Net Zero San Francisco 2050

by Oct 22, 2015Smart Cities

John Addison

John Addison is the author of two books - Save Gas, Save the Planet that details the future of transportation and Revenue Rocket about technology partner strategy. CNET, Clean Fleet Report, and Meeting of the Minds have published over 300 of his articles. Prior to being a writer and speaker, he was in partner and sales management for technology companies such as Sun Microsystems. Follow John on Twitter @soaringcities.


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This blog post is a response to the Dear 2015 group blogging event prompt:

The year is 2050. Write a letter to the people of 2015 describing what your city is like, and give them advice on the next 35 years.

For more responses, see the Dear 2015 Event Page.

April 22, 2050 Speech by John Addison

It is exciting to be with you for your eightieth Earth Day. When I last spoke with you, 35 years ago, on Earth Day 2015, the world looked to San Francisco as a model of innovation and sustainability. Now, you are a soaring net-zero city, meeting all of your energy demands with renewable energy.

When I spoke here at Earth Day 2015, the city’s official goal was an 80 percent greenhouse gas emission achievement by 2050. You achieved that in 2042 and never looked back. Reaching Net Zero is even more impressive since the population has grown from 825,000 people to over 1,150,000.

In 2015, 42 percent of the world’s carbon emissions were from two countries: China and the United States. Since then, most of the world’s new buildings have been in those two countries. The new buildings have been remarkably energy efficient and a key factor in the world finally reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

It took courage and political will to build zero net-energy high-rises, install offshore wind farms, and invest billions in rail and bus rapid transit. In the face of dissent and denial it was not easy, but you did it. You have a beautiful net-zero city; iconic as your Golden Gate Bridge.

In 2015, San Francisco’s Chinese Mayor Lee hosted many delegations from Asia. Your architects played key roles in many of China’s new buildings and cities. In part, thanks to your innovation and leadership, buildings that were once the number one use of energy and carbon emissions have been replaced with zero net energy places to live and work, often in thriving mixed use communities. As extreme climate takes its toll, San Francisco was a model of mitigation.

Now your Mayor Chopra hosts delegations from the world, including the climate-caused diaspora from her native home of India, seeking solutions to ocean waters rising as drinking water disappears. In the midst of California’s worst megadrought, San Francisco is incredibly efficient in its use. You recycle and desalinate with record energy efficiency. You showed how to rebuild a city after the 16-foot surge from an offshore earthquake and now have more floating homes that coexist with rising seas. Some call you the Venice of the United States, although when I think of your renaissance of innovation, I think of Florence.

Urban density has invited high rise living and walkable living to your bay fronts, your ocean, your hills, your parks, and neighborhoods. In 2015, your density of 17,000 people per square mile put you on the net-zero path. You were far better than most U.S. cities, even if you trailed New York. People now have much more nearby with 25,000 people per square mile. With density, world class transportation is cost effective. Most destinations are reached in minutes by walking or biking.

Although the great surge permanently closed your Great Highway and several bay-front neighborhoods, mobility is better than ever. Fewer people now own cars than in 2015, when your native companies of Uber and Lyft expanded their service around the world. Now our smart apps have on-demand self-driving cars await us at home, work, and transit stops to whisk us to our final destination. My journey yesterday from Chicago to your Transbay Center took only a few hours on high-speed rail.

In 2015, equity was a problem for San Francisco and the nation. Lower income people could not afford to live here, nor could the teachers, government employees, and service industry workers who made the city great. Now that San Francisco only has 45 square miles, no longer 49, with the total to shrink as the ocean rises, land is more expensive than ever. Yet record numbers quickly travel from nearby cities in your region of 10 million, using rail, transit, and on-demand mobility.

Yes, you are a model of resilience, growing much of your food here in the city, even as California droughts and wildfires destroyed most of the state’s agriculture. You see waste as energy and materials.

It has been wonderful to return to this emerald city surrounded by blue waters, this gateway to Asia, this city that teaches the world how to innovate, this shining example of zero-net energy living. It is here that we are all inspired and leave our hearts until we again return.

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