienced in states that discovered they were rich in oil."

Ben Luce of the New Mexico Solar Energy Association will be the final speaker of the day at 4 p.m. Luce is a scientist at Sandia National Laboratories who will follow up on points made by Bruhnke about the need to study renewable energy.

"This is a really special event for us, and we hope that a lot of people come out and enjoy all that Earth Day and Fiestas have to offer," Lumpkin said.

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