Ask EABers through the decades to describe UCSB’s Environmental Affairs Board (EAB) and their faces light up. Anyone involved can tell you that although the approaches to activism through the terms have ebbed and flowed, the camaraderie, community, and commitment to sustainability have remained the cornerstones of the student organization.
On May 18th, EAB’s alumni returned to their old stomping ground for the organization’s 20th anniversary. To celebrate two decades of environmental activism, gaucho alumni and undergraduates painted the town green, from happy hour at SOhO Restaruant and Music Venue and a hike to Inspiration Point, to a discussion panel at UCSB’s Bren Hall and a good ol’ Del Playa house party.
When EAB was founded in 1992, the organization was established to reflect the campus community’s desire to emphasize environmentalism on and around UCSB. In its early stages, EAB’s duties were internal — keep the campus clean, organize beach clean ups, pilot recycling projects. By the time Dave Fortson became a chair of EAB in 1994, a small revolution was brewing. Over the span of the next five years, EAB mobilized to prevent Mobil Oil’s proposed $1.8 billion project to tap offshore oil wells remotely from Coal Oil Point and South Ellwood, prevented a multi-hundred unit housing development from being built on sensitive habitat on Ellwood Shores, and thwarted Isla Vista landlords’ plans to build a seawall that would have exacerbated beach erosion below Del Playa.
“Out of nowhere, this new group that had formed was involved with hot button issues that engaged local, state, and national affairs,” said Eric Cardenas, EAB Chair from 1996-1998. “All of a sudden, EAB got major prominence because we were a group of students who didn’t know exactly what we were doing, but we were being forced to take action on issues critical to our environment…and we did so effectively. Our efforts really put EAB on the radar, leveraging the right people at the right place and time.”
Both Fortson and Cardenas of LoaTree — a consulting company for ‘Better World businesses’ based in Santa Barbara that promotes social and environmental integrity — credit EAB with the company’s genesis. While both LoaTree and EAB respect and support the necessity to take it to streets and rally as activists, LoaTree spends a bulk of its energy cultivating positivity and inspiring people into positive social action.
“In EAB, we really felt that it was critical to inspire the membership to get involved,” Fortson said. “That concept of inspiring people with the good stuff and not just bashing them over the head with the bad, that’s the same principle that LoaTree is using now. We really tried to balance the work that we were doing with fun, to make sure people were part of the group, felt engaged, and could take ownership.”
Flash forward twenty years and you’ll find that EAB has stayed dedicated to its mission. Current co-chair, Cris Cook, said she is especially proud of how far the umbrella of EAB’s influence expands today.
“We’ve had a greater variety of majors and outside people who come to us and want to be involved with EAB than ever before,” Cook said. “That’ll be continuing. Santa Barbara is figuring out what a powerhouse EAB is. It’s a recognizable organization in Santa Barbara and it’s incredible to be in the position we’re now at. [EAB has] been around for 20 years and it will definitely be around for another 20 years.”
EABers young and old(er) joined in on the weekend’s celebration, but memories of an epic kickball battle isn’t the only thing participants walked away with. When that many inspired and passionate people convene for a weekend, magic is bound to happen.
“Having this reunion is going to result in so many great projects that are going to be incubated this weekend,” Ed France, 2003-2004 EAB co-chair, said. “Just by good people shooting the shit and having fun, connections and ideas are made.”
One of the major projects under France’s leadership was a threatened sit-in to prevent construction of a parking lot at UCSB. The parking lot was proposed under the guise of additional student parking, but EABers at the time questioned the transparency of the plans and felt the parking lot would harm the surrounding environment. Although the parking lot was built anyway, the university agreed to fund $400,000 to found the UCSB Sustainability Office as a tradeoff. France considers the compensation an authentic, real-world triumph.
“That was us in EAB, wheeling and dealing,” France said. “It was messy. It wasn’t an idealistic thing where we walked in and got what we wanted, but we got something. We made something tangible and real happen, and that’s what EAB is all about.”
EAB champions beauty in the natural world, and fights for it, as well as the beauty in the bonds of group effort. As a graduate student, Quentin Gee, EAB co-chair from 2007-2008, became involved as a way to work all angles of environmentalism. Recognizing that research about sustainability is as important as protesting, tree planting, and weed pulling, he saw EAB as a way to round out his life and fight the full batte.
“I’ve always tried to make sure that I was willing not just to do some of the organizing and strategic things, but really get out there and do the adoptable, you know, pick up litter, plant trees, and also take part in community engagement,” Gee said. “There are just so many wonderful people that care, and part of life is being a part of an organization like EAB, not just stuck in front of a computer screen.”
EAB is applied learning — an opportunity to push university boundaries and expand horizons. France credits his time with EAB for his ability to prioritize and the confidence to take risks in his life.
“It’s that kind of risk taking and entrepreneurship, even within social activism, that EAB embodies,” France said. “It’s social activism, but it’s community too. There are a lot of groups and ways to be involved in community service — you can contribute and volunteer, but not necessarily have that community element. I think that’s part of the LoaTree magic taken from EAB, too, that idea of community.”