Living Green Expo showcases local conservation

by Nathan Hall

Opinions expressed at last weekend’s Living Green Expo at the Minnesota State Fairgrounds suggest Minnesota environmentalists are shifting gears to act locally and perhaps think globally later.

New state commissioners of the Pollution Control Agency, the Department of Natural Resources and the Department of Commerce in a policy forum held at the Science Museum of Minnesota on Wednesday discussed a similar strategy change for the conservation movement.

Earth-friendly consumption

Organizers estimate more than 10,000 people attended the two-day Living Green Expo, which featured community garden competitions, hybrid fuel-cell automobile test drives and a futuristic-looking electric scooter called Segway.

Attendees munched on tofu hot dogs and co-op-produced bratwurst, depositing their trash in garbage cans made from synthesized corn.

“I don’t think it seems very feasible right now to change the country,” said Christine Powell, 25, a University natural resources student. “Besides, there’s plenty to do right here in Minnesota.”

The trade show also highlighted Peace Corps recruitment tables, religious leaders concerned about ozone depletion and a graying hippie strumming an acoustic guitar.

A display that offered shade-grown coffee brewed by solar power did brisk business.

“I’ve noticed a different feeling at a lot of protests and local events,” said Dena Paulo, 18, an environmental studies student who works with the Minnesota Zoo.

Animal rights groups took a more confrontational approach than their neighbors. One People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals sign read, “If you eat meat, you’re no environmentalist.”

Another booth featured a large television screen showing pig slaughtering in graphic detail.

Regardless, Dhaivyd Hilgendorf, 37, a representative of St. Paul-based Friends K-8 School, said many of his organization’s goals, based on the Quaker faith, are consistent with ideas expressed in the building.

Environmentalist round table

Approximately 300 concerned citizens made their way to Dowling Elementary School on April 10 for a chance to ask Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak environmentally related questions.

The Sierra Club-sponsored event included a man holding a picket sign about a St. Paul incinerator, an opportunity to adopt homeless dogs and the appearance of several City Council and state representatives.

“I firmly believe that this environmental work should be integrated into every part of the city of Minneapolis,” Rybak said. “However, with current budget cuts of 39 percent for public works, some of the development we’re interested in, unfortunately, won’t be the number one priority this year.”

Rybak wore a peace dove button as he fielded queries about recycling, energy policy and hazardous waste concerns.

“After being in the Legislature all day, it’s nice to be in the room with people you can agree with,” he said.

Priorities amid scarcity

The possibility of shifting responsibility to counties rather than centralizing edicts at the state level was the theme of a policy forum hosted by the local nonprofit Minnesota Environmental Initiative.

“Some of our national policies are counterproductive to protecting critical habitats,” said Gene Merriam, DNR commissioner. “We need to leave our environment much better than we found it so that future generations can enjoy it as well.”

Lisa Doerr, Minnesota’s League of Conservation Voters executive director, said, “$38.5 million has been raided from the general environmental fund, and we’re seeing a paradigm shift towards more voluntary programs.”

She said the state’s budget priorities “need a more balanced approach.”

Mike Robertson, an attorney and government relations consultant, said “voluntary programs are very important” in dealing with issues such as air or water pollution.

Robertson said “voluntary” programs means the responsibility of polluters might rest more with individuals than corporations.

“There is a movement to devolve state works down to the individual counties,” said David Weirens, a policy analyst for the Association of Minnesota Counties. “The budget impact on counties will probably be higher than $550 million.”

Weirens said issues such as urban sprawl are local problems because local property taxes fund development.

Nathan Hall covers transportation and the environment and welcomes comments at [email protected]