Denis Hayes, co-founder of Earth Day, shares his thoughts on “Earth Days past and present, environmental politics, corporate responsibility, and individual green behavior.” He is interviewed by Carsten Henningsen, long time supporter of NWEI and co-founder of Portfolio 21 (global mutual fund investing for a sustainable future and NWEI business partner).

Below is an excerpt from the interview that touches on the importance of individual behavior change and the type of actions that NWEI encourages through its course books and discussions. Click here for the full interview.

Be sure to swing by and visit our table at Portland Community College during the afternoon on Earth Day’s 40th Anniversary!

Carsten Henningsen: Environmental awareness has magnified exponentially over the past 40 years. To this end, many people have embraced “the low hanging fruit” i.e., bringing their own bags to the grocery stores, replacing incandescent bulbs with LEDs, etc. While good intentioned, it seems like too little, too late. As we enter in the second decade of the 21st century, what guidance should Earth Day bring to the general public?

Denis Hayes: I agree with your general point, but I will use it to close the loop back to your very first question, rather than to criticize personal behavioral changes.

Fairly profound behavioral changes will be necessary to build a sustainable society—and for the most part these changes will be very good things for us. More physical exertion and healthier food will help combat our epidemic of obesity, for example. Even the little actions that can be seen as mostly symbolic help tie people to value systems. That’s why every religion uses them! Catholic women are supposed to cover their heads when they enter the church whereas Catholic men are supposed to take off their hats. The French l’affaire du voile over head scarves for Moslem women has been rocking that country for 15 years! Symbols can seem silly but they can be emotionally powerful. And even trivial actions, multiplied by six billion people, can make a huge collective difference.

On the policy front, we acted first on the “low-hanging fruit.” That was common sensical. It is much easier to arouse people when their children are being poisoned than it is about two lines crossing on a graph at some point in the future, even if the latter will lead to disastrous results for the planet. But now the lines on some of those charts have converged.

My hope for Earth Day, at this juncture in history, is that-through the employment of social networking, instamobs, tweets, mobile apps, and whatever the next digital connectors turn out to be, the 175 nations participating in Earth Day 2010 will make important strides toward creating a true global consciousness. We need to care passionately about the well-being of people around the world. And we need to cherish and protect all of the interrelated web of life on our home planet.”