Tag Archives: environmentalism

Community Environmental Council

With Earth Day 2021 rolling around just a week after the publication date of this issue of the Montecito Journal, you’d think the big three-day festival would be all anybody at the Community Environmental Council (CEC) would want to talk about. After all, it was a nascent CEC that organized Santa Barbara’s first Earth Day on April 22, 1970, a one-block-long event as part of teach-ins and other gatherings attended by 20 million Americans across the country in the wake of the famous Santa Barbara Channel Oil Spill 15 months earlier that still ranks third in size after the 2010 Deepwater Horizon and 1989 Exxon Valdez spills. 

And after having to scramble to pivot its annual celebration to a virtual event just a month after the first lockdown of the COVID pandemic last April, CEC has had a whole year to plan for this year’s online offering, coming up with an undoubtedly impressive lineup of speeches, performances, and other activities that rivals many of the years when 30,000 people thronged to Alameda Park. 

Among the notable segments scheduled during the April 22-24 virtual festival – which carries a theme of celebrating climate leadership and can be accessed for free at https://sbearthday.org – are Annie Leonard, Executive Director of Greenpeace USA, receiving CEC’s 2021 Environmental Hero Award and sharing insights into her organization’s vital work along with an interview with CEC CEO Sigrid Wright and UCSB Chair of Environmental Studies and Director of the Global Environmental Justice Project Dr. David N. Pellow. CEC’s Annual Climate Crisis Leadership Summit follows the interview and presentation, featuring climate leaders from around the community sharing their current projects, identifying needs, and offering opportunities for engagement on the final day of the festival, which focuses on Community Leadership. 

Meanwhile, the “Youth Leadership” lineup on April 22 includes Oxnard-based activist and author (Eat Less Water) Florencia Ramirez along with former CEC Board President and current SB School Board Member Laura Capps; the Wilding Museum Poetry Contest winners sharing their work centered on “What Earth Day Means To Me”; and lots of local entertainment including a new song via video from Montecito’s Kenny Loggins. CEC’s popular Green Car Show and LOACOM’s “Better World” interviews with 1% for the Planet CEO Kate Williams and other environmental change makers anchor the Business Leadership-themed roster on April 23. 

In a true mark of innovation, CEC has even found a way to put its eco-minded exhibitor booths online via a high-tech platform that allows for live interaction in breakout rooms as well as presentations. 

Impressive, no doubt. 

But, as CEC’s communications director Nicole Wald said, it’s just one piece of CEC’s story, which has grown significantly in recent years with plans to expand exponentially soon. 

This year’s Earth Day Celebration honors Greenpeace USA’s Executive Director Annie Leonard as the recipient of its 2021 Environmental Hero Award

“This is a pivotal year for us, a sort of do over for our 50th anniversary year (because of the pandemic), and we are launching our new framework moving forward into this decade,” Wald said, noting that CEC is making perhaps its first big shift since narrowing its focus on climate change in 2004 after being one of the first organizations in the nation to recognize “the biggest threat to humanity was coming down the pipes.” That led to one of the country’s first carbon neutral plans in 2007, a roadmap to get the region off of fossil fuels in one generation that became the Fossil Free by 33 campaign, a decade in changing attitudes to make advocacy resulting in such successes as having its Community Choice renewable energy program happen across 19 cities in three counties in the central coast. 

But now that’s become the Climate Crisis, necessitating even bolder action. 

“All the reports have come out, one important one saying we have 10 years to turn things around before things get really ugly,” Wald said. “So this is the time that we really have to lean hard into solutions.” 

What CDC is working on now, Wald said, is putting into effect its bold new action plan, a “framework for how we’re going to move forward in the next decade-plus to really help the community go all in together. The goal is to not just kind of tackle one facet of the climate crisis, but really work toward building community resilience and a groundswell of action to transform the systems that fuel the climate crisis.” 

Reverse-Repair-Protect

Hence, Reverse-Repair-Protect, CEC’s ambitious plan for how our local community can meet this urgent moment and go all in together on halting the climate crisis rapidly and equitably. Reverse encompasses a push for ambitious, equitable zero emissions and zero waste goals for the energy, transportation, food, and agriculture sectors; Repair comes by tapping into the power of nature to draw down excess carbon from the atmosphere and repair the disrupted carbon cycle; and Protect encompasses safeguarding public health and vulnerable populations from the impacts of climate change that are already underway.

“This is definitely the moment for climate action,” said Energy & Climate Program Director Michael Chiacos. “CEC has been a stalwart in the environmental community for 50 years, but it’s great that climate has become one of the top priorities for our nation. It’s being woven into the stimulus bill and the infrastructure bill and it seems we’re finally taking climate seriously. CEC is the strongest organization on the Central Coast, and we’re moving forward with local solutions. For people who’ve been in the trenches for years like us, it feels like finally the world is really paying attention and realizing that the stuff is hitting the fan and we really need to make this a top priority. We have the technology, it’s fairly easy to do if we had the political will to just change some things.”

