Big Sur and California’s Beloved Coastline

This post is part of our Earth Week blog series. Check back every day between now and Friday for new blog posts. 

by Shelley Alden Brooks, author of Big Sur: The Making of a Prized California Landscape

California’s world-famous coastline is integral to the state’s economy, to residents’ sense of well-being, and to the California Dream, but only since the 1970s has a groundswell of support emerged to protect this prized resource from spoliation. Alarm over rapid change along the coast, including its deterioration from residential and commercial development, disappearing wetlands, new marinas, and the proposed freeways and nuclear plants, catalyzed the people who had come to know the coast as the geographic “soul” of California. In 1976, the state legislature passed the Coastal Act to make permanent the California Coastal Commission, an agency created out of a ballot initiative passed four years earlier. The Coastal Commission’s efforts to guide sustainable coastal land use and increase coastal access have prompted support and appreciation from many Californians, as well as emulation from coastal governments around the country and the world. But there has also been pushback and resistance from the California industries, government officials, and private citizens who believe the Coastal Act gave the state agency too much power to regulate private property.

My book explores how locals in Big Sur (an exceptionally beautiful 75-mile stretch of California’s central coast) have worked alongside county and state officials to seek a balance between the priorities of preservation and property rights. Built into the parameters of Big Sur’s well-preserved scenery is an unusual conviction that preservation and habitation can be mutually supportive endeavors. In part this has been achieved because Monterey County and Big Sur residents began in the mid twentieth century to pioneer open-space planning, conservation easements, intergovernmental collaboration and citizen activism, and transfer development credits to accommodate the needs of Big Sur’s natural and human communities. But Big Sur’s unique status also derives from the mystique created by iconic writers such as Robinson Jeffers and Henry Miller who used their talents to showcase this unusual meeting of beauty and culture. Today, the name ‘Big Sur’ conjures up images of a place uniquely Californian, carved out of the geologic and cultural forces of which the state has a disproportionate share. While Big Sur’s well-preserved vistas and minimal development embody the Coastal Act’s mission, its high-end real estate and vacation homes reflect the steep social costs associated with preservation.

Big Sur, like any landscape, is not static; shifting economic realities and perceptions of nature’s worth can alter the place. Ansel Adams acknowledged this in 1980 when he unsuccessfully campaigned for a federal seashore. However, if the integrity of Big Sur’s Coastal Commission-approved land use plan is maintained, including the protection of Highway 1 as a two-lane road, minimal change will come to the built environment. But it is not so much the physical boundaries (though these are formidable) that prevent overdevelopment in Big Sur, as the social boundaries erected to preserve something unique along the California coast. Considerable momentum backs the commitment to Big Sur’s wild and storied land, and the status of both of these elements will continue to reveal a good deal about Californians’ relationship to their beloved coast.

Shelley Alden Brooks teaches Twentieth-Century U.S., California, and Environmental History at the University of California, Davis. She also works for the California History-Social Science Project and serves on the statewide Environmental Literacy Steering Committee.

The Intersection of Religion and Environmental Activism

by Amanda J. Baugh, author of God and the Green Divide: Religious Environmentalism in Black and White

On Monday afternoon, the Rev. Canon Sally Bingham spoke in front of the office of Senator Dianne Feinstein as part of #DayAgainstDenial, a nationwide series of events asking senators to block climate change deniers from serving in the Trump cabinet. Leaders of the ecumenical Christian group Creation Justice Ministries and the Coalition on the Environment in Jewish Life, and even evangelical and Catholic pro-life Christian groups have also banded together to oppose the appointment of Scott Pruitt to head the EPA. These groups appeal to their scriptures and faith traditions as they urge legislators to advance a biblical mandate to be good stewards of God’s Creation.

This type of religiously grounded environmental activism has become increasingly prevalent in the last decade, but the motivations inspiring religious communities to act are much more complicated than a simple hunch that God wants us to “go green.”

In God and the Green Divide, I examine religious environmental organizing in Chicago to show how dynamics of race, ethnicity, and class have shaped contemporary “greening of religion” movements. Focusing on the interfaith environmental organization Faith in Place, I analyze differing environmental values and motivations among the organization’s black and white participants. Faith in Place’s leaders suggested that every religion supports concern for the earth so all people of faith must take measures to protect the planet. Yet participants engaged in environmental activism based on a complex set of factors specific to their own communities, including concerns about job opportunities and health, urgencies of displaying positive civic identity, and feelings of guilt that arise from white privilege. Attending to the complex array of factors that shape individuals’ decisions to “go green” can offer a more complete understanding of the intersection of contemporary religious and environmental worlds.

Amanda J. Baugh is Assistant Professor of Religion and Environment at California State University, Northridge.

2015 Ecological Society of America

Cast your academic fishing nets into the Chesapeake Bay with University of California Press during the 2015 Ecological Society of America meeting! This year’s ESA meeting convenes August 9-14 in Baltimore, MD.

