Southern California

Fifty Years Ago: 

In what was perhaps the single most catalyzing event in the modern environmental movement, a blow-out on Union Oil’s Platform A off the coast of Santa Barbara released up to 100,000 barrels of oil into the Pacific Ocean and onto nearby beaches. The 1969 spill killed thousands of sea birds, as well as seals, sea lions and dolphins, and triggered the public outrage that would eventually find its focus in the first Earth Day celebration a year later. Within a few short years, major environmental legislation was making its way through the federal government, spurred by public demand.


Photo: Justin Sullivan, Getty

Photo: Justin Sullivan, Getty

Southern California was recently revisited by a specter of its past: The Refugio Oil Spill off the coast of Santa Barbara in 2015 bore uncanny similarities to the spill 45 years prior, although the amount of oil released was significantly smaller. Still it begs the questions: How has regulation changed in 50 years – and is industry keeping in step with protocols? How has public perception changed? How should we be thinking about and planning for the risks of extractive industry? Meanwhile, Southern California – and much of the American West – is grappling annually with the realities of too little water, whether due to drought or management decisions. Agriculture hangs in the balance. Simultaneously, development creeps further into the Wildland Urban Interface, where wildfires burn earlier, later, hotter, bigger, fiercer, more frequently and longer than ever before. 

We’ll address these questions, along with a number of other pertinent topics in the region, including but not limited to:

  • California’s water: Drought, climate change, politics and infrastructure.

  • Agriculture.

  • Wildfire, climate change and development.

  • Environmental justice in urban and rural communities.

  • Indigenous involvement in natural resource management.

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