Category Archives: Cycling

Fell St. ARCO Closed For Total Rethink

What an incredible, inspiring protest yesterday in San Francisco.   Truly in awe at the raw energy from the neighborhood residents who have clearly had enough of this dangerous and awful situation that the city has failed to correct- where cars lined up for cheap (BP) gas obstruct the only level east west bike lane in the city, forcing cyclists directly into speeding traffic.   It would be hilariously ironic if it weren’t so tragically awful.  We got a ton of media responding to our press release, including all the local TV stations, SF Weekly, the Guardian, Streetsblog, Indymedia, SF Gate, KPFA (starting at 13:50), Pirate Radio, and others.   Video will be up here shortly in the next couple of days.

People are discussing coming back and shutting the entrances every week until the holes are plugged- both the one in the Gulf, and the entrances on Fell St. that drive the fear of cycling and demand for oil.  Updates will be posted here.

Here is a copy of my speech yesterday, with the help of El Arbol, Fossil Fool‘s amazing pedal powered mobile sound system:

Thank you to everyone who showed up today, and to those who spread the word and made this happen.  This was truly a grassroots effort, not organized by any official non-profit organization, just a few of us from the neighborhood concerned about the way things are going.

We have succeeded in (at least temporarily) shutting down a toxic business that threatens the neighborhood, threatens the Gulf, and ultimately threatens the world.   The presence of this Arco station endangers cyclists on Fell St. and finances a criminally negligent corporation.

Before we go any further, let’s have a moment of silence to remember the victims of this terrible catastrophe.  The eleven men who were killed on the Deepwater Horizon and their families.  The millions of Gulf residents- both human and wild who are suffering as we speak.

As we remember these victims, let’s not forget the other victims of car culture- those motorists who do not have viable alternatives to driving alone, and whose health is suffering as a result.  People on bikes, on foot, and in cars who have been seriously injured or killed by cars- over 1.2 million of us throughout the world every year.

Let’s not forget all those elderly people living out the last of their days in isolation because their streets- streets like Oak and Fell have become nothing more than traffic sewers.

We must remember all those children growing up deprived of any connection to the natural world, surrounded by speeding steel and asphalt, getting to know the world only from the backseat of a car.

Now I am not pointing the finger or blaming those who drive cars- for many years I was one of them, and occasionally still am.   Drivers are as much victims of this inhumane system as the rest of us.

Somehow, we need to rethink our cities as safe and pleasant habitats for human beings.   The fact that they are NOT is an indication that something has gone deeply awry with our culture.

These days, cars are supposedly such a part of our lives that we are not allowed to question their dominance.   But when California’s cars are the number one source of carbon emissions.  When our cars are the number one killer of our children.   When our thirst for oil drives the kind of disaster we are seeing in the Gulf, I think we need to begin to ask questions.  These realities point to the fact that we are dangerously, hopelessly addicted to our motor vehicles.

We now know that over ONE MILLION gallons of toxic crude are leaking into the Gulf of Mexico every day.  An Exxon Valdez of oil every 8-10 days.

The most advanced technology humans have is INCAPABLE of stopping what our technology has unleashed.

Just as if we continue to emit more than 5 BILLION tons of greenhouse gases into the Earth’s atmosphere every year we will be incapable of closing the Pandora’s box we have opened.

The oil companies and the government have reassured us they have the situation under control.  They say “TRUST US” we know what we’re doing.  Well you know what?   We DON’T trust you anymore.

If the United States government, controlled by multinational energy giants- continues to undermine climate justice on an international level and endanger the future of life on this planet for selfish, short term profits, there will be social unrest like we have never before seen in this country.   It may be next week.   It may be in 20 years.  But I cannot accept that the people in this country will accept the sacrifice of this planet without a fight.

From individual citizens reporting what is happening in the Gulf, we know that BP IS STILL IN CHARGE, despite what Obama says.  BP defies the EPA,  pumping tons of chemical dispersant into the sea, not to reduce the environmental damage but to hide the extent of the spill from the public- to keep the damage UNDERWATER away from the lens of the media.

