Thursday, January 13, 2011

Not-so-green Earth Day Expo

Rochester, Michigan held an Earth Day Celebration Expo, on April 18to 20. (  The web site notes, “150+ covered exhibits of earth-friendly, healthy products & services.” and that, “Since its inception in 1970, Earth Day has grown into the world's largest annual secular event, observed in 150 countries by over one billion people.” That is all fine with me, at face value I am all for it, but I sense something gone awry. This is the Rochester, Michigan where a million electric lights are hung on Main Street in the winter.

First, the claim that it is a secular event. One exhibitor, the Couple to Couple League, is a Catholic group. It is partly due to their church that the world is so over populated that we need to worry about trying to “Save the Earth” at all. We certainly need to save the Earth from organized religion.

Some exhibitors use the words natural, earth-friendly, eco-friendly and herbal to describe their products or services. These words have no specific meaning and are vague marketing buzz words and cause warning lights to flash on the dashboard of my mind.

What caught my attention was the “Wellness Tent”. Whenever I see the words “wellness activities”, “holistic” or “well-being” I smell a scam. Be wary of the words “complimentary” and “alternative medicine”. Quacks who offer “treatments” that give a “sense of well-being” are by definition giving a placebo. You feel better for a few hours, but it is all in your head. Penicillin works even if the patient is in a coma, but with placebo treatments, the person must be awake and aware of receiving the treatment. Trick or treatment?

Three exhibitors, “Natural Awakenings”, “Healing Garden Journal” and “Mind Body Spirit Guide” publish free magazines chock full of nutty new age notions of every stripe; channeling, psychic readers, séances, magnet therapy, reflexology, reiki, energy balancing, ayurvedic, aromatherapy, naturopathic medicine, chi energy, spiritual healing, craniosacral therapy, chiropractic, quantum energy, therapeutic touch. All the popular quackery in one place. How does any of this rubbish connect to a “brighter, greener future” that the Expo touts?

One exhibitor, “The Biomat Company” ( has the most ridiculous claims for their electric heating pad products. The pads are claimed to offer “quantum healing energetics, negative ions, far infrared” and claim a connection to a Nobel prize awarded to Neher and Sakmann in cellular chemistry. The word “quantum” is a sure sign of a scam. When the pads can warm up without being plugged in is when they may use the word quantum. The organizers of the Earth Day Expo help legitimize quackery when they allow this kind of exhibitor to prey on people.

As a mechanical engineer, I know enough about energy, chemistry and technology to see past the hype. At least one electric car on display claimed “zero emissions”. That really insults my intelligence. To build a car makes emissions, and making electricity in the US means burning coal. I have nothing against making electricity, but here again the claims ring empty.

The expo should carry the notice “FOR ENTERTAINMENT ONLY”. A stellar example of this is the $19,000 Hammacher Schlemmer pedal car built for seven people, a nice gee-whiz gadget, but of no practical use. The Expo is a study in Greenwashing and irrational exuberance. Most, if not all offerings are placebos, ways to look and feel green, but without substance.

To be sure, people want a source for green products and services, where they can feel good about their purchases and think that they are making a difference. They want fast gratification without the work of digging past the claims. At the end of the day they get in their SUVs and return to their heated homes, air conditioning, electricity, plumbing, kids and dogs. I can’t blame them. As Americans, we are all oil addicts, no matter how “green” you think you are. One can do very little without giving up a comfy life style. It is virtually impossible to make anything or do anything in a meaningfully “green” manner; it will always use a resource and create carbon dioxide. You can not make an omelet without braking eggs. We can recycle some things, drive a smaller car, compost yard waste, but we don’t want to cause ourselves any pain. And it would take a whole lot of pain to make any difference.

If you really want to be green, live like the Amish. No phone, no lights, no motor car, not a single luxury, like 1793, it’s as primitive as can be.

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