Advocating for Social and Environmental Justice in Stanislaus County
Valley Improvement Projects is grateful that Modesto has an annual Earth Day event and pleased by some of the groups, vendors, and activities offered. Unfortunately, we feel there is a trend of polluting and environmental unfriendly companies and agencies trying to “green-wash” their image through public relations and publicity stunts while simultaneously opposing emerging renewable energy technology and lobbying public officials to benefit their bottom line and not the environment. We want to make sure this doesn’t become the case at Modesto’s Annual Earth Day Festival.
The first Earth Day in 1970 was inspired by the ravaging effects of an oil spill in Santa Barbara, CA. A New York Times article stated: “So strong was the antibusiness sentiment for the first Earth Day in 1970 that organizers took no money from corporations and held teach-ins ‘to challenge corporate and government leaders’… Forty years later, the day has turned into a premier marketing platform for selling a variety of goods and services.” For example, recently the city of Houston, TX had their annual Earth Day festival sponsored by Chevron.
We understand many of the organizations involved in Modesto’s Earth Day do important work and offer great services. We simply feel there is a missing element in the image of the event of boldly showcasing, and allowing for interaction with, many of the new exciting and truly renewable energy technologies and sustainability practices like solar, wind, use of bicycles, and more. For example, last year’s festival had 3 small individual solar panels throughout the entire event, only 2 were set up on display, one was being used as a table at a booth, none were actually operating.
The event had only one bicycling group. The Stanislaus County Bicycle Club is a positive element in promoting the act of bike-riding, but a majority of their work revolves around recreational biking, which is good, but promoting biking as an alternative to driving is what is needed to improve air quality and pollution. As stated on their web-site the club promotes “recreational bicycling safety, touring, racing, tandem riding, and commuting.” Commuting seems almost like an afterthought. While VIP’s community center was open we focused on finding and taking in donations of bikes and bike parts that may have otherwise gone to waste, fixing them up and giving them to members of the community that use bicycles on a daily basis for transportation. By offering this, along with opportunities to use tools and learn basics of bike maintenance, we were able to focus on local youth, homeless, and low-income that rely on bicycles on a daily basis. Unfortunately we no longer have our bike workshop center but still emphasize the importance of focusing attention on these underserved communities.
We also like the fact that Modesto Toyota sells the Prius and other hybrid and electric vehicles, but they also sell Tundra and Tacoma trucks and have and overall goal of making a profit by selling as many products as they can and are therefore motivated to put more cars on the road and not to promoting alternatives that may affect those profits. At last year’s festival Toyota cars were parked on the grass and took up a large amount of the event’s space.
It is pleasing that festival sponsor Lays utilizes solar panels and have 4.5% energy savings a year, VIP still has an issue with their booth distributing hundreds of small individual bags of chips, which not only created a good amount of trash at the event but also promoted individual bag use in general.
Along the same lines, we noticed that a majority of the events food vendors used styrofoam containers, one of the most environmentally un-friendly products invented. About a dozen booths were even using gasoline-powered generators that ran for about six hours, something unheard of at many Earth Day events.
Boyett Petroleum is a main sponsor the festival, we understand that they match CRV funds of all recycling brought in that day which goes towards city parks. Our concern is what their stance is on supporting investment in and development of renewable technologies that would directly compete with their business. Where is the line drawn? In the wake of the catastrophic oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010, would BP be allowed to sponsor? Part of Boyett’s Mission Statement is obtaining “profitable growth” which, out of necessity of survival, means maintaining and expanding the uses of petroleum products and that add to air pollution and climate change.
We are also curious if Clear Channel owned “Power Talk” 1360am will be sponsoring Earth Day again, as they did last year, seeing that from 9am-6pm it gives voice to three prominent anti-environmentalists and climate change deniers Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity. A quote from Beck: “…this has nothing to do with reality. This has nothing to do with climate. This has everything to do with fear. It is a power grab. Another chance for the government to control industry and more of your money.” Limbaugh: “There isn’t any science that says there’s man-made global warming.” Hannity: “I think global warming is a hoax.”
