Blog: John Batdorf

New Michigan motto: "If you seek a green peninsula, look about you." On April 22nd over 1 billion people worldwide will celebrate our green planet. John Batdorf, co-founder and manager of the MI Earth Day Fest, sounds the wake-up call. We're on the verge of "peak oil" he says, and the next 20 years are crucial to kicking our oil-aholism.

Post 3: Don't Bury Our Heads in the (Oil) Sands

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.