Guest Opinion: Green Light

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Earth Day: California-birthed, Globally Observed

By Tom Osborne

This Saturday, Earth Day 2023 will take place against a backdrop of environmental calamities far more ominous than the one that triggered the first such event in 1970: the Santa Barbara oil spill. The through-line connecting the two events is oil, or to be more precise fossil fuels. The oil spill of fifty-four years ago blackened some thirty-five miles of pristine beaches on both sides of Santa Barbara and mucked up some of the Channel Islands, killing thousands of seabirds plus dolphins and other marine creatures.  

Sleepy, conservative Santa Barbara suddenly became “woke,” as nationwide the news media documented the animal casualties, eventuating in a visit to the carnage by then-President Richard M. Nixon, who acknowledged the severity of what had occurred. A weeping society matron was observed driving an oil-covered seabird in her Mercedes to a center where the creature might be cleaned up. Incensed Santa Barbarans organized GOO, Get Oil Out, to work toward ending the offshore drilling that led to the disaster.

Other actions soon followed. Wisconsin Senator Gaylord Nelson spoke at a water conference in Santa Barbara and interacted with students at UC Santa Barbara, who were participating in anti-Vietnam War teach-ins. He then boarded a flight to UC Berkeley, where he was scheduled to speak. On the plane, while reading the UC Santa Barbara student newspaper about the teach-ins on campus, an idea came to him: Why not conduct college teach-ins on the environment? The Earth Day idea had been conceived by the time he reached Berkeley. 

There he asked war protesters what they thought of environmental teach-ins nationwide and the students expressed excitement about it.

Senator Nelson then appointed California (Republican) Congressperson Pete McCloskey and Stanford student Denis Hayes to organize the first nationwide Earth Day celebration. The event attracted an estimated 20 million people throughout the country. The NASA photos of the Earth as seen by American and Russian space travelers orbiting our planetary home, loosed a powerful idea of the interdependence of all life on the blue, green, and white orb humanity calls home. Today, an estimated 192 nations worldwide celebrate the event, though it is not an official holiday in the United States.

The oil spill of this twenty-first century dwarfs that of Santa Barbara back in 1969. Our seas, air, and some neighborhoods are being poisoned by a fossil fuel industry whose profits reached record heights last year. Climate scientists, like Dr. Daniel Swain at UCLA, have concluded that the links between climate change and California’s mega wildfires can be shown empirically. The greenhouse effect of carbon emissions has been shown to be connected to the severity of our droughts as well and linked to the warming, acidifying, and rising oceans. Scientists with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change say we have until the end of this decade to dramatically cut carbon emissions in half to avoid the worst consequences of global warming.

Joined by other chapters nationwide, this Earth Day, the Laguna chapter of Citizens’ Climate Lobby, which advocates for a national carbon fee and rebate to taxpayers plus a border carbon adjustment to protect our manufacturers from foreign polluters, will participate in a celebratory event at the Laguna Niguel Botanical Preserve. We’ll perform gardening chores with others and discuss CCL’s market-based solution to the climate crisis. Our group is international in scope and some of us will be attending our annual conference in Washington, D.C., this June, after which more than a thousand of us will lobby members of Congress to put a price on carbon to help provide a livable planet for our children and grandchildren. Failure is not an option.

Our group is bipartisan and well-known on Capitol Hill for our fact-based, positive, non-adversarial, respectful approach to the greatest challenge of our time. Join us.

Tom Osborne is writing a history of California’s environmental leadership. He and his wife, Ginger, founded and lead the Laguna chapter of Citizens’ Climate Lobby. [email protected]. 

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