The double blow of the Thomas Fire and ensuing debris flow in 2018 left no doubt about the increasing threats of climate change to Santa Barbara County. Hotter days, extended droughts, wildfires, more violent and unpredictable storms are the region’s new normal.
Thankfully, the Central Coast is home to one of the nation’s most accomplished environmental action nonprofits, which – in step with its forward thinking reputation – reoriented its focus to meet climate change head on 15 years ago. The Community Environmental Council’s CEO Sigrid Wright draws on the organization’s 50 years of experience in “innovating, incubating, bringing to scale and fledging” environmental solutions – such as leading the nation in recycling and other game-changing feats.
In recent years, CEC has worked to drive down fossil fuel use for transportation, support a healthy and just local food system, better manage waste, and green the grid. Over 800 households have gone through CEC’s Solarize program, which provides bulk-purchased solar panels to make the green transition more affordable. CEC has helped install over 850 electric vehicle charging stations on the Central Coast, working toward California’s goal of putting five million zero emission vehicles on the road by 2030 – including getting low-income drivers behind the wheel. “When paired together, rooftop solar is used to charge the electric vehicles,” Wright says. “We call it driving on sunshine.”
Even still, Wright recognizes that the climate crisis is unfolding rapidly and will require massive on-the-ground momentum to reverse emissions and protect the region from its impacts. To get there, CEC’s bold plan to reach Carbon Zero in the next decade is to:
•Ensure that the Central Coast has the tools it needs to meet or establish transformative climate goals for transportation, renewable energy, organic waste and nature-based carbon farming
•Spur concrete action to safeguard the Central Coast from the impacts of climate threats like extreme heat, wildfire, drought, sea level rise, and storms
•Build a troop of diverse climate stewards and youth activists who can build community support for action
•Establish a local green workforce development initiative centered on climate justice
•Establish a pilot community compost project and food recovery kitchens throughout the County to extend the life of fresh surplus food and prevent food waste
•Establish solar-powered Resilience Centers to support vulnerable populations
•Install 1 megawatt of solar on regional nonprofits and schools
•Deploy cutting-edge transportation technology – including all-electric transit and school buses, and electric vehicle car share, and on-demand transportation services
• Prevent the waste of 240,000 pounds a year of edible food from restaurants, caterers and grocery stores, and provide it to organizations serving people in need