The Dark Side of Festivals

In the interests of full disclosure, I have to admit that I really enjoy festivals. Since moving to the Pacific Northwest, I’ve attended several a year. The Tulip Festival. The Folklife Festival. The International Film Festival. Dragonfest. The Solstice Parade. Pride. Seafair. Salmon Days. Viking Days. The Wooden Boat Festival, Fourth of July Fireworks. Julefest. The Great Figgy Pudding Caroling Competition. The Parade of Lights.

I love soaking up culture, eating unusual food, hearing unique music, and checking out the amazing crafts. I never fail to have fun at these events. It’s also a great way to hook up with friends who live in other parts of town.

But something has been eating at me ever since I saw this article after the last Fourth of July Fireworks here in Seattle. The day after the fireworks, which are launched from a barge in Lake Union, a cadre of volunteers used kayaks to clean up the toxic debris floating in the water. They apparently clean up 200-400 pounds of trash every year from that one event alone. Much of that is chemically treated fireworks casings. This last time around they also found an unexploded ordinance that the bomb squad had to deal with.

Salmon run through Lake Union. Peregrine Falcons nest there. There are a wide variety of birds that transit this lake. Canada Geese. Osprey. Eagles. Polluting their habitat so that we humans can have a few hours of fun seems kind of extreme to me.

Ever since reading that article, I’m looking at festivals not just in terms of enjoyment, but also in terms of impact. We need to learn to celebrate more responsibly. We need to stop acting like this planet is disposable.

The reason I’m thinking about this today is that I came across another article that made me cringe. It’s entitled What Happens to All Those Beads After Mardi Gras?  It’s lead sentence is, “The city of New Orleans pulled 93,000 pounds of beads from just five blocks of storm drains in 2018”

That is horrifying. It goes on to say that 45 million pounds of plastics come to New Orleans every year for that festival alone, and that the beads in particular contain trace elements of lead. Oh, joy! That’s just what we need. Lead leeching into the Gulf of Mexico.

There are some limited attempts at recycling, and this one guy invented biodegradable beads. These efforts are a step in the right direction, but they’ve barely made a dent in the problem. And let’s face it. Mardi Gras is a money maker for this city. It’s not like this celebration of debauchery, gluttony and environmental selfishness is going anywhere. We need to start thinking out of the box for more earth-friendly revelry.

For example, in lieu of fireworks, how about a laser light show? Several cities have considered this, but have gotten a lot of blowback from citizens who want the traditions to remain unchanged. Well, lest we forget, bloodletting used to be a tradition. Slave auctions were a tradition. Human sacrifice was a tradition. Killing millions of birds each year to adorn ladies hats was a tradition. But we’ve matured and evolved since then. It’s time to take more steps forward.

Will I stop attending festivals? No. Probably not. But I’ll forever look at them differently. And I certainly won’t be dropping beads in the street. But then, I never did that before, either.

For heaven’s sake, how hard is it to clean up after yourself?

Laser Light Show

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2 thoughts on “The Dark Side of Festivals

  1. Angiportus Librarysaver

    Good thoughts…never could stand the 4th of July noise myself…And I like the illustration, where’d you find it?

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