Born from potential development threats, local environmental advocacy now faces climate challenges | News

Born from potential development threats, local environmental advocacy now faces climate challenges | News

Imagine the Bay Area without San Francisco Bay. The Santa Cruz Mountains are crossed by highways that bring hundreds of thousands of commuters who are living side by side along the coasts of San Mateo and Santa Cruz counties to the flatlands to work each day.

This hypothetical scenario almost came true. In the 1950s and 1960s, post-World War II planners, developers and land speculators had designs at one point to create a sprawling Los Angeles-type metropolis: at one point they even planned to cut off the heads of Mount San Bruno for to be used for landfills to build near San Francisco Bay.

But residents with the foresight to understand the ravages of rampant growth and exploitation fought back. Sixty years ago, 27 residents, including from Palo Alto, formed the Green Lowlands (now Green Lowlands) Committee to advocate for the mountain and bay protection that all residents enjoy today.

Three other environmental organizations that expanded on those early efforts to protect local habitats, both wild and urban, also have milestone anniversaries in 2022: The Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District and Environmental Volunteers both celebrated 50 years, and Canopy celebrated 26 years.

Now each is taking on a new threat: climate change, working to evolve alongside threats that could harm the environments they worked so hard to save.

Each has filled a different place in protecting the Peninsula’s natural environment, from conservation to trust land, reforestation of the urban forest, and environmental education. On December 4, representatives of the four organizations spoke during a Palo Alto Historical Society Vignettes program titled “A Climate of Unrest Gave Growth to the Environmental Movement.” The event was moderated by Karen Holman, a former mayor of Palo Alto and current Midpen board member.

The period in history when three of these organizations were formed was marked by a new awareness of environmental issues. In the 1960s and 1970s, Americans engaged in fervent activism sparked by the ongoing Vietnam War, civil rights issues for black Americans and women, and other upheavals. A new “back to nature” ethic took hold as a generation sought to connect with its natural roots.

Marine biologist Rachel Carson published her groundbreaking book, Silent Spring, in 1962 about the ecological damage of pollution, which arguably sparked the modern environmental movement. The first environmental march took place nationwide on Earth Day in April 1969, and former President Richard Nixon created the Environmental Protection Act and signed the Clean Air Act in 1970, and signed the Clean Water Act in 1972 in response. of environmental growth. concerns. All were part of the awakening that also roused Bay Area residents to take action to save their piece of paradise for future generations.

Read about the profiles of each organization and how they will adapt to address climate change:

Green Lowlands: Generations of Advocacy

A group of concerned Palo Alto and Los Altos activists organized after the city of Palo Alto and Stanford University teamed up to develop a research and development park in the early 1950s. Residents lost the battle and the city approved the construction of the Industrial Park. Stanford (now Stanford Research Park) in 1951. Residents persisted, however, so that the foothills would not be damaged by commercial development.

Alice Kaufman, Green Foothills’ director of policy and advocacy, said the organization’s biggest accomplishments included its work on statewide Proposition 20, which voters passed to form the California Coastal Commission.

One of the impacts of climate change that particularly affects Green Foothills’ work relates to wildlife corridor connectivity. The organization has worked for decades to protect wildlife habitat, and particularly the corridors and connectivity areas that allow animals to migrate into areas of new habitat to find food and mate, Kaufman said in a follow-up email.

Read the full profile.

Mid-Peninsula Regional Open Space District: Preserving the land in perpetuity

The Mid-Peninsula Regional Open Space District has acquired more than 65,000 acres of land, ranging from swamps to uplands and forests to grasslands, protecting the many habitats of flora and fauna that anyone can visit for hiking , cycling and other outdoor activities.

“They’re there for people’s mental, physical and social well-being and for the many ecological benefits,” such as protecting endangered and protected species, said Ana Ruiz, Midpen’s general manager.

Midpen has adopted numerous programs to help make its lands more resilient to the effects of climate change, including the adoption of a Climate Action Plan in 2018, with goals to reduce administrative greenhouse gas emissions 20% below baseline. of 2016 by 2022, 40% by 2030 and 80% by 2050.

Read the full profile.

Culmination: The growth of the urban forest

Canopy has planted thousands of trees in the urban forest. The green cover has expanded from Palo Alto to include East Palo Alto, Belle Haven, Menlo Park and North Fair Oaks and Mountain View. In recent years, Canopy has emphasized revitalizing underserved communities as well as continuing its work in Palo Alto.

“More than 6,000 trees have been planted in the urban environment. Twenty-five percent of all street trees in East Palo Alto have been planted by Canopy and volunteers. This is moving the needle,” said Executive Director Catherine Martineau.

Urban trees are one of the most powerful nature-based climate solutions, Martineau said. The tricky part lies in the needs of the Bay Area to address the housing crisis. While people need shelter, shelter needs space; people need trees and trees need to compete for the same space.

Read the full profile.

Environmental Volunteers: Creating Future Advocates

Conservation of land and trees is vulnerable despite current efforts if people do not see the value. That’s why a group of local women formed Volunteers for the Environment in 1972. The nonprofit has brought nature to more than 565,000 children since its inception, instilling sensory experiences of nature that last a lifetime, said board member Elliott Wright .

Environmental Volunteers brings nature education into classrooms; offers small group hikes and excursions; and takes children to a variety of natural habitats, from scrubland to forest to ocean, to explore and experience pockets of nature they may not have regular access to.

Wright said Environmental Volunteers has a new weather and climate program. Programs are scalable so that students can receive a high-quality education. There is plenty of room for everyone to bring their skills to the volunteer program, he said.

Read the full profile.

Diversity is the future

As the climate continues to change the environment and ecosystems, children and residents living in economically challenged communities, particularly in the San Francisco Bay Area, will be the most vulnerable to flooding, pollution and other disasters. Environmental Volunteers is aiming to diversify not only who it serves, but also the volunteers, knowing that people of all ages in these communities need to take an active interest in how they can shape and help their environment, Wright said.

Diversity, inclusion and equity are issues that all of these groups said are among the most challenging they will face as the climate and communities change.

“Access to open space is a matter of health. Having access to nature is a matter of life and death,” said Martineau, Canopy’s executive director.

Construction and gentrification are realities that aren’t going away, said Kaufman of Green Foothills. “It’s not okay to just own our cities. People need to have access to nature close to their homes. When we started, we tried to prevent entire hillsides from being swallowed up in development. Our work should also be to bring nature into our spaces and it will be a challenge to do that as we continue to build cities,” she said.

Ruiz of Midpen Open Space recalled a quote he heard from an Amah Mutsun leader, a member of a local indigenous tribe that often collaborates with the organization: “Whatever you do today will affect people for seven generations,” he told her.

This expression resonated with Ruiz.

“Every decision you make today will have consequences that will affect people further than you ever imagined. To get a quick win at that moment or that year, you have to think about the environmental implications going forward. Otherwise, people seven “Generations beyond will have to carry that burden,” she said.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *