Columbia's environmental activists plant seeds of change at Earth Day Festival

Sunday, April 22, 2012 | 4:58 p.m. CDT; updated 10:02 p.m. CDT, Sunday, April 22, 2012
People throughout Columbia gathered at Peace Park and the surrounding area Sunday to celebrate Earth Day.

COLUMBIA — There is one planet scientifically confirmed habitable for humans. It's Earth, and it needs help.

The people of Columbia gathered downtown for the 42nd annual Columbia Area Earth Day Festival on Sunday under threatening clouds and with expectations for a successful celebration of the planet.

Since its commencement in 1970, Earth Day has been an effort to raise awareness about the crises Earth faces and the efforts its inhabitants can take to improve the environment. 

The first Earth Day exactly 42 years ago was during a highly turbulent time: the Vietnam War and flower-child culture were prevalent. The first Earth Day channeled the energy of the anti-war protest movement into a spotlight on the emerging concerns surrounding the environment, according to the Earth Day Network website

The millions of Americans that filed into the streets, parks and auditoriums combined with a strong message for political regulation against the deteriorating environment gave April 22, 1970, an atmosphere of protest.

But in 2012, Earth Day in Columbia was about celebration and loving the planet rather than waging a battle head on. 

The booths along Elm Street — retitled "Eco Avenue" for the event — have messages aimed at bringing public awareness to the environment. Other booths featured food, games, clothing, jewelry, arts, crafts and live music.

Has this shift in focus strayed the annual event too far from it's original cause? The overwhelming answer from volunteers at the event was no. They said that learning to love the world is the first step in bringing an individual to action. 

Mark Haim, director of Mid-Missouri Peaceworks, said celebrating the Earth and focusing on action go hand in hand. He also is a coordinator of the Columbia festival.

"We have to celebrate Earth in order to save it," Haim said. "Those who appreciate the splendor of Earth can move forward with a stronger desire to protect it."

Katie Lappe is also a volunteer with Peaceworks and believes Earth Day is on the right track, even if it isn't in the same form as the event in 1970. 

"Earth Day plants the seed, even if all it does is get people thinking that there's better ways of doing the things they do every day," Lappe said. 

There were plenty of opportunities to plant the seed in attendees. A station for preparing plants taught children the importance of its effects on the atmosphere and on-the-spot screen printing let attendees design their own T-shirts. Yet the bigger message among the booths was getting outside and getting involved.

"Earth Day is great because most of the people in attendance are already sympathetic to the cause," said Jan Dye, chair of the Osage Group of the Sierra Club. "But there is always something new to learn or a new way to get people involved."

Engagement was present at the Earth Day Festival, where attendees had the option to sign up for clubs and organizations, get event dates and times and sign petitions for various causes. Haim urged those in attendance to protect the one planet we've got. 

"Recycling alone isn't going to solve our problems," Haim said. "We want people to have sustainability as a serious goal, and make appropriate changes in his or her lifestyle."

So if Earth is asking for help, the attendees of the 42nd annual Columbia Area Earth Day Festival are listening. And they are answering, one booth at a time.

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