Earth Day Indiana Festival 2018: Raising Awareness of Environmental Issues

Posted on: April 22, 2018, by :

By Jeff Turner

The Hoosier Environmental Council hosted the 2018 Earth Day Indiana Festival Saturday at Historic Military Park at White River State Park. The event featured live music, local food vendors, kid’s activities, a 5K run/walk, and over 125 exhibitors. People of all ages were present, all sharing a common interest in safeguarding the environment for future generations. I spoke to multiple attendees about the importance of environmental issues and why they cared about this event. “We have been part of this festival for quite a few years,” said Sam Ansaldi, of IUPUI’s Center for Earth and Environmental Science. “It’s one of the many efforts we make throughout the year of environmental outreach and education.” When asked why the environment is such an important issue for him, he said, “It’s one of those types of things that, without the environment, we all die. If we don’t keep the environment healthy, we don’t exactly have a backup.”

This seemed to be the recurring theme; a belief shared by virtually all in attendance. “We love Earth Days, 20+ years. It’s a great way to meet people from other organizations; a great way to reacquaint yourself with people,” said Chip Sutton of the Nature Conservatory. “I need the environment. Everyone needs clean air, water, places you can go to where you can relax. I just want to make sure that future generations have a healthy planet.” His message for lawmakers was to “support conservation funding, because it works for Hoosiers.”

The theme of this year’s festival was pollination. Emily Wood, the Executive Director of the Indiana Wildlife Federation, even wore a caterpillar costume to further illustrate this theme. “We’re just here trying to promote our mission, which is to promote conservation and promote sustainable use of Indiana’s wildlife, waters, and lands,” said Wood. “For us we focus on wildlife issues. The environment ensures thriving wildlife habitats for future populations.” When asked about her costume, she said, “A lot of people are really interested in the plight of the Monarch (butterfly), a really great species for us. We’re using it to relate to the public, especially kids. It’s a really great gateway for us to talk about the food web, and for us to talk about larger wildlife issues.”

Marijuana legalization and hemp oil sellers were also present. Carly Inabnitt of Zilis, explained that she was there to share her product. When she noticed a slight tremor in my hand, she recommended I try a sample of Ultracell Hempbil. “We see a lot of interest here (in our product).”

Colin Lofy, an intern for the Indiana Forest Alliance said that “Earth Day is a time for people to come together and help cultivate it (the earth). For example, the importance of protecting Yellow Wood.” Yellow Wood is a forest in Brownsburg, Indiana that is currently being threatened by encroaching development. “Without our forests, our kids–the next generation, won’t be able to see what we have now.” His message for those in attendance was to “be active, because it might not seem like it, but these forests are tied directly to you. Don’t let other people tell you what to do. These are our resources, our lands.”

But there was one issue the exhibitors thus far were explicitly avoiding discussing. Much of the recent environmental concern stems from the Trump Administration’s ambivalent attitude towards environmental issues. Scott Pruitt, Trump’s pick to head the Environmental Protection Agency, has proven to be quite possibly the worst individual selected for the job in recent memory, perhaps ever. Scandals aside, Pruitt, enabled by the current administration, has pledged to undo virtually every major environmental regulation enacted over the last decade, including those put into place during the Obama administration. This administration poses perhaps the greatest threat to enabling any type of environmental protections, largely due to the ineptitude and lack of experience of the man who eked out a victory in the 2016 Presidential Election.

Jill Whelan was attending the event with her son. “We’ve been coming to Earth Day Celebration for the last 30 years; missed a few, but try to be here every year,” she said. “I grew up in the 1960’s and 1970’s. I remember the first Earth Day in 1970. It’s important to have clean air and water for my kids and for future generations.” When asked about the current administration and their attitude towards environmental issues, she had some choice words to share. “I’m not happy at all. Not unexpected with this person in charge; this person putting people in charge of departments they aren’t qualified for and want to dismantle. I’m not happy.”

Kimberly Wessel lives in Orlando, Florida, but came to town for the event to help a friend who was promoting a local environmental magazine. “I want them (my family) to have some of the things that I grew up with,” Wessel said. She also shared her opinions on the current administration. “I’m a Republican, but it’s kind of disappointing for me. I had hope for him since he’s a business person. He’s just so far on the other side of the issues.” She initially supported Trump, but no longer does. “People thought he’d be different.” When asked how the administration, and government officials working at the state, local, and federal level, can be persuaded to do more to protect the environment, she said, “You actually need to go out into the community and talk to people. You can think you can understand, but spending the day in the life of someone else, I think you’d understand. If you get out there and live a day in the life of, you’d see what matters in the lives of people.” She elaborated that she believed the source of the problem was apathy towards environmental issues in government. “We lack empathy, big time. We need to get out there and find out what people are thinking. People need to get out into the world and see what their reality really is… Get out, talk to people, so they’ll understand.”

Empathy seems to be what many people are lacking in regards to environmental issues; a great many people have apathetic attitudes towards the subject, not just in government, but everywhere.

“Civilization seems to be based on the delusion that we’re separated from our environment, but we’re always a part of it,” said Justin Rainey, who was attending the event with his family. He felt the environment was of extreme importance. “It seems phenomenally short sighted. I mean, we could probably make ourselves wealthier in the short term by ignoring the coming ecological crisis, what is considered wealth, but that would be disastrous in the short term,” which perfectly describes why environmental protections are being rolled back and undone.

Kay Gunyon, who was representing Indivisible Indianapolis at the event, said that her purpose in attending was to register voters, help them find the environmental ratings of their representatives, and see who’s running against those with less than stellar ratings. “I think the environment gets in the way of them (legislators) making as much money as they can. I am concerned by the devaluation of the EPA,” she said. She believed that certain government officials could not be persuaded to move past this way of thinking. “I think we need to vote them out of office. But I think some conservative voters can be persuaded by explaining that we need a clean planet, clean water, clean air; give them examples of how environmental programs are actually beneficial.”

The general political climate of the event was very liberal/progressive; everyone in support of protecting the environment, but virtually all opposed to the way the state, local, and federal government were handling the issue. Isaac Lamb, a volunteer for the Earth Day Festival, shared his thoughts on the matter also. “The environment should be an important issue to everyone. It’s where we live. We’re treating it like it’s something disposable that will just fix itself. We need to be responsible stewards of what we’ve been given.” He liked how the event brought the community together. When asked about what can be done about the lack of environmental legislation and protections, he said “it’s very easy to point fingers at the top. But I think you and I need to take responsibility. It’s so easy to say it’s all their fault. We need to do our part. We need to be the individual change makers.” He elaborated further, “It comes down to people wanting to get involved. People either say the problem is too big and can’t be fixed or that a solution can’t be implemented. It has to be a community effort… I don’t need to approach someone as an enemy, but with empathy, facts.”

And, quite possibly, an event such as this one can help to bring that about, by bringing people together with similar passions for safeguarding the environment for future generations can ultimately lead to the change that is needed. It was a well-attended event that encouraged dialogue, community interaction, and outreach. But real change also requires empathy, as well as getting people politically engaged, motivating them to get out there, put pressure on their legislators to take action, and if necessary vote those who refuse to take action out of office. Politics is an issue that many people try to avoid, as was evidenced by many of the exhibitors’ outright refusal to even comment about the current Administration. While not to blame for everything, they nonetheless set a poor example for state and local governments in regards to enacting environmental regulations. But if people were to get out into their communities, talk to people, encourage them to get involved, then perhaps something can be done that could lead to some type of lasting change.

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