San Francisco’s Unaffordability is an Environmental Injustice

The high costs of living here means those who are not wealthy will find it hard to share in an environmental dream.

It is an environmental injustice that living in San Francisco has become and remains out of the reach of middle- and low-income people, not just an economic one.

April 22 will mark the 43rd Earth Day, and as it approaches, talk of divestment from fossil fuels, green building and transport, bike paths, slow food, and sustainable farming dominate the conversation about being green. That many USF students are eager to take up these causes is wonderful to see.

But these issues need to be placed in the context of a very real environmental problem that could not be closer to our college home. It is a problem that is by no means unique to San Francisco, but it is especially acute in a city that, though it prides itself on the diversity of its residents, becomes less diverse by the year.

San Francisco’s problem is that of providing an environmentally sound human habitat for all — the rich, and the poor; professionals and laborers; the politically powerful and the marginalized; the generationally established and recent immigrants; minorities as well as majorities.

In many ways, San Francisco is the embodiment of that environmentally sound human habitat, but the incredibly high cost of living here means the green gem that is the City is only reasonably available to an ever-shrinking, homogenous, and wealthy segment of the population.

Our city’s population density — in the U.S., second only to New York — makes San Francisco what is called a “walkable” town. The green implications of living in a walkable town are that its residents are healthier for not having to jump in a car every time to conduct business, commute, or run errands. The proximity of stores, schools, offices and open spaces in San Francisco, combined with an extensive and well-used public transit system, translates into dramatically reduced fossil fuel use per person, and reduced pollution and energy use overall.

And, increasingly, these benefits are only for those who can afford it.

Or take this scenario: the ease of being able to walk, bike, or bus to an urban farmer’s market to purchase locally grown, sustainably farmed food is something we take for granted in San Francisco; it is luxury in other, less expensive locales, where residents may have no choice but to drive to a commercial complex sitting on acres of asphalt to buy conventionally-raised food.

The fact that the San Francisco farmer’s market scenario is increasingly restricted to the wealthy, and the second, less environmentally desirable situation is what the rest of society is being limited to, means a clear injustice is happening.

In USF’s celebration of Earth Day, if we lose sight of this growing environmental inequality taking place just outside campus, all our efforts toward sustainability are suddenly hamstrung.

 

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