Many Santa Barbara residents are familiar with the 1969 oil spill that triggered the city’s first wave of environmental activism, a movement that has continued to gain traction over the course of the subsequent 46 years. For a community that has long given the ocean a starring role in the development of its local culture, the emotional effects of the oil spill were dramatic and left many residents feeling devastated.
Out of all the negative consequences caused by the Union Oil Company’s ruptured pipeline came a single silver lining: the crisis inspired a zealous interest in environmental protection within the Santa Barbara community. One year after the oil spill occurred, the Community Environmental Council (CEC) was established, hosting an event for the United States’ first-ever celebration of Earth Day on April 22, 1970.
Since its foundation, the Community Environmental Council has launched a number of initiatives, projects, and events in the interest of maintaining the health and prosperity of Santa Barbara’s local ecosystem. The CEC continues to honor its commitment to environmental health through the following current initiatives:
1. Drive Less
Automobiles are responsible for approximately a third of the air pollution in America, contributing carbon monoxide and other toxins to the environment and creating smog and ozone damage that can drastically impact all life forms. However, the carbon footprint left behind by cars stems from more than just their operation. The plants that produce the steel, rubber, plastics, and paint used in automobile assembly require large amounts of energy and emit significant air pollution in the process.
The CEC’s Drive Less initiative encourages Santa Barbara residents to limit their consumption of fossil fuels and improve air quality through the use of alternate transportation modes. In order to make the reduction of car use as simple to implement as possible, the organization has developed resources like the Bicycle Master Plan, which outlines a long-term strategy for effectively and affordably making Santa Barbara more bicycle-friendly. Additionally, the organization is focused on establishing an efficient ridesharing project for the city, and offers tips on how to reduce car use through its Drive Less blog.
2. Choose Electric
The CEC’s ultimate goal is to eliminate Santa Barbara’s dependency on fossil fuels within one generation, and doing so requires the group to provide residents who cannot reduce their use of automobiles with a green alternative. The CEC’s Choose Electric initiative helps frequent automobile users be ecofriendly by providing informational resources about clean energy cars.
Through the Plug in Santa Barbara program, the group has established more than 300 area charging stations for electric vehicles and continues to work with local businesses to locate additional viable sites for green cars to replenish their energy. Additionally, the three annual green car shows hosted by the CEC bring a wide range of clean energy car models to the streets in order to allow residents to observe and learn about the benefits of using these alternative vehicles.
3. Go Solar
Residents know that Santa Barbara’s climate is one of its most endearing assets, and with an average of 300 days of sunshine each year, the region is an ideal candidate for the implementation of solar energy. The Community Environmental Council aims to put into practice a system of zero-net-energy buildings in the Santa Barbara area within 20 years through its Go Solar initiative.
Through a proposal submitted to the city government in November of 2007, the organization outlined its reasoning behind the plan, and provided the city of Santa Barbara and its residents with a feasible plan of action to begin moving the region away from its use of fossil fuels. Additionally, as of June 2015, the county arranged funding for the CEC to conduct a feasibility study for its plan, and inspired two additional California counties to the north to participate in the study as well.
4. Ditch Plastic
The use of plastic is so widespread that the amount of plastic in the environment is incalculable. In the United States alone, the average citizen throws away 185 pounds of the polymer each year, and as a country we reuse only 5 percent of that waste annually. These habits of overproduction and under-recycling have resulted in five “plastic islands” floating in the world’s oceans, contaminating the global ecosystem and ultimately endangering human life.
The CEC has taken action against the unnecessary use of plastic in the Santa Barbara community through its Ditch Plastic initiative, introducing programs like Rethink the Drink, which installs water refill stations in county schools. Likewise, the organization’s Ban the Bag program played a part in legislation that will reduce the amount of plastic bags in the region each year by over 100 million. The Water Monster program also helps local event hosts to make their occasions plastic-free.
5. Eat Local
In addition to encouraging the production of fresh fruits and vegetables for Santa Barbara residents, the CEC’s Eat Local initiative focuses on diminishing the use of fossil fuels local businesses need by decreasing the amount of produce transported into the region from far-away locations. It also aims to stimulate the local economy by providing additional jobs for Santa Barbara farmers.
To accomplish this, the organization has partnered with local nonprofits to combine resources and develop a viable food system for the area called the Santa Barbara County Food Action Plan. The CEC also hosts events and has published a paper on the effects of food waste in the county in an effort to reduce the amount of food waste produced locally.