Many of us are aware of the increasing threat of climate change that faces our planet. In Berkeley, in our classes and in our community, we often discuss sustainability and renewable energy and we push for environmentally friendly initiatives with a grand goal of protecting the earth — but what we most commonly fail to realize is the direct impact climate change will have on us right here at home. It is in our best interest to act now to preserve our future here and the possibility for a future for other students at this university and in this city. Measure R is the way to do that.
Measure R, dubbed “Vision 2050,” is an intelligent approach to infrastructure planning. Vision 2050 would create a 30-year infrastructure plan for Berkeley, with an emphasis on climate resiliency, cutting-edge technology and efficiency. Through a rigorous community input process, citizens of Berkeley will be asked to envision a Berkeley of the future that is more liveable and healthy for all. Vision 2050 working groups will compile community feedback, best practices and analysis on current and future challenges and report to city staff on recommendations for city infrastructure. This report will draw from the Climate Action Plan and Resilience Strategy reports to create a single, cohesive picture of Berkeley’s long-term infrastructure needs and how to move forward on them.
It is critically important that we acknowledge the threat that climate change poses to our infrastructure and to the safety and welfare of Berkeley residents. In recent years, California has experienced significantly more wildfires than the historical average. The state’s five largest fires on record have all occurred within the last five years. Rising temperatures and increased prevalence of droughts have made wildfires more extreme, more destructive and more common. In Berkeley specifically, urban wildfire is an imminent threat, especially in the hills, an extreme fire hazard zone. To protect our residents, homes and businesses, the city must be coordinated in its efforts to improve fire resistance holistically and build fire-resistance into building and landscape design.
Rising heat will also cause greater demands on our energy and water systems, resulting in higher maintenance costs. The increasing temperatures will threaten Berkeley’s water supply, as the East Bay Municipal Utility District relies mainly on the snowpack in the Sierras that will shrink as temperatures rise. Berkeley will need to prepare for multiyear drought conditions and their effect on our trees and parks.
In the long term, rising sea levels will cause more of the soil to be permanently saturated with saline water, causing corrosion of underground infrastructure, depletion of freshwater and flooding of basements. Despite Berkeley’s fortunate position relative to other coastal cities, Berkeley, too, will face coastal flooding and shoreline erosion. We face great economic disruption if Interstate 80 becomes submerged.
In order to mitigate the financial costs and human health impacts of climate change, we need to think long-term and be proactive about our infrastructure planning today. Firstly, of course, we need to minimize the severity of climate change by doing our part to use renewable energy, promote public transportation and retrofit buildings to be energy-efficient. But we must also make sure that we are building resilience into the fabric of our city so that we can tackle long-term challenges before they become too costly and bounce back quickly when disaster strikes. That’s why I’m so excited about Measure R.
Across the board, the measure’s working groups are made up of people who have built deep knowledge over the course of their careers, including commissioners, Lawrence Hall of Science researchers, water resource board members, longtime climate champions, architects, engineers, young people like us and many more. They are not hesitant to tap into the expertise of UC Berkeley’s faculty members, who are at the top of their fields in planning. Most convincingly to me, the Vision 2050 task force has shown its commitment to an open and collaborative community process, even at this stage, through its multiple community events across the city that have asked residents to share their vision of a thriving Berkeley in 2050.
So vote yes on Measure R! We can only ensure the quality of life of future generations and for ourselves if we choose to plan now.
Maddie Menke is a senior at UC Berkeley majoring in development studies.