Virtually Impossible

Sunset on the Bay

This July has registered as the hottest month on Earth, ever. That statistic has appeared in the news a lot lately. It gives me chills every time I hear it, which is somewhat ironic given the triple-digit temperatures we’ve been experiencing here in the East Bay.

Other parts of the country are being hit even harder by recent heat waves. Thermometers in New Orleans topped 115 degrees, and in Texas measured 120 degrees. This extreme heat is taking lives, destroying infrastructure, and feeding wildfires.

If we follow the path we’re currently on, scientists at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory are predicting that temperatures in the East Bay could explode by almost 10 degrees by the end of the century. They also see severe storms—like the ones we suffered in January—becoming more frequent. This is a scary thought since the Bay Area’s aging stormwater and sewage systems broke down under the stress of floods this past winter.

Other scientists at UC Berkeley have found that the heat will exacerbate rising sea levels and will cause groundwater to rise, which in turn will flood homes, crack sewer pipes, and cause our inadequate infrastructure to fail in even more ways. The rising groundwater will also likely push buried chemicals at toxic sites to the surface, where they will poison surrounding neighborhoods and pollute the Bay.

Now, according to a new report out this week by researchers at World Weather Attribution, we know that this chaotic future would have been “virtually impossible” to be caused by anything other than climate change.

And that is maddening. Because this climate chaos was preventable. The only way to stabilize our climate—and improve the health of our air and water—is to stop burning dirty fossil fuels.

But talk about what’s virtually impossible: That’s going to be a heavy lift, given the oil and coal industry’s hold over the world economy. Even here in the Bay Area, one of the most environmentally aware regions in the country, the oil industry is continuing to propose refinery expansions, government agencies are continuing to support new oil drilling permits, and developers are continuing to try to turn Oakland into a global coal export hub.

That’s why the Baykeeper team has made it a top priority to help hasten the transition to clean energy.  We’ve spent the last decade working with community partners to block refinery expansion plans and new oil infrastructure permits. We’ve passed more than a dozen new laws making it harder to handle fossil fuels in the Bay Area. We’ve stopped plans to export millions of tons of dirty coal through Richmond and Vallejo—and hopefully soon in Oakland, too. And so much more.

It took humankind a century of pumping carbon into the air to get ourselves into the situation we’re in now. It might take that long, if not longer, to find our way out, bring relief to our communities, and stabilize the climate. But for Baykeeper, it’s virtually impossible for us to not work toward that change.

Photo: David Yu