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Thursday, January 17 , 2019, 5:42 am | Light Rain Fog/Mist 60º


Karen Telleen-Lawton: The Essence of Earth Day

'The Incident' demonstrates that even without consensus, what matters is that there's discussion

A week before the Santa Barbara Earth Day Festival, I overheard someone declare he wouldn’t attend because it had become too commercialized. I have to admit, I hadn’t been to it myself in a few years, though it’s because I enjoy festivals more when I’m totting a kid or two.

In the end, it was an opportunity to get together with friends who encouraged my husband and me to glide down the hill on our bikes to Alameda Park for a Sunday afternoon at the fair. It was a pleasure, even including the steep trek back. But the Animal Husbandry Incident got me to thinking what a motley and difficult assortment we environmentalists can be.

We began by perusing the booths. The Community Environmental Council and dozens of nonprofits displayed outstanding exhibits concerning land and marine issues and specific changes we can make. Plug-in Priuses cozied up next to renewable-material consumables and solar utility options for home energy. You could — I did — make a fruit shake using bike-powered energy. There were film shorts, multistage music and sunshine — a perfect festival atmosphere. Yes, there were a lot of for-profit vendors, but I believe green commercialism is a crucial sign of success. It means businesses realize there’s a big enough market for which to design.

Then came The Incident. I was listening to a short lecture titled “Backyard Poultry & Meat,” about small-scale animal husbandry, also known as “growing protein.” The speaker, Brenton Kelly, a co-founder of Island Seed & Feed who now lives in Cuyama Valley, had been a vegetarian for a decade or two before deciding to learn about humanely harvesting his egg chickens.

He described meticulously (TMI for me, but several audience members requested even more detail) the “cone-death” method whereby the fowl is gently inserted into an inverted traffic cone. He is calmed and quickly dispatched. Kelly discussed the butchering method, which did seem quite humane and also results in meat less likely to become contaminated because of the small production operation.

Afterward, I was milling in a group waiting to ask a question when a man approached me. “I can’t believe Earth Day would support a topic like that,” he said, clearly agitated. I responded that everyone has his or her own idea of how to make things better for the next generation. If all meat processing was as he described, there wouldn’t be a problem with eating meat.

“You mean you think all that methane wouldn’t increase global warming?” he challenged.

“No,” I conceded, “but with the care and cost of using small production methods, we’d only be eating meat once in awhile, which would be better for the Earth and for our health,” I said. This was my time-worn rationalization to reduce my guilt for eating meat a couple times a week. He walked off in a huff.

Realistically, it won’t be evident until long after we’re gone whether the collective choices and sacrifices we are making were necessary or even sufficient. As a follower of the precautionary principle, I believe we should take a much more conservative stance toward Earth-care than we are. Even in the absence of scientific consensus, the risk liability and the burden of proof that an action is not harmful should be on those taking the action.

Nevertheless, in the application of environmental principles, I don’t think a “my way or the highway” attitude is helpful. In the end, it’s the democratic support of educated people that makes for lasting, long-term permanent change.

So hooray for Earth Day, which brings our varied messages to a wider audience in an entertaining way. And see you there next year.

— Karen Telleen-Lawton’s column is a mélange of observations supporting sustainability. Graze her writing and excerpts from Canyon Voices: The Nature of Rattlesnake Canyon at www.CanyonVoices.com.

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