‘Not silent anymore’: La Jolla senior citizens take up advocacy for butterflies, climate, more

Seniors at White Sands La Jolla have been boosting the monarch butterfly population, among other environmental projects.
Senior citizens at White Sands La Jolla have been boosting the monarch butterfly population, among other environmental projects.
(Courtesy of Carol Studebaker)

Ken King, Carol Studebaker and about a dozen other residents of the White Sands La Jolla retirement community are trying to metamorphosize the way their generation views the environment.

The group calls itself the Green Committee, chaired by King and Studebaker but formed years ago to promote “environmentally sensitive policies and behaviors” through research, education and advocacy, Studebaker said.

The committee works with the White Sands administration and residents to develop and implement programs and “encourage personal habits that will minimize the negative impact on the environment,” she said.

The group meets bimonthly, currently on Zoom due to the coronavirus pandemic, and often invites speakers to address the committee about local issues.

The Green Committee’s most recent project was adding milkweed gardens on residents’ patios to help boost the western monarch butterfly population.

The number of western monarch butterflies dropped from nearly 1 million 20 years ago to 1,900 in 2020, Studebaker said. “Pesticides in agriculture, the development of homes [and] most of all the fires and the smoke up in the Northern California area created a real decimation of population,” she said.

To raise consciousness, four White Sands residents began the patio butterfly gardens last year and released about 20 monarch butterflies, Studebaker said. The milkweed plants they nurtured provided the butterflies places to feed and lay eggs.

This year, she said, “we have 15 people that are enthusiastic about doing it because it’s something that elders can do on your patio, on your balcony, with very little effort other than enjoying watching the process take place.”

White Sands residents took an Earth Day trip to a butterfly garden in Encinitas.
(Courtesy of Ken King)

The group also took a trip to a butterfly garden in Encinitas on Earth Day, April 22, for inspiration and education.

The Green Committee has taken on other projects as well, such as container recycling after a pandemic-related shutdown led White Sands to have all residents’ meals delivered three times daily.

“People were very concerned about the amount of trash they had,” King said, “so I jumped on that and wrote a few articles for our internal newsletter, Sandpiper,” encouraging residents to “put two trash sacks outside their door — one for regular garbage and one for recycling — and told them how the maintenance or housekeeping staff would collect those and keep them separate.”

“We are minimizing the amount that goes to the landfill,” he said.

Another program the committee implemented is aimed at recycling batteries, eyeglasses and hearing aids.

King and Studebaker write weekly “green tips” for the Sandpiper, addressing a variety of issues regarding trash and recycling.

Studebaker said one issue that affects those living near the ocean is face masks being discarded without cutting the ear loops to prevent marine animals from becoming entangled.

King said one of his tips involved disposal of expired medications, with directions not to flush or throw them away but to turn them in to collection programs at local pharmacies.

King and Studebaker are both longtime La Jollans who moved to White Sands nearly two years ago with their spouses but didn’t know each other before then.

They found they shared “a sense of appreciation and love for nature and the planet,” Studebaker said.

“Carol and I make a good team,” King said. “I’m sort of a science nerd engineer and I love data ... and Carol is more of an advocate, signing petitions and doing a lot of those things. So it’s a good combination … of her energy and enthusiasm and my research.”

King said a “large majority [of White Sands residents] are very concerned about climate change and the planet.”

“Most of the residents here are in the generation between the Greatest Generation and the Baby Boomers, born between 1929 and 1945, what we call the Silent Generation,” King said.

“The Silent Generation is not so silent anymore,” he said, having borne witness across “enough decades to really see a change for the worse” regarding climate.

“Concern about the future for our children and children’s children is a driving force” in the raised consciousness about climate change, Studebaker said. “We still have the energy, the mental capabilities, and often it takes money as well to pursue and support and be involved in these activities.”

She said she plans to focus the committee’s next activities on “more ocean consciousness and what can we do as seniors ... how can we get involved, how can we spread this kind of information to our families?”

King said he hopes to lean on the “great resource here with Scripps Institution of Oceanography” in La Jolla, which has “a plethora of speakers and data that we can collect” to raise help awareness.

Until then, he and Studebaker will keep watching their environmental efforts — and their butterflies — emerge. ◆