IT'S A tough time to care about planet Earth.
As executive orders decimate climate change regulation and the Environmental Protection Agency loses its authority, it’s tempting to give up the fight for clean air, safe drinking water and protection of unspoiled land and endangered wildlife.
Yet for many activists, the political and physical challenges of the times only motivate them to keep seeking solutions to the imminent reality of rising sea levels and fossil fuel burnout.
“Everyone is afraid right now of what’s going to happen, but my belief is that there are a lot of strong, smart people out there who have the power to turn it around,” says Joanne Morton, the indefatigable optimist and organizer behind the Savannah Earth Day Festival, taking place this Saturday, April 15.
For the past 17 years, the Savannah Earth Day Festival has gathered the area’s environmental advocates and experts to showcase their work and educate citizens on the choices they can make every day to reduce a negative impact on the planet. Sponsored by the City of Savannah, it’s the largest Earth Day outreach event in the state of Georgia.
It’s also a party inspired by the beauty of planet, filling Forsyth Park with art, music and frolicking families on what is usually one of the loveliest Saturdays of the year (2014’s unexpected rainout notwithstanding.)
The Forsyth Farmers Market will occupy its regular spot at the south end of the park until 1pm, its fresh-picked fruits and veggies adding even more vibrance to the day.
“Something amazing happens when we have all of these people in one place,” promises Morton, on her third year of heading up the festivities. “It really is a celebration.”
The Forsyth bandshell will hum with hot jams from Missionary Blues and the funky wisdom of Xulu Prophet, and Waits & Co. finishes out the day with soulful Americana. The magical hoopers of the Stardust Pixxies and Loop It Up Savannah’s arty funsters keep bodies of all ages occupied, and healthy refreshments will be available from Natural Selections, Bull Street’s new vegan café, and Kona Ice, serving up sweet treats from it’s solar-powered truck. Coastal Heritage Society’s mobile greenhouse will also showcase the entire garden-to-table process—on wheels.
But it’s the workshops that set Earth Day apart from any other Savannah soirée in the park. Five different tents host highly informed yet informal 30-minute lectures on homesteading, beekeeping, mushroom cultivation, urban gardening and other topics related to a more sustainable lifestyle.
Erica Jarman of House of Strut will present “The Effect of Fast Fashion on Earth,” which may have fashionistas thinking twice about buying another $8 t-shirt, and Oatland Island’s Annie Quinting has tips for dealing with the great outdoors in “Dispelling the Fear of Snakes!” The farmers of Victory Gardens have all sorts of planting advice to give, and The Savannah Tree Foundation will lead a walk under the majestic Candler Oak.
On the policy side, a panel discussion will feature coastal advocacy groups 100 Miles and Gray’s Reef National Marine Sanctuary, and reps from the Ogeechee and Savannah Riverkeepers collaborate for an eagle-eye view of what’s at stake for our local waterways.
More friendly folks from the UGA Extension Chatham County, USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service, YFACE /Youth For a Cleaner Environment, Clean Coast, Sierra Club, Tybee Island Marine Science Center, SCAD Design for Sustainability, Eat Grow Repeat and Savannah Urban Garden Alliance will be there to talk about how they’re working to keep our corner of the planet clean for the next generation.
“It’s really about quality of life,” explains Nick Deffley, director of the City of Savannah’s Environmental Services and Sustainability Department.
“We have to think about how we use our resources if we want to keep them.”
The Environmental Services and Sustainability department works to educate local residents on the impact of their carbon footprint and engage them in energy-saving habits like turning off the lights and alternative transportation. Deffley and his staff recently completed a two-year, 78-page assessment of city operations to help elected leaders and staff make sustainable decisions for Savannah’s future.
“Here in Savannah we have the marshes, the ocean, and this great tree canopy that many of our 13 million tourists a year come here to enjoy. If we don’t protect them we could lose out economically,” warns Deffley.
Deffley also oversees the Keep Savannah Clean Litter Campaign, which the city’s High School Leadership Council has used as a platform for the art installation, “Everything Flows, Love Where You Live.” Focusing on creative solutions for trash problems, the show presents an upcycled set of eco-activism’s “3 Rs:” Refuse, Reuse, and Repair.
At Earth Day’s set-up in the visitor center parking lot, local electric car enthusiast Kelly Bringman will answer questions about her family’s two 2013 Nissan Leafs, which she uses to zip around town for business and pleasure.
“We’re Southsiders, and we spend a lot of time in Starland and go to church downtown, so electric makes sense,” says Brigman, a realtor and property manager who met Morton at Green Drinks, a monthly cocktail hour for the eco-minded.
“There are chargers all over the place, and the infrastructure is growing.”
Bringman is glad to be free of oil changes and visits to the gas pump, and says she can make it from Georgetown to Tybee Island and back on one charge if the AC is used sparingly. While federal incentives to buy electric have expired and are unlikely to come around again, Bringman says the gas savings and road-hugging design still make these models worth a look.
“They’re really fun to drive, and they’re faster than you think—I’ve gotten it up to 90 on I-95,” she laughs, adding that she doesn’t do that often, since those speeds can add to unnecessary wear and tear.
“The technology is still fairly new, but it seems to me that these could run twenty years or more.”
That kind of long-range thinking is the crux of the Earth Day Festival’s philosophy. Rather than be deterred by the recent setbacks in environmental policy, organizer Morton is keeping her eye on 2020—the next election cycle as well as the 50th anniversary of national Earth Day and the 20th year of the local celebration. (National Earth Day is on April 22.)
“We’re not giving up on anything,” vows the cheerful coordinator.
“It gives me hope that no matter how far the current administration takes us backwards, there are so many groups of people working in this small area to protect our planet.”