Three Questions for New Political Director Paul Kumar

San Francisco Bay Healthy Bay Political Director Paul Kumar
Our new Political Director Paul Kumar is working to engage local residents in establishing a healthy Bay. Photo by Rick Lewis

Last month, we welcomed Paul Kumar as Save The Bay’s new Political Director. We asked Paul a few questions about his vision for advocating for a thriving San Francisco Bay.

Why do you love San Francisco Bay?

I guess you could say I’ve had a lifelong love affair with bay regions and their ecology. I grew up in Harrisburg, PA on the Susquehanna River, which is the largest tributary of the Chesapeake Bay. In my teens I spent some very memorable summer weeks on the Eastern Shore of the bay itself, where I learned to appreciate the extraordinary richness and diversity of its marshes and wetlands,  and the complex web of aquatic and avian life they support. As an adult, before moving to the West Coast, I spent a decade living in New Haven, CT, on the shores of Long Island Sound, which I got to know and appreciate with greater scientific understanding that I gained from my friends working in water quality, wetlands restoration, and wilderness education programs. Fifteen years ago, when I had the opportunity to relocate to the San Francisco Bay area, it felt like the culmination of all my past history. The Bay is epically beautiful and fecund – people from all corners of globe come here to marvel at it, and its rich ecology is the wellspring of the world-changing social and economic development that have grown up around it, including the wisdom that led Save the Bay’s founders to launch the advocacy efforts and build the structure of governance capable of protecting and enhancing the Bay’s health for posterity.

What’s your vision for a healthy Bay?

San Francisco Bay is not a wilderness, but a critically important estuary located in the midst of a densely populated area that is projected to experience nearly 30% population growth by 2040. That makes it critical for us to have a vision for a healthy Bay that is not just driven by the science of preservation and restoration of wetlands and wildlife habitat, but that encompasses a vision of human interaction with the Bay, focused on ensuring that future economic development efforts and land-use plans are genuinely sustainable, avoiding encroachment on and discharge into waterways and transitional zones, and abating those problems where they already exist. In short, we need to establish a mutually beneficial relationship between the natural environment and the built environment, based on ecological consciousness.

Why is political advocacy important to protecting our Bay?

In an economy where growth and profit are the driving maxims, there will always be incentives to disregard the exploitation of the natural environment and externalize costs at its expense. While educating individuals and institutions on ecological values and practices is critically important to address these threats, that alone is insufficient. Protecting and enhancing our environment requires energized popular engagement and a deepening of democracy that expands people’s power over decisions that have significant impacts on our communities and the ecological systems that sustain them, which in our region means San Francisco Bay first and foremost. Political advocacy is our means to these ends, and after an election with record-low turnout that has placed Congress in the control of climate change deniers, it is impossible to overstate the importance of strong advocacy if we are to protect the environmental progress we have made and win additional advances rather than watch our achievements be rolled back.