Sunday, June 26, 2011

Seattle Green Festival the crossroads, crosshairs for Green movement

Since this is the first of a couple of articles about this year’s Pacific Northwest Green Festival in Seattle, there’s no need to start off describing the world’s “largest sustainability-green-eco aware” extravaganza.

However, a few stalwarts present included Amy Goodman of Democracy Now, Dennis Kucinich of Ohio and DC, and a few groups looking “beyond green” to help redefine a new economy, new community structures, and safety nets for a world that’s heating up, drying up, and going belly up, agriculturally speaking.

Seattle’s Revolution Books and the newspaper, Revolution, which tried to get people interested in a deeper, radical view, made more sense to be there than reps from Ford Motor Company or Safeway’s O Organics. Stuart Vasquez of Mexico, who started a bi-lingual magazine, Eco-Logica, was another highlight.

The bottom line for some is whether the Festival was a success. Green Festivals – held in San Francisco, Chicago, New York, Los Angeles ( – aren’t exactly Bioneers happenings, where philosophical and spiritual constructs ebb and flow.

Even this quasi-trade show brings out hope from critics like myself, curious if something different, radical, holistic and in-your-face would emerge.

This year’s fest was low-key and milquetoast, a cluster jam of wandering souls trying out Clif Bars and others looking for the right speaker from which to inspire. Lots of swag in reusable bags.

One would think after a decade, Seattle could organize a great outdoor event – in a park or brownfields – dealing with the gray miasma that defines the Emerald City. Something bigger, and community-energized than what felt like a weekend marketing “thing.”

Fortunately, taking the bad with the good is a tool of a green critic. It’s never fun looking at the “go-green movement” with skepticism, but someone must do it. It’s a dirty job because, a, one doesn’t want to nay-say efforts to push the fossil fuel/economic/ecological injustice bucket over, and, b, when you do, you end up flushing out people in the sustainability movement who can’t get over that our

ENTIRE system of consumption, capitalism, globalization, and First World vs. Third thinking must be imploded in the desert with someone like George Hayduke (from The Monkey Wrench Gang) holding the gun’s trigger.

It’s amazing to have been a part of a movement in the 1970s in Tucson, where some of us demanded an end to the sprawl into the Sonora Desert.

I was active in environmental direct action in high school and college. Eventually, I ended up as a newspaper reporter forced to stay objective, reporting on the razing of the Southwest, forced to keep my trap shut where my heart was – deep ecology and environmental justice.

Craziness seeing pygmy owls, kit foxes, reptiles, javelina, mule deer, black bear, coyotes, insects and flora galore get pushed out and depopulated by the tools of the Chamber of Commerce – builders, developers, folk who thought the land, once purchased, was meant for human scarring.

First the environmentalists talked with planning and zoning commissions. Then pressure was put on politicians and developers. Then scientists shared how those animal and plant species would be toast if the development of homes into the foothills wasn’t stopped.

Rotary clubs, Chambers of Commerce and construction lobbyists never listened to communities’ concerns over the ecological slash, burn, build-and-pave over process they helped to unleash. The power of regressive taxation – where communities can only collect the bulk of their operating expenses through property taxes – has aided and abetted the sprawl-ization of America the past 40 years.

At some point, monkeywrenching, and the ghost of Edward Abbey, energized the movement. Evening sessions talking about draft x, y and z of plan a, b and c got us nowhere – canyons, gullies, palos verde, saguaro and other cacti ended up chopped up for trendy, sprawling Southwest-style homes.

Like a community trying to keep a super Wal-mart or K-Mart from cutting into a neighborhood’s livability, we faced bigwigs who thought leaving a slash of cactus or half acre for a “wild” buffer was a grand gesture.

The result of this direct action? Billboards hacked down. Front-end loaders and dump trucks sabotaged.

So, writing about Seattle’s Green Festival, I am filled with trepidation because a festival might just be nothing more than a rendezvous for various green proponents, some looking to engage in real discourse, others trying to market the next green thing.

I understand the purpose of shifting thinking toward sustainable development, design, marketing and

energy is to change thinking and habits, and in a capitalistic and consumer-based economy, most people need lots of sugar to swallow medicine to inoculate society from resource greed, climate change and chemical and radioactive pollution.

I know about incremental change, and why many still misanthropically posit that baby steps will change humanity.

I understand the zeal for hope in small places when it comes to environmentalism, and see the rationale behind the futile push to try and frame a movement through social networks and superficial formulas of messaging and popular culture.

This doesn’t mean all of us in the camp of wanting measures of sustainability to become policy and creation of a survival kit for our species and the rest of ecology’s members must flash a green light on anything and everything tied to “being or living green,” environmentalism, or eco-justice and sustainability.

When the happening is dubbed, “The Green Festival,” there is a tendency to look for cracks in the message, folly in delivery and contradictions in ways of thinking.

It’s easy to be waylaid by Ford as a major sponsor displaying bells and whistles of its supposedly “sustainable” loads; by the consumer-driven atmosphere of some of the participants; or by the absurdity of a box store gaining the spotlight as speaker Edward Humes discussing Wal-Mart’s role in saving the world during his talk, “Wal-Mart’s Unlikely Green Revolution.”

Seattle’s green movement, and those beyond the Emerald City, celebrated 10 years and 1 million attendees holding what is dubbed “the largest sustainability-focused event in the US.”

Using the glass half-full perspective of the May 21-22 event, I can impart the value of speaking with instructors and students from Evergreen State College’s Master of Environmental Studies Program. It’s a two-year program that not only needs across the board support from other institutions, but necessitates a larger frame from which our entire country might move forward on sustainability and community justice programs.

You’ve got minds grasping a meta-cognitive approach to the region’s environment and following through on working with the contexts and tools of ecological and social sustainability. Evergreen’s MES program is about evening coursework in ecology, sustainability and community, plus energy and climate change. Independent Learning Contracts and internships are big on the academic agenda.

The weird thing is that Evergreen’s program was just a booth amongst other booths hawking products, giving away organic taste samples and promoting this or that.

However, the entire green festival could be drawn into the fold of this Olympia-based graduate program. It could have used program graduates, professionals connected to the program , and faculty and entrepreneurs tied to MES’s goals of taking to the stage to help the wanderers at the event reframe how to really move “green” into hearts and minds of Americans.

Of course, people like this never were invited on the stage, just big-name authors and players in the sustainability movement … and Amy Goodman and Dennis Kucinich, thankfully.

[This is the first in a series of columns about the 10th edition of the Seattle Green Festival and the current state of sustainability in the Northwest. Future pieces will explore more of the event and the roots of greenwashing. ]

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