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San Diego Has An April Without An Earth Day In Balboa Park

Trees dot the landscape in Balboa Park on April 26, 2019.
Erik Anderson
Trees dot the landscape in Balboa Park on April 26, 2019.

This year was supposed to be a major anniversary for Earth Day — 50 years since the first one in 1970 — and 30 years since San Diego’s Earth Fair first marked the event.

There is no event this year because of the COVID-19 pandemic, but Earth Fair has been rescheduled for the fall. KPBS Environment Reporter Erik Anderson recently spoke with one of the driving forces behind the San Diego event, Carolyn Chase, who has worked on the fair every year since it started.

San Diego Has An April Without An Earth Day In Balboa Park
Listen to this story by Erik Anderson.

The following conversation has been edited for length and clarity.


Q: San Diego waited 20 years before finally holding its first Earth Day event in Balboa Park in 1990. Why then?

A: I remember; because I had been in middle school and I had done a poster for the first Earth Day in 1970 and I did a poster; and I thought, 'Hey whatever happened to Earth Day?' So I went to this meeting and there were a bunch of environmentalists and a bunch of volunteers. Formed a committee, San Diego Earth Day 1990 coalition we were called. And they had large events all over the county. We had a rain forest run. We had earth day on the bay. We had the Earth Fair in Balboa Park.

Q: Take me back to that very first Earth Fair. What was that like when it actually got off the ground?

A: It was way bigger than we thought. It was really attractive from the very beginning. People really want to find a way to help. And that has always been the case. And the best thing about it in my view was we had enough volunteers to pull it off.

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Q: What do you think the purpose was for the people who came out to the event every year?

A: I know for a fact that they’re looking to get involved with something. I had a friend of mine from college, who would never call himself an environmentalist, but he said, 'Gosh Carol. You know you started with earth day, and you know what? I’m recycling now.' So you meet people where they are. Some people are ready to reduce their meat consumption. They turn vegetarian when they find out about vegetarianism at the earth fair. Some people are more interested in climate change, how to be a group, get involved in a group for that. We had churches that have environmental programs for people that want to have a spiritual angle to how they want to address environmental issues.

Q: What do you think San Diego would be if they didn’t have this annual gathering every year?

A: I do know that we would have a higher fossil fuel profile, because back in 1990 even we had solar power providers at Earth Fair. And every year ever since. It used to be so expensive and only people in remote locations could use it. And now people have them on their roof and you can get tax credits still and actually save a lot of money on your utilities, so your utility bill would probably be a lot higher if you didn’t have solar panels if you had a place to put them. Electric cars. We lived through the birth, death and resurrection of the electric car. And I have a 100% electric car in my driveway. So I don’t have to stop at gas stations. We’ve seen the rise in organic foods. And San Diego County has one of the largest, if not the largest, number of certified organic in the state of California, which is big in agriculture as you know.

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Q: I Know you say Earth Day every day and that’s a good motto to have, but how important is it to have kind of that touchstone event that people can experience?

A: I don’t personally think you have to have a festival every year. I got involved with it because it does make a difference. But I don’t know if it is going to carry on. And we don’t know if a lot of things are going to carry on. We rescheduled for September because we think that’s like the first reasonable time when we might be able to come outdoors in our public parks. I hope it is sooner than that. Fortunately, as an outdoor event in a big public space, you don’t have to get very close to other people to go up to a table and get information. But it’s going to be a challenge. We’ll see if it happens in September.