Climate Action in the Land of Denial and Distraction

by Steve Schaefer

Today, armed Trump supporters stormed the sanctity of the nation’s Capitol and rioted, personally egged on by their toxic narcissist sore loser leader. This is just the latest outrage in the country where COVID-19 is labeled a hoax, mask-wearing is seen as a sign of weakness, and, yes, climate change is called a hoax, too.

I’m sitting in the San Francisco Bay Area, in California, so I am far away physically and politically from this uproar, but I am deeply concerned about the future of the United States of America and the world.

The U.S. was a leader not so long ago. We have been a beacon of hope for acceptance, fairness, and democracy. We had elections where the loser called the winner to congratulate them, and then helped in a peaceful transition. We led by example.

Yes, our history is tainted with injustices to native people, minorities, and the poor. Our capitalism claims that anyone can be successful, but over time has reinforced class structures, with the wealthy getting more so, the poor losing protections, and the middle class having stagnant earning power.

Now, the world needs leadership to battle climate change—along with the worst pandemic in a century. This time, thanks in part to the reign of Donald J. Trump, we are unprepared to lead.  

In 2018, I spent three days at the Climate Reality Leadership Training with Al Gore and other leaders and learned how to present the story of climate change. The former vice president is famous (and was awarded) for his An Inconvenient Truth slideshow. At the training, he showed us how to do our own version of it. The PowerPoint starts with basic climate science, then segues to some truly frightening photos of fires, floods, and droughts, and then some hopeful images of windmills and solar panels. The sections are “Must we do it?,” Can we do it?,” and “Will we do it?.” The “Will” section shows shots of the Paris Agreement and peaceful demonstrations.

Since late 2018, I have given nine Climate Reality presentations, including one just a month before COVID-19 crippled our ability to meet in groups. My personal focus, as an auto writer, has switched to electric vehicles, and I test and promote them enthusiastically.

The problem I see, though, is that in this social climate, presentations like this and simply reporting on electric cars may not be enough to get the job done in the short amount of time we have to make an impact. Today, a vast number of people are fed disinformation and lies, and last November, were willing to give a second term to an obviously dangerous COVID-19 and climate change denier. Away from the coasts and urban areas, there’s a vast distrust of science—you might even say a loss of reason—in the population. With social media, anyone can find a like-minded believer of any conspiracy theory, and right-wing media has promoted an alternative universe of beliefs and “facts.” It’s hard to know what’s the truth anymore.

But facts are facts, and one of them is that the earth is continuing to warm, and that it will lead to drastic changes, including coastal flooding, more powerful storms, droughts, loss of species, and a general disruption of what has been, for ten millennia, a stable climate. Unfortunately, while a small group toils to fix, update, improve, and change the situation, most people either don’t care or are too absorbed in their own lives to act. I know, because even as a trained Climate Reality Leader, I spend a lot of time doing things that either hurt or don’t improve the climate situation. And I know better!

What’s the answer? How can you teach even basic science, such as the basics of climate change or the essentials of disease transmission, to minds that are closed to being educated and whose emotions are focused on illusory things?

Do climate leaders, some corporate CEOs, and some nonprofit organizations have to be the parents who take care of all of these wayward children? How can we reach out across the wide political divide, and get everyone on the same page? We could have had our “World War II” moment with fighting the COVID-19 virus, but thanks to our disengaged, lying, self-centered chief executive, we are behind most other countries. There is no talk of sacrifice and no feeling of shared responsibility. My mask protects you! Why is that so hard to grasp?

When we are finally back to being physically together, how do we heal the wounds that we’ve suffered from this disruptive chapter in our history? Are Climate Reality presentations relevant anymore?  

We need to act quickly, in a way that gets the message across. But what is it?

Is Public Transit Safe? BART Prepares for a Gradual Reopening

By Steve Schaefer

Bart Cleanup

During the COVID-19 shutdown, public transportation ridership has plummeted, both because offices are closed and because people are afraid to ride it. BART, the San Francisco Bay Area’s multi-county train system, normally carries something like 400,000 people a day, but now are offering a severely curtailed schedule to a small fraction of that ridership.

I know what it’s like because before the shutdown, I rode BART every day into San Francisco from my suburban community.  There were many times when we were pressed together so closely that our bodies were touching and our faces were a foot apart. That’s definitely not safe during a pandemic (or desirable anytime)!

I received a detailed email from BART a few days ago outlining 15 things they are doing to prepare for the return of riders as businesses begin to reopen. I’ve summarized them here, but you can learn more on their website.

BART’s 15-Step Plan

BART is:

  1. Disinfecting the trains and cleaning station touchpoints with hospital-grade disinfectant.
  2. Running longer trains to enable social distancing. They estimate 30 people to a train is the limit.
  3. Running trains on a 30-minute weekday schedule and closing at 9 p.m., but they will monitor it and increase frequency as demand increases.
  4. Changing seat configurations on the new trains to create more space for social distancing.
  5. Requiring face masks at all times for riders 13 and older. They will keep this requirement regardless of changes in county mandates. Some free masks will be available at the station at first, and they are planning to install vending machines.
  6. Enforcing the face mask policy with Bart Police presence.
  7. Posting decals, posters, and banners to inform riders of the new requirements and changes.
  8. Offering hand sanitizer.
  9. Encouraging the use of contactless Clipper Card payment and online loading of funds to the cards. The Clipper Card method is much better than paper tickets, which the system was phasing out already at the time of the outbreak.
  10. Offering personal hand straps–free at first and later for sale.
  11. Posting daily ridership numbers and train car loading data at http://www.bart.gov/covid. This is intended to reassure riders with concerns about crowding.
  12. Exploring new technologies, such as ultraviolet disinfecting, and figuring out how to implement them safely and in a way that won’t cause damage.
  13. Encouraging businesses to offer staggered work hours to spread out the commute. BART is also participating in virtual town halls to answer questions.
  14. Supplying its workers with personal protection equipment (PPE) and giving COVID-19 testing.
  15. Using time of low ridership to accelerate infrastructure rebuilding projects.

Bart distance logo

I don’t know when I will be riding BART again, but this sounds like a comprehensive list, which is reassuring. It will have to be carried out effectively, of course, and over time, riders will return. If more people find themselves working from home more often or permanently that will help solve the crowding issue for BART. Then it will remain a profit/loss issue, which has been an ongoing problem. We need our public transit systems, so I am hoping this can be solved.