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August 25, 2008 / Politics / Perspective / Democratic Convention Coverage

Mile-high green!

for The Brooklyn Paper
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It’s the meanest, cleanest, eco-friendliest gathering ever known to man.

And — believe it or not — I’m not talking about the Democratic National Convention.

On Sunday, when Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper (D–Denver) announced this year’s DMC will be “the greenest convention in the history of conventions,” he was cheered by a crowd of several hundred gathered at the city’s Sculpture Park to attend the Green Frontier Fest, a renewable energy exhibition that helped kick off the convention. Because delegates still hadn’t arrived and there was nothing else going on, I showed up to see what Denver — and the rest of us — could be doing to go green.

A lot, as it turns out.

Hickenlooper told me that throughout the city’s recent growth (there seem to be even more half-finished buildings and cranes in downtown Denver than Downtown Brooklyn), it has remained committed to sustainable urban development. Denver has increased citywide recycling by 63 percent in the last three years while building hundreds of miles of bike paths, and planting 65,000 new trees last year.

“If you create space specifically for people instead of cars then they’ll use it,” Hickenlooper said as we walked to his car, trailed by staff and security guards. “It just depends on where your priorities are.”

Then, after briefly praising Democratic Presidential Nominee Barack Obama’s energy policies, he jumped into the back of an enormous Hybrid SUV and sped away.

The mayor’s early exit went unnoticed by the crowd, which was too busy examining solar panel and clean-air technology displays or shopping at free trade boutiques for new-age hippie clothing.

I was more attracted, however, to several unusual booths selling everyday products I had no idea even existed.

Did you know that every year Americans buy, use and throw away roughly 27.4 billion disposable diapers? I was told each one takes 250-500 years to decompose in a landfill.

To help babies reduce their carbon footprints, Lisa Van Dammel’s small business “Living Earth Babies” sells non-disposable cloth diapers — reusable, washable diapers made of fleece, cotton or hemp. While wearing them, toddlers can build on their eco-friendly infancy by playing with Sprigtoys Company’s cars and trucks, made of sawdust and recycled plastic from margarine containers and milk jugs.

The festival’s “Conscious Carnival,” run by an organization called the Sustainable Living Roadshow, proved kids can’t even let loose the old-fashioned way without learning something about the environment.

At a game-tent called “Toss out Fossil Fuels,” children waited on line to throw pieces of coal (black beanbags) at targets representing oil drills and coal-burning power plants.

“We’re trying to take sustainable concepts which are starting to be well-known and spread them across the country in a more fun way,” said Thomas Clever (isn’t he smart!), one of the carnival workers.

When it was my turn to toss out fossil fuel I unloaded an over-the-top fastball, utterly destroying an oil drill. For my second attempt I dropped down into a Dan Quisenberry-style side-arm delivery and took out a coal-burning power plant.

But instead of winning a stuffed animal or radio, I was awarded environmental conservation literature. That’ll learn ya!

With my new knowledge in tow, I bumped into the environmentalist and Hollywood actress Daryl Hannah.

Hannah, there to speak at the event, was walking around barefoot sipping from a hairless organic coconut from Thailand. She said she wasn’t sure about Obama’s energy platform (“it’s hard to trust politicians”) and would not attend the DNC.

Still, her thoughts on our country’s energy policy — and how to change its course — could be taken to mirror those of Obama backers.

“It’s always a little daunting to make changes,” she said, “but it’s not as hard as you think.”

That made a lot of sense indeed and as I left the park — thinking about coconuts and hemp diapers and how I could write about any of this — I learned that emitting carbon dioxide is not excusable even in death.

“The funeral industry is huge and it hasn’t greened-up at all,” said Cynthia Beal, the owner of Natural Burial Company, which sells biodegradable coffins, urns and does “sustainable cemetery consulting.”

A man who appeared to be in his early 30s walked into Beal’s tent to admire the two display coffins. One was made of willow reeds and the other of recycled newspaper (imagine that!)

“My ideal is that I want there to be as little of me left as possible when I get buried,” the man told Beal.

He complimented her coffins and they shook hands. “I’m Tom,” Tom said. Then Tom added, “I’m not dead yet.”

After he left, I asked Beal what Obama would think of her green coffins if he got a chance to see them.

“He’d say I think this is a good idea,” Beal said. “I’m sure Obama would say everyone should have this choice.”

Even after they’re dead.

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