Professor Emeritus Rod Nash stepped onto the beach on Jan. 28, 1969 to an environmental nightmare no one believed could happen.
A Union Oil Co. platform stationed six miles off the coast of Summerland suffered a blowout that day. Oil workers struggled for 11 days to cap the rupture, but during that time 200,000 gallons of crude oil bubbled to the surface and marred 35 miles of coastline from Rincon Point to Goleta.
“That day was just a shocker because, like a lot of people, I went down to the beach and saw the beaches covered with oil and all the birds flapping in oil and I realized that we haven’t done a good job being members of the planetary community,” Nash said.
That summer, the first photographs of Earth from the moon came in and depicted a beautiful but delicate planet, Nash said. Riding the nation’s newfound surge of environmental concern, Nash established the first environmental studies program.
“The environmental studies major starting in the Fall of 1970 was the first of its kind in the country, which I chaired,” Nash said. “The first moon landing had given a perspective of the earth as small, unique and fragile, and the whole concept made a lot of people more concerned.”
The spill was just one of many disasters forewarning an impending environmental crisis, which eventually spurred the first national environmental teach-in on April 22,1970, or Earth Day. The Environmental Affairs Board (EAB) and community residents will continue the tradition with Earth Day celebrations in Anisq’Oyo’ Park on April 21 from noon to 9 p.m. EAB Co-Chair Adam Garcia said this year’s “Bring It On Home” theme focuses on the local community.
“It’s important to raise awareness about our community and how we don’t realize how the issues around us effect us,” he said. “This is an opportunity to raise that awareness, to bring about change for the greater good.”
Some of the day’s events will be geared toward children, while political awareness and community involvement will be stressed more so than prior years, EAB Outreach Chair Nicole LaCount said. Several bands including Animal Liberation Orchestra and the Messengers will perform. The Isla Vista Tenants Union will provide treats.
The goals of Earth Day have always been vague and have encompassed a variety of issues, but the ultimate goal has been public education, environmental studies lecturer Marc McGinnes said. Most people are alienated from nature and do not realize the repercussions of their destructiveness, he said.
“Earth Day is about public education: to educate the public that there is no free lunch. Everything we take from nature comes at a price and we’re leaving the bill for future generations,” he said. “We’re imposing our arrogance on other life forms which we just don’t have a right to do. Wake up!”
The 1969 spill caused massive lung hemorrhages in dolphins whose blowholes had been clogged with tar. Animals that had ingested the oil were poisoned and many species were forced to flee the area or change breeding patterns. In all, 3,686 birds were estimated to have died because of contact with the oil.
Earth Day provides an opportunity for people to understand their roles on Earth and reflect on environmental issues, McGinnes said.
“I think it’s appropriate on Earth Day to really go deeply and not think of oneself as a consumer – even though we all consume things – but really think that we are citizens of the earth,” he said. “This planet is not a consumer product and everything living on it is not for our consumption.”
Since the formation of the Environmental Studies Program, UCSB has fared well among environmentally conscious campuses, McGinnes said.
“This is an incredible community,” he said. “Santa Barbara is one of the birthplaces of the environmental movement. I’m happy to say that there are an incredible number of people on this campus and in the community who are aware of problems and are working on them.”
Nash said that public education is paramount to meaningful change. People need to be conscious of the impact their lives make on the environment around them, he said.
“I think the big future goal is population reduction on a planetary level; to not only stabilize population, but reduce it. And protection of endangered species; when we lose them it’s forever,” Nash said. “We need to minimize our impact on the planet by living less invasive lifestyles.”