Vice Chancellor Michael Young wrote a commendable appeal to UCSB students (“Floatopia,” April 22, 2009). Given the first Floatopia’s impact on the ocean and shoreline earlier this month, Young goes on to explain that “Floatopia 2 does not have to happen if the UCSB community and, particularly, the UCSB student community decide that they do not want to be complicit in needless, wanton and irreparable destruction of the environment.”

While reading Young’s letter I found myself agreeing with his call for all of us to directly confront ecologically destructive practices we are complicit in, and stopping is absolutely right.

“To willfully participate in an event that will cause significant and, in some cases, irreparable environmental damage to an especially fragile area is just plain negligent and short-sighted, no matter how much ‘cleanup’ is planned,” Young said in his letter. Yes. Floatopia, however, is insignificant compared to the “irreparable environmental damage” UC students, staff and faculty are systematically involved in. Here’s a brief history lesson to explain.

In the 1950’s, several UC Regents made voyages to the South Pacific’s Marshall Islands to witness one of the UC’s greatest “accomplishments.” There, under the tropical sun, cruising the paradisiacal ecosystem of these brilliant coral atolls, a group of UC scientists detonated no less than 67 hydrogen bombs, wiping out islands and spewing plutonium and strontium as deadly fallout into the stratosphere.

Nuclear waste from these atomic tests was packed into thousands of barrels and shipped to San Francisco, where it was dumped a mere 27 miles offshore. California’s coastline is a radioactive dump. Our university is partly responsible.

The UC currently operates one of the largest nuclear waste dumps in the U.S., “Area G.” It’s in New Mexico at the nuclear weapons lab our university co-manages with the Bechtel Corporation. It contains 13.5 million cubic feet of radioactive and chemical wastes.

I can think of several things the university community should cancel in addition to nuclear weapons and waste, but I’ll leave the readers to make their own lists. What’s important is the core of Young’s message, not so much the details.

To paraphrase something he said: Each and every member of this community has a choice: You can promote and participate in ecological destruction, or you can choose to protect our community and environment. Which will it be?