No new permits: A student-led demonstration against fossil fuels in CA

Illustration of a factory emanating smoke to indicate the link between fossil fuels and pollution.
Tiffany Ho/Staff

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At the beginning of April, students and Alameda County residents of all ages joined communities across California in a day of action calling on California Gov. Gavin Newsom to end the permitting of all new fossil fuel projects. UC Berkeley students and allies marched through campus with two 15-foot banners, signs, megaphones and a purpose. Passers-by took notice, stopping to watch, take photos and videos and cheer in solidarity. With dangerous and deadly climate impacts already ravaging California, it isn’t just our future at stake but our present too. In this climate crisis, there is no reason to be expanding the fossil fuel permitting and production that sickens our communities and cooks the planet.  

The demonstration was just one part of Last Chance Alliance’s Distributed Day of Action, in which multiple events — all happening April 8 — across California called attention to the same demand: no new fossil fuel permits. That day saw actions taking place in San Diego, Los Angeles, Santa Barbara, the Central Valley, San Luis Obispo, Santa Cruz, Sacramento and the Bay Area. From delivering postcards to Gov. Newsom calling for no new fossil fuel drilling, to banner drops and rallies, to paddling out into the San Francisco Bay to reclaim our oceans, Californians raised their voices as one to urge Gov. Newsom to stop permitting new fossil fuel projects

Just a couple of weeks before the statewide demonstration, scientists at the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research found that, in order to avoid exceeding 1.5 degrees Celsius warming, the world’s richest countries “must cut output [of fossil fuels] by 74% by 2030.” Meanwhile, the release of the new Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Report on April 4 only confirmed what we already know: Our leaders still aren’t taking the climate crisis seriously enough. 

California is uniquely positioned to end fossil fuel production and establish itself as a climate leader. The state boasts the fifth-largest economy, not in the nation but in the world. Gov. Newsom has already shown a willingness to move further on phasing out fossil fuel production in California: he has radically slowed down the rate of issuing new fossil fuel permits, joined the Beyond Oil and Gas Alliance and proposed a rulemaking process for mandating 3200-foot setback distances between fossil fuel drilling and communities. This is all commendable, but Gov. Newsom must go further by committing to halting new fossil fuel projects by the end of 2022 and ensuring the setbacks apply to both new and existing oil wells. 

As youth climate activists, we care about fighting fossil fuels because we want a liveable future for our generation and generations to come. We want to live in a world where our planet, ecosystems and all of its inhabitants are not sacrificed for the greed of fossil fuel executives. The science and the lived experiences of front-line communities point to the same conclusion: Fossil fuels need to be rapidly phased out in order to mitigate the worst effects of the climate crisis and stop the harmful pollution contaminating people’s air and water across the state. That’s why we are calling on Gov. Newsom to end permits for new fossil fuel projects. 

California has historically been recognized as the standard for renewable energy policy for the rest of the country, and if we want to keep that status, Gov. Newsom must act on this initiative. He must expand wind, solar and energy efficiency policy standards — aligned with science — to address the climate crisis and support good-paying unionized jobs in those fields. Renewable energy is becoming increasingly competitive, and fossil fuels are becoming increasingly costly as we reach economic depletion. We have the technology for clean energy, what we need is the political will.

We are quite literally seeing our future go up in smoke, watching firsthand as fires have decimated land and communities. They leave us with nothing but lingering clouds of smog, taunting us with increasing damage each coming year. The aggressively saturated and alien orange skies of last year in Berkeley were the direct result of smoke from a 300,000+ acre fire in Mendocino and neighboring counties and acted as a harbinger of smoggier days to come. The fossil fuel industry and lack of urgent climate policy from the state are majorly responsible for these harms and continue to put front-line communities at risk. However, we believe that youth have the voice and energy to call on those in power to stop approving new oil permits and end the era of fossil fuels for good. A cleaner, fairer, safer future is possible. 

If you feel inspired by this day of action and want to get involved on campus, there are over 120 environmental clubs at UC Berkeley. As Earth week comes to a close, you can attend the UC Berkeley Green New Deal Climate Strike and sign the petition to support a UC Green New Deal policy. You can get further involved by joining the statewide movement for No New Permits, through the  CA Youth Vs Big Oil network by visiting our website and Instagram to stay up to date on active campaigns. 

We have the power to fight for our future!

Alex Masci and Sadie Shoemaker are CA Youth vs Big Oil coordinators and associates of the UC Berkeley Green New Deal.
Contact the opinion desk at [email protected] or follow us on Twitter @dailycalopinion.