The UN recently published a report that we have 12 years to avert drastic climate change. While individual action helps a bit, we’re going to need to address the problem as a civilization. And that means voting.
As a first step, that means voting for people who are willing to acknowledge the problem in the first place. If the media weren’t bending over backwards in pursuit of a false “balance” in response to accusations of left-wing bias from right-wing ideologues, the headlines would read “Republicans deny & ignore the greatest threat to humanity’s future”. The realistic view is that we’re going to need a mass international mobilization at a level last seen in World War II, and that begins with admitting that we have a problem.
Beyond that, we need to pick the candidates who have the best long-term thinking.
We know what unchecked growth looks like: the most profitable developments happen, jobs boom, housing prices and rents go up. Gridlock ensues because people have to commute long distances to their jobs, and lower-income people are gradually forced out of their homes.
We know what slow growth looks like: your neighborhood turns into a bedroom community for the places where the jobs are booming. Housing prices go up, and either rent goes up or rent control is enacted and eventually people get turfed out of their apartments when the building gets sold, and they either have to move a long way away or become homeless, because they can’t afford housing locally.
The solution is smart growth: growing the economy, housing, and infrastructure in a way that keeps our quality of life. I’ve lived in Sunnyvale for 20 years, and am hoping to do so for another 50, and this is what will be needed to keep it thriving through the coming changes.
At the state level, we should be building water infrastructure and modernizing our electrical grid to be resilient and better at working with distributed power generation. (It also needs to be hardened against the next time the Sun sneezes in Earth’s face, like it did in 1859.) In the long run, it may mean some big projects. If we don’t want to lose places like Alviso (elevation –13’), Foster City (elevation 7’), and Stockton (elevation 13’) to rising seas, it may mean anything from sea walls to a tidal gate or locks across the Golden Gate. If we want to be able to afford big projects, we’ll need a big economy.
At the local level, we should be building new housing on major thoroughfares— both market-rate, for the people with lucrative tech jobs, and affordable, for the people holding the 4.3 new jobs created for every tech job. It means creating better infrastructure for bicycling and public transit, such as physically separated bike lanes and dedicated mass transit lanes on those major thoroughfares, so the people who move into that new housing don’t contribute to automobile gridlock. Here in Silicon Valley, it means turning a lot of the one-story places along El Camino Real into multistory developments with shops on the ground floor, a floor or two of offices above that, and a few floors of residences above that. It means building a lot more pocket parks in residential neighborhoods to cool off during hot summers, increasing street tree cover, and using white asphalt every time we resurface our roads.
(Rezoning all the residential neighborhoods for high density doesn’t make sense. New housing needs to be near mass transit and local shops, so people can get by without cars.)
Smart growth is about a can-do attitude that is ready to engage with new challenges rather than push them away. It grows the economy, and that makes it possible to deal with the bigger challenges that are coming our way soon. Right now the challenge is growing jobs and housing; in the future, it will be to build water infrastructure (like desalination plants) when the Sierra Nevada can no longer hold onto its snowpack, and to build vertical farms when the Central Valley can no longer support agriculture, whether it’s caused by drought, by a superstorm like the one in 1861 that turned it into a lake, or by saltwater intrusion into the aquifers. (The Midwest is also imperiled.) When there are climate refugees from Arizona, Florida, and Louisiana, we’ll want to be among the places that can welcome them and help them land on their feet, not the ones building walls and saying “No room! No room!”