The goals include 100 percent renewable energy by 2030, 15 years earlier than California timeline, and then using that clean electricity to power not only transportation – especially electric vehicles – but also buildings, Chiacos said. “That will necessitate redesigning our cities so that it’s easier to not have to drive in traffic alone everywhere and make it easier to bike and walk and take transit and telecommute and all of these things. That’s a long game, but we want to put new development into existing downtowns in urban areas, not sprawling out into agricultural lands and wild lands where there’s risk of fire.”

CEC’s agriculture and food program aims to dramatically reduce food waste, which amounts to as much as 40% of the food that’s grown in America, Chiacos said. 

“Think of how much land and water and fertilizers go into growing this food that we waste 40% of, and it ends up in a landfill where it makes methane which makes climate change worse. It’s ridiculous. It happens in people’s refrigerators and at restaurants as well as on the farm. We’re finding ways to reduce that in the supply chain and at the consumer level which not only reduces climate emissions but also feeds hungry people. And we’re also working on regenerative agriculture, sustainable land practices where you can sequester carbon in our soil and help to reverse carbon emissions.” 

CEC also has a line on the Protect portion of its plan, which has to do with equity and resiliency, Chiacos said. 

“We know that climate change is going to continue to happen. Hopefully we can reverse as much of the impacts as we can, but we know that there already are impacts and they’re going to be worse for our kids. So how can we prepare for those impacts?”

Truth is, Chiacos said, none of these issues are new to CEC, the half-century old nonprofit. 

“We’ve been working on them for a long time, but now we’re repackaging them and we’re really ramping up these activities,” he explained. “We’re really expanding our work so that we can not only mitigate emissions, but also sequester them and, and prepare for the impacts. That’s why we’re hiring staff like crazy.” 

Which is also why ramping up donations also matters more in this moment. So enjoy Earth Day and learn a little more next weekend, and then sign on to do what you can to protect the Earth, or at least our little corner. 

“Sure, we’re a little bit of a backwater town, not a big powerful city, but we are based in California, which is a leader globally in climate solutions,” Chiacos said. “And we do have some really aggressive targets that can become models everywhere.” 

For more information, visit cecsb.org.

“Earth Day – Every Day” Opinion Piece

Despite the pandemic, carbon dioxide concentrations in our atmosphere have just climbed to the highest concentration in recorded history – over 421 parts per million. As central coast Californians, we see the consequences of this all around us: including much hotter temperatures, severe fires, rising sea level, and significant droughts. Since 1895, the average temperature in Santa Barbara County has increased by over 4 degrees Fahrenheit. 

There has never been a more important time for Earth Day. Earth Day celebrates our life-giving and remarkable environment, while also providing crucial information about threats to the air we breathe, the water we drink, the public lands we enjoy and our climate. One of the most positive aspects of Earth Day is discovering strategies to help address the challenges our planet and our well-being face, in order to do our part to help heal the environment for current and future generations.

One day or one weekend, however, is not enough to tackle what needs to be accomplished to protect our planet and ourselves. The lessons from Earth Day can and must be incorporated into our lives every day as new, sustainable and win-win habits. 

Recognizing this, the Community Environmental Council (CEC) and I worked together to create “Earth Day – Every Day,” which can be accessed on the Santa Barbara Earth Day website: https://sbearthday.org/eded.  In honor of the year 2021, “Earth Day – Every Day” contains 21 informative, win-win, research-based commitments including Slaying Energy Vampires; Earth Conscious Transportation; Lower the Paper Flow; Reuse; and Buh-Bye Food Waste.

Five years ago, as the Sherpa Fire was raging, my husband and I decided to significantly reduce our carbon footprint. The heartbreaking signs of climate change were everywhere – not only in Santa Barbara County, but also throughout our state, our nation and the world. 

In addition to climate change, we also had so many other environmental reasons to take personal action, including reducing our negative impacts on threatened and endangered species, air and water pollution, plastic pollution and water scarcity. Because we could not do everything at once, we made a list, which turned into the 21 positive actions in “Earth Day – Every Day.”

Over the ensuing years, we have implemented at least one recommended action in each of the “Earth Day – Every Day” Commitments described on CEC’s website. In every instance, we have been exceedingly happy with the results. In addition to reducing our carbon and pollution footprints, we have often saved money, and also meaningfully increased our quality of life on numerous levels, including doing a much better job “walking the talk.” There is so much at stake.

