Public Comment

Commentary: Where Have All the Environmentalists Gone?

By Merrilie Mitchell
Friday August 04, 2006

Recently I returned to an area near my former home on Canyon Road near UC Stadium. I spent the afternoon walking around the stadium, and on up to the beautiful UC Botanical Gardens. And there I picnicked, surrounded by beautiful flowers and birds singing. 

One birdsong was particularly wonderful and I could hear it for a long time as I hiked home along the fire road, all the time marveling at bay-leaf saplings growing from fallen trunks, wild honeysuckle, thimbleberries, and tasty plums. That special bird trilled from the wilder places in Strawberry Canyon, reminding me of the truth that wilderness gives man a feeling of happiness. UC Berkeley’s top brass seem to have lost touch with this element, and with appreciation and responsibility for their natural environment for themselves and for their students, employees, and neighbors. 

As UC advances further and further into micro science, nano tech, genetic engineering, stem cell research, they seem to lose the big picture of what is most important of all, our green planet and life itself. By comparison, the green dollars of such research and development are miniscule, and can be as deadly as Lawrence Livermore Labs bioterrorism research. 

And so, remembering the 100 Live Oak trees UC plans to cut down just west of the stadium to make room for development, another haunting song came to me, this one from a former Daily Planet opinion page: 

“Where have all the (environmentalists) gone? Has UC replaced every one?” And now when we need wisdom more than ever before, “… will they ever learn?” We need UC to do the right thing, and at least do no harm. Look around us: global warming, bizarre flooding, tree-killing diseases like Sudden Oak Death, people killers like West Nile virus, Avian Flu, and Lyme disease. Can UC Berkeley stop paving over the earth and begin to heal it? 

There is a strong relationship between environment and disease and UC could be in the forefront of this save-our-planet research. An example from UC’s own backyard: when a Lyme disease carrying deer tick bites a western fence lizard, something in the lizard’s blood kills the Lyme disease bacteria inside the tick! Then when that tick bites a human it will not cause Lyme disease! No nano tech or stem cell is necessary, just Mother Nature! 

We must protect our natural environment, the oak trees and Strawberry Canyon. There are smarter, alternative places to develop or redevelop on campus, including over or under parking, and closer to BART. UC should work with citizens and downtown interests to create Berkeley Go-Round clean-air vehicles and people-movers so we can have what they teach—not what they do—compact, sustainable, livable development, growth limits, and town/gown relationships to mutually protect our welfare and environment. 

UC may truly not be aware of the consequences and cumulative effects of all the recent university and private development in the city. This past winter, because so much of the earth has been paved over and trees cut, rainwater from campus could not find its way into the soil. During rainstorms, runoff from UC, washed redwood duff from lower campus through the streets all the way down to Sacramento Street. That water collected oil and filth and flowed into the storm drains to San Francisco Bay where it will disrupt food chains starting with the tiniest organisms. In some parts of West Berkeley the water flooded city streets so deep that people paddled canoes! 

We don’t need to develop all of UC’s projects in Berkeley, especially when other areas of the state are more suitable, cheaper, and other cities have space and the desire for a part of the UC campus. 


Merrilie Mitchell is a Berkeley resident.