According to the New York Times, BP is ordering the US Coast Guard and local police forces to keep the media away from areas filled with dead and dying wildlife, bagging the bodies and stashing them out of view the same way we do with the bodies of civilian casualties in Iraq.

Today in San Francisco, we say NO.  WE WILL NO LONGER BE SILENT IN THE FACE OF THESE BRAZEN ATTACKS ON OUR HEALTH AND THE ENVIRONMENT.

Today, we bear witness to the connection between unsafe cycling conditions and our own fatal dependence on fossil fuels for transportation.

Future generations will learn about how our society treated people who opted out of car culture- how we continue to design streets that cause deaths and injuries of vulnerable road users- just to maximize traffic flow.   Streets that scare people into lives of inactivity and oil dependence, and they will recoil in horror.

In response to the mentally ill man who mowed down four innocent people on bicycle the other day, the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition tells us that “OUR STREETS ARE SAFE.”  Well you know what? THEY ARE NOT SAFE.   And they are very rarely pleasant.   Riding a bike in the city could be paradise.   But right now, for most of us it is a scary experience.

Instead of giving us tired old platitudes, they could have used this horrific incident to condemn the countless acts of intimidation of people on bicycles throughout the city every day, people who use cars as deadly weapons to threaten vulnerable road users, revving their engines like a predatory animal.   Incidents that the San Francisco Police Department responds to only with a nod and a wink.

Our fossil fuel dependent society is neither advanced nor civilized.   All the luxuries and unrestrained mobility that we take for granted are an historical anomaly made possible by a finite supply of cheap oil.

We are literally being kept alive by large multinational corporations like BP and Safeway.   When the cheap oil runs out as it inevitably will, our civilization will collapse as surely as those human civilizations of the past have done.

BUT TODAY WE STAND UP TOGETHER AND REJECT THAT FATE.   We know that another world is possible.  A future of humans living in a reciprocal relationship with nature, not an exploitative one where we take and take and take.

A future where health and the environment are prioritized over profit.  A future with networks of safe green routes for walking and cycling, lined with trees and plants, connecting the whole city, the whole bay area.  Where clean, quiet, and frequent public transit connects cities.

Where we have leisure time to spend with our families and friends and we are no longer forced to waste our lives under fluorescent lights at jobs we hate just to keep ourselves and our families alive and feed our cars.

A sane world where we can feed OURSELVES without resorting to factory farms, tortured animals, poisoned fields, and genetically modified crops.

A world where we are reconnected to our fellow human beings and to the natural world.

Money is NOT REAL.  It is a construct- ultimately only paper and metal.  What IS real are plants, human beings, and other animals.

The love between a mother and her child.   That is real.  We must build a new world based on that, or we will end up destroying this beautiful planet and the living beings who inhabit it.

If any good can come out of this catastrophic situation in the Gulf, it can be an OPPORTUNITY for people to come together and start building a better world, the way we have built up this little green park here today.

Power is not taken- it is given.  And if the powers that be will not face up to their historic responsibility to quickly wean us off fossil fuels, we will have to STOP GIVING THEM OUR POWER.

We solved this longstanding neighborhood problem here ourselves.  We didn’t ask the government to do it for us.   We didn’t give money to a non-profit to lobby for us.   WE JUST WENT OUT AND DID IT OURSELVES.

It really IS that easy.

TOP KILL: SHUT DOWN BP/ ARCO IN SF THIS FRIDAY

Is your car REALLY worth this?

This is a protest I’m helping to organize with some friends.  If you are in the Bay Area, come join us this Friday.  And SPREAD THE WORD.  Link to Facebook page here.

TOP KILL: PARTY TO SHUT DOWN BP/ ARCO IN SF

DON’T BOYCOTT BP- BOYCOTT ALL OIL

Friday, June 11th 5:30pm Arco station Fell and Divisadero

Are you as frustrated as we are about the ecological crisis in the Gulf?  Watching powerless as oil coats countless birds and marine mammals- who did nothing to deserve the pain and suffering that is being inflicted on them by big oil.    When it comes down to it, the corporations responsible for this mess care as much about wildlife as they do about you and I.