Visit us at Baltimore Convention Center booths 307 and 309 to purchase our latest ecology and environment publications for the following offers:

  • 30% off conference discount and free worldwide shipping
  • Request exam copy requests for course adoption for your upcoming classes
  • Win $100 worth of books! Join our eNews subscription list for contest eligibility.

This year’s ESA meeting theme is “Ecological Science at the Frontier.” Our booth will feature groundbreaking and award winning titles exploring topics within ecology, conservation, marine biology, and environmental history.

Please see our conference program ad for our latest offerings. Acquisitions and marketing staff will be available for your publishing questions.

Follow ESA’s Twitter @esa_org and hashtag #ESA2015 for current meeting news.

Jon Christensen Interviewed in BayNature

I tell all of our writers that what we want to do in the pages of the magazine is, once a quarter, host one of the most lively, interesting, fun, and provocative dinner party conversations in California. It’s as if you’d invited a dozen of your friends, from all walks of life, over for dinner, and you’re having a super passionate conversation about the things you all care about. That’s the voice of Boom.

Boom: A Journal of California editor Jon Christensen talks to BayNature about his editorial vision for the quarterly journal, why he loves both Los Angeles and the Bay Area, and what intrigues him about people’s connection to the environment. Read the full interview here, then head over to Boom to browse the new Fall 2014 issue.

38th Parallel Authors Reflect on China’s New Environmental Policy

David and Janet Carle, authors of Traveling the 38th Parallel: A Water Line around the World, are optimistic that China’s recent decision to de-emphasize the pursuit of economic growth above all else will mean positive changes for the environment. During their travels along the 38th Parallel, the Carles experienced firsthand “the serious pollution problems generated by the nation’s recent push to grow, grow, grow.”

Read more at their blog, Parallel Universe 38°N.

In Memoriam: Robert C. Stebbins

Field Guide to Amphibians and Reptiles of CaliforniaUC Press is sad to note the passing of renowned herpetologist, Robert C. Stebbins, who died in his home on Monday at the age of 98. Stebbins was a Professor of Zoology at the University of California, Berkeley, a curator of the University’s Museum of Vertebrate Zoology, and the author of over a dozen books, including, most recently, Field Guide to Amphibians and Reptiles of California. Stebbins contributed richly detailed color paintings of the species in the book, just as he did for his landmark reference, A Field Guide to Western Reptiles and Amphibians.

Described by Alan St. John, author of Reptiles of the Northwest, as the “elder herpetological master of the American West,” Stebbins will be remembered for his groundbreaking scholarship in the field of Natural History, his passion for environmental education, his desert conservation efforts, and for the three amphibians and reptiles named after him: Ambystoma tigrinum stebbinsi, Anniella stebbinsi, and Batrachoseps stebbensi.

Harry W. Greene, a colleague of Stebbins’ and his successor at the Museum of Vertebrate Zoology, remembered him this way:

As a high school student, I first wrote to Bob Stebbins inquiring about careers in herpetology, and thus it was truly an honor, in 1978, to succeed him as a Curator of Herpetology in the Museum of Vertebrate Zoology. Of course Bob didn’t really retire, he just put all of his time and energy thereafter into field work, painting, public education, and conservation. He was wonderfully thoughtful to me, not once over the next 20 years commenting on ways I chose to do my job, yet always generous with advice when I asked for it. He was an understated but brilliant teacher, above all a superb naturalist, and he left a huge mark on the herpetology of western North America.

You can read tributes to Robert C. Stebbins at National Geographic, (bio)accumulationKPCC, and the Daily Cal.


Travelling the 38th Parallel: What’s Happening Now?

38th Parallel coverThree years ago, David and Janet Carle, authors of the new book Traveling the 38th Parallel, embarked on the trip of a lifetime. The former state park rangers from Mono Lake, California journeyed around the world along the 38th parallel in search of water-related environmental and cultural intersections.

We’ve followed their adventures before here on the UC Press blog, and as the book’s publication date nears, we give you this recent dispatch from the authors on a subject that ultimately became a key chapter in the book:

Audit, 1 year after completion of S. Korea’s 4 Rivers Restoration Project

An internal state audit of the 4 Rivers project (reported on January 19, 2013, at, by the Board of Audit and Inspection, found that “16 dams that were the key parts of the restoration project had problems in durability and safety. The report also claimed that ‘unreasonable management’ caused fears over deterioration of water quality. […] The findings suggest that the government rushed to complete the project before President Lee left office, causing breaches in quality control and exposing sign of shoddy construction.” The government disputed the findings, but scheduled its own audit.

Read on for more about the audit’s findings and to see the Carles’ controversial post about the project from 2010.

Visit David and Janet Carles’ blog Parallel Universe to learn about the dedicated individuals working to protect the fragile places along the water line, and to see more images, news, and reviews related to the book.

