How Berkeley Can Lead The World In Bold, Aggressive Climate Action

Let’s act now with radical policies that can change the global trajectory.

protest signs
Kids on Climate Strike Day.

August 2020: Note that this post is already a bit dated, and may seem somewhat less relevant in light of the heartbreaking COVID and other crises in our country. Yet the basic idea is still the same – and in fact even more urgent – one year after I first published it. Thanks to everyone in Berkeley who’s working on climate action. We have to go faster

Berkeley’s been an environmental leader for decades.  But time is running out and our current efforts are too incremental. We need to get much more aggressive and show the world how to go much faster. No other city will do it for us… it’s up to us.

Doing something local and powerful can be the pathway to hope we need. What scientists are saying about the near-term threat to human existence is simply too scary. Climate change is big, happening fast, and probably out of anyone’s control. And most people on earth aren’t willing (or economically able) to sacrifice our fossil-fueled way or life, so it’s easier to just live in the moment and not think about it.

But Berkeley has the capability to be different, to lead, and to show the way to hope.

Let’s come together to brainstorm bold, radical ideas for leading the global climate fight. And to push on our politicians – or elect new ones if needed – to take much more aggressive action. Not over the next few years… but now.

Aggressive Ideas For Berkeley To Lead The Global Climate Fight

Here’s a few sample ideas I’ve come up with… I’d love to hear yours.

  • Make parking tickets (and permits) more expensive for gas cars and trucks – especially upscale brands – and less expensive for plug-in hybrids and electric cars.
  • Stop buying gas-powered city vehicles; start buying all-electric vehicles (including police cars and motorcycles) by next year.
  • Mandate car chargers in each parking space in new buildings and rebuilds (London’s already done this).
  • Ban concrete (a huge carbon emitter) in Berkeley construction; require new buildings and rebuilds to use glulam (engineered) wood, which is safer in fires and earthquakes anyway.
  • Mandate electric-panel upgrades prior to all home sales (like sewer lateral work).
  • Mandate complete electrification (heat pump hot water, heat pump heating/cooling, etc) upon sale or transfer of all homes valued over $2M.
  • Mandate meat counter warnings: retail meat counters must display a prominent sign warning how much CO2 is emitted to produce red meat.
  • Open ‘flight avoidance centers’: free, municipal videoconference centers each resident can use to substitute video calls for flying as much as possible.
  • Make Civic Center park into an urban farm, operated by high school students.
  • Track and send the railroad companies steep bills for each oil or coal train they run through our city.
  • Hire a full time city attorney to sue PG&E and get us waivers to build municipal and residential microgrids (renewable powered and resilient).
  • Hang educational banners on the sides of our I-80 pedestrian overpass highlighting the climate emergency, electric vehicle and public transit costs and options.
  • Plant 100,000 trees a year. If Ethiopia can plant hundreds of millions in one day, we can do 100,000.
  • Build a giant eco-park at Golden Gate Fields, after taking it from its corporate owners by eminent domain along with the City of Albany.
  • Hire a full time city PR person to maximize the publicity for all of this.

More ideas emailed to me by people who read this post:

  • Install curb-side EV charging stations at every telephone pole.
  • In residential regions acquire housing to convert to small grocery stores so that every neighborhood has walk-to-stores with healthful foods (fresh/vegetarian…).
    Each could also act as a resiliency hub with off-grid solar charging, stuff sharing (tools, equipment, appliances, vehicles), drop in day-care, you name it. Hire neighborhood retires and young people to staff.
  • Start a neighborhood ride-share App in which residents driving anywhere can announce their route to other residents to pick up / drop off along the way.
  • Build neighborhood teams to convert gas appliances to renewable electric. (e.g. heat pumps for air and water heating, induction stoves for cooking).
  • Levy a hefty carbon change (local tax) on all gasoline sold within the City limits
  • Start a social media competition between the high school and the middle schools to generate the biggest and most effective climate justice and sustainability media campaign.
  • Cow tax: make everyone pay a tax when eating meat.
  • Neighborhood solar installs with financing.
  • Light rail along University, Shattuck, Sacramento, Key Route…
  • Greatly encouraging biking and walking by creating bike and pedestrian dominant transportation corridors in the city.
  • Making buses faster than cars by creating dedicated bus lanes down major streets.
  • Smaller electric “collectivo” vans, like in Guatemala, that run more frequently in the hills and run directly to Bart.
  • More community gardens.
  • Creating bike-only streets.
  • Subsidizing local farmers to plant rooftop gardens that will be delivered to food centers, schools, shelters
  • Ballot bond to convert 100% of the homes in Berkeley to solar.
  • More items that involve individuals making good decisions. Maybe even encourage neighborhoods—single blocks—to get together and come up with more ground up ideas.

Postscript: “We Must Be Bold”

There will be many reasons given why ideas like these ‘can’t be done.’ But as John Kennedy said in his historic 1962 speech about going to the moon, we must be bold and find a way:

“We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win…”

“If I were to say, my fellow citizens, that we shall send to the moon, 240,000 miles away from the control station in Houston, a giant rocket more than 300 feet tall, the length of this football field, made of new metal alloys, some of which have not yet been invented, capable of standing heat and stresses several times more than have ever been experienced, fitted together with a precision better than the finest watch, carrying all the equipment needed for propulsion, guidance, control, communications, food and survival, on an untried mission, to an unknown celestial body, and then return it safely to earth, re-entering the atmosphere at speeds of over 25,000 miles per hour, causing heat about half that of the temperature of the sun–almost as hot as it is here today–and do all this, and do it right, and do it first before this decade is out–then we must be bold.”

Want Berkeley to go faster on climate?

Contact me (dmargulius at gmail) if you’re interested in getting together to help figure out how Berkeley can go much faster on climate… thanks!