The San Francisco Climate Action Plan is a legitimate and thoughtful document, but it was launched with a curiously branded TEDx Talk that felt more like a low-budget awards show than a policy discussion.

This reporter has never understood the appeal of TEDx Talks, a sort of live onstage version of VCs Congratulating Themselves that purports to offer, in their words, a “global conversion about our shared future” with “ideas worth spreading” to “spark exciting conversation.” These so-called exciting conversations give one side of an argument, with no fact-checking of the speaker’s claims, but I guess they’re extremely trendy among the “Let’s move to Austin” crowd.

And oddly, there is apparently now a TEDxCityofSanFrancisco entity that’s hosting rah-rah sessions that remind us all how wonderful City Hall is at tackling the problems of the day.

On Wednesday night, they streamed a launch of the SF 2021 Climate Action plan, a 90-minute infomercial-style program seen above. A curated set of (pre-recorded) speeches were introduced with trade-conference, fake-enthusiasm phrases like “Hold onto your sets and prepare to be inspired,” and speakers who pretended they were really impressed with the previous speaker, when they clearly did not even hear the previous speaker because each segment was recorded separately.


To be fair, the SF 2021 Climate Action plan is a serious 136-page policy document, and as the Examiner explains, an annual update to important work the city has been doing since 2004. As seen above, this year’s update has a lot of specific policy goals to reduce consumption  and emissions.  

Image: SFGovTV via Youtube

But most of the speeches were merely City Hall types congratulating themselves on things they’ve already done, or disguising political goals as a forward-looking climate agenda. Mayor Breed spoke at the 27:00 mark, and does reference the goal of “Net-zero emissions by 2040.”

But she spoke mostly of banning gas from city buildings, which we did years ago (after Berkeley did it first), and “investment in public transit,” some of which she actually opposes.

And she threw a nice bone to the developer lobby, parroting the “Housing policy is climate policy” argument. “We desperately need more apartments and duplexes,” Breed argued, and it may be true in a vacuum that, as she said, “multi-unit buildings are more efficient than single-family homes.”

But there are unacknowledged environmental impacts to the “Build, baby, build” mindset, like how construction waste accounts for two-thirds of all waste in the U.S., how developers segregate affordable housing onto contaminated land, and how there might be dangers to splitting up buildings into shadily approved ADUs whose landlords sometimes just daisy chain together 19 power strips into these subdivided units.  

Image: SFGovTV via Youtube

There are some highlights to the 90-minute broadcast. For a legit good TEDx Talk segment, fast-forward to the speech between the 43:15 and 52:00 minute marks to hear Stet Sanborn, an architect with SmithGroup, who speaks on the obscure but important topic of building decarbonization, and little ways we can reduce our carbon footprint.

“There’s a lot of folks that are really skeptical about transitioning to an all-electric home,” Sanborn said. “Part of that is because of a huge marketing campaign over the last 30 years to convince people that cooking with gas is amazing.”

“When we actually compare it to technology that’s also available that is all-electric, it’s called induction cooking, induction cooking beats natural gas cooking hands down,” he continued. “There’s no combustion. A lot of folks don’t realize natural gas releases not only a lot of particulate emissions into your home, but also NOx [Nitrogen oxide] emissions. Those two things are huge triggers for asthma.

“If you’re cooking a home-cooked meal, how good is it if you’re poisoning your family at the same time? "

Image: SFGovTV via Youtube

We also hear from Will Rogers, CEO of SF Goodwill, on how many gallons of water are required to produce clothing items. He urged people to donate old clothes, rather than throwing them in the trash, which just creates more landfill.

Image: SFGovTV via Youtube

There were some nice bits with the kids, which of course they put at the end, after all the City Hall bureaucrats already had their say. SF State student Joshua Ochoa gave a really good pep talk about taking Muni instead of driving or rideshare [54:00]. Native American Lil Milagro Henriquez spoke of children in schoolrooms suffering climate-induced medical conditions [1:07:00]. 16-year-old Adianna Zhang, commissioner on the SF Youth Commission has a nice speech [1:14:45], and the whole thing closed with two admittedly sweet tracks from a climate rapper A.Y. Young [1:21:30], whose rap contains the actual lyric “What's your carbon offset?”

But this was a silly show, a saccharine launch party for a pretty important policy document that was hardly discussed. I guess the goal was to be less boring than, say, a Planning Commission meeting. But it was also less informative, and an unserious discussion of serious policy.

Related: Study: Sierra Snowpack Could All But Disappear In 25 Years [SFist]
Screenshots: SFGovTV via Youtube