Even with the best minds and technology on the planet, humans are powerless to cap what has been unleashed.  And we will be similarly helpless in the face of a planet warming dangerously out of control.

All anyone can do in response to such a horrific situation is to plant the seeds that might lead to a better future.  This is a call out for people to plant those seeds in San Francisco on June 11th.

In San Francisco, the cheap oil at the Arco station (owned by BP) has been luring drivers for years, creating long queues of cars that obstruct the Fell St. bicycle lane, the only level cross town bicycle route, endangering people who have chosen a more benign method of transportation.  On Friday, we will turn a hostile place into a safe green pocket park.  But we need your help!

Bring along a potted plant, old tires, a tree, a bench- anything to create a green and safe space where now cyclists fight for their survival every day.

The corporation cares as much for the suffering of the birds of Louisiana as it does about the cyclist who faces injury or death having to swerve around cars lined up for cheap gas in the bike lane.  On Friday we will stand with the pelicans, turtles, and dolphins being hurt by the spill, realizing that if we fail to stop our fossil fuelled nightmare, that we will not be far behind them.

The corporations are the criminals, but we are the addicts that perpetuate the damage. It’s time to shut down BP here in San Francisco and send a message to the government, the corporations and well-meaning people who don’t even realize they are addicted to oil.

Enough is enough.

DON’T BOYCOTT BP.  BOYCOTT ALL OIL COMPANIES!

NO MORE SPILLS. NO MORE CLIMATE DAMAGE.

ALL YOU ABLE BODIED PEOPLE RIDE A FREAKIN BIKE ALREADY.

Women who Ride: The “Lost” Interview with Janel Sterbentz

Janel Sterbentz, not afraid to be outspoken about the negative impacts of motorized traffic on our quality of life

While Bike NOPA declined to publish the following interview with Janel Sterbentz, on account of the fact that she dared to mention how unpleasant, stinky and dangerous cars are, On the Level is happy to publish Janel’s words.  As you know if you are a regular reader, On the Level is not afraid of coming out of the closet with our opposition to the automobile.  If you are a woman cyclist, please submit your answers to these questions and On the Level will post your words here.   Even if you are in love with cars and think they have really improved our cities, please send us your answers to these questions and we will be happy to publish all points of view.

1.  What kind of cyclist are you?
Bold  |   carefree  |    Aggressive |  racer   |   foot down at stop signs   |   careful   | ETC -

Fast yet cautious. When I ride I prepare for all the possible directions motorists, pedestrians or other cyclists will take, it is like I am always picturing in my mind three seconds ahead in the future. I bike like I am invisible because many times cyclists are invisible to motorists who have limited visibility or are distracted in so many ways. I thrive on being so aware of my environment, I am most present and in the moment when cycling. I also feel hyper-connected to all the street life around me. Always wear a helmet and flashing front and back lights.
2.  Do you bike frequently and for what purpose?

I bike every day to stay mentally and physically fit. I don’t want anything to do with the oil industry’s wars, carnage from motorists hitting pedestrians/cyclists, or the air and noise pollution. To me cycling leads to a positive future and pleasant street environment while driving leaves destruction and unpleasantness in its path. Also, it is just so much fun to bike.

3.  What measures could be taken in San Francisco to get more women, including teenage girls, to cycle?

I think some women feel cycling is too dangerous and aggressive, especially biking in fast traffic and over uneven pavement. They may feel like it is not feminine, especially if they think they won’t be able to wear dresses, high heels, and purses; or that it will mess up their hair and make them sweaty. I think these concerns can be overcome by showing women the best routes to take, saying it is ok to bike slowly and on a more upright bike. When you compare figures in the US where only 1/3 of the bicycle commuter population are women versus The Netherlands or Copenhagen where it is more like half, you can see that when there are separated paths on safer routes more women, children and elderly bike.

