WASHINGTON — For the inauguration of a president who promised to be a friend of the environment, what would you expect but carbon-neutral inaugural balls, hybrid Lexuses, organic menus and valet bicycle parking?
Political correctness will rule the day.
Two Green Inaugural Balls are planned, including one featuring a green carpet made from—what else?—a recycled rug. Official invitations to the Jan. 20 inauguration are being printed on recycled paper. The homeless will be handed furs.
With millions of visitors headed to Washington for President-elect Barack Obama's swearing-in, "Our goal is to create an unforgettable evening while treading lightly on the Earth," said Jenna Mack, an organizer of one Green Inaugural Ball—not to be confused with another Green Inaugural Ball featuring Al Gore.
Beyond the Earth-minded, nearly every imaginable group is planning an event to promote a cause.
PETA plans to give away fur coats to the homeless while offering hot soy milk cocoa in cups that read: "Thank You for Not Wearing Fur!"
"We expect that the only fur on the streets on Jan. 20 will be on homeless people," said Bruce Friedrich, PETA vice president.
The furs, collected from people who don't want them anymore, will be marked with black paint before they are given away so that they cannot be sold.
Among other celebrations with a cause: The Peace Ball, billed as "the largest gathering of peace activists without a protest."
The greening of the inauguration is drawing a special effort, because Obama has made "green" projects a centerpiece of his economic stimulus plan and is expected to highlight the environment in his inaugural address.
"Not only are we committed to holding an inauguration that is the most open and accessible in history," said Linda Douglass, chief spokeswoman for Obama's inaugural committee, "but we are also committed to making sure that it is as environmentally friendly and sustainable as possible."
The Environmental Protection Agency has provided a liaison to the Presidential Inaugural Committee to advise on "best practices"—a first, Douglass said.
"We're obviously not going to have paper towels in the bathroom," said Shelley Cohen, helping organize the event featuring Gore, who shared a Nobel Peace Prize for efforts in preventing climate change. "We're going to have air dryers."
"Making the inaugural balls as low-energy and low-carbon as possible won't stop global warming, but it is a very important symbol about the direction of the incoming administration," said Dan Weiss, director of climate strategy for the Center for American Progress, a liberal think tank.
To reduce the inauguration's carbon footprint, attendees are being encouraged to carpool or ride public transit, even in evening gowns and tuxedos. If they must drive, they are being encouraged to drive a hybrid vehicle or buy carbon offsets.
Organizers of a number of balls plan to use energy-efficient lighting. But no one has figured out a way to hook up to a wind turbine exhibit on display near the U.S. Capitol.
"Downtown D.C. is hardly an optimal place for a wind turbine," said Ron Stimmel of the American Wind Energy Association.
Some of the floats in the inaugural parade are being recycled from past parades, including a 60-foot-long, 24-foot-tall American flag float built for Ronald Reagan's 1985 inauguration.
Jimmy Carter made an attempt to be eco-friendly during his inauguration: The White House reviewing stand was supposed to be solar-heated. It did not work out as planned, said Albert Nason, archivist at the Jimmy Carter Library. Rosalynn Carter wrote: "Though it is supposedly a solar booth, something has happened to the sun this day and the booth's heater doesn't work."
"People have forgotten what a difference presidential leadership can make," Weiss said.
Not everyone's buying it, though.
"We've had the Christmas season, and it appears we're entering the silly season with efforts by many to look as if they're saving the environment when they're really not doing anything but engaging in feel-good politics," said Brian Darling of the conservative Heritage Foundation. "In reality, this whole inaugural is going to have a massive carbon footprint."
Darling expects to see far more gas-guzzling SUVs than bikes as people head to inaugural balls.
"If they really want to be environmental, maybe they'll take measures to invite fewer people to Washington," he said, noting the huge carbon footprint that millions of people will leave.
For some, it's just practical to leave the car at home.
At Segs in the City, which rents Segways, one-third of the fleet is already reserved. One business needed a way to make deliveries downtown without using cars, which will be prohibited. Other people need to get to work.
"People who work in offices and knew they would not be able to get back and forth throughout the day are just using them instead of their vehicle and their feet," said Kenny Ellington, a tour guide for the company.
While inaugural organizers try to promote a new sense of green-being, all receptions and catered events in the House of Representatives will feature biodegradable containers, plates and utensils, many made from corn resin.
All plastics and Styrofoam are banned. Caterers put food scraps, containers and utensils into a "composting stream" for a facility in Maryland, an effort going on for more than a year.
Perry Plumart of the Green the Capitol office for the House said: "It goes from trash to dirt in 90 days."Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times