Earth Day – A Time for Cynicism
by Billy Goodnick
Earth Day - A Time for Cynicism
The San Fernando Valley is stalking me. I crawled out of that sweltering armpit of a community in the mid-seventies seeking a cooler climate and told Van Nuys to go suck an egg. Apparently, the Valley is holding a grudge. I suspected as much while performing my journalistic duties at the Earth Day celebration Sunday. The hell beast unfurled its near-hundred degree tendrils to remind me of days gone by.
Perhaps the three days of record-breaking April heat we endured this week was a direct result of global climate change. If so, what better place to be than that bastion of planet-friendly folk, the Earth Day celebration at Alameda Park?
As in years past, the event was organized by none other than the Community Environmental Council. In fact, Earth Day started right here in Santa Barbara in 1970 as a response to the massive oil spill off our coast the year before. The event was held at Santa Barbara City College to commemorate the first anniversary of the spill and became a galvanizing event in the now-worldwide environmental movement. Since then, the CEC has expanded their mission and focus to include efficient and renewable energy, alternative transportation, recycling and climate change.
This year's theme was "Life After Oil" and judging from the electric cars, human powered music and the plethora of solar powered devices, the exhibitors embraced that grand theme. Well, MOST of them seemed right on message. The exhibit booths fell into one of three categories: 1) "Yep, that's what Earth Day is all about"; 2) "I think I get the connection"; and 3) "'Corporate' said this would make us look good."
These are the hands-on, make-people-aware, get down in the dirt, movers and shakers who do stuff, make stuff and educate us.
Traffic Solutions provided info about programs to help get us out of our cars and into public transportation. The SB Bicycle Coalition had a tent full of tools to tune up the bikes of attendees and BiCi Centro — a low to no cost bike education program where community members learn to work on bikes in a multi-lingual, comfortable and fun setting—hosted a free bike valet parking service for the day. How cool is THAT?
I was short on time and focused on landscape related exhibitors. Marborg Industries, our home-grown garbage collection and waste-management providers, showed off information about their mulch program (free for the regular stuff, really cheap for the more refined screened material). Parents with kids flocked to Art From Scrap a brilliant non-profit that provides the community with a "green schools environmental education program", an arts center, and their totally bitchen Reuse Retail Store.
My favorite stop was at SB Food Not Lawns, which is an outgrowth of the Mesa Food Exchange. Imagine having a bumper crop of giant zucchini and a family who threatens to throw you out on the street if they have to endure one more serving of mu shu zucchini in a zucchini reduction sauce, served over shredded zucchini slaw and some Baskin and Robbins "Here Comes the Zucchini Chip" sorbet. SBFNL exists to encourage folks to "grow and share more food together while having fun and building community." A statistic from their website pretty much says it all. "Today, 58 million Americans spend approximately $30 billion every year to maintain over 23 million acres of lawn." What if even a portion of that went into growing your own food; safe food that you have confidence in?
These are the kinds of ideas that have a direct, positive impact on our planet. And then there are the others.
A Bit of a Stretch
Being a former hippie (now I'm just a hippie sympathizer) I kind of "get" the connection between Tibetan prayer flags, incense holders, crystals, aroma therapy and a more genteel planet. I guess if we're inhaling the aroma of sandalwood and watching our flags flutter in the breeze, we'll be too centered to commit high crimes and misdemeanors against Gaia. Certainly wearing hemp tai chi jackets is preferable to the impacts caused by cutting down polyester trees. I just have to remind myself that the term "earth friendly" is up for interpretation and not everyone sees it the same way.
You Gotta Be Kidding Me
It's the last category that troubles me. We know all about whitewashing a subject. Wikipedia sums it up nicely: An overly optimistic but sometimes incorrect description of a concept. An example in politics is to describe a "tax" or "penalty" as a "fee."
And then there's "greenwashing." It's the act of disingenuously portraying your service or product being environmentally friendly. I knew the trend had taken on an especially disturbing power when Clorox bleach launched a new line of Green Works products. Can't let Simple Green grab the whole market share. So I wasn't surprised by the supermarkets and local bank that were handing out reusable "green" shopping bags and Frisbees. Plastic Frisbees? Let's see if I can recreate the logic. "College kids play Ultimate; college kids live in Isla Vista; lots of Isla Vistans look like hippies and are into environmental stuff; let's hand out Frisbees at Earth Day and burnish our image a bit."
Call me a cynic (if you haven't already thought of something worse) but I'd love to see more of the participants make some kind of connection between the core message of Earth Day and their presence at Alameda Park. If a few more brain cells had been devoted to the booth, I bet they could have told a story about all the start-up entrepreneurs they've helped bootstrap their businesses, or a connection to the good work they help support within the community.
I missed a lot of exhibits due to a time conflict. Perhaps I saw a skewed picture of the big event. I left with a silent wish for CEC to rescale a bit and focus the message. Maybe less is more (more or less).
I got on my human-powered bike, pedaled back home, fired up my fossil-fuel powered 14-year old car and visited a new client. She wants to take out her lawns, tear up most of the concrete and plant fruit trees and veggies. Just doing my part.
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Billy Goodnick is a nice guy who knows a lot about plants and garden stuff.
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