Population, Climate & the Future of SF Bay

San Francisco Bay: Reduced to a Canal
Visual artist Alfred Twu imagined how the Bay Area would look had the mid-twentieth-century development schemes come to pass. Courtesy Victoria Bogdan – Click image to visit the project.

The United Nations named July 11 World Population Day back in 1987, when the Earth reached the then-startling population milestone of 5 billion people. Today, with 7.25 billion humans and counting, the urgency and importance of population issues is greater than ever.

The realities of population growth have been on our minds at Save The Bay. We’ve spent much of the past year thinking through the long term strategic direction of the organization. We’ve grappled with the fact that, while over the past 50 years we’ve won some incredible victories for San Francisco Bay, the population and climate pressures our region will face in the next half century mean we need to be more forward-thinking than ever when it comes to protecting the health of our Bay and quality of life in the Bay Area.

What will the future Bay look like?
We don’t have a crystal ball, but projections tell us the Bay Area will see significant growth in total population in coming decades. This growth will exacerbate income disparities across the Bay Area, putting further strain on housing and transportation resources. Population pressures will likely reignite development pressures and increase pollution threats. To complicate this landscape further, climate change will increase extreme weather including both drought and severe storms, while pushing Bay waters into low-lying areas as sea level rises.

The Bay Area’s population will increase, grow more diverse, and more elderly. Its cities will become more dense and inter-dependent. As density increases, the Bay shoreline could face more development pressure, but public demand and appreciation for the Bay’s open space and recreation should increase as well. Habitat restoration and pollution-reduction initiatives already underway have momentum to succeed, but other crises, including less water flowing into the Bay because of California’s complicated water politics, will be very challenging to reverse.

We also expect the impacts of climate change to intensify with greater extremes and variability, making sudden and severe shocks to the Bay’s ecology and wildlife more likely, and posing challenging tradeoffs to business as usual.

What does this landscape mean for Save The Bay?
In the past, Save The Bay has been positioned to deliver local solutions, but the root causes of Bay threats are increasingly becoming global in scope.

Population and climate trends may not be steady or dramatic in the next 5 years, but the next 25 years could determine the fate of our region. So Save The Bay’s long-term effectiveness protecting and restoring the Bay for people and wildlife may depend on how well we adapt.

  • As we plan for this uncertain future, we know we must understand and become more relevant to the region’s changing population. We are dedicated to choosing our objectives, adapting our methods, and modulating our language to engage and mobilize people beyond our current supporters.
  • We know, too, that in the years ahead we must build our ability to exert influence on decisions made outside the Bay Area that affect the Bay, by politicians who do not have constituents in the region.
  • More than ever before, we envision strong strategic alliances with powerful organizations and constituencies that have an economic and political stake in a healthy Bay.

Over more than half a century, Save The Bay has adapted its approach to a changing Bay Area. In the decades ahead, the population, the political and regulatory landscape, and the very ecology of the Bay will continue to evolve, but one thing will remain constant: The estuary at the heart of our region will always be a critical natural resource, an economic engine, and a salient reminder–right here in our own back yard–that the Bay, the ocean, and the planet will always need saving.