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The Valley Fire in San Diego County, September 2020. Photo courtesy of Cal Fire
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Climate Disasters Demand Immediate, Equitable Action

This is an independent opinion. Have one of your own? Write it! Email it to [email protected]

Three of the largest wildfires ever to scorch California are burning right now. Millions are choking on ash up and down the coast, after suffering from record breaking heat storms and rolling blackouts. Amidst a global pandemic, these disasters are just the opening salvo of human caused climate change that are only getting worse.

For a state that prides itself as a climate leader—setting lofty goals for zero carbon, renewable energy, transportation and housing, social equity and more—California has too little to show for it. However noble our climate goals, they are nothing without rigorous, equitable implementation, and we have fallen far behind leading up to today’s stunning collision of crises. 

The fact is, we continue to permit fracking and oil production in our state. We continue to allow investor-owned utilities to poison our homes and the environment with dangerous natural gas. We continue to expand freeways that choke our communities with pollution and traffic. We continue to build sprawl development in wildfire zones only to watch them burn in a matter of minutes. And we continue to leave our most vulnerable behind.

To save the people and places we love, we must change course, quickly.

To start, California must implement a plan to end fossil fuel extraction and implement a just transition for workers. Since April, Governor Newsom has approved 48 new fracking permits. That is incomprehensible for a state with a 2045 zero carbon goal. Creating a transition plan to end all new oil and natural gas extraction is a key action the Governor can take, while we do the critical work of ending fossil fuel production in front and fence line communities throughout the state.

We must also accelerate the transition to 100 percent renewable electricity by investing in local solar and long duration battery storage. Two of the largest battery storage facilities in the world, located right here in San Diego County, helped keep the lights on during last month's rolling blackouts. We need more of this local, climate resilient infrastructure, and our new public utility, San Diego Community Power, can lead the way by incentivizing its development.

The state and our communities must also commit to all-electric homes and businesses by banning natural gas infrastructure in new buildings and retrofitting existing buildings to be gas-free. This will not only eliminate the third largest source of climate change causing greenhouse gas emissions, but also improve the health of millions who suffer from indoor natural gas air pollution.

Locally, we must also do our part by planning and investing in a world class transit system that can give San Diegans real alternatives to polluting and expensive car ownership. And while an electric vehicle mandate would be welcome, it won’t save us alone, and biking, walking and transit offer healthier, more climate friendly alternatives that can improve our quality of life and provide good green jobs.

It is also critical for state and local governments to fight for more market and affordable homes in the right places. That means more homes in cities near jobs and transit, and no new homes in wildfire zones. Condemning families to economic hardship, overcrowding and homelessness, or displacing them to dangerous wildfire areas with lengthy commutes that require the additional cost-burden of car ownership is neither fair nor equitable.

Finally, and maybe most importantly, we must ensure that all climate strategies center equity. Frontline communities of concern—which are predominantly communities of color who contribute the least to causing climate change—must receive the investments and protections first, while also providing them opportunities for good middle class careers. This will not only save lives, but also give marginalized communities access to the green economy, and reverse the impacts of long-standing racist policies that have held down black, indigenous, and people of color for too long.

San Diegans must stand united in the face of the climate crisis. Growing movements like the San Diego Green New Deal Alliance are organizing to meet the challenge on the ground and in the streets. Cities like San Diego must update their Climate Action Plans, setting new goals for zero carbon, all-electric homes, and robust climate equity strategies to undo environmental, racial and social injustice. New ideas like a Regional Climate Authority can amplify and coordinate the power of government, business, and the people to get the job done.

As Californians and San Diegans, we have experienced many of the horrors of climate change up close. We know what science and history are telling us is true. The wildfires, heat storms, and other disasters to come are a direct result of our inaction on climate. The disproportionate impact on frontline communities of concern is the direct result of systemic oppression and racism. But together we can build a climate safe and ready future that heals our communities and uplifts us all. But to have any chance, we must act now to save the people and places we love.

What is this story missing? Let us know. >>What is this story missing? Let us know. >>

About the Author

Matthew Vasilakis

Matthew is the co-director of policy at Climate Action Campaign, fighting for bold climate action and social justice in San Diego and Orange counties. Mat is on the boards of the San Diego Urban Sustainability Coalition and Lambda Archives.

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