Assemblymember Loni Hancock sponsored her second major public gathering in her assembly district in two months, holding a town hall meeting on global warming at Berkeley City College that attracted several hundred participants and presentations from several local and state agencies.
The event was an early kickoff in Berkeley for International Earth Week, an environmental education event that runs through Friday.
Last month, Hancock sponsored a town hall forum on health care reform at Oakland City Hall. Hancock has been active on both issues in Sacramento, but is stepping up her visibility in her East Bay district in part in anticipation of a possible run for the California State Senate in 2008.
“Climate change is the truly great scientific, ethical, economic, and political challenge of our time,” Hancock said in her opening remarks to a packed BCC auditorium crowd, adding that to combat the rising tide of global warming “is going to require a cultural shift.”
Berkeley, which shifted culturally several decades ago, indicated that it is already leading the way.
Several of the day’s presenters—including California Public Utilities Commissioner Dian Grueneich and Bay Area Air Quality Management District Director of Planning and Research Henry Hilken—said that they lived in Berkeley, and Berkeley Mayor Tom Bates noted that the number of Berkeley residents who were working in local and state agencies and specializing in environmental protection concerns showed how Berkeley was leading the way on such issues.
“This is an issue that Berkeleyans can work together on to put aside all of our differences,” Bates said.
That prompted presenter Lynda Deschambault, vice mayor of Moraga, to note, “I’m glad to say that I’m not from Berkeley.”
The crowd grew silent, not quite understanding what she meant, but the mood eased considerably when Deschambault explained, “we need to have a diverse representation from different communities on this issue. We can’t tackle it only in one location.”
The day began with a brief presentation by Sierra Club Deputy Executive Director Bruce Hamilton on the “consequences of inaction.” He said he had the “unenviable task of scaring you out of your socks.”
Hamilton noted that because of its geographical location, the United States “will not be hit as hard as other areas” if a major environmental disaster sparked by global warming occurs.
Instead, Hamilton said the tropics and the area of both poles will witness the most environmental damage. Hamilton called that “ironic, because the United States is the biggest polluter of the planet.”
He predicted that up to a million separate species “could become extinct” in a global warming catastrophe, more than half of the 1.8 million species so far identified and named by scientists.
With that information familiar to most in the environmentally-savvy crowd, most of the day’s presentations were made up of a series of brief reports on how well California is doing in leading the nation in battling global warming, and referring to website links with detailed reports on how, and in what specific areas, the state can do better.
“California spends $900 million per year on energy efficiency; we are head and shoulders above other states,” said PUC Commissioner Grueneich, who called herself “the lead commissioner on energy efficiency.”
She said that area of activity was “the key to success for global warming. It’s the only one which saves money. For every dollar spent on energy efficiency, you save two dollars in energy costs.”
Will Travis, Executive Director of the San Francisco Bay Conservation and Development Commission, warned of the consequences of rising bay waters if action is not taken, with the possibility of the swamping of several low-lying developments.
Travis said that with a three-degree rise in world temperature by the year 2100, the most optimistic projection, the bay will rise five inches. With a 10-degree temperature rise, the most pessimistic, the bay will rise three feet. Travis called that ironic, since it would return the bay to the water volume it had in 1849, prior to decades of landfill and development along its shores.
But he said that could wipe out several key facilities and communities that have developed along the bayshore, including both the San Francisco and Oakland airports and one-quarter of the city of Richmond. The bay water rise would also alter the salinity in the lower delta where California gets much of its drinking water supply, making some of that water undrinkable.
“It’s too late to prevent climate and sea rise,” Hamilton said. “Nothing we do will stop that over the next two decades. We’re like the captain of the Titanic. Once he saw the iceberg, it was too late to turn around. But we can soften the blow.”
Hamilton said that no one state agency has the authority to impose flood plans on Bay Area communities, which are covered by 26 municipal or county governments. He said that while there is a movement to have these government entities come up with their own plans, “my fear is that we will have 25 good flood plans, and one that isn’t.”
With a reference to Katrina and New Orleans, he noted “and as we know, all it takes for a flood to occur is if you have one bad levee. We need to develop regional cooperation.”
Hancock said that California is taking the lead in the newly-invigorated environmental movement. Referring to AB 32, California’s landmark greenhouse gas emission curb legislation that was signed into law last fall, she said, “California was not sitting around on our hands, waiting for the federal government to act. Truly, the whole world is watching California right now.”
But with the state now charged with meeting a statewide greenhouse gas emissions cap by the year 2020, Hancock said that “the difference between a dream and a pipe dream is in the implementation. That’s the phase we are in now.”
Meanwhile, the threat of global warming is causing a return to some solutions long thought dead, at least in the progressive East Bay. Daniel Kammen, director of the UC Berkeley Renewable and Appropriate Energy Laboratory, suggested that the need to curb carbon emissions means “we are going to need to discuss the possibility of discussing a return to the building of nuclear power plants; that’s going to make some people uncomfortable.”
Hancock reported that there was already a bill to lift the current ban on more nuclear power plants (AB 719, Assemblymember Chuck DeVore, R-Irvine), which was scheduled for debate on Monday in Hancock’s Natural Resources Committee.
“We don’t want to trade one poison for another,” Hancock said.