I’ve been drafting letters to our state policy decision-makers re: why I support tax credit programs for renewable energy. It is difficult to support tax credits that are so unpopular in this current economic and political environment [especially tax credits not everyone can take advantage of], but I do. I have my reasons and I’ll attempt to explain, and since today is a day of reflection I’ll attempt to do both – reflect and explain – on why I believe in the things I do.
It’s complicated, of course, and like most things it has roots in events and experiences that shaped me into the person I am today. Isn’t that true of most of us? We all have a story to tell, but telling that story in a compelling way, one that will ruminate with others, possibly causing them to (re)consider … well, that’s very hard to do.
So, what insights do I have? Why am I so motivated as to dedicate valuable time to support tax credits & incentives for renewable energy that most Americans don’t support?
[Cue the Beach Boys music] … Well, it all started in Santa Barbara California.
Flash back to 1969 and picture a teenage boy practically living at the beach in the coastal town of Ventura California – yeah, that’s me. Now, picture a massive oil spill along the central coast of California that ruined that kid’s environment – that’s Big Oil.
At the time, the 1969 Santa Barbara oil spill was the largest ever in U.S. waters. This event had a profound effect on me because I was a kid who grew up on the beach and I saw first-hand the damage to the coastal ecosystem. I remember my feet completely covered with tar (Mom hated that!) and so were the seabirds, dolphins, seals, fish, rocks, shells, kelp, beach balls, etc… The beach didn’t smell like the beach anymore, it smelled like an oil refinery. The oil company responsible tried to deflect responsibility and public outrage over the massive environmental damage propelled the budding environmental movement. It was a defining moment.
Senator Gaylord Nelson (D-Wisconsin) a leading environmentalist of his day visited Santa Barbara to look at the oil spill. He was so horrified that he proposed a national “teach-in” on the environment to be observed by every university campus in the United States, which has morphed into what is now called Earth Day. For a quiet beach community that is deeply connected to the ocean, this catastrophic spill spurred its residents into action, me included.
I attended a community commemoration of the oil spill one year later at Santa Barbara City College with speakers such as biologist Paul Ehrlich, David Brower (Sierra Club), and Earth Day founder Denis Hayes. [During the Carter Administration, Hayes was head of the Solar Energy Research Institute, now known as the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL)]. In the years immediately following the 1969 oil spill more environmental legislation was passed than in any other similar period in U.S. history. Local organizations that formed in the aftermath included Santa Barbara-based Get Oil Out! (GOO), a group that I joined and supported for the many years I lived in the region. After forty years this group is still operating and fighting our addiction to oil http://www.getoilout.org/.
Santa Barbara in the late 1970s was an odd mix of hippies, environmentalists, Hollywood types, rock stars, college professors, writers, painters, and others, and many were going “off the grid” in places like Mountain Drive and Camino Cielo. President Jimmy Carter had just installed solar on the White House http://solarflareblog.com/?p=1169 and solar power was all the rage in this hot-bed of political environmentalism. I helped some friends build a shed to house batteries required to store the direct current their solar panels would create. We set-up some Arco solar panels – made in nearby Camarillo – on a pole mounted racking system and I dug the trenches to bury the wires that went to the shed. [I really liked the look of those old panels … they kinda looked like a cluster of stereo speakers framed in.]
As a UCSB student in 1980, I became involved with the newly-created Environmental Studies program and the Environmental Defense Center (EDC) and followed mentors like professors Marc McGinnes and Roderick Nash. I was founder of the student chapter of the Campaign for Economic Democracy (CED) headed by Tom Hayden, along with a couple of my political science cohorts, and we spent a considerable amount of time protesting the Diablo Canyon Nuclear Power Plant north of Santa Barbara. Diablo Canyon was built and entered into service despite legal challenges and the civil disobedience from anti-nuclear protesters from the Abalone Alliance and EDC. I joined with thousands of activists and protestors camping near the nuclear plant while listening to anti-nuke musicians such as Bonnie Raitt and Jackson Browne; and during this two-week period in 1981 thousands of activists were arrested at Diablo Canyon power plant, many of them my cohorts.
One uniquely Santa Barbara organization that started up in the early 1970s as a result of this environmental activism is the non-profit Community Environmental Council (CEC) http://www.cecsb.org/index.php. While other organizations focused on direct and legal action, CEC focused more on education, bridge building, and pioneering new ideas and piloting projects in the community. I’m happy to announce that the CEC has sponsored the Solarize Santa Barbara campaign that started this spring http://www.cecsb.org/solarize-santa-barbara.
Megan Birney, CEC renewable energy specialist, did her homework and contacted many of us here in Portland and Salem to get the details of our successful “Solarize” programs and then she designed and started her own. Megan has scheduled a number of introductory workshops that are free and open to the public. These workshops will explain how energy efficiency and solar work, discuss options for going solar, and provide an introduction to CEC’s new Solarize Santa Barbara program.
- June 1, 6:30 to 8 p.m., Carpinteria Women’s Club, 1059 Vallecito Road
- June 7, 6:30 to 8 p.m., Goleta Valley Community Center, 5679 Hollister Ave.
- Solar SUNday, July 17, Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History, 2559 Puesta del Sol
So, these are my roots.
Because of the work of non-profit groups like GOO, CEC, and other organizations like the California Coastal Commission, today the Santa Barbara Channel is a clean and scenic location and the Channel Islands themselves are now part of the U.S. National Park system. I’m proud of that legacy.
To better tell this story, check out this short video entitled “Birth of a Movement” produced by GOO at .http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AeBXx0I3B7U