Our 25th Anniversary
It’s A Small Earth, After All
can you say about something you
never planned to have happen, but has lasted for 25 years?
I find myself asking that question about EarthFair, the annual Earth Day
Balboa Park. The first one in 1990, celebrating the 20th anniversary of Earth Day, was supposed to be a
single event. But
participants demanded a repeat event in 1991, and it has been a solid San Diego tradition ever since.
While EarthFair is the largest single-day event
consistently in the Park, the environmental movement it serves has seen good and bad times... many steps forward, but a few backward, as well.
Measure for Measure
We like to measure things in the Earth Day
culture. By our internal measures, we’ve directly activated more than 6,200 San
Diego volunteers. And that doesn’t count the many volunteers recruited by
more than 900 non-profit groups that have used “Earth Day” as their key annual outreach. More than 1,300 businesses have shared their environmental
products, services and policies with the public.
And, in round numbers, approximately 1.3 million individuals have attended the Fair since 1990 — close
to the current population of the entire city!
Environment, Changes, and Culture
Two decades is long enough to see slow, long-term
changes that we miss in our busy daily lives. And we have a lot of reasons to
Having the county with the largest number of
solar-power installations in the State of California (more than 33,000) is one, reducing fossil
fuel consumption and decreasing climate change emissions.
Having a Director of Environmental Policy for the City of San Diego is another
(working on official Climate Action Plan in addition to many other areas).
Much to my surprise, I witnessed the birth, death and rebirth of the electric car! (Electric vehicles reduce fossil
fuel usage and decrease climate change emissions, depending on your sources of
electricity). In the 90s, I couldn’t drive roundtrip from San Diego to Encinitas in any
electric car. For much of
the next decade, there were no electric cars available. I now drive a completely electric vehicle daily, and can get back and forth from North County to San Diego on one charge. San
Diego has the third highest number of electric cars in the state.
On the transportation front, Car2Go deploys neighborhood electric vehicles around the city. Regional
bicycling plans are taking hold. You can find the arrival time of an
approaching MTS bus by texting the code printed on each bus stop sign.
The way we feed ourselves has seen changes, too.
Organic produce sections are now common at many supermarkets. Several
Agriculture networks deliver local
produce. There are now 56 local Farmer’s Markets (see www.ediblesandiego.com/markets-and-csas/farmers-markets.htm). The city encourages community gardens.
Recycling, surprisingly uncommon in 1990, is almost
mandatory now, many more items are collected, and there is a “Zero Waste”
plan in the works. Electronics waste is regularly collected.
The regional “Multiple Species Conservation Plans”
continue to add lands and play a consistent role in the development process.
products options have increased.
Coronado is home to a new national player for climate change science-based activism: Citizen’s Climate Lobby. San Diego Canyonlands is the recognized
group shepherding “Friends of” groups regionally and spearheading restoration and
improvements. Local author Richard Louv’s works on the
importance of children’s connections
with nature are national best sellers and have spawned networks of children and
nature groups nationwide and regionally.
These are signs that there has been a greening of the culture over the time
that Earth Day has participated. For new green businesses startups, or for existing businesses testing their innovative green and clean-tech ideas and products, the San Diego region is
unmatched, and the annual EarthFair
is an irreplacable resource.
But what of it? Earth Day is dogged by the critique that it
is not doing physical work to save the environment or
legislative work to protect it. A spotlight once a year isn’t enough.
To this I will answer: yes of course. Christmas
isn’t enough for Peace on Earth and Valentine’s Day isn’t enough to show your
love. It’s a people thing: to have an annual observance, pilgrimage or action
that you do
in honor of what’s important to you for that occasion. If it’s not your thing — then do your thing for
the earth in your way. I never say, or even think, that Earth Day is enough.
It’s the daily anniversary that matters. Earth Day is
one place to start. Then what you do each day is what adds up.
Activists like myself have to answer the question: will it ever be enough? My answer is: yes. Targets can be measured and adjustments made. Species can be removed from
the endangered list. Pollution can be prevented. Contraception can increase.
Regression and Opposition
Sad to say, hard-won
environmental victories are often not enough, and worse, can be reversed or voided.
Political polarization is worse than ever, stopping
efforts to use science to determine policy and to protect water, air, energy, and nature. Fossil fuel interests continue to
dominate in political spending and organizing.
Climate change emissions keep rising regardless of efforts. Endangered
species continue to decline, especially rhinos, gorillas, polar bears, wild cat species (see worldwildlife.org/species/directory?direction=desc&sort=extinction_status)
Extinction risk has been
evaluated for less than 5% of the world’s described species (See the Red List at www.iucn redlist.org/about/red-list-overview). The human population continues to rise,
making more demands on lands and water and habitat for nature.
Fortunately for us, California is a leader in environmental action, and the political assault on the environment has not been as pronounced locally as many other places in the nation.
In many ways, the success of the environmental
movement can be measured by the opposition it generates. This comes from those
whose financial or political interests take a hit when new “clean” technologies threaten to replace
their more profitable dirty ones.
Regionally, the public transit trolley promised
more than 20 years ago still has not even broken ground. Environmental groups
have to file lawsuits to enforce what protections are on the books. Climate
change reduction plans, while being created, are notably weak; ensuring a safe future
will cost some individuals money, and they’re not having it. Maintenance of habitat lands remains an issue.
The plastic bag ban failed to take hold; but it is
coming back (and expect to find more than 10,000 sturdy canvas bags being given away this year at EarthFair). The emerging solar power
industry is being threatened by regional and national legislative lobbying to
costs while discounting their
benefits; fossil fuel interests have the funds to make sure that you will have to pay, even if you are
generating your own electricity.
I could go on. These anti-environmental counter forces can be discouraging.
Yet, oddly, they are a clear positive sign that things are changing: not just some time in the indefinite future, but right now.
Unfortunately, individual actions are not enough. They are part of the
picture, but environmental issues always include issues related to impacts on
other people or properties which require standards to be enforced for the overall
Earth Day is just one part of the picture — one of
the many shades
of green required to realize a clean, healthy, prosperous future. I like to
think it’s the part that works to inspire kids and
adults to be a part of something bigger than themselves and to want to be part
of protecting the environment — and to volunteer and support the other groups
and businesses that do — or to start their own. Anyone can make any day, an
To be a part of this year’s 25th annual
Earth Day observation in Balboa Park on April 27th, visit http://www.earthdayweb.org
the Children’s Earth Day Parade “It’s a Small Earth After All”: