Category Archives: Sea level rise

SF Chron Perspective: Facing the coming flood with a sense of optimism

Repost from the San Francisco Chronicle

Facing the coming flood with sense of optimism

By Caille Millner, Oct. 19, 2018 2:12 p.m.
The 2017 Russian River flood in Guerneville. A new U.N. climate report says we have about 12 years to do something huge on climate change. Photo: Santiago Mejia / The Chronicle 2017

After I read the United Nations’ new apocalyptic climate change report, I looked to see when my house was going to be underwater.

For this grim task, I set out to model different possibilities with an online sea level rise tool from Cal-Adapt, a public database for research from California scientists and researchers. (Isn’t the internet amazing? It provides those of us who believe in climate change with all the tools we need to find out when it’s going to swallow us whole, and those of us who aren’t willing to be convinced with all the conspiracy theories we need for political arguments.)

I zoomed in to my street and tried the tool’s first option, “no rise.”

My neighborhood remained gray and dry, untouched by the neon blues of inundation.

Comforted, I tried half a meter. That’s about 1.6 feet, which sounded like a lot until I remembered that the California Coastal Commission has told cities to be prepared for more than 10 feet of ocean rise by 2100.

My house wasn’t underwater yet, but suddenly I could no longer get downtown. Nearly 10 feet of water had inundated the area just north of Mission Bay. San Francisco had lost an Interstate 280 exit, and it’s pretty much assured that all of my Muni buses were getting re-routed as well.

I switched to 1 meter (about 3.3 feet).

My house was still OK, but the water was approaching fast.

Many buildings in the surrounding neighborhoods, including Mission Bay and the Dogpatch, were underwater at least some of the time. The Bayview and Hunters Point neighborhoods were receding into marshland. San Francisco’s Board of Supervisors just approved the construction of a new community in India Basin this week that’s going to be soggy as soon as it’s built.

At 1.41 meters (4.6 feet), Hunters Point was half as large as it should have been, South Beach was surrounded by water on all sides, and Interstate 280 was swamped heading out of Potrero Hill.

Ten feet of ocean rise by 2100. I imagined myself standing on my roof and waving a white T-shirt for rescue. In fact, I should start practicing right now — according to that new U.N. climate report, the party starts in just 12 years. Given the level of anxiety I feel about all of this, it’s going to take me at least six years just to loosen up my spine.

Bad joke, I know. And the truth of the matter is that cynical humor — which is quite frankly the most natural human reaction to the news that the world is about to be flooded and there’s nothing you personally can do to stop it — is not going to get us out of this mess.

So what kind of attitude will get us out of this?

I’ve been thinking about that a lot, partially because I’m so terrified by all of the political inaction and partially because I’ve noticed so many otherwise indomitable people responding to the news on climate change with a sense of helplessness.

Like cynical humor, helplessness is a natural reaction. But it won’t work, and neither will telling other people to give up the benefits of modernity to save the Earth. (Everyone I meet in Berkeley is eager to tell me how climate change will evaporate if we all just stop flying on planes, eating meat and having children, but I have yet to see any of them take their own advice.)

What might work?

Optimism.

It’s hard to find optimism anywhere in America in October 2018, but I’m finding it in the lawsuit brought by 21 young people against the U.S. government for failing to tackle climate change.

Levi Draheim, 10 (center), and other youth activists suing the Trump administration over climate change in San Francisco on Dec. 11. Photo: Gabrielle Lurie / The Chronicle 2017

It’s scheduled to go to trial on Oct. 29, and while the Justice Department has asked the Supreme Court to block it from happening, something about their action feels … antediluvian. A lot of that has to do with the fact that the children are unshaken by the size of the fight they’ve taken on.

“I believe that the momentum is on our side,” said one of the plaintiffs, then-17-year-old Nathan Baring, when the kids were presenting their lawsuit before the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco in December.

The youngest plaintiff, 11-year-old Levi Draheim of Florida, has said that if he doesn’t do this, he may not have a home when he’s older.

It’s the simplest reason to take on this fight, and it’s also the most inspiring one. It smacks of can-do spirit, a trait that used to be associated with American values. I think it’s time we brought it back again.

Why not make fighting climate change our next national challenge, like putting a man on the moon once was? Why not at least believe we can do that, and behave accordingly?

I can tell you this much: Optimistic action sounds like a lot more fun than clicking for your personal flood zone.

Caille Millner is an editorial writer and Datebook columnist for the San Francisco Chronicle. She has worked at the paper since 2006. On the editorial board, she covers a wide range of topics including business, finance, technology, education and local politics. For Datebook, she writes a weekly column on culture.She is the recipient of the Scripps-Howard Foundation’s Walker Stone Award in Editorial Writing and the Society of Professional Journalists’ Editorial Writing Award.
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    Andrés Soto letter: Not fooled by Big Oil and Big Rail

    Letter to the editor, The Benicia Herald
    [Editor: Note that letters do not appear in the online edition of the Benicia Herald.  Andrés Soto lives in Benicia and is well-known throughout the San Francisco Bay Area for his environmental justice advocacy and his mastery of the saxophone.  I particularly like Andrés’ focus on 19th century historical context.  – RS]

    Not fooled by Big Oil and Big Rail

    By Andrés Soto, July 23, 2015

    Dear Editor:

    Andres Soto
    Andrés Soto

    The recent phenomenon of transporting dangerous, volatile Bakken Crude by rail has created an opportunity for the American people to learn the true motives of Big Oil and Big Rail and what we as impacted communities can do about it.

    Continuing derailments, explosions, fires and evacuations have shined the light on the Profit At Any Cost attitude of Big Oil and Big Rail. These industries grew up together in the late 19th century and led to some of the most egregious periods of income inequality, corruption and social conflict in US history.

    Now these industries are asking us to trust them and allow them to bring Bomb Trains through our communities, putting our town’s economic viability at risk for a short-term economic gain. Exploding trains all over North America tell us a different story and we are not fooled.

    Currently, the Valero Crude By Rail Project and the Phillips 66 San Luis Obispo Crude By Rail Project both put our town at risk for a catastrophe. Communities all over the country are standing up to oppose this high risk venture by Big Oil and Big Rail. Recently, the WesPAC Crude By Rail Project in Pittsburg, California removed the rail part of the project to make it a straight pipeline project.

    Fracked Bakken Crude and strip mined Alberta Tar Sands Crude are just two of the Extreme Extracted Crude strategies by Big Oil to bring oil to market that would be better left in the ground. An intelligent global cooling plan to save our planet for future generations and all species requires the we leave the oil beneath the soil!.

    Valero has already admitted it can and is bringing Extreme Crude in by barge to the Port of Benicia, thus it does not need the Valero Crude By Rail Project to be profitable. Therefore, it begs the question: Why would we, the people of Benicia, allow this project to proceed when it is just too dangerous?

    Global warming is going to cause significant parts of Benicia to be underwater. Shouldn’t we be working on preventing that, rather than trying find ways to contribute to the problem?

    We are the people of Benicia and our voices need to be heard! The Benicia Planning Commission and the Benicia City Council have a responsibility to listen to us and do what is in the best interests of ALL Benicians. Stop Valero’s Dangerous Crude By rail Project!!!

    Andrés Soto
    Benicia, CA
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      Palo Alto passes fossil fuel divestment resolution

      Press Release from Peninsula Interfaith Climate Action (PICA)

      Interfaith Victory: Palo Alto Fossil Fuel Divestment Resolution Passed

      PALO ALTO, CA — February 9, 2014.

      The City of Palo Alto, responding to concerns from Peninsula Interfaith Climate Action (PICA), voted unanimously to send a message to CalPERS (California Statement Employee Retirement System), the national’s largest pension fund, to pull its investments out of fossil fuels.

      Councilmembers Marc Berman, Patrick Burt, Karen Holman and Liz Kniss submitted the initial “Colleague’s Memo” in favor of divestment. “Climate change poses a top-tier threat to our future. Our obligation to address climate change through all avenues requires support from all sectors,” noted Council member Cory Wolbach. “I was inspired to see the passionate and effective work of these congregations collecting 152 signed letters on behalf of fossil fuel divestment.  Those letters, presented by a cross-denominational coalition, sent a very powerful moral statement.”

