Public Internet- the road less travelled.

Author: Gladwyn d'Souza | Category: Environment | Date: 06-23-2020


The virus achieved in two weeks what the Bay Area Air Quality Management District tried to do for 70 years- clear skies so that we can breathe. The immense benefits to the environment were evident early. Asthma incidents have declined world wide but more dramatically in once heavily-polluted cities like Beijing. People in New Delhi were amazed to see the snow capped Himalayas for the first time. Around San Francisco Bay people were stunned by the transformation caused by substantially less driving- animals could congregate instead of getting run over, people were able to talk to a neighbor across the street, children played in the street, and even our bay waters were running cleaner.

Air Quality improved because people were forced not to drive, by regulators who responded decisively to Covid-19. Business switched to allowing employees to telecommute. The resultant improved air will save many more lives. Marshall Burke, Assistant Professor, Dept. of Earth System Science, and Deputy Director, of the Center on Food Security and the Environment, at Stanford University said “I calculate that the reductions in air pollution in China caused by this economic disruption likely saved twenty times more lives in China than have currently been lost due to infection with the virus in that country.” Covid-19 is a great example of how decisive leadership can save lives in multiple areas.

A third area where lives were saved was from reduced crashes on our roadways. The following headline caught my attention recently:  “California COVID-19 Traffic Report Finds Silver Lining.” The article said “Crashes and Traffic Are Down by Half, Saving State $40 Million Per Day During Shelter-In-Place. That’s right it isn’t a typo- $40M per day, an average day when California would be expected to lose about 15 lives. Savings include not having to deploy the CHP for crashes on the roadways.

Enviromentalism is the fight over uses of the landscape. The Cherokees won the first great environmental fight in Worchester v. Georgia (1832) over use of the southern Appalachian Mountains. The vicious racist president Jackson transformed the victory into appropriation by refusing to uphold the court ruling. Sixty years later Georgia, Tennessee and South Carolina fought over toxic air from copper smelting in the southern Appalachian mountains (See Ducktown Smoke: the Fight Over the South’s Greatest Environmental Disaster. By Duncan Maysilles). “At the national level, the landmark ruling issued by Justice Holmes in the Georgia case transformed the private law of nuisance into a constitutional remedy to advance a state’s interests in its natural resources against the impact of transborder pollution.” The consequences of the fight would eventually lead to and be quoted in Massachusetts v. EPA (2007) which recognized green house gases as a pollutant under the Clean Air Act. The Court declared for the first time that carbon dioxide and greenhouse gases were pollutants within the meaning of the Clean Air Act and thus the EPA “has the statutory authority to regulate the emission of such gases from new motor vehicles.”

Covid-19’s cleaner air has put our governments and the Bay Area Quality Management District  on the spot. For decades they’ve wasted our time with ineffective spare the air and transit promotions to preserve uses of appropriation advanced by developers. The air just got dirtier and more toxic and entire species disappeared. The Spotted Owl once common in the south bay haven’t been seen in a decade as roads expanded. The checkerspotted butterfly is now a poster child of disappearance due to the increasing commute. They echo the ghosts of salmon, beaver, wolf, bear and tule elk once common on the bay shore. 

Everywhere environmentalists have realize that we cannot stop global warming without first ending the commute. Now overnight Covid-19 has shown how. It’s essential going forward for government and companies to figure how we can continue to remote work. Today while writing this essay my neighborhood’s overloaded internet went down. Comcast said about 1000 homes were affected. I switched to using data on my cellular plan but how many people can afford to be connected at all times? The monopoly internet companies have been reluctant to provide robust internet for our neighborhoods despite decades of federal and state subsidies. Like Covid-19 regulators, we need regulators to be decisive about climate change. For the commute to go away we need a broad economy-wide possibility of remote work.

There are many other environmental benefits of remote work. People working from  home have aleady decreased the demand for office space. In the San Francisco Bay Area much of the new office space, that household names like Google, Facebook, and Genentech are building, have come at the expense of our bay shorelines and a worsening commute. In one stroke, two environmental boogey men have been slain- irresponsible consumption of bay wetlands essential to defend against the force of Sea Level Rise, and the growing asphalt dome keeping a lid on climate change poilicy. Crime has gone down significantly because houses aren't empty anymore during the "commute". Offices have reduced emissions because employees are teleconferening instead of flying. Airlines stocks have tanked as planes, a major contributor to climate change, have been grounded. Car sales, a critical component of fossil fuel infrastrucure, have declined. Cities like Oakland have implemented safe streets which allow ciitzens to walk or bike safely for their errands. Insuarance companies in response have begun refunding premiums. Huge fleets of oil tankers offshore are stranded with their fully loaded cargos as the demand for oil itself has evaporated. Finally less utilized roads can be removed, taking away one of the great death threats to species. 

