Hansen: Saving the earth from ourselves

Most people will not admit this out loud, but we have made fun of Earth Day.

With its unrealistic solar ovens and organic patchouli oil, over the past 40 years it has grown into a bloated caricature of itself. And now in Laguna Beach we have added its nautical stepsister, Kelpfest.

But here's the thing: The eco-revelers are having the last laugh. Regular humans are finally paying attention and listening.

Perhaps we are feeling mortal. Perhaps the global headlines are starting to sink in. Perhaps we are believing the science.

The facts speak for themselves.

The growth of electric cars far surpasses any other type of vehicle. Sales of plug-in vehicles in the U.S. more than tripled in 2012, according to Forbes. All major car manufacturers (and many small ones) are trying to create the perfect electric mix of performance, price and battery life.

Sometime very soon, we will all have electric cars; it will be a stigma not to. We will look back at car exhaust and wonder how we breathed it for so long.

In this new normal, the expectation will be on sustainable living. More than any other time in modern history, people are trying to reduce their carbon footprint — except perhaps in some parts of Oregon where they have already turned into actual green people because they've been doing it so long.

In Laguna Beach, we are trying, and that was evident over the weekend when the proud "tree huggers" erected their reusable booths and recyclable fliers. And, yes, there were organic cookies baking in the solar oven.

I never knew the local area had so many environmental groups: Laguna Bluebelt Coalition, Laguna Ocean Foundation, Get Inspired, My Water Pledge, South Coast Water District, South Laguna Civic Assn., Pacific Marine Mammal Center, Laguna Beach County Water District and many more.

For the Kelpfest groups, the outreach is still largely about education because, let's face it, most people still want to call it seaweed.

"The most important thing is to realize it's a habitat for marine life," said Jinger Wallace, a volunteer with the Laguna Bluebelt Coalition. "We need to look at it a little differently. We have to make room for marine life. We don't want just a barren landscape."

The biggest public relations issue about kelp is that it's not particularly user friendly. Laguna residents know all too well the negative impacts of rotting kelp on a beach: stench, flies and tourists running away like they've seen a sea monster.

"I think everyone wants to cohabitate and we realize that kelp is important but at the same time we want to be able to use our beaches," Wallace said.

To that end, the city of Laguna tries to keep Main Beach free of unnecessary kelp, raking it away from the popular, high-use areas, according to Steve May, the city's public works director.

In the smaller coves in North and South Laguna, that is not possible. It would be too expensive to get the necessary equipment in those areas. So the city has to rely on Mother Nature to pull the kelp piles out to sea.

Like other nascent environmental causes, Kelpfest tries to point out the many benefits of kelp. In addition to its obvious contribution to the marine habitat, if harvested, kelp yields many extracts and is used to make "toothpastes, shampoos, salad dressings, puddings, cakes, dairy products, frozen foods, and even pharmaceuticals," according to the National Ocean Service.

These types of uses and benefits are not just lip service. They are real. Just like reducing your carbon footprint, they have become another example of how we can contribute and build a sense of connectedness to nature.

"Restoring the ocean and working as we all do on behalf of the planet here, there's more hope," Wallace said. "I think people are excited about the possibilities of restoring the ocean, that it's not too late, that there are things we can do and people want to see it happen."

People are making it happen. Sure, there still might be patchouli wafting in the air, but the air is cleaner than it was 40 years ago — at least here.

The expression "Earth Day everyday" is less like a slogan and more like a reality.

Maybe it will be enough to make a difference.

DAVID HANSEN is a writer and Laguna Beach resident. He can be reached at davidhansen@yahoo.com.

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