4.  Have any of your friendships or relationships begun with cycling? Fun anecdotes you can tell us about?
I have to say, nearly all my friends are cyclists and don’t own cars. Some of my best friendships resulted from being in a bike dance group The Derailleurs (http://derailleurs.wordpress.com/). I always meet great people helping out with local bicycle coalitions.
5.  I shock others when I cycle by
Politely telling people who are parked in the bike lane that this is a space I need, otherwise I am forced into fast moving traffic.
6.  I tell other women who want to start cycling:

Get together with a friend who bikes, or if you don’t know anyone who bikes, volunteer at your local bicycle coalition, there are so many friendly cyclists who are eager to have others to bike around with. Bike to Work Day May 13th is a great time to start biking (http://www.youcanbikethere.com/). SFBC has commuter convoys where groups meet up and bike the best route to work (http://www.sfbike.org/?commuterconvoy). They also have street skills and bike maintenance classes. Bike in Golden Gate Park on JFK Drive on the weekends when the street is closed to cars to get used to it.

The Subtle Censorship That Defines Acceptable Discourse

People suffer when the horrors of our transport system are obscured by well meaning activists

A friend of mine- Janel Sterbentz- recently volunteered to be featured on the San Francisco based Bike NOPA blog in their “Women who Bike” series.   She submitted her responses to the questions, but the editor of Bike NOPA, Michael Helquist (also the winner of the SF Bike Coalition’s 2010 Golden Wheel Award), didn’t like her answer to question number 2, and requested that she change it if the piece was to be published.

This was the question:
2.  How often do you bike and what for?
And this was her answer:

“I bike every day to stay mentally and physically fit. I don’t want anything to do with the oil industry’s wars, carnage from motorists hitting pedestrians/cyclists, or the air and noise pollution. To me cycling leads to a positive future and pleasant street environment while driving leaves destruction and unpleasantness in its path. Also, it is just so much fun to bike.”

She declined to remove the offending paragraph and now her interview won’t be published as a result.

When viewpoints like Janel’s are intentionally kept out of public discourse, it does a major disservice to the political debate around our transport policies.   First, it allows people who habitually drive to continue to insulate themselves from the very real impacts of their mode choice on other people, particularly vulnerable road users.   Second, erasing voices like this one leaves the impression that if you are irritated by the noise, air pollution and danger caused by car traffic then you are somehow unusual, marginalized, or radical in some way.  A fear of marginalizing oneself actually helps perpetuate that marginalization.

The reality is that millions of regular people around the world- people who drive, cycle, walk, take the bus, or whatever- are irritated and their quality of life is diminished by transport policies that make car traffic- not human life or the environment- the primary consideration.

It’s no surprise that people wrongly believe that they are alone in these feelings or that there is no recourse within acceptable political debate to resolve them, when even bicycle advocates are afraid to reflect the truth about the environmental and social devastation caused by motor vehicle dependence.

The bicycle is wonderful for what it is (a liberating, fun, and healthy vehicle for the masses), but it is also wonderful for what it is not (a car) .  As the bicycle increases in popularity and organizations that promote its use gain political clout, they should not fail to remind people of the facts of car and fossil fuel dependence in some misplaced politeness or reluctance to confront.  Yes we need carrots- they are sweet, succulent, and attractive.  And god knows the bike is that.  But we also need the sticks of reality to wake people up who have been driven to excess by an insane, motorized world.

This is what the editor of Bike NOPA- Michael Helquist- told On the Level when reached for comment:

“I felt that a few of the comments made in this one submission were a bit doctrinaire and negative (with descriptions of the “carnage from motorists hitting pedestrians and bicyclists” and the “destruction” that comes with driving), and these were not a good fit for the series. As I mentioned to Janel Sterbentz today if I was interviewing her about larger transportation issues, about hazards that accompany biking, and the serious impacts of people relying solely on individual automobiles when other options are feasible, then her comments would certainly fit the context as reflecting her personal opinion.

I’m sure this wasn’t the way it was consciously intended, but effectively what Michael is saying is that he wanted to run a happy-go-lucky series about smiling women on bikes.  Forget that there are often complex reasons why women ride, or that women suffer disproportionately from car culture or that cycling itself might be a deeply political statement against the pain and destruction caused by cars.  When those issues arise, they are too often erased from the record because they might make people feel uncomfortable.  This is not an isolated incident, but a reflection of the larger dilution and creeping corporatization of the cycling movement and society at large.

