Category Archives: Car Dependence

Chevron in Vain Struggle to Save Face on Social Media

So a few weeks ago Chevron- one of the biggest oil companies in the world- took the plunge and set up shop on Facebook, spinning yarns about its corporate social responsibility and how it is helping the world in so many ways.   But a funny thing about social media is that it generally isn’t filtered through the tightly controlled lens of the mainstream media.   After a few weeks of getting pounded by growing populist anger over climate change, oil spills, and especially the failure of the company to take responsibility for their environmental destruction in Ecuador, the top executives at Chevron must be asking why they ever ventured onto Facebook in the first place.

At first, the wizard behind the curtain- Chevron itself- was responding to comments and it felt- almost dirty- to be able to speak directly to this mega-corporation, a little like skyping with Dick Cheney over morning eggs and coffee about the latest Halliburton coup.  But as it became clear that comments were bringing up uncomfortable realities about the oil industry, it seems that Chevron has directed its employees and surrogates to engage with the public, in that sort of painful, forced, cringeworthy denialist corporate- speak (like Sarah Hughes’ comment above).  As Upton Sinclair once said, “It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his job depends on him not understanding it.”

I almost feel sorry for Chevron.  Almost.   To add to their troubles, a couple of weeks ago they lost a court case brought by Communities for a Better Environment that has halted their expansion of the Richmond refinery to be able to process dirtier crude from the Alberta Tar Sands.

It’s not like Chevron employees are all bad people- I even know a few of them.   It’s just that their paycheck happens to come from a corporation that is responsible for the largest source of CO2 in California, has poisoned countless Ecuadorans and is refusing to take responsibility for it, and several decades ago was found guilty of conspiracy to destroy public transit systems that would now be worth trillions of dollars.

The on the level blogger has been pointing out such things on Chevron’s page of late.  If you want to join the fun, you’re going to have to hold your nose and sign up to “like” Chevron before you can post comments.  The goal is not to drive the company back into its corporate bunker mentality, but to share the deep and widespread discontent out there about oil and fossil fuels- a discontent that has ballooned in the last couple of weeks after the spill in the gulf.  Activists are now calling for a day of action and night of mourning about the spill this Friday May 14th where pent up anger is bound to be spilled.

The disaster could easily have been caused by Chevron- like BP they contract with Transocean for deep water drilling.  And like BP they have been working to water down federal safety and environmental regulations for decades.     We all need to pull together and stop the madness.   We need to Change Chevron.   And ultimately we need to wean ourselves off of fossil fuels and move to a system that puts the priority back where it should be- on human health and the environment- not short term profits.

We’re all still figuring out how individuals, governments, and corporations are going to interact in an age of online social media.  When a corporation like Chevron wades into Facebook chit chat, it’s an opportunity to voice our discontent, perhaps injecting some clarity into a world whose waters are increasingly murky.

Don’t Mention James Hansen

This video was recorded Wednesday evening April 14th at 111 Minna, San Francisco before any of the protests or disruptions at the carbon conference that ensued on Thursday or Friday.

There is no doubt that there is massive denial about the issue of climate change in our society.   Nowhere more obvious perhaps than in the carbon offset and trading industry, where profits depend on selling false solutions while avoiding certain uncomfortable facts about the predicament that we are in.

Whenever something huge and morally repugnant is going on in a society, people use psychological mechanisms to shield themselves from the harsh reality- to try and convince ourselves that we are good and moral people after all.

In the face of our holocaust upon the natural world that is currently unfolding, we make up little stories in our heads to explain our ongoing destructive behavior.

The train drivers who brought Jews from the ghettos to the death camps during WWII were no different.  They knew- deep down- what the fate of their victims would be, but they never spoke of it out loud. To do so would break the spell- bring a reality forward that was too painful to bear.

Just as we grow very uncomfortable when questions are brought up about our inadequate and pathetic response to scientific findings that we are putting life on Earth at risk– just so the wealthy among us can fly to international conferences, buy plastic stuff we don’t really need and impress others with our cars.

A climate emergency response plan that depends on carbon trading and offsets allows us to temporarily avoid confronting the reality that we need to quit our fossil fuel addiction.  That if we are to have any hope of a livable future on this planet we need to leave oil, coal, and gas in the ground.

Since Copenhagen, there has been a marked shift in the emotional tenor around the issue of climate change.   While many of us are beginning to realize that we need to make our own plan to secure life on this planet, others are descending further into a dream that the corporations and governments will solve this problem for us through markets and offsets.

That the richest among us don’t have to cease our destructive lifestyles.  That the system is somehow robust, resilient, and sustainable rather than being wasteful, fragile, and transitory.

