For years, Santa Barbara has been an epicenter for the environmental movement. While the concerns over the ecosystem came to a head in the late 1960s, few were more apparent than the 1969 Santa Barbara oil spill, which sent more than 21,000 gallons of crude down the California coast.
Since then, the county has rallied behind conservation, acting as one of the first areas to embrace Earth Day in 1970. 50 years later, the commitment continues, though admittedly a little different than Santa Barbara’s initial activists might have imagined.
To honor the event’s anniversary on April 22, the Community Environmental Council will take their annual Earth Day festival online. What’s typically a weekend celebration at Alameda Park will now be a one-day livestream beginning at noon on Wednesday, available to view at SBEarthDay.org.
The adapted celebration, known as the #TogetherWeEarthrise Earth Day Live Festival, will be CEC’s only observance of Earth Day this year. While the nonprofit’s in-person gathering had been rescheduled to July, the postponed festivities quickly became harder to plan as rumors of extending social distancing measures circulated around town.
But not to worry, CEC’s Earth Day team have pulled out all the stops, ensuring the festival’s usual tenets remain.
“In some regards, there’s the same flavor running through it from the in-person event,” said Sigrid Wright, CEC CEO. “It’s community-oriented featuring local musicians and personalities, and we’re still honoring our previous environmental heroes.”
Through both live and prerecorded videos, different speakers, performances, interviews and messages will fill the five-hour livestream.
On the entertainment front, musicians like Kenny Loggins, Glen Phillips, and Zach Gill are among the CEC’s living room concert lineup. Guest speakers will include former Vice President Al Gore and actor Jeff Bridges, as well as established Earth Day heroes like Florencia Ramirez and Congressman Salud Carbajal.
Even poetry performances will make an appearance, with Santa Barbara Poet Laureate Sojourner Kincaid Rolle and San Marcos High School senior slam poet Madai Quevedo lending their talents to the festivities. To moderate the segments, local journalists and KJEE radio station DJs will serve as virtual emcees.
Although a jam-packed schedule is not atypical for the festival, the shift to digital has also allowed CEC to include more personalities than previously possible.
“(This) does provide an opportunity to involve more speakers than might have been able to travel regardless of the (coronavirus) travel restrictions,” said Ms. Wright. “Around Earth Day, some folks are in high demand, so they have to choose one location to speak at like Washington D.C. or New York. We are now able to hear from more people.”
Among the new additions is environmental activist and journalist Bill McKibben, who founded 350.org, the first planet-wide movement. For the first time, Mr. McKibben and other coveted personalities can be in more than one place at once. By removing physical barriers, the CEC’s Earth Day Festival can include and reach more than ever before.
The livestream will even be available to those who cannot tune in live, with a rerun of the event playing Wednesday evening at 7 p.m. In between the showings, CEC invites viewers to take part in a virtual beer garden on Zoom from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m., an online gathering the nonprofit has created to support local restaurants.
“We’re made arrangements with local restaurants providing Earth Day specials for takeout,” said Ms. Wright. “I’ve been cooking in my kitchen for the past six weeks, so I’m ready for somebody else to make my dinner.”
Those like Ms. Wright looking to take the Earth Day celebration a step further can find offers at Buena Onda Empanadas, Lemon & Coriander, and milk & honey tapas to name a few. The full list of participating restaurants can be found at SbEarthDay.org/sbearthday-special. Just call in, pull up a chair and enjoy dinner with your fellow environmental enthusiasts – quarantine-style.
If viewers are in search of some more mediated contact, Ms. Wright floated the idea of watching the livestream with one another over Zoom, developing the online ties that much more.
By bringing the community together in more ways than one, this year’s Earth Day festival isn’t that different after all. In fact, the event is fulfilling a role it has had since the start.
“Earth Day truly has always been about connecting with one another and this will bring that same spirit,” said Ms. Wright.
While the celebration finds itself in the sixth week since the statewide stay-at-home order took place, Ms. Wright thinks the 50th anniversary will be a poignant relief from the chaos.
“At the moment, when we are supposed to be having our greatest gathering, we’re separated,” she said. “But I keep coming back to the feeling that the actual lesson or take away is that we’re not isolated. We’re extremely connected with one another.
“The thing that’s really uplifting is how dependent on each other we are for our health. It’s moving to see how quickly folks organized around protecting each other and protecting public health.”
Going forward, Ms. Wright hopes that willingness can be applied to other crises, namely the conservation movement. And with everything at a standstill, she thinks the pandemic could offer somewhat of an environmental reset.
“Everything that we are experiencing is coming at a horrible cost,” she said. “Not anyone is happy about it, but it’s what we’re doing so we may as well take some lessons and see what we have been doing.”
Not having to drive to work or travel across the country have caused an unprecedented drop in emissions. Levels of nitrogen dioxide in China, for example, were down as much as 30% at the beginning of March, according to NASA.
So as the public health crisis pushes the world to adapt, Ms. Wright thinks important lessons could be learned in the meantime.
“Once we’re more familiar with technologies like Zoom, they’ll become life hacks,” she said. “Some of the things that we’ve been playing with could lead to businesses and employees working from home once or twice a month or week. That would have a real, noticeable impact on emissions and on climate change if we were to take that step.
“(We’ve) learned you don’t need to get in an airplane for absolutely everything. You can go to conferences and learn things from home. We may choose to do that for health reasons when the stay-at-home measures are lifted… that could have a strong impact on the climate.”
The environment is just one of the many issues COVID-19 has swept aside as it continues to overtake daily life. For now, Ms. Wright agrees that focus should remain on the disease, but that doesn’t mean other problems need to fall by the wayside. This means Wednesday’s festival isn’t just a reason to come together and commemorate a half-century’s worth of work – it’s a reminder that when the pandemic is over, other problems will remain.
“It was inconceivable to go dark this week, it’s too important,” said Ms. Wright. “Issues like the environment don’t take a hiatus. We absolutely need to stay centered and focused on keeping conservation at the top of people’s minds.”