Green Festival Entrance Sign Photo: Bonnie Hulkower
This weekend, San Francisco held the biannual Green Festival, the nation's largest green consumer living event. Thousands of people flocked to the Concourse Exhibition Center, spilling out onto the sidewalks, to see over 300 exhibitors and hear over 125 speakers. There have been many green festivals this Autumn, two examples are West Coast Green and Bioneers. Many of these green festivals shared the same exhibitors: Sungevity, Earth Island Institute, Presidio School of Management, to name a few. So what makes Green Festival unique, and why does having yet another green conference matter? Green Festival stood out to me for its sheer number of attendees, its festive atmosphere, and its rallying call to action after the sobering November 2010 election results The Festival has been drawing crowds since 2002 in part because of its commendable pricing system. Attendees can pay $25 for a weekend pass, or just $10 if they bike or use public transportation. In lieu of payment other ticket procurement options include: simply producing a receipt from Rainbow Grocery, a local food cooperative, over the week of the conference; volunteering at the festival (there were1000 volunteers); visiting the local Bay Area Nissan Dealer; or donating unused mobile phones for recycling. This affordable system with options that encouraged recycling and local shopping really brought out tons of people who might be priced out of other similar themed events.
Green Festival, more than other recent green events I've attended, also truly had the fun feeling of a festival. It was educational, but still seemed more carnival than conference. It went beyond the usual clean tech, renewable energy and green building exhibitors and also included green collar job information, tons of natural and fair trade foods (and samples!) and crafts and performers.
The aspect that stood out the most to me during the festival, was its rallying call to local action despite (or to counteract) the recent depressing election results. One of the talks I attended this afternoon focused on the government's role in greening the economy. California State Senator Mark Leno, San Francisco Department of the Environment Executive Director Melanie Nutter, San Francisco Board of Supervisor for District 5 Ross Mirkarimi, and U.S. EPA Region 9's Enrique Manzanilla all participated in the panel. Although the U.S EPA was represented on the panel, the panel focused more on California's efforts than on the recent nationwide election results. Everyone on the panel acknowledged that the next few years in D.C. won't be pretty, so there will need to be more climate change action at the local level.
Ross Mirkarimi may have summed it up best during his remarks when he stressed that although international and national problems may seem insurmountable, the Green Festival shows what can be accomplished at a local level and through individuals' purchasing power. Last spring, before the June 2010 primary elections, when Mirkarimi came to the Green Festival, there was a big battle looming on the ballot over Prop 16, informally known by opponents as the "monopoly protection act for PG&E.;" At the time, Prop 16 opponents were trailing; proponents spent $55 million vs. opponents who spent $150,000. People at the Green Festival rallied other attendees and helped to defeat Prop 16 on the June ballot. With prop 16's defeat, Marin County is now leading the fight in the Bay Area towards public power by moving towards community choice aggregation. San Francisco will try to follow suit.
With the recent election results, San Francisco will soon have a new mayor and California will soon have a new governor. Hopefully these new people in power and the power of people who came to the polls to defeat Prop 23, will continue to push California and San Francisco to be environmental trailblazers. Mirkarimi warned though that instead of being complacent now that AB32, California's commitment to reduce its emissions 25% by 2020, will remain in place, we must push to do more. AB32 may have seemed trailblazing relative to the situation in other states in the U.S. but it was the bare minimum for what needs to be done to avert climate change. The U.S. still lags behind other European countries in greenhouse gas reduction and clean tech development.
Also there was the sleeper proposition on the California ballot, proposition 26, which increased the legislative vote requirement to two-thirds for state levies, which did pass and will handicap local governments' ability to mitigate entities that would not like to be held accountable. For a state that may be 7th large economy in the world, California needs to do better. If that is the best the state can do, than the local communities and cities need to do better. If all of the Green Festival attendees can rally their friends to push their new government officials to be greener and more socially responsible, I feel more optimistic about the future. The fair trade samples of dark chocolate also may have helped.
More On The Green Festival
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Green Festival San Francisco Impressive Speaker Lineup Spotlights Top Troubles and Solutions in Sustainability
San Francisco Green Festival 2009 Shows How a True "Green" Event Should Be Run