Navigating a Recovery from Carbon Addiction

By sheer coincidence (or perhaps divine intervention) the “Navigating the American Carbon World” Conference — a schmooze-fest of oil executives, bankers, offset dealers, and green(wash) groups flown in to- essentially- carve up and sell the sky, perpetuating our addiction to fossil fuels- is- at this moment sharing the San Francisco Marriott Marquis with (are you ready for this?)—– the annual meeting of the American Society of Addiction Medicine.

So, at the protest today organized by the Mobilization for Climate Justice- West , we thought, why not merge the conferences? Get the psychiatrists to treat the carbon trading carbon addicts. The real victims, the ones in denial, who believe we can just ‘offset’ the damage like a papal indulgence to guilty pleasures- and we know where that leads.

White man sell sky

Denial- a common symptom of addiction- is widespread. We bury our heads in the sand against the looming climate devastation and energy crash- Can our system’s habit be treated by the latest in addiction therapy before it’s too late? Right now we’ve got the top addiction experts in the world sharing the same hotel as the Shell executives, the Bank of Americas that fund them, and the Terrapasses who pardon the sin– there’s really never been a better opportunity to admit we have a problem and enter recovery.

So we’ve created a public open letter to the American Society for Addiction Medicine, calling upon them to treat our friends the fossil fuel addicts at the carbon trading conference.  Sign our letter today!   We’ve never needed a shrink like we do today.

The Panel discussing how corporations can green(wash) themselves.

So last night at a cocktail party at 111 Minna for conference attendees put on by Brighter Planet, an offset company looking to open up west coast markets, I posed the question to Patty, the Executive Director of Brighter Planet who was on the panel…

“given that the carbon trading and offsetting industry are increasingly in disrepute over a number of scandals and abuses, such as the multi-million euro carbon trade scam uncovered on Tuesday by the Spanish authorities and given that James Hansen, one of the world’s most respected atmospheric scientists is now saying that carbon trading and offsets ‘are designed to perpetuate business-as-usual and squander the precious time needed to prevent the crossing of disastrous ‘tipping points’.’

Given all that, what is Brighter Planet doing to transition away from the sale of offsets?”

They didn’t like that question. I mean they REALLY didn’t like that question. The moderator tried to rip the microphone out of my hands, and got all flustered.

The nonplussed

Much hostility from the audience, including the drunk carbon traders on the floor who were rudely yelling over the panel discussion. This guy Trevor from Barclays capital became agitated and walked away when I offered to sell him “Cheatneutral infidelity offsets.” Maybe he has guilt issues around his fossil fuel cheating. Who knows.

Then today during the MCJ Demo on the first day of the conference, people unfurled a large banner in the middle of 4th St., temporarily blocking traffic, gave speeches and street theatre,  and disrupted the conference a number of times inside including an announcement on a live mic at the luncheon that “history will spit” on those who delay emissions reductions.

Anyway, no doubt more fun tomorrow at the Offset This! protest outside the Marriott Marquis- 4th and Market- at 8am tomorrow (friday).   We’re headed for climate chaos, and we have a message for the bankers, oil executives, greenwash groups, and politicians who profit from delaying the inevitable weaning:

The Sky is NOT FOR SALE.



Shopping Won’t Save Us: Report from the Alt. Green Festival


The Alternate Green Festival on Saturday was a big hit- we had speakers, live music, dancing, banner making- we even had a special ops “Greenwash Team” go inside to separate the wheat from the chaff. Thanks to Paul Freedman for bringing his pedal powered sound system and blender, to Chris Carlsson for speaking the truth as he always does, to Janel Sterbentz our video journalist, and for everyone else who made the day what it was!

Needless to say, the Green Festival was not happy with us. They censored me from their Facebook page- they even had security escort me off the property because they didn’t like my sign that said “Shopping won’t save us.” Is this how they treat their speakers usually?

What is so threatening about all this to a festival purporting to be environmentally friendly? Are they afraid of the truth getting out there- that much (but certainly not all) of what goes on inside the festival is greenwashing and actually environmentally destructive in its own right? You would think that veterans of the past struggles for clean air and water would understand the importance of protest, and ensure that the festival is a free speech zone. However, sadly this doesn’t seem to be the case.

Just like the Johann Hari article that came out in the Nation recently, I suspect a lot of what ‘drives’ the Green Festival is the wrong kind of green. It’s like a beast that has escaped control of the organizations that spawned it, ‘Green’ America and Global Exchange.

Anyway, to their credit they did hold a debate about carbon offsets, where Gopal Dayaneni and I debated Scott Porter and Tiffany Potter, two representatives of the carbon trading industry (video of Scott still being located):

Carbon Offsetting Debate Part I: Joshua Hart

Carbon Offset Debate Part 2:

Carbon Offsetting Debate Part 3: Gopal Dayaneni

Now, on to the Carbon Trading Conference scheduled for San Francisco this week! I guess I’ll have to become an oil company executive to afford the $745 registration fee, though!

