Earth Day’s Roots

One day a year, all of the United States joins in celebration to honor our magnificent planet. Earth Day, arguably one of the most important holidays of the year, was actually created right in our backyard.

On January 28, 1969, an oil rig off the coast of Santa Barbara blew up creating the third largest oil spill the U.S. has ever seen.This spill covered the Santa Barbara channel in oil. Millions of gallons of oil spilled into our channel, which is home to the largest variety of marine life in the whole of the Pacific Ocean. This effect was absolutely devastating. Whole beaches were quickly covered in gallons of tar and deceased sea life. It took weeks of long and hard work from thousands of volunteers to clean the beaches and the surrounding waters. This gained national and global attention.

In the midst of the oil spill, Gaylord Nelson, a senator from Wisconsin, came for a visit to Santa Barbara and witnessed the whole 800 square miles of oil from the air on his plane ride into town. Seeing the spillage from such a massive vantage point and then experiencing the devastation first hand as he visited the beaches inspired him.

A little over a year later on April 22, 1970 the first Earth Day was celebrated all over the nation. After seeing the oil spill first hand, Gaylord Nelson took the initiative to make a national holiday committed to environmental education and recognition. The Community Environmental Council in Santa Barbara helped in creating this and establishing it as a cherished tradition around the country. On the first Earth Day, 20 million Americans showed up to support the earth in parks and in the streets.
Not only has Earth Day become a yearly tradition, but after the first Earth Day it inspired the creation of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the passage of the Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act, and the Endangered Species Act. April has since also been recognized as Earth Month.

Earth Day has made waves all over America for eco-friendly change but even more so, it has made many positive changes locally in Santa Barbara. Since Earth Day we have established the Community Environmental Council (CEC), our Environmental Defense Center (EDC), the Environmental Studies Program at UCSB, and especially Get Oil Out! (GOO!).
This year in Santa Barbara, Earth Day is being celebrated Sunday April 23rd at Alameda Park downtown. The Community Environmental Council (CEC) has organized a wide variety of festivities for the Santa Barbara Earth Day festival including a green car show, 200 eco-friendly exhibitors, a plant-forward food court, shopping, educational booths, a kid’s zone, and music and entertainment to enjoy.

The 1969 oil spill has surely made Santa Barbara a more aware community. The expanse of natural environment available to us here in Santa Barbara makes protecting our earth an even more potent issue to be concerned about and this is reflected in our local community.

When local junior Olivia Miller at San Marcos High School was asked how she felt the history of Earth Day here in Santa Barbara has shaped us as a community, she responded, “I think it’s made us a much more aware community about how our carbon emissions impact the earth and it’s made us more appreciative of our earth.”
Even if you cannot make it out to the local festivities, there is still a lot you can do to positively affect our earth. One of the best ways to make progressive changes in the right direction is to donate to and support some nonprofits looking to help our earth. Some of the best nonprofits to support include Friends of the Earth which focuses on activism towards the environment and human rights, Earthjustice which fights for environmental justice in the face of law and in court, Trees For The Future which persists in educating communities on how to nurture the land, and Conservation International which helps limit environmental pollution and works on ocean conservation.

This Earth Day we encourage you to attempt to make a difference either by taking the time to educate yourself about our wondrous world or take a minute out of your day to donate a dollar or two to any of these nonprofits. Protect our earth this earth day and everyday.