Never before has it been more important to imagine and invest in a future that is decidedly different than the world we are facing today. The COVID-19 pandemic and the protests sparked by police brutality have laid out in stark terms the underlying systemic inequalities and racism in our society that make poor, elderly, black, and brown people socioeconomically vulnerable and expose them to trauma and risk.
These vulnerabilities will only be exacerbated by climate change, unless we work together now to achieve multiple objectives: address inequality and systemic racism; create equity in terms of health and access to opportunity for low-income communities of color; and invest in strategies to reduce the impacts of extreme storms, flooding, sea-level rise, wildfires, and other hazards for communities most at risk. COVID-19 also makes an indisputable case for a decidedly unsexy focus on preparedness—making investments today to prepare our communities for an uncertain tomorrow.
As Congress and California’s state government consider stimulus packages intended to help our economy recover, we have a responsibility to ensure that every precious dime spent is responsive to the current crisis and serves as an investment in a more resilient and equitable future for all. As this special issue of Estuary illuminates, the San Francisco Bay Area has a diverse range of projects underway that—if fully funded rather than requiring years of slogging to piece together resources—could greatly accelerate efforts to adapt. These projects include improvements to vulnerable infrastructure as well as community-based strategies to manage local threats to health and safety.
While stimulus packages often put the focus on “shovel-ready” projects, it’s useful to recognize that the best way to build a fair, just, and resilient economy is to support projects that can achieve multiple objectives, ensuring that future generations benefit from these one-time investments. This could mean embracing complicated projects that require multiple phases of engineering and environmental analysis, and that ensure local priorities and needs are met through inclusive community engagement.
Some projects highlighted in this issue have been funded in part by valuable grant programs that no longer exist—such as Caltrans’ Senate Bill 1 Advanced Adaptation Planning Program—but have been essential to help build buy-in from local stakeholders, foster informed decision-making, and move creatively from planning to implementation. Local leaders urgently need these resources to prepare for what’s ahead.
Early in the epidemic, the coordination demonstrated by Bay Area county health departments was effective in saving lives. Soon individual health departments began tracking local data on a more granular level to identify hot spots and staiblize conditions. This led to the current situation, where health departments tailor their policy responses to local circumstances, while at the same time embracing common policies like requiring masks and social distancing.
Climate change will demand similar responses, including regional-scale coordination, analysis, and resource generation to support local ingenuity. Through this unprecedented experience, individuals, communities, and local leaders have all felt both hopeless and hopeful. As we prepare for bigger changes ahead, remembering both our shared vulnerabilities and those of our most at-risk communities will be key to building lasting resilience.
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