Today is Earth Day. On the first Earth Day in 1970, the modern environmentalist movement had just started. In late January of 1969, the largest oil spill in United States history occurred in Santa Barbara, California. The Santa Barbara Oil Spill would remain the largest US oil spill until the Exxon Valdez struck Bligh Reef on March 24, 1989.
I was a college student at UC Santa Barbara when the Exxon Valdez began spilling oil. Santa Barbara residents were frustrated (or shocked), because they remembered seeing waves of dead birds washing onto their beaches. Natural disasters are difficult to accept. Preventable disasters to natural resources are different.
If you are unfamiliar with Santa Barbara’s history, you may think that the town is a liberal college tourist town. Oil exploration arrived decades before UCSB. Santa Barbara was a conservative county for most of the 20th Century. In 1969, a Republican from California was the President when the Environmental Protection Agency was formed. Nixon was also President when The Clean Water Act was passed. Nobody likes oil spills.
When I was a kid, almost everyone liked watching Jacques Cousteau’s underwater films. Earlier this year, Jean-Michel Cousteau visited Pittsburg High School and spoke to an audience that included several area high schools. Jean-Michel Cousteau leads the environmental organization Ocean Futures. Their head quarters is in Santa Barbara.
To see more photographs from his visit to Pittsburg High School, see my gallery.