Global climate change is the single greatest threat facing our planet today. As we celebrate Earth Month, it’s important that we recognize not only how far we have come to address this crisis, but how much we still need to do.
Carbon dioxide levels in the Earth’s atmosphere are the highest they have been in the past 800,000 years, causing the planet to heat up at an accelerated pace. With surface temperatures increasing, we have seen ice sheets recede, glaciers melt, and sea levels rise at alarming rates. This has led to erratic and extreme weather patterns, such as droughts and wildfires, and endangered plant and animal species.
While we feel the effects of climate change today, future generations will suffer even more if we do not double down on our efforts to advance environmental sustainability on a mass scale. According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, sea levels are projected to rise between 1 to 4 feet by the year 2100. This will greatly impact coastal cities like Long Beach and island communities globally.
Our city has already experienced prolonged drought, extreme heat, and sea level rise — and these pressures are getting worse every year. Our beaches also are overwhelmed by trash and pollutants that flow in from the LA River, leading to substantial health risks for residents and marine life.
We have countless families living in poor air quality along the 710 Freeway, where hospitalization from asthma-related issues is more than three times likely to occur and life expectancy rates are seven years lower than in other parts of the city.
That is why I have spearheaded the “Generation Green Initiative” — to create smart policies in the city that improve the environment for generations to come.
The city of Long Beach is a leader in the fight against climate change. We have been working to build flood defenses, plan for heatwaves and higher temperatures, advance our stormwater storage and treatment capacities, and promote clean air policies.
We are also home to one of the world’s most advanced international trade gateways. The Port of Long Beach, commonly known as the Green Port, has made significant progress to reduce emissions through massive infrastructure improvements, transitioning to sustainable technologies, and a comprehensive Clean Air Action Plan.
In December 2016, I asked the Council to support a citywide ban on single-use expanded polystyrene containers. I am proud to say that we are now in the policy’s second phase of implementation. We began by transitioning all city-owned facilities to renewable and recyclable containers, and now we are working to get all restaurants serving more than 100 patrons to become foam-free. More than 50 businesses are already early adopters of the policy and we expect many more soon.
This month, I also wrote a Council item recommending that the city support strong statewide policies to phase out single-use plastics by 2030. State Bill 54 and Assembly Bill 1080 promise to not only reduce waste, but also create incentives to produce more recyclable materials moving forward.
The business community is a critical partner in these efforts to become a model for sustainability. Many local businesses have joined together to form a buying cooperative that purchases recyclable and reusable products at significant discounts. And we have seen a tremendous response from small business owners taking advantage of our city’s Green and Blue Business programs, which incentivize businesses to adopt more sustainable practices.
Long Beach also has a robust group of community organizations that have been instrumental in these efforts, such as Algalita, Surfrider Foundation, Sierra Club, the Long Beach Environmental Alliance, Long Beach 350, and so many others. Together, I’m confident that we can meet the grave challenges we face and remain a leader in the movement against climate change.
To celebrate Earth Month and learn about all the great work these groups and the city are doing to advance sustainability, please join me at the Earth Day on Pine event from 2 to 8 p.m. this Saturday, April 27. For more information, contact my office at (562) 570-6919.
Lena Gonzalez is the First District City Councilwoman.