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Happy Diminished Earth Day

Observations from the Edge
Robert T. Nanninga
North County Times
April 23, 2002


After the Senate vote to protect the calving grounds of the porcupine caribou and a large chunk of the Artic National Wildlife Reserve, for a brief three days I was buoyed with a sense of hope, that perhaps there was hope for the collective us. And then I experienced the San Diego Earth Fair.

The ultimate in mixed messages, where there were thousands of genuinely concerned people trying to educate the teeming masses about the environmental threats, challenges, possibilities confronting human beings, there was also enough charlatans, snake oil peddlers, and clueless Christians to make this writer wonder if it was not already to late.

As a volunteer and board member of San Diego EarthWorks, the non-profit group responsible for producing the annual event, my observations are backed up by years of experience, and an eye for the absurd.

You could say my day started out on the wrong foot when the first vendor I happened upon was setting up a booth the offered flavored oxygen for 3 dollars a pop. Now if that wasn't weird enough, the oxygen came in assorted flavors, the most notable being sex on the beach. The man taking peoples money told them they were inhaling 100% oxygen, what tripped me out was that the long line of people failed to consider the flavor additives as just another form of pollution.

Next to the oxygen booth, as a collection of alternative fuel vehicles. The interest that fairgoers gave to these technological wonders made the dude with the oxygen nothing more than a necessary evil. Yet still, without filling my lungs with sex on the beach, I was left with a bad taste in my mouth that would continue throughout the day.

Adding to the overall pollution of the air, not to mention the culture conversation, was an organized group of protesters, claiming first amendment rights while clutching large posters of aborted fetuses. These well-meaning folks, with lawyers in tow, where intent on upstaging everyone who was there as part of the event. Seeking to distance the themselves from the squatters, San Diego EarthWorks only recourse was to post disclaimers.

Next to the recycled art area, where discarded items were used to create works of art and functional items such as lamps, chairs, and tables, was a booth featuring the Vista based African Conservancy. This group of merchants was hawking Kenyan coffee, to raise funds to reintroduce the rhinoceros to Zambia. I sought more information on the intent of this group upon noticing that the African Conservancy's booth was sponsored by the very uenvironmental Rhino Linings, a leading manufacturer of polyurethane linings for truck beds.

With just a little research, I discovered the reason rhinoceros's are nearly extinct in the beleaguered nation of Zambia is due to a human population of more than 9 million, an unemployment rate of 50%, uncontrolled poaching, a government powerless to do anything about it. If these coffee merchants really wanted to help the rhinos of Zambia, they should start by helping the people of Zambia, not the coffee growers of Kenya.

All in all the event could be considered a success, for it prompted people to consider, if only for a day, the impact of humanity on the environment. Sadly the message was buried beneath a serious lack of connections, and an uncanny need to consume.

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