A big city trip for some green-ing.


By Peter Schwartzman


Green events are popping up all over the place. Energy conservation, hybrid cars, recycling, and fluorescent (or, even better, LCD) light bulbs are in vogue. Everyone is going green — well, a lot of people are at least considering ways to reduce their ecological impact. So this past Saturday about thirty Knox students and I left town bright and early so we could attend the Green Festival in Chicago and find out what all the buzz is about.

      After a good three hour plus drive with minimal traffic, we arrived at the Navy Pier to park the three vehicles of our caravan. (The mini-bus I was driving was too big for indoor parking, so I had to park it a few blocks away in an outdoor lot; and, for a “quiet” sum of $54 I could park it there for the next seven hours!) Eager to see what the festival had to offer, we entered the gigantic room (dimensions were at least 500’x200’) to a collection of booths for as far as the eye could see. For the next six or so hours all of us browsed the arena taking in as much as our eyes, ears, minds, and our stomachs (there were so many free samples from health food purveyors as well as a smorgasbord of food vendors at the far west side of the facility) could take.

      What did we learn? Well, there were two definite highlights. First, I listened to Democracy Now’s cofounder Amy Goodman speak on the main stage. She talked about how there is no such thing as “mainstream media” anymore. In her mind, the media is largely “extreme” now. To substantiate this powerful claim, Amy pointed out that despite there being a tremendous amount of support in this country for ending the war in Iraq and a single-payer health care system, the dominant news agencies give very little attention to these subjects. For instance, in the two weeks prior to the U.S.’s invasion of Iraq (in 2003), the major television newscasts interviewed only three persons who had anything resembling an anti-war position. Yet, over three hundred and fifty interviews were conducted with people who were beating the drum for war. We see the same lack of representation of viewpoints today on the issue of health care. Single-payer health care is greatly underrepresented in the media while being widely supported by the public; for more on single payer health care visit: <www.singlepayeraction.org>. The main problem Amy sees with this system is that no true public debate can be had because the media (which is so powerful in constructing/positioning public opinion) won’t let certain viewpoints air. (If we wonder why this is, all we have to do is consider who owns the airwaves—large multinational corporations.). She calls for us to take the media back and treat it like the public treasure that it is. She also calls on citizens to “kick open” the White House door (i.e., put forceful pressure on President Obama to respond to the people’s requests and needs). She warns that our failure to do so will result in it being “slammed shut” and we will have missed a critical window of opportunity in our nation’s history.

      The last speaker on the main stage was Paul Stamets, aka “The Mushroom Man.” Paul says more mind-altering things in one hour than most of us probably do in a lifetime. His recent research on fungi has led to some of the most incredible findings. Paul firmly believes that fungi are the most intelligent species on the planet. The proof? Which group of organisms has survived the last several global extinctions (e.g., the Permian—250 million years ago (mya)—and the Cretaceous—65 mya)? Fungi were because they live off of dead material and do not require sunlight. Thus, since survivability is a sign of intelligence, fungi deserve the highest prize. But their intelligence is grander than this. Look outside. Do you see a clump of trees in the distance? Do you think they are independently growing? Absolutely not. They depend heavily on threadlike fungi filaments called mycelia. According to Stamets, these mycelia not only connect the trees together (via their root mass) but also make available important nutrients to them. More recent findings suggest that these fibers act as the fungi’s neural network (or brain) allowing it to communicate with other living things in ways that we do not yet understand. Furthermore, and most relevant to us, fungi have the ability to save the planet from many ills placed upon it by humans. Scientific research has shown that they can decontaminate (and make edible through delicious mushrooms) some of the most toxic soils that we know of; apparently, fungi crave hydrocarbons (as found in so many of our toxic agents, which are oil based). Fungi also provide the best anti-bacterial agents so they likely hold the cure to all bacterial infections. (Shockingly to many, humans are biologically closer to fungi than all other of life’s kingdoms.) Fungi also hyperaccumulate heavy metals. Thus, they have the ability to rid our soils of lead, mercury, and gallium. And most amazingly, fungi blends that Paul himself formulated were shown to be extremely active in their ability to attack and dismantle flu strains, including H1N1. Given all of these properties, Paul is emphatic that mushrooms are the answer to many of our current problems. He firmly believes that protecting our fungi is a matter of utmost natural security. Who knew? (If you want to hear Paul yourself, you can find many of his presentations on Youtube.)

      Was burning all that gas, and spending all that time and money, worth it? I bet it depends on who you ask. It certainly was inspiring to see so many people focused on greening our economy and greening our outlook on how we need to live. There was too much consumerism at the festival and too little attention paid to collective organization and mobilization. Yet, all in all, it was a great way to spend a day with my six-year old daughter—her first “green” festival—and a collection of curious and compassionate students.