Bay Crossings Article

A Green New Deal for a Blue Old Bay

Sejal Choksi-Chugh
From the August 2019 edition of Bay Crossings

Our children’s San Francisco Bay could be much bleaker than the beautiful Bay we all know and love today. 

Within their lifetimes, rising water might flood toxic hotspots, industrial facilities, and sewage treatment plants—spreading pollution through the Bay and into neighborhoods. Warming Bay waters will likely cause toxic algae blooms, spread new diseases to plants and animals, and threaten more extinction of native species. Extreme swings between storms and drought could become normal, and harm the Bay.

The Bay Area needs to act quickly to prevent and prepare for these impacts of climate breakdown. And the momentum we need could come from the bold new plan known as the Green New Deal. 

The Green New Deal aims to jump-start a massive nationwide effort to mitigate the climate crisis—with the same all-in, can-do visionary approach that achieved feats like landing the first American astronauts on the moon. And it would be good for San Francisco Bay in many ways:

  • Replacing coal and oil with clean energy: The Bay faces a daily threat of oil spills and contamination from five local oil refineries. And dirty coal pollutes the Bay Area when toxic chunks are transported through local communities in open train cars and stored in piles on the shoreline awaiting export. The Green New Deal calls for an ambitious 10-year mobilization to convert the entire US economy from coal and oil to 100% renewable energy, such as solar and wind. This transition would drastically reduce—and eventually eliminate—threats of oil and coal contamination in the Bay.
  • Protecting shorelines from sea level rise: Almost all Bay Area sewage treatment plants and airports are threatened by flooding as sea levels rise, as are some local highways. Adaptation would be expensive. The Green New Deal calls for federal government financing for adapting infrastructure to rising waters. The possible adaptations include low-tech, proven solutions—such as restoring wetlands that protect shorelines from rising tides and storm surges. Wetlands have the added advantage of keeping planet-warming carbon gases out of the atmosphere, slowing down the climate crisis. 
  • Cleaning up toxic sites: If the Bay’s water level rises high enough to flood hundreds of existing toxic hot spots near the shoreline, a load of pollutants will wash into the Bay and nearby neighborhoods. The Green New Deal calls for the priority cleanup of toxic areas nationwide. And the Bay Area will have a head start, because Baykeeper’s Shore View website identifies more than 1100 toxic hotspots around the Bay that urgently need cleanup. 

The Green New Deal would not only be good for the Bay, it would also empower Bay Area residents by: 

  • Mandating that local communities have a say in planning for local climate crisis measures; 
  • Providing new, high-paying jobs in renewable energy industries, and guaranteeing jobs with family-sustaining pay to all; 
  • Ensuring access to clean water, clean air, and healthy food as a human right; and
  • Making nature—including San Francisco Bay—more accessible to communities that don’t have easy access now. 

The Green New Deal is a set of principles. The solutions are technologically feasible. But to change course, we all need to see through the denial tactics of polluting corporations, and understand the impending climate collapse as the real crisis it is. 

If we all fight for the Green New Deal and begin implementing some of these principles now, our children’s future will look much brighter. Be part of the fight right here—join Baykeeper to defend San Francisco Bay from climate breakdown and other impending threats.