UCSB Environmental Studies Department Celebrates 50-Year Anniversary

Photo by Graeme Jackson

Kayla Curtis-Evans
Contributing Writer

This weekend, UC Santa Barbara (UCSB) faculty, staff, and students will be celebrating the 50-year anniversary of the environmental studies department, which will be hosting a number of special events and lectures to commemorate the event. This signifies an important landmark in UCSB history, as the environmental studies department has been highly influential on campus and even nationwide.

The program was created in 1970 as a response to a nearby oil spill in the Santa Barbara Channel in February 1969. The event brought attention to environmental conservation and preservation. People, especially faculty, began looking for more ways to show consideration for the environment. 

UCSB’s environmental studies department was one of the first in the country. Now, five decades later, the department consists of over 8,000 undergraduate students and alumni who are passionate about learning more about the Earth and how to protect it. Classes within the department motivate students to become future leaders and problem solvers. The program even created shockwaves outside of UCSB, influencing other institutions all over the country to create similar programs. 

In an interview with The Bottom Line, David Pellow, head of the environmental studies department, shed some more light on the influence of the department and the upcoming celebration. 

“Our students, faculty, and staff have long been at the forefront of supporting campus-wide environmental initiatives since our founding, including the greenhouse and gardens, the fossil-free UC campaign, and many others. UCSB’s environmental studies program has literally created and transformed the academic field of environmental studies. Our alumni are founding and directing major non-governmental organizations, governmental agencies, and environmentally friendly corporations.”

Pellow goes further to explain how alumni have transformed their education into something bigger than themselves, stating that the environmental studies department alumni are leaders in all sectors.

“They are promoting smart city and county planning, changing how companies invest to ensure pro-ecological outcomes, expanding opportunities for students throughout public school systems to get access to environmental studies curriculum, and leading the movement for environmental and climate justice in communities throughout the nation.”

Not only did Pellow discuss the impact of the department, but he also emphasized the importance of celebrating the program as a leading force in the field of environmental studies, and his connection to the anniversary.

“Issues like environmental justice and climate justice were not on the national agenda at the time of our founding, but UCSB’s environmental studies program has played a major role in centering those challenges (and solutions to them) in scholarly, policy, and media circles in recent years. I think it is safe to say that UCSB environmental studies is at the forefront and thinking and action around how issues like justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion really matter for the environment and our climate.”

He goes on to share that, on top of commemorating the department, he has something personal worth celebrating too.

“On a more personal note, the environmental studies program and I both turned 50 recently, so taking stock of accomplishments and planning for the next several decades is something I’m doing on several levels.”

Students, faculty, and alumni can join the department and Pellow in this celebration on campus. The anniversary proceedings will include panels highlighting graduates’ work, discussions regarding environmental conflict, multiple different receptions, and the world premiere of a documentary depicting the history of the environmental studies program.