As wildfires rage, unprecedented heat waves kill and cities are drowned in heavy rain, climate dread is turning to climate grief for many people.
A recent investigation into what happens to San Francisco’s recycling brought largely positive news: 81 percent of what residents deposit into their blue bins is recycled. That rate is among the highest in the nation. But the bigger picture of waste disposal in San Francisco is not so rosy. The city is far from reaching its ultimate goal of zero waste — and officials say it may never get there if manufacturers don’t change their ways.
Bay Area political leaders are throwing cold water on a controversial work-from-home rule proposed by the Metropolitan Transportation Commission as part of a regional climate change plan. The proposed mandate, part of a long-term sustainability initiative called Plan Bay Area 2050, would require the majority of office workplaces to ensure 60% of their employees are working from home on any given day.
Tens of thousands of people are facing evacuation orders and threats to their safety as fires continue to blaze across the Western United States. These disastrous fires are one of the effects of climate change that scientists predicted, said climate activist Laura Neish, executive director of 350 Bay Area and 350 Bay Area Action.
Some two dozen wildfires are burning around the state, and Bay Area residents woke up Wednesday to an eerie artificial smoky twilight. A major factor in the ever-increasing severity of these wildfires is climate change — while fires are a natural occurrence in California, fire season has been steadily expanding, and the fires are getting more ferocious over the years.
Community-centered approaches are key to Oakland’s Equitable Climate Action Plan, approved unanimously by the City Council in July. It is designed to “bring about a just transition to a low carbon future” with green jobs and measures to mitigate the disparities felt by communities affected by climate change, according to a statement by Mayor Libby Schaaf.
But the plan doesn’t have guaranteed funding from the city government. For organizers, that’s a problem. “We need money to pay people to do work,” said Phoenix Armenta, who works with an environmental justice group.
City officials advised San Francisco residents to stay indoors wherever possible with the windows shut to protect against smoke from wildfires that has blanketed the region. On Wednesday afternoon, air quality was designated as unhealthy, though it has fluctuated. If smoke pollution deteriorates air quality to “very unhealthy,” the city will open respite centers, officials said in a press conference.
San Francisco may be edging closer to its climate goals with an ordinance requiring all new construction to use electric power rather than gas. But the next step down that road involves retrofitting old buildings — and it could add costs low-income residents can’t afford.
The last few years’ fires are all blurring into one for Jessica Tovar, an Oakland resident and advocate at the nonprofit Local Clean Energy Alliance, a renewable energy advocacy group. “I had an office that you could see the port of Oakland from, and in those times, you could not see the port because the smoke was so thick,” she said. Oakland was among the worst-hit cities when smoke from the 2017 Tubbs wildfires spread to the areas around San Francisco Bay, lowering air quality to levels comparable to Beijing, some of the worst in the world. As California’s fall wildfire season approaches, mask shortages mean Oakland residents are at risk of exposure to both coronavirus and to toxic smoke. Tovar, who frequently interacts with underserved Oakland residents, echoed the concerns of advocacy organizations that distribute masks.
Public Press Executive Director Michael Stoll talks with journalist Kevin Stark about Stark’s reporting that showed how local governments were slow in responding to the predicted effects of sea level rise on the Bay Area waterfront. “So I think the scientists were hesitant to get out and say you shouldn’t be building, but what they were saying is that you should be planning for the future in a way that recognizes that the water is going to rise, and you need to either learn to live with it, or you’re going to regret it.” — Journalist Kevin Stark
Greg Dalton, founder and host of Climate One, talks with Civic about facilitating productive conversations about the environment and climate change. Plus, a quick look at sea level rise on the San Francisco waterfront. “The lack of action on climate is not because of dearth of facts, there’s enough books and podcasts and radio shows and peer-reviewed journal articles. … there’s denial, many forms of denial.” — Greg Dalton