Which brings us to Covanta, a long-time main sponsor of Modesto’s Earth Day. As an international company Covanta is known world-wide for pollution, violating emission standards as well as unsafe working conditions. Locally its waste incinerator burns trash and emits toxic chemicals such as dioxin, one of the deadliest chemicals known to science, adding to the already high asthma rates and health problems in West-Stanislaus communities and the San Joaquin Valley. There is much research on trash incinerators and their negative impacts on health and the environment including the profit motive of being paid by the ton of trash burned, disposal of ash, emission of dioxin and other heavy metals. Out of the three trash incinerators in California only the one in Stanislaus County is considered renewable energy, which was almost undeniably do to political favors exchanged at the state capitol. According a Modesto Bee article: “excluding from what counts as ‘renewable’ any power generated from burning household trash. But…acknowledged one exception: Any garbage-burning facility ‘located in Stanislaus County that was operational prior to September 26, 1996.’ The carve-out, tucked into existing law…applies to only one plant in California, a Central Valley incinerator that has stood for years as a tradeoff to moderate Democrats for their support on controversial environmental bills…But the environmental benefits of burning garbage are hotly debated, and the state’s two other plants that burn municipal solid waste, both in Southern California, have never been classified as renewable energy sources.” Here is great link to more info on trash incinerators: http://www.energyjustice.net/incineration
This leads us to ask the questions: Is there was an official policy, written or otherwise, for how businesses and
organizations are selected to participate in Earth Day? Is there any criteria for determining the significant ways they are contributing to the improvement of the environment? Is it taken into account if they are potentially harming the environment? Are certain organizations, businesses, groups, or guest speakers sought out by the committee or is it only those that initiate their participation?
We have tried to reach out before. A few years ago one of our volunteers attended a recycling committee meeting and expressed some of these concerns. One specific question asked was that if any Earth Day sponsor request had ever been denied by the city for any reason, the answer was no. The same volunteer then applied to be on the committee but received no response. Due to this and economic reasons VIP has, in past years, opted to set up a booth at Enslen Park where we shared our ideas for improving Modesto’s Earth Day event, held bike maintenance workshops and gave out free donated clothing, shoes, blankets, and other household items to promote re-use as opposed to consumerism and materialism. We also featured workshops and guest-speakers that were relevant to current local issues. For example, we had local residents come to speak about the barium contamination area near Needham and the 99 and long-time local activists shared information on Covanta and trash incineration as well as issues about Gallo Glass, which is now being sued by the state for allegedly breaking environmental laws.
As stated before, we are appreciative of the effort the city has made in hosting its annual Earth Day event. We understand the hard work it takes and that funding is often limited. As a group with an all-volunteer staff and small operating budget VIP fully comprehends the challenges that come with attempting to turn big dreams and visions into practical action and attainable goals. We merely wish to offer some of those visions in hope that practical progress can be achieved.
We also understand that this year’s festival is coming up soon and don’t expect these changes overnight, but we feel some of the following suggestions can be quite manageable for future Earth Day Festivals:
– More public involvement with the planning and selection of participants.
– One or more displays of functioning solar arrays and/or a demonstration. Maybe even a solar-cooking demonstration.
– A wind-power demonstration would also be great.
– Park Toyota hybrid/electric cars on the street, not in the park on the grass.
– No gas generators, styrofoam containers, or large-scale giveaways of individual size bags of chips.
– Bike power the stage (and other things if possible).
– No publicity and advertising for polluting, for-profit sponsors like Covanta, Boyett Petroleum and others.
– No “Power Talk 1360AM” sponsorship while they give a voice to climate change deniers.
– A larger bike presence with parking area and workshops.
– More awareness of local pollution sources and the health effects they cause, maybe more guest speakers and themes that are more relevant to current issues.
Examples of displays, demonstrations, workshops, and guest speakers that would make great additions to Modesto Earth Day Festival:
http://rockthebike.com/services/ – We’re bike people. We’re inventors and advocates working away in a sweet workshop in Oakland, California, pushing the limits of bike culture. Our mission is to get people in touch with their ability to make a real, lasting impact in the ongoing climate crisis, through Pedal Powered event activities and products that help Bike People shine in their communities. We want lots more people to think “Pedaling is cool. I want to ride a bike.” Our dream is to help spread the spirit of the bike into the broader culture by organizing, entertaining, inspiring, educating, and inventing new ways to get the message out there. And more importantly, we help our customers spread the message in their communities.
http://www.powerful-thinking.org.uk/ – Powerful Thinking is a not-for-profit industry think-do tank working towards an energy efficient, low carbon and cost effective future for festivals.
http://www.ccathsu.com/ – An A.S. program known as the Campus Center for Appropriate Technology (CCAT). Over the years, the center incorporated a photovoltaic system, solar thermal system, greywater marsh, wind turbine, natural buildings, permaculture design, organic gardening, pedal power machines, and much more.
http://www.builditsolar.com/Projects/Projects.htm – Free plans and information on: Conservation, water, solar homes, solar space heating, solar water heating, passive cooling techniques, solar sunspaces and greenhouses, solar pool heating, solar electricity (PV), wind generated electricity, micro hydro, biofuels, methane generators, solar cooking, solar food drying, solar and efficient vehicles, solar water pumping, solar engines, and solar wood drying.
Alternatives to Styrofoam & Plastic:
Again, we want to express our support for there being an annual Earth Day event in the city of Modesto and VIP would be happy to help with whatever improvements the city plans to implement, if they do.
VIP recently sent these concerns and suggestions to Modesto City officials, but have not been made aware of any plans to change any of the practices we voiced.