Berkeley celebrates 48th Earth Day with 1st official festival in 5 years

Beatriz Hernandez/Staff

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Earth Day activities sprouted up across Berkeley this week as the city celebrated its first Earth Day festival in five years.

Established in 1969 after a devastating oil spill off the coast of Santa Barbara, the United States first officially celebrated Earth Day in 1970. This year marks the 48th anniversary of the first Earth Day, which was proposed by U.S. Sen. Gaylord Nelson, D-Wisconsin.

Earlier this week, California Gov. Jerry Brown added to Earth Day’s legacy by officially proclaiming April 22 “Earth Day” in the state of California, recognizing the holiday at the state level.

“In the ’70s and ’80s, most of the Earth Day events were about getting people together and getting activists together,” said Hope Bohanec, coordinator of the 2018 Berkeley Earth Day. “A lot of the activist groups that we see today come out of Earth Day.”

Throughout the Berkeley Earth Day event, which was held at the David Brower Center, a series of environmental leaders spoke on issues ranging from animal agriculture to intersectionality and the impact Berkeley can have across the country. Berkeley Mayor Jesse Arreguín said that though Berkeley is “small,” it’s a place where “movements are born.”

Among the speakers was a youth activist panel that addressed the next generation’s role in the environmental movement.

“The youth are often left out of the conversation, but that is bullshit,” said youth activist Isha Clarke during the panel, earning applause. “Don’t speak for us — let us speak for ourselves.”

Clarke and her fellow youth activists focused on the future of environmentalism, echoing Bohanec’s desire for “renewed energy” among environmental activists.

Bohanec decided to revive the Berkeley Earth Day festivities after attending a similar event held last year in San Francisco. She said she was originally “disheartened” when she realized that Berkeley did not have an official Earth Day celebration and was compelled to organize the event.

When she was planning Berkeley Earth Day, Bohanec said her goal was to bring the festival back to its roots and to combat corporate attempts to control Earth Day sponsorships.

“Another interesting part of that history (is how) things shifted,” Bohanec said, “Corporations like Exxon and DuPont, a lot of times car manufactures like Ford and Chevrolet — big corporations that have no business being associated with an Earth Day event — started hosting these events to green-wash their industry.”

The diversity of vendors and sponsors reflected the different branches of the environmental movement. Activism-oriented nonprofits such as Climate Healers, Sea Shepherd Conservation Society and the Citizens’ Climate Lobby tabled to cultivate support.

All the food sold at the event was vegan, with vendors such as Sweet Yvonne’s Vegan Bites and the Chalk Hill Cookery selling everything from cookies to coconut noodle dishes. Local sustainability-focused companies also sold a range of products — Berkeley-based beauty product vendor Ellovi sold all-natural, six-ingredient creams and lip balms.

Walking past the vendors, attendees were met with a table full of clay, where staff from local sustainability hub People Linking Art, Community and Ecology, or PLACE, taught visitors how to craft their own succulent pots.

Reducing plastic waste was a big theme at the event. The Ecology Center introduced an initiative sponsored by Arreguín to put a charge on plastic restaurant waste and to encourage patrons to bring their own take-out containers.

“Reduce, reuse, recycle is a hierarchy,” said Martin Bourque, the executive director of the Ecology Center. “Recycle is the last front, but we’ve forgotten the other two.”

Some vendors sought to combat waste by delivering familiar services, but with an ecologically friendly twist.

“Many meal delivery services contain an excess of disposable waste and plastic,” said Megan Scott, one of the co-founders of Planted Table, a meal delivery service. “Planted Table is the only service we know of that uses glass containers and is committed to 100 percent vegan and zero waste.”

Though many people were happy to see Earth Day return to Berkeley, there were some who said they missed the old Earth Day festivals.

“I would really prefer if it was in Civic Center Park, where they usually have it,” said Berkeley resident Naomi Rosenthal. “I know this is a wonderful environmental center, but it’s really not in the spirit of the day because it’s in a building.”

Overall, though, Bohanec said she was pleased with her partnership with the David Brower Center and the history of environmental leadership it represented.

“In the ’90s and 2000s, Earth Day became more of a festival — a day to bring the kids out, eat food, listen to music,” Bohanec said. “We’re trying to rekindle the Earth Day activism.”

Contact Madeleine Gregory, Alexandra Stassinopoulos and Sri Medicherla at [email protected].