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Gov. Brown, keep oil and gas in the ground

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About 30,000 people participated in Saturday’s climate march in San Francisco. (Courtesy Robyn Purchia)

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During a heat wave last year, the night-time temperature in Amanda Senior’s San Jose home was 95 degrees. The air conditioning wasn’t working, and Senior was worried about her two young sons, who were only two and six-years old at the time. She did all she could to keep them healthy and comfortable, including letting her youngest sleep without his diaper. A dirty, wet bed was the least of her concerns.

“I was concerned when I woke up the next morning, they may not,” Senior, a volunteer with the nonprofit Mothers Out Front, told me. “I can only imagine how worried other mothers who have no air conditioning must have been for their children.”

Concerns over record-breaking temperatures and other impacts associated with climate change motivated Senior, and an estimated 30,000 others, to participate in the “Rise for Climate, Jobs and Justice” march in San Francisco on Saturday. The march sent a strong message to the federal government, which has rolled back protections for Americans’ health and environment.

It also sent a call to California Governor Jerry Brown. Many marchers carried signs reading “Governor Brown, leave it in the ground” or “Be green, not Brown.”

Members of the Brown’s Last Chance campaign – a coalition of over 800 environmental justice, faith-based, health, consumer and climate action groups – are calling on Governor Brown to step up his climate leadership.

Advocates appreciate the Governor’s ambitious renewable energy targets, including his decision this week to sign SB100 and set California on a course to 100% clean energy by 2045. But Governor Brown must also address the deadly impacts of fossil fuel extraction.

Since 2010, his administration has issued more than 20,000 permits for new oil and gas wells and expanded offshore drilling by 17% in state waters. California’s bizarre approach of both battling and bolstering polluters hurts more than the planet; it also hurts people.

“It’s affected my family, it’s affected water relations and it’s affected my land,” Maria Hunt, a marcher and member of the Yakama, Dakota, Chippewa, Umatilla and Klickitat tribes, told me. “This isn’t our land to permanently damage. It’s borrowed land for future generations.”

The Brown’s Last Chance campaign is calling on Governor Brown to “stop and drop”: to stop issuing new permits for dirty oil and gas wells and drop fossil fuel production in California. Members recommend starting with a 2500-foot “buffer zone” between drilling operations and sensitive sites, like homes and schools.

Oil and gas extraction is incredibly hazardous. Through the hydraulic fracturing, or fracking process, operators inject dangerous chemicals, like formaldehyde, into the ground to clean wells and enhance oil flow. When airborne or burned, these chemicals can release toxic fumes that can cause serious health problems, including cancer, reproductive issues and learning disabilities.

Fracking also threatens drinking water. Not only does it require large quantities of water, which is burdensome for drought-stricken communities, but it can also make local supplies undrinkable.

As many as 5.4 million Californians, primarily in low-income and communities of color, live within one mile of an oil and gas well. Too often, these wells are located next to homes, hospitals and schools.

Through his work for the Berkeley-based nonprofit The Story of Stuff, Wilson has traveled around the world to document the enormous impact plastic is having on communities. He has seen plastic pollution floating in the ocean and piling up in landfills. He has also witnessed the dangers it poses during the manufacturing process. The moment the oil and gas used to make plastic leaves the wellhead, people and the environment are at risk.

“By the time the potato chip bag gets to you, it’s already killed people,” Wilson told me. “California invests a tremendous amount of money cleaning up beaches. Why do we want to be a state that creates more capacity to create the things we’re paying to cleanup?”

Californians are leading a transition away from fossil fuels. Last week, for example, Mayor London Breed set San Francisco on a more aggressive course for reducing greenhouse gas emissions. All buildings constructed after 2030 in San Francisco must be net-zero carbon emitters. While City officials are still creating an implementation plan, they are publicly contemplating reducing our reliance on natural gas.

As San Francisco and other leaders reduce their reliance on fossil fuels, Governor Brown should also begin a phase out of natural gas and oil extraction in the state. It won’t be easy. But Governor Brown’s decision to put the state on the path to eliminating fossil fuels from its energy sector by 2045 also isn’t easy.

California leaders challenge themselves to make the world safer for people like Senior’s children. But they can’t protect Californians’ air and water if they continue to permit oil and gas drilling. Governor Brown, keep it in the ground.

GREEN SPACE Q AND A

Can plastic dry cleaning bags be recycled? – Jean Myers

Yes! Recology, The City’s recycling provider, asks San Franciscans to bundle all soft plastics – plastic dry cleaning bags, bubble wrap, plastic wrap, newspaper bags – inside one plastic bag. When it is the size of a soccer ball, tie the bag closed and place it in the blue, recycling bin.

Unfortunately, the danger plastic dry cleaning bags pose to health and the environment aren’t limited to disposal. Avoiding bags when possible, can eliminate these risks and the hassle of recycling. Ask dry cleaners to place shirts in a paper box or buy a reusable garment bag for clean garments.

Thanks for the great question! Email more sorting questions to bluegreenorblack@gmail.com.

Robyn Purchia is an environmental attorney, environmental blogger and environmental activist who hikes, gardens and tree hugs in her spare time. Check her out at robynpurchia.com.

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