Posted By: John Batdorf
Many of us are in denial of our personal and collective oil addiction, or like our last president, paying occasional lip service to the problem. Considering how essential fossil fuels are to our way of life – for food, transportation, housing, clothing, and entertainment, it's not hard to understand the denial. Still, nature has little tolerance for ignorance of its ways and it will have the last word. It is not merely our resource, it is our home and, as Robert F. Kennedy Jr. says, our economy is its "wholly owned subsidiary". We may still have the choice whether the changes required to become sustainable are made under severe duress or if we have the foresight to make them before a full-on economic and environmental collapse. So there's the problem, from my perspective. How'd this end up in Earth Day event organizing?
After selling my company and in serious need of new career direction, I decided that sustainability was the biggest issue and most important work I could do. I also decided that my business experience could be utilized in working with an environmental group. I was introduced to Upland Hills Ecological Awareness Center by my sister, who had moved from Lansing to Rochester to send her children to the affiliated school. UHEAC's mission matched my goals, so I jumped at the chance to join the board. The organization was experiencing a significant expansion in its energy education programs under the direction of Chris Tarr, and I wanted to help expand that effort by promoting a major outreach event which eventually became the Earth Day Expo. I convinced the board to support the event by making the point that we were spending too much time "preaching to the choir" and needed to get out to the wider community to make a real impact.
After a three-year run at Oakland University, it became clear that, to get the media and community attention an Earth Day celebration deserved, we needed to bring the event to "Main Street" and to expand the size of the event significantly. So, along with my partner Steve Rogge, and with help from the Rochester DDA, we took the event downtown, where 50,000 enjoyed over 170 exhibits and an expanded program last year. When UHEAC decided not to partner in the Rochester event this year, Steve and I formed TriGreen Development L3C (an innovative hybrid profit/non-profit business form) to produce the event and focus on green business and community development. We renamed the event the MI Earth Day Fest, to emphasize its growth from a green products expo to a major community celebration.
The most gratifying part of my ecological learning curve was coming to realize that the scope of our environmental problems are matched with the magnitude of opportunity for stronger community, increased social justice, and restored environmental and personal health. In fact, the solutions to the "earth's" problems all involve working on improving our own quality of life and building community.
It starts with recognizing our fundamental "personal" problem: unless we live in an off-grid house, drive an electric car, and grow our own organic food – we too are oilaholics living in the last days of the oil age. This means that we should look critically at the foundation upon which our lifestyle rests: our society and its economy. We can recognize that our society's exploitative, unnatural, and unsustainable ways will continue to have an unhealthy effect on our well-being; and that the restoration of the health of our society, our planet and each person is intimately connected.
Posted By: John Batdorf
I have always been, as my brother Tim generously put it, a "truth teller".
Others have been less kind. Growing up in a country club setting, my curiosity about the underside of the American Dream didn't always have the most receptive audience. Still, I had this nagging suspicion that my feeling of disconnection with the suburban car culture was not just a personal problem and that society itself was disconnected from something important and somehow obvious - but what? I was dimly aware that our affluent lifestyle was causing problems for other people and the planet; but these problems were in far off places like Iraq and the Arctic. I couldn't put my finger on the problem until I heard about peak oil. I felt like I had finally put on a pair of glasses and read the bold letters on the page: "SUSTAINABILITY"!
The problem now seemed important and obvious: our society and its economy are not sustainable. We consume finite resources ravenously and spit out toxic waste and climate-changing emissions on a massive scale. One of the clearest examples of this is our addiction to oil. Pretty much everyone agrees we will run out eventually, but most have assumed that this is a long way off and we will find alternatives in plenty of time. The repeated experience of regional and national oil peaks in the U.S. and around the world tell us a completely different story:
By definition, we will reach global peak oil production at the point that we are extracting the most oil we ever will. We will be awash in oil and its detritus the moment before we can no longer produce any more to keep up with exploding demand (think China and India). Upon reaching peak, we will have immediate and serious problems including resource conflicts (wars), shortages, and rapid price increases – it will not be the end of oil that causes havoc, it will be the end of cheap oil and the competition for the remaining supply. If that is not at least part of the reason we find ourselves bankrupting our country to engage in two simultaneous wars in an oil-rich region, I don't know what is.
U.S. peak oil occurred in 1970, the same year as the first Earth Day – exactly as predicted by the concept's inventor, Shell Oil geologist M. King Hubbard, and with his predicted results: an oil conflict (the Arab embargo), shortages causing long lines, and a 400 percent price increase. Global peak oil is predicted, by a variety of experts, to occur between the years 2010-2030, with many experts feeling we have already hit peak extraction. For the next generation, it hardly matters when. At the present rate of development, no oil alternatives will come even close to replacing oil within that time frame, and some of the leading alternatives offered (i.e. hydrogen, tar deposits, "drill-baby-drill") are not realistic solutions regardless of lead time.
In a society with a serious addiction to oil, we are all addicts – call us "oilaholics" – and why not?
The machines we have created to harness fossil fuels have made pharaohs of us all.
How many slaves would it take to haul you, your friends, the dog, your clothes and your toys up north for the weekend? We like to think that our wealth is due to our technological wizardry and that our next big technology fix is right around the corner. Could it be, instead, that we have simply borrowed the power of sunlight from the past and are willing to allow future generations to pay the price?
Despite the well-financed deniers, there is now scientific consensus that our collective activity is causing global climate damage and the issue is now one of magnitude. We are like an irresponsible borrower, enjoying our newly purchased lifestyle, while pushing our kids towards the bill collector banging at the door.
To be continued…
Posted By: John Batdorf
As co-founder and event manager of the MI Earth Day Fest, I am proud to say that the downtown Rochester event has become one of the largest Earth Day events in the country. This year, we are planning for more than 200 exhibits (209 at last count), 100,000 attendees, and a full schedule of activities over the weekend of April 23rd - 25th. People sometimes ask me how I got started in the Earth Day mega-event business and I have to admit that my interest in the day has been relatively recent…
I was reminded by a classmate that we wore green arm bands to celebrate the first Earth Day in Mrs. Schlegel's fifth grade class. I don't recall that but do recall her expressing heartfelt concerns about the state of the environment and other teachers gathering us kids to sing a protest song at a school assembly:
They got smog and sewage and mud.
Turn on your faucet and get hot and cold running crud."
Looking back, it's surprising and cool that our teachers had us singing protest songs in school on that first Earth Day. It was a part of a 20 million-person protest that kicked off the modern environmental movement. The results of that movement were things like the Clean Air, Clean Water and Endangered Species Acts. This April 22nd, over one billion people in 150 countries will celebrate the 40th Earth Day.
For me, fifth grade just about completed my Earth Day resume, until a few years ago. Although the company I started, CIVITEC Healthcare Computers, was not intentionally about ecology or the green economy, these themes were certainly developing somewhere in my consciousness. Our company logo looked suspiciously like a recycle symbol; the name was coined from the Latin word "civitas" for community; and my proudest achievement was an employee profit-sharing and self-evaluation program that turned the struggling company into a viable enterprise and ended up increasing payroll and reducing my "Germanic" tendencies.
During a men's group meeting in 2004, a friend preempted our usual sharing about personal problems, and read an article entitled "The Long Emergency", about the impending collapse of civilization caused by a phenomenon called "peak oil". I had just seen The End of Suburbia, a documentary about peak oil, and had come to the meeting intending to invite the group to a showing the following day. Do you ever get the feeling the universe is trying to tell you something? I did, and the message changed my life.
To be continued…