City council aims for fossil fuel-free Berkeley by 2030

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Berkeley City Council voted at its Tuesday meeting to hold a climate emergency town hall meeting and work toward achieving a fossil fuel-free Berkeley by 2030.

The two items were introduced separately, but voted on together — one declared a climate emergency and called for a town hall to engage the community in discussion, while the other delineated goals for working toward a future in which Berkeley does not rely on fossil fuels.

“It is an act of unspeakable injustice and cruelty to knowingly subject our fellow humans now and into the future to societal disintegration, food and clean water shortages, economic collapse, and early death on an increasingly uninhabitable planet,” read the text of item 49, a Declaration of Climate Emergency.

Councilmember Cheryl Davila introduced both items and was then appointed chair of the newly formed climate emergency subcommittee. She expressed her frustration with the council for not prioritizing climate action.

“It’s disconcerting that these are the last items on the agenda and people have been waiting all night to speak on this issue,” Davila said during the meeting.

Clean energy advocates were undeterred, waiting hours in the City Council meeting room bearing signs with slogans such as “Liberate de los Combustibles Fósiles,” “100% Renewables For All” and “Protect Our Land, Water, and Climate.”

Many climate change activists emphasized the gravity of the climate crisis and commended the council on its action.

“This is the greatest public health threat we’ve ever faced,” said Berkeley-based physician Janice Kirsch during public comment. “The bubonic plague is looking like almost nothing.”

Item 30, called Fossil Fuel-Free Berkeley, directly mentioned President Donald Trump’s decision to pull out of the Paris climate agreement and federal requests for increased coastal oil drilling as the reason for introducing the items. According to Davila, passing these items would combat the federal administration’s lack of action and serve as a model for other cities to go fossil fuel-free.

Jack Fleck, from the environmental organization 350 Bay Area, added in public comment that striving to be better than the Trump administration on climate action was “an extremely low bar.”

“We can do a lot better than just beating Trump,” Fleck said. “We can beat California.”

Davila placed an additional focus on climate and environmental justice. She noted that climate change disproportionately affects communities of color, and that communities of color and women have been underrepresented in the environmental movement.

“People of color that have borne the brunt of our dirty energy use should get the first benefits from a new, clean energy,” Davila said at the meeting.

Item 30 also had recommendations to transition the city to 100 percent renewable energy by 2030 and calls for input from the Berkeley Energy and Transportation commissions, as well as other stakeholders at the town hall, which has not been scheduled yet.

While the action did signify a greater commitment to action on climate change, there are many decisions to be made about how exactly to reduce emissions.

“Obviously we need to move from plans to action,” said Councilmember Kate Harrison. “And we need to do that immediately.”

Madeleine Gregory covers city government. Contact her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @mgregory_dc.