Written by Connie Yoon

When one steps outside of their apartment in the one square mile that is Isla Vista, they are immediately hit with a cool, salty sea breeze. It is a haven of the community, sitting on the edge of the continent where sunsets only fail to paint the sky with hues of orange and pink when the cool ocean fog blankets the sky. One of UC Santa Barbara’s main draws is its seaside location, an oasis that makes going to school feel like a four-year vacation. Yet without an intervention to combat climate change, this will not be a reality for long. This is one of the reasons why UC Santa Barbara is committed to its vision for Carbon Neutrality by 2025.

Since UC Santa Barbara performed its first GHG emissions inventory in 2007, the campus has reduced its climate impact dramatically. By 2014, UC Santa Barbara had already met the goal of reducing GHG emissions below 1990 levels. In 2019, campus operational GHG emissions were about 20% below 1990 levels despite an almost doubling in campus building space. UC Santa Barbara also has 6.2 megawatts of on-site solar energy, which provides approximately 15% of UC Santa Barbara’s electrical demand and up to 35% on clear spring and summer days. 

In July 2020, UC Santa Barbara joined the UC Wholesale Power Program which provides 100% carbon-free power verified to The Climate Registry (TCR) standards. The University of California Office of the President (UCOP) administers the Wholesale Power Program (WPP) on behalf of participating University of California campuses and medical centers. 

The larger UC System just took on two new major energy projects to help propel UC campuses to carbon neutrality by 2025: the construction of a new biogas plant and a utility-scale solar array that generates electricity. These projects not only reduce energy costs but bring the University of California almost halfway to its 2025 carbon neutrality goals. “Taken together, the projects will supply to UC campuses energy equivalent to the amount used by 15,000 California homes.”

While these institutional initiatives are crucial to combating climate change, the UC Santa Barbara community also has an important role to play in helping our community meet the carbon neutrality goal. A new partnership with the Cool Block program provides an opportunity for students to come together in a community where they will learn how to integrate sustainable and low carbon practices into their lifestyles while also building friendships and learning leadership skills. The focus is on what students can do as individuals to build an environmentally conscious Isla Vista community that will keep our beaches and mountains clean for many years to come. 

Shaelyn McHugh, a recent UC Santa Barbara graduate of the class of 2020, was an integral player in bringing this initiative to UC Santa Barbara. She describes the Cool Block program as attractive to students because it gives them a step-by-step process to address climate change while also measuring the tangible results. Students who participate work in groups for an 8-topic program, during which they meet weekly to cover a range of subjects, including action items that allow them to measure and reduce their household carbon footprint. Ultimately, the physical block that students live on together is brought into this community-based initiative. 

Obviously, under COVID-19 restrictions, the in-person aspect of Cool Block is not an option. However, Shaelyn recalls that when she participated in the program at the onset of the pandemic, the remote Zoom aspect of Cool Block gave her a unique and engaging way to meet like-minded people during a time when isolation and loneliness were permeating people’s lives. She says, “Community is really important in isolation so it’s an added bonus to do Cool Block. It’s a great way to meet people and you don’t have to be face to face to do it, and you can make a real impact.” 

Over 250 UCSB students have already participated in Cool Block, through a class called “The World in 2025”. Their reflections concur with McHugh: 

  • Our group was energetic, collaborative, kind, and really supportive of one another. We’re grateful that we were given a chance to work with other students through this process. 
  • The Cool Block program is successful in bringing people together. I think we greatly benefited from being different, as  each person brought a unique perspective to the group.
  • Because we were also scattered throughout different areas [due to the pandemic] we were able to bring awareness to the program with our families and communities.
  • Not only have we attempted to shift our homes into carbon-neutral ones, but we also realize the rewarding reality that our endeavor brings. 

This 2020-21 school year, UCSB’s Cool Block program will be an ongoing journey that any student can join. Amidst the stress of a busy school year and outside responsibilities, this initiative lays out a meaningful way for them to feel empowered to make a change and address a sense of urgency about climate change. 

UCSB and Isla Vista are sandwiched between the shining Pacific Ocean and the evergreen Los Padres National Forest, making it a hub for nature lovers. This proximity is exactly what gives the campus an increased environmental consciousness. Students are already prone to activism and Cool Block serves to only further build on that and bring the entire community together in leading actively sustainable lifestyles to create a carbon neutral Isla Vista by 2025. 

If you want to be a part of the movement, learn more and sign up for a Cool Block information session here.