We didn’t make smoking socially unacceptable by tip-toeing around the feelings of nicotine addicts- we showed them diseased lungs and confronted them with the scientific research.  What makes those who purport to seek social change in the transport arena so afraid of leveraging the growing body of evidence of the catastrophe of car addiction in order to change behavior?

Put simply, individuals are not going to make the right decisions about their transport habits or support sensible transport policies if they don’t have the facts.   And where are they going to get those facts if they aren’t disseminated by bike advocates and organizations dedicated to sustainable transportation?

Sustrans Stonewalls Again

Almost a year and a half after I posted it, Sustrans has still not publicly or privately responded to my article, The Problem with Sustrans: How a Grassroots Phenomenon Has Turned into a Private, Unaccountable Corporation.  The piece generated thousands of hits and dozens of readers from all around the UK have chimed in and confirmed my observations. My friend Chris Hutt- one of the original founders of Sustrans and an incredibly knowledgeable bicycle advocate, sadly died without warning a couple of months ago, and had this to say as part of his Sustrans Sussed post on the Green Bristol Blog last year:

“The current wave of criticism is not merely negative carping. It is a vital part of the dynamic environment within which we all function and will in due course bring about change. How quickly we see the necessary change depends on how far gone Sustrans is. Will they bury their heads in the sand and carry on currying favour with those with the money bags or will they recognise the need to re-engage with their core constituency, Britain’s cyclists?”

Sustrans started as a grassroots DIY organisation- people from the community getting out there with a shovel and pickaxe and restoring a neglected rail line between Bristol and Bath into a linear green haven. This bottom up effort came from visionaries who believed they could change transport. Back then with a tiny budget and a rebellious attitude, Sustrans accomplished some amazing feats of engineering and land preservation for which we should all be grateful.

Now though, there is growing concern about the direction of the UK’s “leading sustainable transport charity.”

The questions people are asking about the organization haven’t gone away, but have only intensified in response to Sustrans’ reluctance to engage, particularly glaring after they refused to even acknowledge questions posed two weeks ago on the Guardian’s You Ask- They Answer series.

Common threads to what people are saying are:

-Sustrans has become self-serving and opaque, often failing to work with and empower local people and local ideas.

-Sustrans spends millions of public money with inadequate public oversight.

-Sustrans has compromised its original vision of a high quality UK cycle network, settling for long detours and steep hills just to add mileage.

Sustrans is hardly unique amongst charities (on either side of the Atlantic).    Many have adopted the worst characteristics of corporations- cozying up to the government agencies they are meant to influence, and bickering with each other for increasingly scarce resources.  While Sustrans absorbs millions of pounds from concerned people in the UK to (not) campaign for a bicycle network, organizations like NRDC and EDF convince well meaning American environmentalists to support the Kerry-Lieberman climate bill backed by big oil, coal, and gas and the Nature Conservancy takes millions from oil companies currently wiping out sensitive wetlands.  As the title of Nick Seddon’s 2007 book asks after looking at the state of charitable organisations in the UK, “Who Cares“?

Photo courtesy Bikeradar

Here is a sample of comments received on the original article:

“Like you Josh, I applaud a lot of what Sustrans has achieved. But they know nothing about building links with other cycling orgs or engaging with the cycling community. Sadly I think they’ve become very arrogant, remote and self-centred.”

-Anonymous

” I know they have a job to do and that their projects are their priority — but honestly, their degree of self-interest is truly staggering. In many years of cycle campaigning I’ve never seen Sustrans try to work with other groups or simply to give something unconditionally.”

-Hector

“Perhaps the charity commission needs to look into Sustrans (if it has jursidiction)?”

-Paul Harris

“Tell me it’s not true! Quite a read, even a year on, it has the ring of truth about it…..

Democratic process is by now long passed. When an unelected, charitably constituted organisation can hold a whole village to ransom, what hope is there?

-David Shields

“Sustrans is no different to a whole host of NGOs charities and non profit making organisations who may establish themselves with altruism to meet a particular or perceived need but then find themselves as part of the establishment and find it difficult to separate social responsibility from self preservation.”

-Alan Gillard, architect, Cardiff

“Glad to see this finally come out – they have had far too easy a ride, and boy do they love riding roughshod over people.”