What’s more, it has been fun. Really fun. Perfection has never been the goal, just thoughtful reductions implemented over time, with lots of interesting and beneficial discoveries – and a few laughs (we are still not sure we are using beeswax wraps correctly).

There have been abundant highlights associated with our “Earth Day – Every Day” journey. Some of them include: 1) planting oaks and sycamores and watching them grow; 2) buying an electric vehicle, and fueling it with power generated by our 16 beautiful solar panels; 3) discovering and using toilet paper made from recycled products (not old growth trees); 4) installing and using low flow showerheads and shower buckets to conserve water and help water the garden; 5) buying and using silicon cookie sheet liners instead of aluminum foil (they are so much better); 6) canceling unwanted mail (and reducing waste and frustration); 7) finding and using laundry detergent and dishwashing detergent that does not come in a plastic container; 8) finding non-toxic ways to remove pests from the garden (especially using soapy water); 9) figuring out systems to always bring re-usable shopping bags to the store; 10) testifying as a public member at numerous hearings to advance renewable energy in our community (and having the decision makers act!). There are so many more.

What will be your Top 10 list? 

Together, we can help address some of the greatest threats humans have ever faced – climate change, fresh water depletion, plastic pollution and pervasive toxic pollution – one person and one community at a time. Let’s do it. Let’s make every day our Earth Day.

She’s Our Hero

Annie Leonard, executive director of Greenpeace USA, is the recipient of the Santa Barbara’s Community Environmental Council’s 2021 Environmental Hero Award.

“Her work exemplifies what it means to build the broad, boots-on-the-ground base of activism that we need to go all in together on the climate crisis,” says the CEC executive director Sigrid Wright, who will present the award at the Earth Day Festival in April along with UCSB’s Dehlsen chair of environmental studies David Pellow.

Leonard is also the founder of The Story of Stuff and previously spent two decades working on international sustainability as well as environmental and health issues.

She says California is the “pace car” in the climate race – meaning both state and regional organizations like the CEC have a huge responsibility in moving the world forward.

Leonard joins an esteemed list of heroes including activist Paul Hawken, U.S. Congress members Lois Capps and Salud Carbajal, Titanic film director James Cameron, science educator Bill Nye, actress Daryl Hannah, and Tesla Motors magnate Elon Musk.

Bold Climate Action

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. 

(photo by Matt Perko)

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: 

Lead

•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

Partner

•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

Act

•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

Pragmatic Environmentalism

In 2011,long before Covid-19 forever changed how we think of nonprofit fundraising events, Santa Barbara-based Heal the Ocean held an “imaginary gala” with “invisible” seats at “dream” tables. On the invitation, super booster Julia Louis-Dreyfus crowed that the event would be “the most unreal party” the organization ever had.

Not only did Heal the Ocean save money on producing the event, but also exceeded its fundraising goal. This no frills, practical approach is the environmental advocacy group’s calling card. 

“We are not complainers,” says Executive Director Hillary Hauser. “We focus on infrastructure, pipes, waste disposal, and sometimes it strikes us funny to realize we are very often just basic plumbers.”

Maybe so, but plumbers with an incredible track record of pragmatic change, using small charitable donations to win significant sums of public dollars to, well, heal the ocean. 

Hillary Hauser and Julia Louis-Dreyfus

The organization was launched in 1998, when Hauser caught wind of something rotten in the waters off surf-famous Rincon Point. The clutch of homes there all relied on septic systems. As tidewater rose and fell the systems steadily leached effluent into the waters – causing surfers to get sick. An early environmental DNA study, the first of its kind and funded by Heal the Ocean, found that 20% of the bacterial pollution in the lagoon there was “human/fecal.” By 2013, after an epic saga of bureaucratic red tape and setbacks, Heal the Ocean had not only secured sewer systems for Rincon, but 130 homes seven miles up and down the coast as well, radically improving ocean water quality, which has made surfing safer – and more fun.

More recently, Hauser and company translated a $10,000 investment in a knowledgeable consultant that helped to sweep into law a 2017 bill authored by HTO ally State Senator Hannah-Beth Jackson that allocates $2 million per year to cap old oil wells and other hazards along California’s coastline for a total of $14 million. Serving as cheerleaders to the State Lands Commission, Heal the Ocean led the charge in 2018 for the plugging of the notorious, leaking Becker Well on Summerland Beach, and for 2020, they’re inspiring the plugging of two more leaking wells: Treadwell and NorthStar – scheduled for October 2020.

For Hauser and her team it has never been about lawsuits or quick fixes. It’s about finding solid strategies to heal this neck of California’s coastline. 

“It’s really about practical solutions,” Hauser says. “We always say that to get something fixed, you have to figure out how much it costs, then how to pay for it, then go get the money and just do it. I think that’s why people like us.”