Halfway Around the World on the 38th Parallel

Since their last update from western China, David and Janet Carle have traveled to Turkmenistan’s capital city, Ashgabat—halfway around the world from their home in Mono Lake, California. Read on to hear more about their cultural adventures along Turkmenistan’s extensive canal system, and follow the links to their blog, Parallel Universe 38° North: The Water Line. The Carles’ book The 38th Parallel: A Water Line Around the World will be published by UC Press in Fall 2012.

David Carle is the author of several UC Press books about California’s environment, most recently Introduction to Earth, Soil, and Land in California.

In Turkmenistan: Half-way Around the World from Mono Lake

Near TashkorganHalf-way around the world from home, the GPS told us we had reached the 61°East longitude in Turkmenistan. The 38° latitude line intersects in Mono Lake with the 119°West longitude: 61 + 119 = 180° around the globe! Local clocks are 12 hours different from California (as bad a jet-lag problem as there can be, we would learn; after Turkmenistan we were homeward bound).

We landed in Ashgabat, the capital and largest city (37º58’N) and drove straight east toward Merv, the most influential ancient city they never taught us about in World History. Half-way there we stopped at that half-way around the world longitude point and took a photo beside a reservoir that stores Karakum Canal water. The canal was begun in 1954 when Turkmenistan was part of the U.S.S.R. and diverts 50% of the water that used to feed the Aral Sea, in Uzbekistan. It moves water almost 600 miles, one of the longest aqueducts in the world, to Ashgabat and to farms along the way.

Last Stops on the 38th Parallel, For Now

Janet and David Carle have completed their travels through Europe and Turkey, investigating water issues on the 38th parallel. Their last two stops in Turkey were the vast, alkaline Lake Van, and Hasankeyf, an ancient city on the Tigris River. In the fall, the Carles will continue their 38th parallel travels in Asia.

David Carle is the author of several UC Press books, including Introduction to Earth, Soil, and Land in California and Introduction to Water in California. The Carles’ exploration of water issues along the 38th parallel will form the basis for a future UC Press book. To read more, visit their blog, Parallel Universe: 38° North.

From David and Janet Carle’s blog, Parallel Universe: 38° North:

An Alkaline Inland Sea in Eastern Turkey

A vast inland sea with alkaline water whose strange chemistry produces large calcium carbonate structures underwater, in a dramatic setting with snow-covered mountain peaks, and a lake level that is thousands of feet above sea level…that sounds exactly like Mono Lake, our starting place for this 38th parallel exploration, but it also describes Lake Van, the largest lake in Turkey….Read More

Will Hasankeyf’s Heritage be Lost to a Tigris River Dam?

Hasankeyf (37°42’N; 41°24’E) is an ancient city carved into the rocky bluffs along the Tigris River. The site has been continuously occupied for more than 10,000 years, and its setting among rolling hills and sheer cliffs along the river is breathtakingly beautiful. The town is threatened by plans to build the Ilisu Dam on the Tigris River…Read More

Moving West on the 38th Parallel

David and Janet Carle, who set out last month on a worldwide tour of water and environment issues along the 38th parallel, are traveling west across the United States. After visiting the Mountain Keeper in West Virginia and joining a senior citizens’ protest against mountaintop removal coal mining, the Carles crossed into Kentucky’s horse country. There, they sampled Lexington’s racetrack lifestyle and, moving west, explored the ways human life intertwines with the state’s rivers and waterfronts, from the aftermath of a 2000 coal disaster to spectacular state parks, the site of an early pioneer settlement, and an Ohio River waterfront reclaimed from the shadow of a freeway.

The Carles are chronicling their travels on their blog, Parallel Universe: 38º North, and their journey will be the basis for a future UC Press book.

From Janet and David Carle’s blog, Parallel Universe: 38º North:

6a00d83453e6e169e20120a64503c8970c-120wi Seniors March Against Mountaintop Removal

Mountain Keeper Larry Gibson told us about a senior citizen
march protesting Mountain Top Removal (MTR) coal mining, which we joined this morning. The West Virginia State Capitol dome gleamed gold in the background as leaders from Climate Ground Zero , Mountain Justice and the Mountain Keepers Foundation addressed the walkers…. Read More

6a00d83453e6e169e20120a6450931970c-200wiThe Horse Capital of the World

Lexington, Kentucky bills itself as “The Horse Capital of the World.” In recent days we have explored Kentucky horse farms, the Kentucky Horse Park and International Museum of the Horse (38°08′, 84°30′), a racing stable, and spent a day at the races. What has all this got to do with our exploration of the 38th parallel?… Read More

6a00d83453e6e169e20120a5ee0e66970b-200wiRivers in Kentucky

We were not yet done with coal upon entering Eastern Kentucky. In fact, one of the worst coal industry disasters occurred there on October 11, 2000, when a sludge dam gave way and swept millions of gallons of toxic, black goo through the community of Inez, down Coldwater and Wolf creeks, and on down the Tug Fork clear to the Ohio River… Read More