There is now broad agreement: Our climate is changing and something must be done about it. Preferably, something somewhere else, that won’t affect me even a little bit.

A recent Pew Research study showed that 74 percent of Americans “are willing to make a lot or some changes in their lifestyles to deal with climate change.” While that’s good to hear, we don’t know where those altruistic, empathetic Americans live exactly. If they are residents of the San Mateo County coast, they may have been overselling their interest in sacrifice. We’ve seen precious little support on the coast for collective work to address the climate calamity that is now bearing down on our children.

Last year, in a process so flawed that even some Half Moon Bay City Council members mocked it, the city settled on four broad priorities to pursue. The priorities might be slightly restated from year to year, but they always seem to include traffic mitigation, affordable housing and “sustainability,” a word with specific meaning within government agencies but so broad and esoteric as to be utterly meaningless to the rest of us.

Ask yourself: Is our community more sustainable today than it was a year ago? Ten years ago? Can you point to a project on the San Mateo County coast that really addresses sea level rise in any meaningful way? Does your neighborhood seem less prone to flooding? Are you less likely to be affected by wildfire than you were in the past?

The Half Moon Bay City Council tried a couple of baby steps toward sustainability by proposing that natural gas be largely phased out in town. It didn’t go well. The electorate spoke loud and clear. Half Moon Bay voters clearly want to keep their gas ranges, water heaters and so on. The council might have done a better job selling the environmental justification for going electric, but it really didn’t matter to many who made themselves heard loud and clear. They weren’t willing to give up something for the collective good. In the end, the council retreated, delaying implementation for years.

Meanwhile, the sea threatens Highway 1 at Surfer’s Beach …

The situation is more immediate in Pacifica, where the 35-year-old sea wall along Beach Boulevard has been failing. The Pacific Ocean sloshes onto the city of Pacifica with regularity these days. To its credit, the city has held a series of workshops and seems dedicated to finding the right solution, though some environmentalists are concerned that simply replacing the sea wall with another hardened structure will do more harm than good.

In so many places, we are stalled in our efforts to address the greatest challenge of our time. Piecemeal solutions, like a new seawall here or moving a road there, seem stopgap. An individual’s decision to stop powering cars with fossil fuels or change to a plant-based diet seems quaint in light of the challenge before us.

What we need is collective will. We need to behave as a society of thinking people dedicated to a better world. It’s hard to expect such community in 2022. But we must.

— Clay Lambert

Clay Lambert is the editorial director for Coastside News Group. After years working at regional daily newspapers, he began as editor of the Half Moon Bay Review in 2004.

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