Environmentalists demonstrate climate change in Oakland

Kali Persall,
Managing Editor

By the year 2100, parts of the Oakland Coliseum, railroads, highways 580, 80 and the Oakland International Airport could be covered by two meters — or six and a half feet — of water, if sea levels continue to rise as anticipated, according to Robert Cheasty, Executive Director of Citizens for East Shore Parks, CESP.

In commemoration of Earth Day, over two dozen demonstrators gathered in Oakland’s Jack London Square for a “Visualizing Sea Rise” event on Saturday organized by CESP, a nonprofit based in Albany whose goal is to establish parks along the shoreline from the Oakland Estuary to the Carquinez Strait.

“We want science.”  

They carried large bright blue fabric banners with the words, “Your new shoreline at 2 meters,” and chanted “We want science.” They formed a line with their banners on Broadway and 2nd street to demonstrate which areas of the city are predicted to be underwater in the next century if humans don’t take preventative actions to preserve shorelines and reduce emissions.

The event was held on the same day as the March for Science, a global protest that stemmed from Washington D.C. and took place in 600 other locations, including San Francisco, according to CNN. The march was organized to address recent political policies that restrict scientific research and advocate for science as a non-partisan issue, according to the March for Science website.

“We need some clever ideas about how to adapt,” said Jeremy Lowe, a senior environmental scientist at the San Francisco Bay Estuary Institute, an aquatic and ecosystem institute that partners with the Environmental Protection Agency, who spoke at the event. “We’ve got Stanford, we’ve got Berkeley, we’ve got Silicon Valley, we’ve got all these clever people here. If there’s anywhere on the planet that we have to adapt and adapt well, it should be in the Bay Area. We’re lucky, we have a lot of good science in the area.”

High Tides, Coastal Flooding?

According to a 2013 study commissioned by The Bay Institute, one of five divisions of the watershed conservation nonprofit organization Bay.org, scientists predict that storms associated with high tides will be the greatest cause of coastal flooding, rather than sea level rise alone. According to Cheasty, scientists predicted that by 2050, there will be a one-meter sea level rise, and a two-meter rise by the end of that century.

“It may be a whole lot shorter and quicker than that,” he said. “We’re talking biblical stuff here.”

Much of the East Bay shoreline is used for industrial use, city dumps and warehouses, according to Cheasty. According to Cameron Wilson, program manager at CESP, parks and open space along the shoreline are essential in dense urban areas like Bay Area cities. In 1985, Bay Area environmentalists joined to form CESP and worked for 17 years to establish the McLaughlin Eastshore State Park in 2002, which stretches eight and a half miles through Oakland, Emeryville, Berkeley, Albany and Richmond. The organization received pushback from six cities, two counties, two congressional districts and two park districts before the park was finally established in 2002, according to Cheasty.

CESP is now works to bring awareness to climate change through events like “Visualizing Sea Rise” and the Resilient Shoreline Program, which launched last year, according to Wilson.

“McLaughlin Eastshore State Park was established by bringing a variety of interties and stakeholders together for a common goal,” said Wilson. “We’re using this same strategy for the Resilient Shoreline, and we continue to advocate for expanded parks and open space along the shoreline.”

“We have a king tide and lots of rain.”

According to Wilson, a “resilient shoreline” uses natural resources to mitigate against sea level rise. The organization is looking at solutions such as reducing pollution, expanding marshlands and creating horizontal levees, a natural infrastructure that restores marshland and reduce shoreline flooding caused by sea level rise, according to The Bay Institute.

“We need to see more of this to be ready for sea level rise,” said Wilson. “It is alarming but we’re seeing challenges with our existing infrastructure when we have a king tide and lots of rain.”

Cheasty said the project began last year with a “Tour of Mayors,” which involved the  group meeting with the Mayors, County Supervisors and State Representatives throughout the Bay Area and forming a “grand coalition.” The goal was to garner enough support from local leaders to help pressure lawmakers to designate the trillions of dollars of funding needed to restore marshlands and establish coastline parks, according to Cheasty. “Decades of our work will be underwater if we don’t do something about it,” said Cheasty.

CESP has met with leaders from the cities of Albany, Berkeley, El Cerrito, Emeryville, Hayward, Oakland, Pinole, Richmond, San Pablo and ten other local environmental organizations, according to Wilson.

According to The Bay Institute, the San Francisco Bay Estuary is the largest on the west coast of both North and South America and the San Francisco Bay is the largest harbor on the Pacific Coast, bringing in 67 million tons of cargo each year.

However, the San Francisco Bay has decreased by a third within the last 150 years and only a quarter of its original habitat and wetlands remain, largely due to human interference with the estuary system during the gold rush in the 1800s. Settlers destroyed 542,000 acres of tidal wetlands by draining and converting them to farmland, according to The Bay Institute.

Trump: global warming is a hoax

CESP is one of the organizations involved in a project to restore these marshlands, a method of protecting the shoreline from sea level rise. Wilson said that CESP hopes the “Visualizing Sea Rise” event will empower the public to get involved by attending city council meetings and talking to leaders.

“Climate change is no longer a theory, it’s a reality, it’s here,” said Cheasty. “It’s here now but people still aren’t paying attention. It’s going to take something drastic for people to really understand it.”

In 2012, President Donald Trump tweeted that global warming was a hoax created by the Chinese. He has since publicly reaffirmed his doubts about climate change several times, insisting that cold winters serve as evidence that climate change is a hoax.

“Science is neutral, it shouldn’t be political,” said Cheasty. “Today we have people in the highest position of power who deride science and make up facts. They cannot tell us that science can be ignored and they cannot make up their own facts.”