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.
She'll use the solo row as a fund-raiser for Plastic Ocean Foundation, a UK charity working to tackle the problem of plastics pollution. She also plans to collect ocean-water samples that will be turned over to scientists for micro-plastics research.
Hammond will leave Monterey on June 7, and the adventure will take her into the deep blue of the Pacific for an estimated 2,400 miles. She figures the toughest part will be "getting used to a really harsh and difficult environment."
Planning for this trip involves preparing for seasickness; individually pre-wrapping calorie-packed meals; getting comfortable with the idea of strapping into a harness and holing up in the boat's tiny cabin should stormy weather cause the vessel to capsize; learning navigation by sea; and familiarizing herself with the solar-powered GPS and other essential on-board technologies.
Hammond plans to live-tweet the experience, using a satellite phone. That relates to her solo journey's second theme: Promoting gender equality and female empowerment. To support her efforts, "People can nominate an inspirational woman of their choice," and donors can specify which mile of the 2,400-mile row will be dedicated to their selected heroine.
Hammond will name-drop them on Twitter as she completes each appointed mile. "All the way around the boat will be the names of these women," she noted, a kind of protection for her daring three-month challenge.
To learn more, visit www.elsahammond.com .
On the 11th day of every month since an earthquake triggered Japan's Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant meltdown in March 2011, Berkeley resident Chizu Hamada has led a cohort of anti-nuclear activists to San Francisco's Japanese Consulate. Time after time, they show up to deliver correspondence directed to the Japanese Prime Minister, relating to the ongoing impacts of the nuclear disaster.
Called No Nukes Action, her group includes Japanese activists who've closely followed the ongoing developments of remediation, radiation testing, health impacts, and governmental initiatives to re-start nuclear reactors across Japan. Their letters ask pointed questions of the Japanese government, and call for a shift away from reliance on nuclear power.
But while a previous consul was more sympathetic to their cause, showing up each month to receive the letter in person (his wife was rumored to be from Fukushima), Hamada reports that a staffing change has left them out in the cold.
When Hamada and a group of about 25 arrived at the new Japanese Consulate location at 275 Battery St. on April 11, there was no one to greet them and accept the letter. One of the group members ventured beyond the front lobby to hand-deliver it, only to be threatened with arrest for trespassing.
"She wanted to give the letter, that is it," Hamada wrote in an email. "We wonder why they are afraid of receiving the letter. Japanese officials have the duty to receive the letter from a citizen."
Meanwhile, an ongoing effort to employ citizen scientists for a crowdsourcing effort to test for low-level radiation along the West Coast has produced some interesting preliminary results. Created by research scientist Ken Buesseler of Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution to test for long-term impacts from Fukushima, the ambitious project aims to measure whether low-level radiation has reached North America's western shores. Samples from Point Reyes, La Jolla, and two Washington locations "show no detectable Fukushima cesium," according to results posted Jan. 28.
However, "the results provide a key baseline from the West Coast prior to the arrival of the Fukushima plume," according to an update on the project website, ourradioactiveocean.org. "Models of ocean currents and cesium transport predict that the plume will arrive along the northern sections of the North American Pacific Coast (Alaska and northern British Columbia) sometime in the spring of 2014 and will arrive along the Washington, Oregon, and California coastline over the coming one to two years. ... We expect levels of cesium-134 to become detectable in coming months."
Get some fresh air and do your part at these planetary happenings.
Earth Day San Francisco Action Parade and Rally Sat/19, 11am-3:30pm, free. This march for climate justice will start from Justin Herman Plaza and end at UN Plaza with a 1pm rally, featuring talks by Bill McKibben, author and founder of 350.org, and other notable environmentalists. Join by bike, on foot, or with some other form of carbon-free transportation. For more information, visit 350bayarea.org.
Earth Day Festival Sat/19, UN Plaza, 10am-6pm, free. This daylong festival will feature live musical performances, talks by renowned environmentalists including Bill McKibben, Leila Salazar-Lopez of Amazon Watch, Green Festivals director Kevin Danaher, Cal Academy of Sciences Director of Sciences and Sustainability Margaret Lowman, and more. Also check out green exhibitors, eco-fashion shows, organic cooking demos, information on green jobs, an electric vehicle showcase, and green D.I.Y. workshops. For more, visit earthdaysf.org.
People's Earth Day Sat/26, Bayview Hunters Point, SF. 11am, free. Join Greenaction, the Huntersview Mothers and Fathers Committee, residents, cancer survivors and grassroots groups from Bayview Hunters Point and other low-income communities impacted by pollution for the People's Earth Day: Environmental Justice Walk Against Cancer and Pollution. Meet at 10:30am in front of Martin Luther King Jr. Park, in the 5700 block of Third Street at Carroll.
Oakland Earth Day Sat/26, various locations, Oakland. Free. More than 3,000 volunteers will to help clean and green over 90 locations throughout Oakland. The first 2,000 Oakland Earth Day volunteers will receive a complimentary reusable bag, snacks from Cliff Bar and Numi Tea, and a Chinook Book smart phone app with coupons for green products and service from East Bay businesses. For more, visit tinyurl.com/oakday14.
Rebecca Bowe is the Bay Guardian's news editor. Send environmental news items to email@example.com.