Based on Earth

Thinking ahead to 2050, voyaging solo across the Pacific, celebrating earth Day ... Our new environmental column looks at how we're living within the natural world


BASED ON EARTH San Francisco is often celebrated as one of the greenest cities in America. It's known for an eco-conscious citizenry and legislative hallmarks that banned plastic bags, made composting commonplace, and got everyone buying into the idea that mindful city dwellers would someday send no waste to the landfill.

Earthlings lucky enough to reside in the Bay Area live amid some of the most breathtaking natural landscapes in the nation. People here have made entire careers out of pushing for energy-efficient technologies, shoring up wildlife protections, advocating for sustainable transportation, promoting environmental justice, fighting the oil industry, or leading kids on nature trips.

Nevertheless, with very few exceptions, local media often fails to dedicate space to environmental coverage. While we stay glued to topsy-turvy political battles and boom-and-bust economic cycles, nature hums away somewhere in the background, walled off from our frenzied lives.

Think of this monthly column as one tiny gesture to bridge that gap. Although it might seem abstract at times, the environmental challenges facing our society — climate change, drought, water degradation, air pollution, deforestation, mass extinction, ocean acidification — threaten very real consequences for our lives. They carry even heavier implications for generations that haven't yet arrived. So in honor of Earth Day, here are some tidbits (plus events!) dedicated to the planet that's keeping us alive.



Earlier this month, the Bay Area Air Quality Management District — tasked with the serious business of protecting air quality in the nine-county Bay Area — announced that it had approved a new regional climate action plan that gazes far into the future.

It grew out the district's move last November to approve a Climate Protection Resolution. That document established a goal of dramatically reducing greenhouse gas emissions, to 80 percent below 1990 levels, by 2050. Think about that for a minute — in 2050, babies born in 2014 will be celebrating their 36th birthdays.

Among other things, the plan calls for monitoring greenhouse gas emissions such as methane and carbon dioxide, developing a "regional climate action strategy" to get other local entities on board with meeting this sweeping emissions reduction goal, and tasking the district's advisory council with investigating how plans for the region's energy future jive with the carbon reduction target.

The long-term goal matches what was set out in an executive order by Gov. Jerry Brown, and complements planning efforts already underway at state, regional, and local levels.

"Climate change poses one of the greatest air quality challenges of our era," Jack Broadbent, the district's executive officer, said when the plan was announced. And that's just the climate change impact that's within the district's purview, unlike sea-level rise and other bedeviling challenges.



Elsa Hammond is not your typical boating enthusiast. The Bristol, England resident has been engaging in intense training in preparation for her upcoming solo voyage, which will take her across the Pacific Ocean from Monterey to Hawaii in a 24-foot, solar-powered vessel. She'll make the journey under her own power, by rowing.

"It's kind of an extreme form of sustainable transportation," Hammond said in a recent Skype interview, as we chatted about her underlying environmental mission. Hammond's journey will send her skirting around the edge of the vast spiral of debris known as the Pacific Gyre, or the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.