Alternate Green Festival This Saturday

There is more to preserving life on planet Earth than hemp jewelry! Now that the Green Festival is happening twice a year in SF, we think it’s time to ask some serious questions about the message that the festival is sending to the wider society- namely that if everyone drove a Prius, put solar panels on their home, and offset their annual flights to Thailand, that we could “save the planet.” The reality is that nothing could be further from the truth.

How did the term “environmentally friendly” come to mean “slightly less environmentally destructive”? The truth is that human beings have the ability to be truly “friendly” to the environment, crafting a new reciprocal relationship with nature rather than the current exploitative one, based on wisdom from indigenous cultures we’ve nearly wiped out.

What would such a modern world that prioritizes environmental health and human welfare actually look like? How do we get there from here?

Though many of the individuals who put on the festival are well intentioned, trying to “green” a fundamentally destructive culture can only perpetuate the damage and delay real solutions.

Promoting false solutions like “green” cars and carbon offsets is counterproductive to the cause. With the threat of climate catastrophe looming, it really is all or nothing if we want to avoid dangerous tipping points. Nature-unlike the federal government- doesn’t do bailouts

We want to create a space outside the “Green” Festival where ideas about real solutions can be shared, music is made, dancing is encouraged, and a culture of resistance is nourished. Come and bring your ideas (to voice, or printed on leaflets). Bring instruments, signs, and other fun stuff. The space will be welcome to all.

At 6pm, the people will enter the festival to attend a debate about carbon offsets, and whether green capitalism is a real solution or a distraction and oxymoron.

Note that this event is not sponsored or condoned by either Global Exchange or “Green” America.

It will be what you make it!

Saturday April 10th 2010 12-6pm (speakers and music from 4-6pm)
Out in front of the Green Festival
635 8th Street @ Brannan

Guardian Article from last November

Blog post from Cheatneutral action at the Green fest

More info about carbon trading debate

Alternate Green Fest Facebook page

More Traffic, More Weather

I saw this in front of the KRON building on Van Ness the other day. I’ve gotta say I think it’s just great that Channel 4 has finally come around and is now publicly identifying the cause of climate change, on a banner in front of their HQ no less. Shouldn’t it be the other way around, though?

Fossil Fuels Make You Weak

It’s no secret that the more fossil fuels you consume, the more likely you are to be weak and obese.  If you live a typical western lifestyle, you need to make a concerted effort to exercise and many people simply don’t have the time, what with working long hours to afford those cars and airline tickets.  Sedentary lifestyles are proven to make you unhappy anyway, and the state of modern aviation and road transportation can’t help much. So we take prozac in an attempt to correct what industrial capitalist social norms have taken away from us.

From personal experience, I am much happier since I sold my car in 1999, and I can’t say that in the last four years I’ve missed flying at all.  Bigger and faster isn’t always better as it turns out.

This culture tells us that using human energy for practical ends is regressive, outdated, even laughable.  It’s what poor, unsuccessful, or indigenous and uncivilized people do.  A whole host of devices are now available to allow you to avoid any physical exertion whatsoever- think electric can openers- ridiculous for all but the physically challenged.

The thing is- fossil fuels also make us psychologically weak.   When you become accustomed to high speed travel, the use of any other method seems impossibly difficult and strenuous.  The next time (god forbid) that you find yourself in a car or a plane, think about making the trip by a slower means.   If you’re in a car driving a couple of miles, think about walking or cycling that same distance.   Sitting still in the shell of metal and glass, your muscles cold- it can seem as difficult as climbing Mt. Everest.  No wonder it takes quite a bit to encourage people to take up cycling.

Of course the reality of physical activity is quite different- once you warm up your muscles and get going, the endorphins flood through your system, rewarding your brain centers for doing what our bodies evolved to do (and to require).  It feels wonderful and you can cover distances you never thought achievable.

The sensation of being propelled through space while you just sit there somehow makes any other mode seem not just slower but a lot slower.  For example, most people I’ve spoken with massively overestimate the time it takes to cross the Atlantic by ship, sometimes guessing several months. In fact, it can take as short as five days.

When I took a cargo ship across the Atlantic in 2006, I was expecting to experience how incredibly vast the planet was, compared to my past experiences in a jumbo jet.   But somehow the planet seemed smaller, distances more achievable, the scale of Earth comprehensible in a way that British Airways never allowed.

The truth is that cheap, long distance travel has eroded the diversity of human cultures and species on the planet.   It has also made us weak and dependent, eroding the strength we were all born with.  It’s time to kick the habit.  It’s time to take the power back.