      Eileen Altman is an associate minister at First Congregational Church in Palo Alto and a PICA member who spoke at the City Council meeting. “As Christians, we share a core set of values and concern for God’s gift of life, both human and all other life. Our investments should reflect our values.” said Rev. Altman. “This concern is not a liberal or conservative value, but is a Christian value. The US political system unproductively magnifies differences when Americans everywhere share 98% of the same values. Climate is about the future of our children and is especially about the people who are most vulnerable to the effects of climate change. Climate is the biggest social justice issue of our time. From the pews in Palo Alto and throughout the United Church of Christ, the first denomination to pass a resolution to move toward divestment from fossil fuels (in 2013), we welcome the opportunity to respectfully dialogue about climate with churches in all regions of the country and across all party affiliations.”

      While the call for fossil fuel divestment may have its strongest impact as a symbolic statement, it also has practical implications for the economic value of employee pensions, explained Debbie Mytels, convener of PICA, which comprises a dozen local congregations that submitted signed letters to the Council in favor of the divestment resolution.

      “While we believe it’s a moral obligation to stop using the fossil fuels that are causing sea level rise, extreme weather events and drought-related crop losses,” Mytels said, “it’s also important to question how long investments in these companies will be financially valuable.”

      “If we want to protect our employees’ pensions, we need to get CalPERS to pull out of dirty fuels before they become ‘stranded assets’.” said Mytels, citing a recent statement by Deutsche Bank in Germany that said  “to meet climate change targets, over half of identified fossil fuel reserves will have to stay in the ground.”

      “While we are pleased with Palo Alto’s progress in becoming a city that supplies ‘carbon free’ electricity to its utility customers,” Mytels said, “we feel it’s time for our city to demonstrate further leadership by joining the call for divestment.”

      “Thankfully, Palo Alto itself does not own any investment in fossil fuels of any sort — that’s all the more reason for the Council to consider the long-term safety of our employees’ CalPERS retirement assets,” she added.

      Reverend Will Scott, from California Interfaith Power & Light (CIPL), noted that “CIPL and our growing statewide network of more than 640 congregations are grateful for the inspiring work of the Peninsula Interfaith Climate Action group, now a CIPL Regional Working Group. Their regular, committed, and personal engagement on the local level as people of diverse faiths concerned about the climate crisis, is a strong model for other regional working groups in our network. Indeed, they are exemplifying the sincere, collaborative, practical, rooted and creative community resiliency needed throughout the world to meet the seriousness of this global challenge. California Interfaith Power & Light is learning much from PICA’s practices and shared wisdom.”

      Palo Alto now joins a growing group of California cities, including San Francisco, Oakland, Berkeley, Brisbane, Richmond, Fairfax, and Santa Monica in calling for dropping fossil fuels from employee pension funds. Sunnyvale may be the next city. Other regional agencies, including the Santa Clara Valley Water District, which is mandated to protect Silicon Valley citizens from floods, have also passed similar resolutions due to concerns about sea level rise.

      In advance of Global Divestment Day, Feb. 13, 2015, Norway announced last week that it would drop coal and tar sands companies from its national investment portfolio. Similarly, the Rockefeller Brothers Fund has made such a decision, along with 50 other philanthropic organizations. The divestment movement is also growing significantly among national faith-based groups, and nearby Stanford University has agreed to eliminate its holdings in coal companies. Today, California State Senate President Kevin de Leon introduced SB 185, directing CalPERs to divest coal fossil fuel investments.

      For more information about PICA, see http://www.interfaithpower.org/pica and http://pica.nationbuilder.com/

      City of Palo Alto Fossil Fuel Divestment Resolution.

      The Palo Alto City Council voted unanimously in favor of divestment:  https://pbs.twimg.com/media/B9dpI7FCQAAfghe.jpg

      PICA members celebrate: https://pbs.twimg.com/media/B9dpI7JCIAAsuEF.jpg

      For more information about the international fossil fuel divestment movement, see http://gofossilfree.org/

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