Opinion: Berkeley needs District 5 Councilmember Sophie Hahn’s environmental leadership

She helped bring 100% renewable electricity to every home and business and wrote first-in-the-world legislation to end the use of throw-away foodware

If ever we needed more proof that the climate crisis is upon us, this year’s fires, and the smoke blanketing the entire West Coast, provide a sobering reminder. Meanwhile, as the world shelters in place and take-out food becomes the norm, we’re building up a virtual tsunami of un-recyclable plastic containers, many of which will end up clogging our waterways, swirling in our oceans, or sitting in landfills for the next 1,000 years. Turn on the TV, and we see record hurricanes slamming into the Southern states. It feels like there’s no escape.

Perhaps even more frightening is the lack of leadership in Washington DC, where our federal government has been taken over by climate- and science-deniers, and departments whose mission is to steward our public parks, lands and resources are given over to kleptocrats bent on destroying rather than protecting our commons. Even in Sacramento, where more progress has been made than in any other state, legislators and governors are beholden to powerful industries more worried about their own extinction than suffocating our people and planet. On many important issues, we end up with more talk than action.

So where are the leaders who are smart enough, bold enough and free enough from the influence of monied interests to make real change? The truth is that they’re in local communities. And in Berkeley, an important environmental leader, Sophie Hahn, is on the ballot. We hope you’ll join us in giving her your support.

Over the past four years, and in her work before joining the city council, Sophie Hahn has been a leader in numerous efforts to achieve Berkeley’s Climate Action and Resilience Goals. She helped bring 100% renewable electricity to every home and business, co-authored a comprehensive plan to green Berkeley buildings, wrote Berkeley’s urban agriculture laws, and authored legislation to take a huge step forward towards achieving our zero waste goals.

Sophie understands that our children’s futures depend on us taking meaningful action – quickly – and she’s the only candidate who will make sure Berkeley continues to break barriers to address climate and environmental emergencies. Perhaps the most impactful – and impressive – of Sophie’s accomplishments these past four years is her legislation to eliminate throwaway plastic foodware. Single-use plastics create a toxic mess, from the extraction and processing of fossil fuels that they’re made of, to the transport of products across oceans and continents, to their final resting places in our oceans and landfills. All for the convenience of not having to wash a dish.

Recognizing the folly of this harmful set of practices, Councilmember Hahn wrote first-in-the-world legislation to end the use of throw-away foodware by requiring that all “eat-in” restaurant food be served on reusable foodware (otherwise known as dishes, glasses, and utensils) and to-go food be served in compostable or reusable containers.

While this may not sound like a big deal, Sophie Hahn’s legislation has been hailed by zero waste and environmental organizations worldwide, and cities as far away as Paris are taking up policies inspired by her example. She has been invited to share her work at national conferences, and received an award from Berkeley’s Ecology Center, a key partner in crafting and passing the legislation, “in recognition of outstanding leadership to people and planet.”  While widespread acclaim is a nice bonus, Councilmember Hahn wrote this legislation to solve a problem for Berkeley, and it’s already making a big difference. It’s hard to imagine the piles of plastic and Styrofoam being created in other communities during shelter-in-place. In Berkeley, where the new regulations had just begun to be implemented,
a majority of to-go food is now in compostable containers.

This is just one example of Sophie Hahn’s environmental leadership, which has earned her the sole endorsement of the Sierra Club and the League of Conservation Voters. For her work to promote urban agriculture and sustainable food practices, she has the enthusiastic support of Chez Panisse and Edible Schoolyard Founder Alice Waters. Many others in our community value her visionary and effective work to ensure sustainability here at home, and across the planet.

We hope you will join us in wholeheartedly supporting the re-election of Sophie Hahn as Berkeley’s District 5 Councilmember.

Annie Leonard is the executive director of Greenpeace, Inc. & creator of The Story of Stuff; Annie Farman serves on the executive advisory board of the Plastic Pollution Coalition; Steve Lautze is chief ecological officer at Resource Revolution; Igor Tregub is chair of the Sierra Club Northern Alameda County Group; Jacqueline Omania is an Oxford Elementary school teacher and winner of the EPA's Presidential Innovation Award for Environmental Educators; Chrise deTournay is vice-chair of Berkeley’s Zero Waste Commission; Miriam Gordon is policy director of Upstream Solutions. (All titles listed are for identification purposes only, and do not represent organizational endorsements).