This article by Leslie A. Westbrook originally appeared in the April 2021 issue of Hope Ranch Living.
It’s most fitting to introduce readers to Hope Ranch neighbor Laura Francis after the world celebrates Earth Day. The annual global environmental protection event was birthed in Santa Barbara in 1970, after the 1969 oil spill seen around the world that coated our ocean, shores and wildlife with the sticky goo that launched a movement. The Community Environmental Council (CEC) has been at the forefront of environmental protection and Laura is very involved as a board member and a fundraiser that includes her volunteer work on the development committee and as co-chair of the 50th Anniversary Campaign Committee.
“I’m excited and proud to be a board member at CEC, especially in this critical time of the climate crisis where bold and purposeful action is required. CEC is behind all of the wonderful things I love about living in Santa Barbara,” Laura enthused. “They led the nation in recycling in the 1970s, established community gardens, helped our city better manage waste, created community solar initiatives, supported the development of a healthy and just food system and they have been responsible for increasing awareness about and driving policy initiatives to reduce single-use plastics.”
Over the past 15 years, CEC has also taken a leadership role in creating ambitious equitable carbon zero goals and ensuring the Central Coast has the tools to reach them. Fortunately, with the Biden Administration rejoining the Paris Climate Accord, there should be some additional tailwinds to support this effort at the national level.
“One new area I am particularly excited about is regenerative agriculture and nature-based solutions to remove excess carbon from the atmosphere. CEC is really at the cutting edge of innovation in the regional climate movement to deploy bold, equitable solutions and lead the state in climate action. They do this in an inclusive way that supports and safeguards frontline communities who are at the greatest risk for negative climate impacts,” the environmentalist notes.
In addition to her CEC involvement, Laura also walks the walk. She has been driving an electric vehicle since 2011. Her home has a new battery storage system and solar panels that feed the grid during the daytime with power generated by the sun. She opts for reusable containers over single-use plastics and has recently changed to a more plant-based diet. And Laura loves riding her recently purchased electric bicycle through the Hope Ranch neighborhood and along the “wonderful” bike path out to Goleta Beach.
“I have lived in the Santa Barbara area for over 30 years and moved to Hope Ranch several years ago. I love the location, the friendly neighbors, and of course, the beauty of Hope Ranch! I love walking my dog in the neighborhood and saying hello to the neighbors who are out and about. I also love long beach walks on Hendry’s beach both with friends and sometimes on my own, for some quiet meditation time.”
Laura’s interest and passion in the environment and the ocean was first sparked at age 11, during a sixth grade Brandon school class field trip to Santa Cruz Island. On the Island Packers boat (her first time on such a vessel), she marveled at the amazing sea creatures. That early excitement eventually led to biology studies at Cal Berkeley, followed by further studies at Monash University in Australia, where she visited the Great Barrier Reef.
Upon completing her degree, Laura began her teaching career, sharing her knowledge with children at Catalina Island Marine Institute. She returned to Santa Barbara to earn her Master in Deep Sea Biology at UCSB, studying creatures that live on the heat and chemicals from the hydrothermal vents deep on the ocean floor. After graduate school, she taught marine biology at Anacapa School, hired by the same teacher who originally inspired Laura’s love for the ocean on her sixth grade field trip.
Subsequent to diving in deep sea submersibles, graduate school, and teaching, Laura has worked for NOAA—the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration— at the Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary in Santa Barbara, spending 25 years immersed in educational outreach at the growing institution dedicated to studying, protecting, and conserving the marine environment.
In her role at NOAA, Laura is currently working on writing the sanctuary’s climate action and continues to lead a variety of projects and programs that include professional development for teachers and creating education and outreach materials for the public that increase ocean awareness and stewardship.
Laura is also a trained Climate Reality leader who participated in a Climate Reality training in Los Angeles in 2018. Climate Reality Leadership Corps are two-to-three day immersive events tailored to have a particular focus on local and regional climate impacts and solutions.
“The goal of the training was to provide participants with up-to-date tools and information on local and regional climate impacts so they can better communicate the urgency of the climate crisis to their families, communities, work and volunteer networks and inspire positive action,” Laura said.
Climate Reality, a project founded by Al Gore, aims to catalyze a global solution to the climate crisis by making urgent action a necessity across every sector of society.
She is also a mother, and the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. Laura’s son Jayden, 19, is an undergraduate student at the University of Chicago. When asked about his thoughts on saving the planet, he told his mom:
“It is the inherited responsibility of my generation to solve the imminent climate crisis that we face in order to ensure that our children can have the same quality of life, or maybe even a better one, than we do.” Jayden also recently texted his mom to tell her that he is cutting red meat from his diet. “A big deal for him,” Laura noted, “because he loves hamburgers!”
In addition to working at the National Park Service, National Marine Sanctuary System, and as a teacher and environmental educator, Laura is also involved with Toniic, a global action network for impact investors; Rachel’s Network (named after environmentalist Rachel Carson), which is a vibrant community of women philanthropists who catalyze collective power for a healthy, thriving world; and the Santa Barbara Women’s Fund, a collective donor group that enables women to combine their charitable dollars into significant grants with a focus on women and children.
“Having a life purpose has been grounding for me and feels especially meaningful during this tumultuous time on our planet. I feel that my purpose is to engage with projects and promote initiatives that help create a healthy, sustainable ocean and environment.” Laura concluded, “I believe in providing support and resources to raise public awareness and inspire action to improve the health of our planet’s life support system.”