-“Snail”

“Sustrans most certainly aren’t a campaigning charity. I found my local sustrans office in Newcastle rather unsupportive when I started a campaign to improve cycling in Newcastle’s city centre (which is in dire need of improving). I have now cancelled my monthly donation with sustrans, written to sustrans’ chief exec to describe my disappointment and become a CTC member! Visit http://www.katlayout.co.uk/ for more on the safe cycling petition.”

-Katja Leyendecke

If no change is forthcoming from the charities that are meant to be bringing about the change we so desperately need, perhaps the best solution is for all of us to pick up a shovel and start digging. As Virgil said:

“They can do all because they think they can.”

It’s time for all of us to start believing another world is possible. It is.

D.I.Y. N.C.N.

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!

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.

On the Level Goes Feral

Can you name the edible plant in this photo?

I’ve finally done it.  I’ve left the city.  Moved out to a cabin in the woods in rural West Marin County north of San Francisco.  I am now subsisting on wild greens and breathing blissfully clean air.   For many years I tried desperately to maintain the charade that I am a “city person.”  Yet I noticed that I would flee with my bicycle and sleeping bag into the countryside at every opportunity.  I am now at age 34 finally accepting the truth.  I value a dark starry night over the bright city lights.  A quiet dawn over the honking of the car horn.  A small social town over a bustling anonymous metropolis.  And I suspect I am not alone amongst city dwellers.  Cities have the potential to become healthy habitats for human beings- indeed they must if we are to turn the tide on climate change- but we’re not there yet.  And I for one am getting sick of waiting around for the transition.

El Nino rains in California have led to an astounding diversity of fungi

The evolution of cities from a series of noisy, dangerous, and anti-social traffic sewers into green, friendly, and safe public spaces is certainly not being held up by the majority, who continue to clamor for quality urban environments.  Who could stand up and say that the tantalizing visions of a garden city depicted in the illustrations and murals of Mona Caron would not be healthier for our children– not to mention a far more pleasant place to live?   Yet the people who we allow to remain in power continue to design cities from behind windscreens- the machine retains priority.  How did we get to a point where human beings have designed habitats that are hostile to human beings?  What kind of psychotic system has allowed these things that go against our very nature?

There is no doubt that human beings are healthier in a natural setting. On an evolutionary- even a molecular basis we are drawn to riparian zones, where we are more likely to find sustenance.  Studies show we heal faster in hospital when there is greenery outside the window (1).    Kids even concentrate better in the classroom after they’ve been amongst the trees. (2)

The truth is that we are starved- nearly to death- by a profound lack of connection to the rest of life on the planet.  The massive popularity of the film Avatar- the highest grossing film of all time- is a wake up call that human beings are desperate for a deeper connection with the natural world- even if that means you have to drive to the multiplex for a 2 (okay, 3) dimensional imitation of the real thing.

Avatar provides a (computer generated) glimpse of the world we have largely destroyed. The reality when you walk out into the multiplex parking lot stands in stark contrast...

In fact, it’s not surprising that people have reported depression after seeing the complex diversity of life and landscapes and then comparing the fantasy life to their own bleak, traffic-dominated worlds.

Mushrooms can save the world, according to experts (3)

So, my plan is to capitalize on the success of Avatar- adding a new natural theme and design to my blog, which will appeal to all you poor nature deprived sods out there while generating billions in revenue!   Since green is the new black, I’m going full on green in 2010.  I’m taking an ecology class at Audubon Canyon, spending a ton of time in the wilderness, and attempting to document what I see and learn here on this blog.  Become more acquainted with what is at stake and get inspired to save it.  Or appreciate it all before it vanishes.  Depending on my mood.

