THERE’S literally never been a better time to get involved in conservation, and there are plenty of reasons why.
Take, for example, the scary report from the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change that forecasts irreversible effects if carbon emissions aren’t controlled in the next 12 years.
Or consider the whale off the coast of the Philippines found dead with 88 pounds of trash in its stomach.
Or watch “Our Planet” on Netflix and watch walruses, unable to find ice floes, scale large hills that they promptly fall off of, killing them.
Or follow the Instagram account “Public Lands Hate You,” dedicated to calling out influencers whose dedication to doing it for the ‘gram outweighs their attention to not destroying the environment.
This list could go on and on. Collectively, we’re starting to realize the severity of the effects of climate change—but they’ve been around for years. Experts have long been screaming into the void trying to warn us of what’s happening right now (remember Ralph Nader?).
The first Earth Day Festival was held in 1970 in response to the Santa Barbara Oil Blowout. Earth Day has been around for half a century, and we still have climate change deniers, tourists destroying natural environments, corporations dumping toxic materials into our waterways, and people who don’t recycle.
Again, there has never been a better time to get involved.
Savannah’s Earth Day Festival celebrates nineteen years this year. Spearheaded by activist, artist and all-around badass Joanne Morton, the festival moves to Daffin Park this year and offers, as always, educational aspects as well as fun things to do.
We talked with Morton last week.
This year, the Earth Day Festival moves to Daffin Park. How did you make that decision?
Moving it to Daffin, I think, will really change it. It’ll feel different. After doing the Food Day Festival in Daffin and doing events in Forsyth, it’s just easier, logistically, to do it in Daffin. I wanted to move it last year, but people just weren’t ready.
There’s just no parking near Forsyth. Just with the vendors checking in, they have to drop off their stuff and go find a parking spot, then walk back. To me, it’s just too stressful. I don’t like to be stressed.
Also, there’s the fact that Daffin Park is surrounded by three neighborhoods—Midtown, Ardsley Park and Parkside. It’s a demographic that some of those people would never go to Forsyth, but they will walk over to Daffin, hopefully.
It starts at noon, so people can still go to the [Forsyth] Farmers’ Market, too—it’s even stressful for them. It might be extra people, but at the same time, there’s more people.
Tell me about the festival.
The whole reason we do Earth Day is primarily an educational event. Most of our vendors are nonprofits, and we offer free workshops. The workshops are really wide and varied this year, so it’s going to be kind of cool.
Having mostly locals attend this year will make it so more people can help. Everyone can sign up and do things with each other, more than just hash tagging, “Oh, I’m in Savannah! It’s so beautiful! We’re at an Earth Day festival!” Like some of these people are just saying how pretty it is, but they don’t want to do the work to keep it pretty.
Just like how people trashed White Square over St. Patrick’s Day, but locals were the one to clean it up.
Exactly! One thing I want to try to do next year—not this year, but I’ll start putting the bug in people’s ears—is leave no trash, leave no trace. We have trash receptacles, but if you bring it in, take it out. Take it to your personal trash can or recycling bin at home. We need to get comfortable doing that, because not every place we go is going to have a recycle bin. So are you just going to throw it away? Or are you going to take responsibility and take it home?
We have to start taking responsibility for our trash and recycling. It is our job to pick up the litter. Whether we like it or not, that’s our job.
Tell me about the groups who will be coming.
We have the Trash Warriors, Oceana, Tybee Beach Cleanup, and the Savannah Tree Foundation coming. We have Plug In America, which is an electric car advocacy group that will have test drives of electric cars. Subaru Chatham Parkway is one of our sponsors, too. They’ll have some cars as well. That’s been a goal of mine—to get vehicles for the festival.
Savannah Bee Company will do an educational element. We’ve got the Tybee Island Marine Science Center with a really big North Atlantic right whale exhibition.
We’ll have a two-hour workshop about repairing things from Samita with Film Biz Recycling, so bring your toaster to the Earth Day Festival and get it repaired.
One end of the park will be the stage, where we’ll have the Tybee Island Maritime Academy opening the festival, and then Soap and The Train Wrecks and Danielle Hicks. I wanted to get a variety of bands.
We also have the Myers and Derenne Middle School bands performing. I want to start bringing more kids in so their parents will come.
Why is it so important to get kids involved?
We have to do this for them. They’re the ones we should be listening to. I’m so grateful for these young kids that are earning Nobel Peace Prizes for the environment because their parents are letting their children be the voice. They are the future. We’ve got to let these old men and old women get out of the way and let the younger generations make the choices. Because it’s their future, not yours—you’re gonna die.
Why do you think the Earth Day Festival endures? What’s its staying power?
I think it’s for our love of this area. We love the coastline, we love the ocean, we love the beach, we love our trees. I know very few people who live here who don’t love the actual natural landscape of Savannah.
A lot more environmental groups are bringing that emotional element to the conversation. You want to protect something because you love it.
We love our turtles, we love our manatees. And we love our children. If we put the love element into why we do something, we make different choices.
I’m always curious about this. There will be a couple church groups that will be there. Unitarian Universalist and Asbury have formed a group together.
It’s amazing to me that there aren’t more churches involved in the conservation movement because Earth is the Garden of Eden. Why wouldn’t you protect the biggest gift God gave you? It’s your planet. That just doesn’t make any sense.
We also have to realize that what worked in the 20th century isn’t going to work in the 21st century. We have to be okay to change our minds and try new things, and if it doesn’t work, we try something different, but we can’t just keep doing the same thing over and over again.
It’s proven to be dangerous, not only to the planet but the people and animals on the planet.
That reminds me of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s stance that we have to take a hard line on the environment and try new things, because the old things haven’t been working.
I love her so much. We are a different world. Completely different. And we have to be more flexible. Just like getting older, I’m aging so differently than my parents aged. There are men aging and they have AIDS—we never thought that would happen. So we are changing. We have to change the way we see things.
Next year will be your last time at the helm of the Savannah Earth Day Festival. How did you make that decision?
It’s time to let someone else do it. I’ve been doing it for six years, and it’s going to keep growing, but it’s fun. Someone else should have an opportunity to have fun. It’s not that I won’t still be a part of it. I’m a big believer that it isn’t my festival, it’s Savannah’s festival. It needs more than just Joanne’s input.
That said, what’s next for me? I want to work on my art projects and things like that. Something I was thinking about was, how can we bring the heart into more of our social activism? We know that’s what we need to do. I feel like this is a gift I have given to the Earth through the festival through the last few years, because I do bring a sense of fun and there’s no stress.
I’m really grateful for the sponsors. More than half of our sponsors have been coming every year. We have a team of people and we all know what to do. It’s a nice organization we can all depend on every year to get our message out. There are so many people in this town that have really strong messages to share and really great skills to share.
Do you have any plans for next year?
Come to this year’s festival, but we want to start planning next year’s festival in July because next year is the 20th anniversary of Savannah’s Earth Day Festival and the 50th anniversary in the world. We’re going to be really big.
What I want to do next year is talk to people who were at the very first Earth Day Festival in 1970, as well as people from the very first Earth Day Festival in Savannah in 2000.
We all need to imagine a world we want to see. I want to see more tigers. I want to see more North Atlantic right whales. I want to see more food gardens. We need to be able to see the vision. This cause is never going to go away.