Recently, Green America and Global Exchange hosted the Chicago 2011 Green Festival and thousands of attendees turned out to meet hundreds of innovative exhibitors and dozens of inspiring speakers. It was the fourth Green Festival (www.greenfestivals.org) that I attended and what set it apart from the others was the increasing sense of urgency in the speakers’ tones as they asked the audience to engage and act.
Rooted in Opportunity
“Take a risk and the world would support it!” exclaimed Colin Beavan (aka No Impact Man http://noimpactproject.org) during his session titled “How to Live: Help the World by Becoming Yourself”. As he introduced himself, he said “The most important thing about me is that I’m a dad.”
Colin sees connections between society’s actions towards the environment and society’s increasing unhappiness; he believes there is a “tremendous opportunity” to fix both. In response to the question “There are so many major world problems; what can one person do to make a difference?” Collin replied “The wise man never complains about the bad; he only adds to the good.” He urged each member of the audience to figure out what their part of the solution is and “do something to fix it.” He continued, “It feels better to do something than not do something” and if we all do something, no matter how “small” we perceive it to be, collectively, we leverage a “Network Solution.”
Colin added, “We are all connected by roots, when we change something about ourselves, the universe changes.” An audience member told Colin that his comments were similar to a theme from The Alchemist, a novel by Paulo Coelho: when you want something, the universe conspires to bring it to you. Colin agreed and concluded “Find your gift, your passion, to give to the world….become yourself to save the world.”
Passion into Power
The speakers from the “Urban Green Living” panel are doing just that. Alexandra Gnoske started by stating “Power is with people…all choices and actions whether good, bad or neutral have an impact on the planet.” Alexandra discussed how she combined her passion for wildlife, the outdoors and justice by becoming a scientist, studying environmental law and then creating the organic clothing company “Recycle Me”. One of her passions is to educate society on the dangers of pesticides to people and the environment. For example, Alexandra talked about the chemicals that go into producing non-organic cotton tee-shirts and the heavy metals in dyes and inks that runoff into the air, water, soil, cattle feed, etc. “Of all the cotton grown in the world, only 2% is organic…thousands of cotton workers die each year from working with the fabric,” she added. Alexandra is also empowering and educating the future by maintaining a blog for kids linked to the children’s book she authored “Loui Saves the Earth” (http://www.louisavestheearth.com/blog). Her advice is “Start with your passions…as a consumer and an individual, you have the power.”
Drew Wanke is passionately helping our generation safeguard the future through his work at the Green Living Project. During his “Global Sustainability: Central America to Maine” session, he explained how since 2009, this organization helped implement projects including eco-tourism, environmental pollution prevention, sustainability educational programs, forest preservation, etc. and showed two short videos.
One video documented the Equilibrio Azul project in Ecuador; its mission is to protect the marine resources and part of that focus is on combating overfishing through education (http://www.greenlivingproject.com/projects/ecuador/equilibrio-azul). Although they have a limited number of volunteers, the project’s Director stated they “believe that they can make a difference with a small project.” For example, the volunteers have created eco-clubs to reach fishermen’s kids aged 10-12 and educate them about the environmental consequences of overfishing. “These kids are set to grow up in the footsteps of their parents and overfish…if you don’t educate these kids, anything you do will not make a difference,” said another volunteer. The volunteers are trying to get the community involved; the project Director motivates the locals to engage and take responsibility for their environment by advising that “It’s everyone’s problem right now…it’s not like somebody far away on a beach is going to save it for you.”
Another video featured the Cristalino Jungle Lodge in Brazil. The Lodge’s owners’ goal is to maintain the integrity of the natural environment through eco-tourism. For example, many scientists and tourists visit the Amazon to observe nature and of the 1,800 species of birds, a third of them can be seen from this eco-lodge (http://www.greenlivingproject.com/projects/brazil/cristalino-jungle-lodge). More locals understand that they can make income and live in harmony with nature by preserving their natural environments. For instance, one guide who used to be a miner stated that he feels as though he “lost a few years of life” because he was working “to destroy nature.”
The eco-lodge also educates city children. Volunteers invite kids from Rio de Janeiro to visit and get connected to the Amazon and engaged with their environments. One tour guide said when he sees children experiencing the forest for the first time, he feels like he is also experiencing the forest for the first time. While in the jungle, children also visit the Tucum tree (photo included above); indigenous tribes use its long bristles to create rhythms, as a method of communication.
Written by Professor Shireen Musa,
Fashion Institute of Technology, State University of New York