Celebrating Earth Day with Carolyn Chase, ’78

Carolyn Chase’s secret to fitting several dynamic careers into one is simple: She has a musician’s respect for time.

“Music is about the passage of sound in time,” says Chase, who minored in music at UC San Diego’s Revelle College. “A musician has to have a great relationship with time. Integrity with time allows you to do so much more.”

In the two decades since she turned San Diego Earth Day into the world’s largest free annual environmental fair, Chase has brought clarity and vigor to the social activism arena. Whether she is negotiating with builders over traffic routes in a development, or teaming up with elected officials on both sides of the partisan aisle, Chase is a political action entrepreneur. She identifies unique needs, leverages finite resources and recruits diverse allies to advance community goals.

“It’s critical for me to be for  things and not just against them,” she says. “You have to build the world you want to live in.”

As a UC San Diego computer science major, Chase was impressed that “our professors were always inventing things and starting their own businesses.” After graduation, she took her start-up mindset into the nonprofit world. As co-founder and CEO of San Diego EarthWorks, Chase coordinates scores of sponsors and legions of workers for the annual April mega-event.

“Earth Day isn’t just a huge party,” she says. “Many organizations tell us it’s their biggest recruiting day of the year. We are very big on measuring results. We give volunteers a maximum amount of responsibility, and we are inclusive of a wide area of interests and issues.”

To advance environmentalism, Chase has written newspaper columns, served on the San Diego Planning Commission and held leadership posts in the Sierra Club, which she joined as a undergraduate. She is currently focused on San Diego’s regional transportation plan.

Chase returned to the university in October 2009 to organize the Bright Green Future Conference, featuring a lecture by Prince Albert II of Monaco, who received UC San Diego’s 2009 Roger Revelle Prize for his global environmentalism. At the awards ceremony, Chase said, “I was thrilled to hear Chancellor Fox say that UC San Diego is committed to being a ‘zero waste’ university. It’s easier to get the right projects into 20- or 30-year plans than to fix bad projects 20 or 30 years later.”

To learn more about Earth Month events at UC San Diego, click here