Santa Barbara Oil Spill 2015

On Tuesday May 19, 2015 a 24-inch pipeline owned by Plains All American ruptured 20 miles west of Santa Barbara. The pipeline was underground, running along the coastal highway, carrying 1,300 barrels of crude oil per hour. When the pipe burst, 101,000 gallons rushed out, and 21,000 gallons made their way down a storm culvert and into the Pacific Ocean.

photo from LA times - photographer Brian van der Brug

photo from LA times – photographer Brian van der Brug

As of May 22, the oil has spread across 9.5 square miles of ocean and 8.7 miles of coastline. Many animals are affected. This area of ocean is home to dolphins, seals, sea lions, birds, fish, and it serves as a migratory passage for whales. The brown pelican, one of the area’s birds, was just removed from the endangered species list in 2009, and it dives into the oily water to hunt for fish. When the oil is warmed by the sun, it sinks, endangering plants and animals at the bottom of the ocean as well. Oil also blocks light from reaching kelp and coral, which need the light for photosynthesis.

El Refugio State Beach and El Capitan State Beach have been closed until June 4. Fishing has been stopped in the area.

photo from LA times - photographer Brian van der Brug

photo from LA times – photographer Brian van der Brug

This weekend saw 650 people working on cleanup. The Coast Guard has been monitoring the cleanup and Plains All American is actively involved. Animal casualties include a sea lion, 9 pelicans, 2 dolphins, and numerous fish.

The pipeline, owned by Plains All American, was built in 1987, and inspected in 2012. There were no previous problems. Plains All American has 6,000 miles of pipeline carrying hazardous liquid, going through 20 states. They transport 4 million barrels of crude oil and other liquid fuels daily. Operations in the burst pipeline have been suspended until safety improvements are made, and the company is launching an in-depth analysis of factors contributing to the spill.

Since 2006, Plains All American has committed 175 federal safety and maintenance violations. They have spilled 725,500 gallons of hazardous liquids and have damaged $25 million worth of property. 80 accidents were due to corrosion and 70 were due to failures in materials, welds, and other equipment. Since 2007, the company has spent $1.3 billion on maintenance and repair. Of 1,700 operators in the country, Plains All American was 5th in safety and maintenance infractions.

The Santa Barbara oil spill is likely gaining more media attention because in 1969, there was a giant oil spill in the same area. The 1969 oil spill in Santa Barbara was the 3rd largest oil spill in US waters, behind the 2010 Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and the 1989 Exxon Valdez Oil Spill. In its time, it was the biggest oil spill to ever touch US waters. 3 million gallons of crude oil spread across 30 miles of coastline, and it helped spread environmental awareness, spurring the creation of the first Earth Day in 1970.

oil spill chart

Does this oil spill measure up to previous oil spills? No. But no oil spill is small. The casualties are great, and it makes us reconsider the value of oil if it comes at such high environmental costs.


Artificial Photosynthesis

We all know about photosynthesis. Plants take water, carbon dioxide, and sunlight to create energy. What if we could harness energy in the same fashion?

artificial photo

Artificial photosynthesis is still being researched. Scientists are attempting to create a system that can harvest sunlight and split water molecules. Hydrogen would be released, and could be used as fuel or used in a fuel cell. Some systems also produce methanol, a fuel used already in heating, cars, etc.

There are many problems facing scientists now. First of all, they need a catalyst to spur the reaction. Manganese, the catalyst in plants, is unstable and doesn’t last long in man-made set-ups. They are experimenting with cobalt oxide and titanium dioxide, but these aren’t very abundant, and more natural catalysts either degrade or set off chain reactions.

There is still a lot of research to be done, but wouldn’t it be amazing if we could power our world as cleanly and efficiently as vegetation?

environment, history

Cuba’s Special Period

When the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, Cuba lost 80% of its trade and 90% of its fuel. The US embargo isolated Cubans not just from America, but from any country who wished to trade with America. (The United States passed a law that denied ships access to the US if they had docked in Cuba in the past 6 months.)

The time after the Soviet Union collapse was called Cuba’s Special Period, and it was marked with disaster. There were rations of food, and a month’s ration sometimes could only supply 2 weeks worth of food. A black market for food sprung up. Zoo animals were stolen, as were domestic cats. Cows became so scarce that it became (and still is) illegal to kill or eat a cow. Killing a cow earns more jail time than murder.

Bus routes were canceled. Cuba had scheduled power outages to conserve fuel, making cooking and preserving food difficult. A shortage of fertilizers made growing crops difficult. A shortage of imported animal feed led to egg shortage. Some factories cut hours while others closed. There were 9 abortions for every 10 births.

So what does this have to do with us? Many call this time period an artificial peak oil; that is, this is exactly what will happen to us when our supply of oil starts to diminish. And it’s already starting. Our dependence on oil will lead us to face the same problems Cubans did over twenty years ago.

But Cubans made it through their special period. They increased organic agriculture. Gardens were started on roof-tops and empty parking lots. They diversified their agricultural production and practiced sustainable agriculture. Farmers’ markets increased access to locally-grown food and cut the use of oil for transportation. Oxen and horses replaced tractors. Bicycles replaced cars. Manual labor replaced machines.Oljepumpe_cuba

We could do the same. Perhaps we could even start now, and then not have to face job closings, food rationing, and possible starvation. Or we can ignore the valuable lessons that Cuba has learned.

