Forty-five years ago, in the winter of 1969, Santa Barbara’s coastline was devastated by a massive oil spill resulting from a malfunction in Union Oil’s Platform A residing just off the coast of Goleta. News of the spill and its influence on the surrounding environment shocked the country. The spill, at the time, ranked the largest in United States waters, and currently holds the unfortunate title of the third largest–after Deepwater Horizon in Mexico of 2010, and the Exxon Valdez spill in Long Beach, Calif. in 1989.
In the wake of utter environmental destruction, a movement was formed that continues to positively mold our actions and promote environmental activism today. Sen. Gaylord Nelson, in an effort to combat the growing ecological crises observed throughout the country (as catalyzed by the Santa Barbara oil spill), founded the country’s first Earth Day on April 22, 1970.
As an actor and instigator in this grand scale movement, Santa Barbara is often expected to fully embody the principles that Earth Day so progressively promotes. Yet on April 14, EcoWatch published NerdWallet’s list of the 25 Greenest cities in America, and Santa Barbara did not make the cut–nor did any cities in California.
While it may seem like our community has dropped the ball on environmentalism, upon closer inspection of NerdWallet’s methodology, one can observe that the criterion used may not be entirely correlated with the Earth Day interests of Santa Barbara.
One of the main standards for this specific raking was “number of parks per 10,000 residents.” This measure is certainly “green,” but natural geographic restraints can easily impair a city from having as a high of ranking as the top city, Madison, Wis.—which ranks first on NerdWallet’s list for its 15,000 acres of lakes and more than 200 miles of hiking and biking trails. The list also elaborates that this literal “greenness” directly contributes to their low mark on the Air Quality Index–another criterion used for the ranking.
The other big criterion used for the ranking was the percentage of population working, biking, carpooling, etc. to work vs. excess fuel consumed per commuter. This statistic was an interesting one, as Santa Barbara’s commuters come from a long list of neighboring cities and even as far as Los Angeles county. This extensive commuting schedule may not be mirrored in other cities whose citizens do not have as far to travel.
What Santa Barbara and the Earth Day in general promote are ideas of sustainability in food and energy, green policies in schools, animal protection, and clean water. Santa Barbara’s local soup kitchens are cited as being 90 percent organic by Today – Health, which is four times the rate of the average city, and demonstrates the city’s affinity for organic produce.
Santa Barbara also has 80 percent fewer fast food restaurants, four times more organic food producers, and almost 40 percent more farmer’s markets. These are indications that the city has developed an organic culture with respect to food production and consumption.
Moreover, the University of California, Santa Barbara is considered one of the most sustainable and green campuses in America. This harks upon Sen. Nelson’s aim to create a mass environmental movement with schools and education at the forefront. UCSB’s Environmental Affairs Board (EAB) is a prominent student group on campus that aims to spread awareness of environmental issues.
Second-year biology major and EAB Co-Chair Kai Wilmsen stated that the green movement, as characterized by Earth Day, “is about creating a society that is sustainable and long lasting.” Wilmsen noted that there has “been a growth in environmental awareness and practice across campus,” and referenced the RHA Green Bill passed last year and the emergence of student groups such as Students Against Fracking and System Change not Climate Change.
With respect to the relationship between the university and Isla Vista, Wilmsen offered some insight into the potential discrepancies in their green practices.
“The biggest discrepancy that I see between IV and the university is the fact the university has the resources to update their buildings, landscaping, and waste systems to be more environmentally friendly, while the property owners in IV either don’t have to the resources, or choose not to,” Wilmsen said. “Although I would like to see a more sustainable Isla Vista, it is important to also consider housing affordability in the discussion, because places like The Loop and the Icon apartments incorporated sustainable aspects to their buildings, but are also out of many students’ price range.”
Rankings and lists have become part and parcel of our daily discussions on a myriad of topics in the last decade. Rankings like the one featured in EcoWatch are valuable, but it is important to consider the criteria by which these rankings are created and their correlation with the title at hand. For now, Santa Barbara can keep its head held high right next to Isla Vista and UCSB as communities invested in the green movement—and celebrate Earth Day with pride.