All of these changes have the possilbity to be made permanent if we can deliver robust high speed internet. It's time for policy makers to act decisively and make the lessons of Covid-19 permanent. Emily Atkin writes in Heated, "The long-term solution to climate change must be to transition away from fossil fuels entirely—which means replacing gas-powered cars with vehicles powered by renewable electricity. But that transition is going to take a long time—so in the meantime, Butner and Hein argue, it makes sense to just reduce the amount of driving taking place in general. And the easiest way to reduce the amount of driving taking place is to allow workers who can work from home to do it."  The internet must be the road less travelled if humanity on this planet is to get a chance to breathe.



Gladwyn d'Souza
Students shouldn’t have to use Taco Bell Wi-Fi: If we can’t rely on the Legislature to provide the broadband access California students deserve, we’ll need a voter-approved initiative, argues Vernon Billy of the California School Boards Association ...Read more Less
Gladwyn d'Souza
Senator Scott Weiner on the digital divide in his newsletter from 7/28/20 As we have a national discussion about returning to school in the fall, and what remote learning means particularly for our most vulnerable children, I wanted to lay out some of the work I’ve done to support our youth. We ...Read more must fight for the next generation of Californians in our school system and beyond, particularly low-income kids and kids of color who are often forgotten and marginalized. School funding and ending the digital divide I’ve co-authored various youth- and education-focused bills in my time in the Senate, and I was an early supporter of removing large commercial properties from Prop 13 in order to secure major increases in school funding. These are important steps, but we need to do more. COVID-19 and remote learning have brought to focus the immediate need to end the massive digital divide between low-income communities and wealthier communities. Right now, many kids from low-income families who are supposed to participate in remote learning in the fall don’t have adequate access to the internet to do school work or participate in classes. That puts them at a distinct disadvantage to their wealthier peers, more of whom are also likely to have parents who may work from home or who can afford childcare, tutors, and high quality computers and internet to facilitate access to remote learning. And these students are often subjected to an uphill battle regarding schooling, even outside of COVID-19 and the havoc it has created — be it from a lack of school funding that impacts the quality of education and inflating classroom sizes, or a lack of quality STEM education and opportunities. We are also losing so many great teachers — who are often overworked and teaching in classrooms double or triple the size that they should be — because of low pay. Increasing teacher pay and school funding will improve education for all of our kids. Kids of all socioeconomic statuses have struggled to keep up with school during this pandemic. Remote learning is tough, and we were not prepared. We have to move forward with a singular focus to make sure we don’t lose significantly more time educationally, and that the technology gap between low-income families and wealthier families narrows rather than widens. I spoke to Stevon Cook, an SFUSD Commissioner who is also the former CEO of Mission Bit, which provides free coding education for high schoolers in San Francisco. “COVID-19 has magnified the existing technological inequality that our students from low-income families face,” he said. “A remote learning system where some kids have access to wifi and computers and some don’t will worsen the long-term ramifications of the digital divide. As a state, we must step up and provide more quality STEM education access, computers and wifi to students from all backgrounds. I look forward to working with Senator Wiener on these vital issues as we enter the 2020–2021 school year.” I’m committed to ending the digital divide and investing in our schools, our children and our communities. It’s time to make sure every child in California has access to wifi and a computer, especially in times when we’re asking families to participate in remote schooling. Less
Gladwyn d'Souza July 31, 2020 12:37 pm
Internet access in San Mateo County
Jake Kim
I completely agree with what Gladwyn has to say. It astonished me how much the air quality was able to improve over the past few months. This is a task that is definitely within our reach as long as a good amount of effort is invested in establishing reliable high-speed public internet. This has ...Read more already been a thing in countries like South Korea, where fast internet is accessible in bustling areas. I definitely did not think the internet could alleviate the amount of greenhouse gasses in the air, but I am fully convinced that this is a necessary step that should be taken sooner or later Less
Ariel L
Mr. D'Souza made some very relevant points in this article. It is true that we have seen so many changes during quarantine with the air quality, nature, and overall just the Earth. It's interesting how he connects WiFi and working at home to air pollution outside. I can't help but ...Read more wonder what will happen after quarantine and whether everything will go back to what it used to be with a lot of cars on the road. I think he makes great point that if we have high-speed internet, it will make working at home a lot easier, limiting the amount of traffic outside. It is already proven in this article that there are so many benefits outside if you continue to work from home Less
Rachel Liu
I completely agree with what Gladwyn has written, especially with the importance of working at home and not going to work every single day because of that impact on air pollution in our environment. The commute time in Silicon Valley is quickly getting worse and worse and there needs to be action ...Read more taken against this issue. The benefits of working from home have really shone during this coronavirus and numerous companies have realized that it is very possible to continue most of their work from home instead of having to go to work every day Less
Howard Hong
Like D'Souza said, COVID-19 has really demonstrated what we as a society can do if we were to limit our commute. There are so many examples of the positives that we have seen already just in our own communities. I really liked how D'Souza linked this interesting observation back to his main ...Read more argument of advocating for high-speed public internet because it really shows how nuanced and impactful this addition would affect our daily lives. While there exists massive logistical and financial problems when it comes to implementing high speed internet, we should at least begin advocating for it at the local or municipal level. Less

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