Obama has announced that we will be reopening communications with Cuba. While we should support amicable relationships between countries, what will this mean for Cuba? Will Cuba continue on its sustainable path? Or will it spoil itself with oil and other luxuries it has not had for over two decades? It is important to remember the lessons Cuba has taught us, especially with these shifting politics.


EcoVillage at Ithaca


The EcoVillage in Ithaca was co-founded by Joan Bokaer and Liz Walker. It is 175 acres, houses 160 residents, and focuses on community. The village is constructed to maximize community interaction. Cars are parked on the outskirts of the property so children can play safely and people can walk from house to house. There are a few communal meals every week. Resources, tools, and appliances are shared, to conserve money and resources.

The village also works to produce its own food. There are two farms: a ten-acre organic vegetable and fruit farm, and a five-acre berry farm. There is also a village root cellar.

Community members are expected to volunteer a couple of hours a week for maintenance, cooking, finances, and other such tasks that help the community as a whole.

The EcoVillage also has green buildings. The people in the village use 40% less energy than other middle class American households. They have low-flow toilets and faucets, shared heating systems between houses, and solar panels that are newly purchased and should pay off in fifteen years. Their environmental footprint is 70% less than the average American.

The people at the EcoVillage show that when we work together, we can make bigger changes. By sharing utilities, they can reduce energy costs. By focusing on building community instead of roads and strip malls, there is a safe, welcoming environment to raise children. They conserve money and resources by sharing, such as by having clothing swaps and cooking meals for the village to share. Their community shows us that while individually we are small, together we can make something great.


Athletic Shoes

Nike collects worn-out athletic shoes and uses pre-consumer shoe waste to make a material called Nike Grind, which is made of rubber, foam, and fabric. The material is used to make athletic and playground surfaces. 1.5 million pairs of shoes are collected each year.

The Nike Reuse-A-Shoe Program accepts shoes of any brand. They can be brought to a Reuse-A-Shoe collection location (at most Nike and Converse retail stores) or mailed to Nike’s recycling facility. They do not accept sandals, flip-flops, dress shoes, boots, or shoes with metal like cleats. If the shoes still have life in them, consider bringing them to a thrift store or other clothing collections.



Tennis Balls

Project Green Ball accepts old tennis balls with no bounce in them and is working on creating different surfaces with them. So far, it has created two equestrian arena turfs, and they are working on making tennis-ball based playgrounds.



Caps-n-cups accepts cleaned caps from soda bottles, shampoo, milk jugs, etc.



The Recycling Center of America accepts and recycles CDs, DVDs, and even cracked CD cases and sleeves. The only price you pay is to ship them.



Keys for Kindness accepts keys and melts them down to scrap metal. The metal is sold and all profits are donated to finding a cure for multiple sclerosis.


Wine Corks

Wine corks are collected by this group to protect the cork trees. The cork is recycled into many different products, depending upon the material. They have a wide array of drop-off locations, and likely one very close to you!


Do you have electronics that no longer work? Consider dropping them off at Staples or Best Buy.

Staples offers quotes for old technology devices, and will pay you in Staples rewards. For devices no longer working, Staples will accept them for free and recycle them, even if they were purchased somewhere else. Staples accepts many items including computers, keyboards, shredders, DVD players, and rechargeable batteries.

A list of items Staples accepts for recycling can be found here: http://www.staples.com/sbd/cre/marketing/easy-on-the-planet/recycling-and-eco-services.html

Staples also accepts empty ink and toner cartridges. You get $2 in Staple Rewards for each one.

Best Buy accepts a wide array of electronics for recycling, including TVs, rechargeable batteries, video game gadgets, and cameras. For the full list, see:


For every minute Best Buy stores are open, they collect more than 400 pounds of product for recycling.


Giving Without Wasting: Statistics on Wrapping Paper and Ideas for Alternatives


  • Between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day, waste in American households increases by 25%.
  • Americans use 40 million tons of paper products each year to wrap gifts.
  • Every year, 38,000 miles of ribbon is thrown away.
  • The lamination and dyes in wrapping paper, while making the wrapping pretty, make it very difficult to recycle.

Wrapping Sustainably:

  • Use reusable fabric bags. My mother made over fifty pillow-case shaped bags in different sizes with Christmas-decorated cloth. All we have to do to wrap a present is tie a ribbon around the bag, which makes wrapping quick and easy. Using reusable bags will reduce your trash and will save you money in the long run.
  • Save newspaper and magazine pages. Small gifts can be wrapped in the pages of magazines, and the rest can be wrapped in newspaper.
  • Buy recycled wrapping paper.
  • Upcycle containers to make gift boxes. Use cereal boxes, oatmeal canisters, aluminum cans, and whatever else you were planning on throwing out. Reusing is always better than recycling.


Reducing waste does not have to ruin your Christmas. There are lots of alternatives that can be just as fun and just as beautiful.


Detroit is Thirsty for Justice

Since spring, Governor Snyder’s Emergency Management decree has forced the city into bankruptcy and water has been shut off for all households who have not paid their bills in two months. So far, 27,000 households have had their water services disconnected, at an average of about 3,000 customers per week. Officials say customers owe more than $115 million in water payments collectively. The Emergency Management bill was passed in December of 2012 (even though it was voted down by public referendum) and gives government dictatorial powers.

People are being forced to choose between paying rent and paying for water. They are not being warned before their water is shut down. Local activists are appealing for international intervention, and the UN says this is against human rights.Water-Meme