Fight to defend parking is a proxy for opposition to climate action

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We only have 10 years to cut our emissions in half to achieve a 60 percent chance of sustaining a degree of climate stability. As one of the wealthiest regions in the world that has benefitted from unrestricted carbon emissions for more than a century, it is our duty to lead on this and not wait until the last minute to act.

UC Berkeley does have an ambitious and fairly detailed plan to reach carbon neutrality in many areas of its operations by 2025. UC Berkeley is, however, vague about how to deal with the approximately 10 percent of emissions that come from staff, faculty and students driving to campus.

Retrofitting buildings or buying clean power is easier. On the other hand, reducing commuting emissions requires changing the ingrained driving culture. In fact, many people organized their whole livelihoods around the twin assumptions that fossil fuels and parking would be cheap and available. Recently the UC Berkeley Division of the Academic Senate opposed a campus housing proposal, because it would result in a loss of parking spaces. This is a clear example of how challenging achieving these emissions reductions will be. 

I will not speak to the other issues with the 2698 Hearst Avenue project. Many valid concerns have been raised. But I was stunned that UC Berkeley professors would fail to see the harmful role the daily driving of single-occupancy vehicles to work has on our city’s urbanism, our regional air quality, our waterways and our planet’s heat blanket.

The climate crisis is forcing us to challenge those assumptions. Promoting the narrative that people are entitled to cheap fuel and parking is irresponsible at a time when we know their impact on our climate. We are at a point where the entitlement to a parking spot and a convenient commute must be weighed against whether students attending UC Berkeley are entitled to a stable climate when they grow up.

The climate crisis is posing significant conflicts between financial and intergenerational equity. Had our region taken the threat of climate change more seriously decades ago, the mitigation and adaptation debate would not be making these conflicts as acute as they have to be today. Sadly, we are now hastily trying to alleviate the issue.

Losing a subsidized parking space and adding time to a commute can be a real problem for many individuals, but it is just the beginning of what we need to do to achieve our emissions reduction goals. If the federal government miraculously starts taking the climate crisis seriously and stops subsidizing fossil fuels, ends wars to secure oil supplies and gets a carbon tax then will those same professors who complained about losing a storage space for their car support these measures? Will they recognize that paying significantly more for gas is a meager sacrifice in comparison to the ones people living in Oakland’s flatlands will have to take when their homes regularly flood because of our constant delay in addressing this crisis as cities in Florida are today?

We need to start facing the fact that we’ve procrastinated to the point that this transition will be painful to many, but that is in no way a reason for inaction. When we are called on to make these sacrifices, it is important to use our political power to ensure that the brunt of the impact is received by those most able to withstand it. We should not use political power to preserve our entitlements, but instead, to push for change.

A climate-conscious faculty senate would have advocated for providing means, such as parking permits to those who will be losing their spots, urging the city to work with AC Transit and UC Berkeley to provide more reliable bus service or making streets safer for all road users, so more people would feel comfortable walking or riding bicycles to campus. A vote 174-69 to protect parking spots joins the yellow vests movement and the riots in defense of fossil fuel subsidies in making public institutions think twice before challenging present fossil fuel entitlements to the detriment of the generations struggling with the reality of a warming world. 

We need to be having more conversations about what some of these sacrifices will entail and how to mitigate them for those in the most need. This will set us up for future debates with a more systemic compassion and less protectiveness of long-standing and fossil fuel-stained entitlements.

Tommaso Nicholas Boggia is a former climate activist turned web developer at UC Berkeley.