This weekend, the Community Environmental Council will host the 43rd annual Earth Day Festival at Alameda Park in the West Coast’s most well-attended Earth Day celebration, with renowned environmental lawyer Van Jones and television personality Bill Nye, popularly known as Bill Nye the Science Guy, both receiving the Environmental Hero Award at the festival.
The festival will feature a main stage with performances by local surf rock band Dante Elephante and numerous other musical and theatrical acts as well as a food court with a variety of dining options — such as veggie burgers, organic smoothies and freshly-baked pizzas and caterers like California Wood Fired Catering, McConnell’s Fine Ice Cream and the South Asian cuisine food truck Culture Shock. The event also holds a family–friendly atmosphere, with a Kid’s Corner where attendees can engage in face-painting, arts and crafts and other activities. There will also be an Earth Day Beer and Wine Garden located at the center of the festival, in addition to an Eco-Marketplace for green products, a Green Car Show and valet parking for bicycles, amongst several other earth-friendly activities.
Earth Day was first launched in 1970, in response to public outrage concerning the 1969 oil spill off the coast of Santa Barbara. The oil spill also led to the creation of the Community Environmental Council — one of the most established environmental organizations in the region and now the current host of Santa Barbara’s Earth Day Festival.
Since becoming a two-day event a few years ago, the festival has received about 35,000 visitors per year, according to Festival Director and member of the Community Environmental Council Sigrid Wright.
“We have a lot of festivals and events in this town, but this is one where you really feel there is a community being built. People come because they want to talk and share information,” Wright said. “[It is intended to] to get people into one place where they can share info, inspire each other, tell true stories, and celebrate and have a good time.”
Perhaps one of the most popular attractions of the festival is the Green Car Show, which features free “ride & drives” of the latest all-electric vehicles. These include the first all-electric SUV — the 2013 Toyota RAV4 EV — and the 2013 Chevrolet Volt, which is the top-selling electric vehicle of 2012, in addition to other electric and hybrid cars. Last year, over 1,000 people participated in the test drives and Wright said the event is packed with cutting-edge technology and has grown to become the longest-running public green car show in the country.
Other highlights of the festival include a social media lounge, various contests and a public square where concerned community members can share their ideas with state, county and city legislative leaders. The festival’s Eco-Marketplace will offer a space where vendors can showcase environmentally-friendly products such as Fair Trade quinoa, organic candles, clothing made with low-impact dye and up-cycled materials and solar-powered reading lights.
The Earth Day festival will also host various groups exhibiting at Live Green, an area where people can share their knowledge on sustainable living methods and view displays on beekeeping methods, tower gardens and environmentally-friendly health care options, along with cows, goats and baby chicks.
There will also be a sports and recreation area complete with a rock wall, hula-hoops, surfing and skateboarding booths and a Green Sneakers collection of old shoes.
This year, there will be a new 14-foot high artwork display in the shape of a wave, with a surfboard in the middle, that is made entirely out of plastic bottles.
Each year, the Community Environmental Council honors environmental activists and educators with the Environmental Hero Award. There will be two recipients of the award at this year’s festival — Van Jones and Bill Nye.
Jones, a Yale-educated attorney who has written two New York Times Best Sellers — The Green Collar Economy and Rebuild the Dream — is the founder of Green for All, a national organization working to get green jobs to disadvantaged communities. Jones was the main advocate for the Green Jobs Act, which was signed into law in 2007, and he was named one of TIME Magazine’s 100 Most Influential People in the World in 2009.
Nye, who hosts a show called “Stuff Happens” on the TV channel Planet Green, also hosts “The 100 Greatest Discoveries” on the Science Channel and hosted “The Eyes of Nye” on PBS. He has also won seven Emmy Awards for writing, performing, and producing his former television show, “Bill Nye the Science Guy”.
UCSB Environmental Studies Department Chair Joshua Schimel said the effectiveness of the popular annual festival can be questionable. However, Schimel said Earth Day Festival can still help educate the general public realize there is a growing need to protect the environment.
“Part of what we need to do to create a truly sustainable society is cultural and attitudinal change. Those happen initially with a few activists and, over time, grow to perfuse society,” Schimel said. “Events such as this, in some ways, can trivialize the problem — when groups start giving out plastic and paper ‘swag’ advertising that goes straight into the trash, you have to wonder. But at the same time, it may help work toward that shift in social consciousness.”
Students interested in volunteering at the festival can sign up online to help with preparation Wednesday through Friday, and volunteers can help with parking, crowd counts and more during the daytime festival on Sunday or with exhibition break-downs on Sunday night.
According to the festival’s Volunteer Coordinator Clara Svedlund, the Earth Day festivities rely on the involvement of the many volunteers who help to get the celebration underway.
“Over a course of five days, we have a need for over 450 volunteers,” Svedlund said. “This festival is huge, and we really couldn’t do it without our volunteers.”