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Brought To You By Oil and Cancer: Modesto Earth Day Festival
The Modesto Earth Day Festival is a joke and a farce.
The Modesto Earth Day celebration held every year is an exercise in how the world is not changed. The event which is put on by the Modesto Parks and Recreation Department, manages to rake in thousands off dollars through corporate sponsorships and food and tabling vendors. Looking at these sponsors, the event itself becomes even more laughable. The sponsors of this year's Earth Day Festival include Boyett Petroleum, The Modesto Bee, Modesto Irrigation District (MID), Gallo Wine, Covanta Energy, and Frito Lay, just to name a few. So, we have the only large newspaper in town sponsoring the event (the Bee), two of the largest employers (Gallo and Frito Lay), MID, which provides power to Modesto residents, and major polluters such as a petroleum company and a waste incinerator. The Modesto Earth Day Festival is a marriage of corporate, state, and media interests, united together in brandishing themselves as protectors of the environment and friends of the earth.
But why is it important that all of these institutions present the wider public with a "green image?" Because most people understand that the world is being destroyed by capitalism. Our lives and environment are threatened because those in power want to make a buck. Forests are leveled to make way for cattle which are turned into fast-food. Our oceans become black with oil and full of sewage and trash. Species are becoming extinct at a rate that some scientists call the most drastic die-out of living-things since the extinction of the dinosaurs. Our drinking water is becoming more polluted, our foods filled with pesticides and hormones, our air quality sends asthma rates through the roof, and in records never before, people are getting cancer from a host of man-made sources. Industrial capitalism has lead to the mass extinction and destruction of whole species and ecosystems while at the same time putting the people of the world at risk of mass disasters and disease. As the End of Capitalism blog wrote:
It’s been well-documented for half a century now that the main cause of cancer is industrial pollution and the immense and growing quantity of toxic shit in our air, water, food, and bodies.
There’s no escaping it either. You can eat healthy and vegetarian, live out in a rural area where there’s no factories spewing death into the air, avoid filling your life with plastics and chemicals, and you’ll still be at risk, because even polar bears on the North Pole are getting dioxins built up in their fatty tissue. Dioxin, by the way, is the most toxic and carcinogenic substance ever seen on the face of the Earth. It can give you cancer from even a few parts per trillion – that’s 12 zeros. Dioxin is shot up into the air as a consequence of PVC production, and now it’s in our food, our bodies, and mother’s breast milk.
Most daunting however, is the threat of global warming - caused by the production of CO2 from cars and factories. Just a small rise in the earth's temperature could threaten to change forever the world's weather, make the growth of food harder and would also wipe out various plant and animal species. Most recently, we have also watched as millions of people in Japan have faced an onslaught of environmental devastation and nuclear fallout, caused by the lies and failures of a PG and E backed nuclear company. Now, millions have been exposed to radiation at levels not seen since the Chernobyl disaster. As the World Socialist Website wrote:
From the outset, TEPCO [Japanese nuclear corporation], which has a long record of safety breaches and cover-ups, has provided inadequate, even wrong, information and minimised the dangers. The Nuclear Safety Commission of Japan yesterday was considering raising the official severity of the nuclear accident from five to seven, the highest level, on a par only with Chernobyl. Nevertheless, the government, NISA and TEPCO continue to be driven by commercial considerations.
But just as nuclear power was sold to working people throughout the world as a 'green' energy source - with murderous results, so has the Earth Day Festival been sold to people in Modesto as a 'green' event. But what does it mean when the very corporations which are killing the planet are hosting an event dedicated to saving it? It is all part of an effort by corporations and governments to clean up their image and present themselves as 'eco-concious.' By repackaging themselves as 'green' they hope to cash in on certain markets but also appear that they are addressing the very problems that they are creating.
Moreover, when we allow corporations and governments to frame the dialog of resistance to the destruction of the earth and ourselves along with it for profits, we allow those doing the dirty work to stifle any talk of resisting the entire megamachine and engaging in resistance in a real and tangible way. Instead, we are told from everyone from corporations to Al Gore that solutions are to be found in the marketplace. We shouldn't tear out dams and block logging roads, we should instead buy different light bulbs and go vegan. And it's just this push to find more 'eco-friendly' products on the market which has driven corporations and governments to take on a green image and begin selling green products. However, if the recent BP spill in the Gulf Coast and the ongoing disaster in Japan are any indications, capitalism will not be changing it's tune anytime soon.
As the SubMedia Collective stated in their recent stop in Modesto showing their film END: CIV, what is needed now is resistance to capitalism, not "solutions" within it. In the Central Valley we've seen several local struggles over threats to the environment. They include the battle to shut down the Tallow Plant in South-Side Modesto, fights over air-quality, and in the last several years we have seen a grassroots movement spring up around the existence of the Covanta Plant, located in Patterson. Besides being one of the sponsors of Earth Day, the Covanta plant takes e-waste, garbage, medical supplies, and other trash from across the west coast and burns it. In doing so, it pump Dioxin into the environment as well as polluting the air with smoke, leading to increased cancer and asthma rates in the area. As the Green Action group wrote:
A company called Covanta operates a garbage incinerator in Crow's Landing that burns about 800 tons per day of solid waste. The incinerator emits dangerous toxic chemicals and toxic metals into the air, including dioxin, one of the most toxic chemicals known to science. Even low levels of dioxin can cause illnesses such as cancer & birth defects. The company claims that the design and technology of their incinerator system "insures complete combustion and breaks down dioxin" and is environmentally safe." The truth is that the incinerator cannot completely or safely destroy all the waste being burned, and in fact creates dioxin and emits it into the air. The incinerator tried two years ago to import medical waste from across the state to be burned here, but concerned residents stopped that toxic threat!
Events like Earth Day need to be exposed for the farce that they are. We are not on the "same team" as corporations and governments, because we understand them to be the ones that have lead us into the current economic and ecological crisis. They offer no solutions to the problems laid ahead of us; as always, it is the task of the working class to destroy the systems which immiserate us. Those in power have no interest in stopping the destruction of the natural environment and returning to ways of life where food, shelter, and water are shared in common and in harmony with the earth. Furthermore, the very corporations which help sponsor the event are the ones which are polluting our area the most. We don't need a corporate green-wash. We need a deep green resistance.