Plants, unlike corporations, have been quietly green all along (cow parsnip if you're wondering)

Why is a blog ostensibly focused on transportation policy suddenly going feral? Talking mushrooms over mass transit, herons over highways, bobcats over buses?  Why?  Because we need to acquaint with and love all that is at stake on our beautiful planet if we are to get inspired to change business as usual.  And despite grim news stories and climate warnings, there is still much to love.   If we don’t want to see the disappearance of the Monarch butterfly, the redwood tree, and the California newt, and even worse get blamed for their disappearance, we need to harness the passion of John Muir.  We need to leave fossil fuels in the ground.  And believe me that’s not going to happen.  Unless we kill capitalism.  Unless we throw the sons of bitches out.  Unless we stop being selfish and learn to stay in one place.   Unless we realize that saving individual parcels of land from development while the skies are set ablaze ain’t gonna save paradise.

An Amanita. It looked fake- almost plastic...

A 'gooseneck' barnacle

You know that feeling of butterflies in your stomach- when you realize that the Earth is far more diverse, interconnected- even wiser than you ever thought possible?  Maybe you don’t know what I’m saying. (If not you should get out there and spend a night in the forest…believe me the suburbs are far scarier.)   Anyway I had a moment like this the other day when we came across a pond with newts embracing each other in amplexus.   The romantic amphibian dance that has kept the whole thing going.  Did you know that we don’t know how long newts live- the oldest ones in captivity are over 30 years old!  They’re definitely wiser than you or I!!  So, even though it’s not really that type of blog, I’m posting some porn for your viewing pleasure.  I hope it will give you butterflies as it did me.

Notes

1) Ulrich, R.S. 1984. View through a window may influence recovery from surgery. Science, 224: 420-421.

(2) Wells, Nancy M. (2000). At Home with Nature, Effects of “Greenness” on Children’s Cognitive Functioning, Environment and Behavior, 32(6), 775-795

(3) Stamets, Paul. Mycelium Running

Holier than You

OK well there have been rumors, and you might have had a sneaking suspicion.   But now it’s official.   I am in fact “holier than you.”  This is according to the Holier Than You Blog which featured this photo of me from the other day waiting for the Caltrain at San Jose station in my new orange rain pants.    So saddle up for sanctimony!  Amp up the attitude.   Prepare for piousness!   My cycle pants have been known to blind a man at forty paces.  It’s not going to be pretty.

Joking very much aside, I was trapped on a Highway 17 ‘express’ bus the other morning that broke down near the Summit for an hour.  (thank you Arnold Schwarzenegger for cutting transit funds drastically while leaving highway funding totally intact!  sweeet.)  Anyway, silver lining is that I got to meet Richard Masoner who runs the famous and well respected Cycleicio.us blog.  A fascinating guy- he works at a software company by day and maintains his blog a lot more frequently than I do.   He also does product reviews for Momentum Magazine, the magazine for self-propelled people.

If you’re in the Bay Area this Friday I will be talking at a SPUR brown bag lunch with Bruce Appleyard so come by and be blinded by my dazzling wit, or *far* more likely by my eye piercing rainpants.

Copenhagen, The Shame of a Generation? Not if This Generation has Anything to Say About It!

As our representatives at the Copenhagen Conference descend to a new low, drafting secret agreements that exclude the developing world,  there seems to be a new peak of energy, creativity and determination being demonstrated by people through art, music, film, and simply putting their bodies on the line to demand climate justice.  Check it out below.  Do send in more examples and I will add them.

By the way, what’s up with Canada?   My Canadian friends have begin talking about moving to the US in protest.  O dear.   It’s all about the tar sands it seems.

Survival of the Fattest

If one piece of art can sum up what is happening at Copenhagen, it’s the one above. Jens Galschiot’s sculpture Survival of the Fattest depicts the developed world, represented by an obese goddess of justice, tipping the scales of justice as she gets a free ride on the back of the developing world, represented by a thin African man.

The inscription reads: “I’m sitting on the back of a man. He is sinking under the burden. I would do anything to help him. Except stepping down from his back.”

The Story of Cap and Trade

Annie Leonard brings her simple, no nonsense, and populist style to the seemingly complex issue of cap and trade, which forms the basis of U.S. climate legislation, and is (dubiously) supported by a number of mainstream environmental organizations like the NRDC.  Find out “why you can’t solve a problem with the thinking that created it…”

Having a Good Time…

A great song and hilarious video by Theo Bard, addressing the entitlement of consumption.  Theo was arrested for blocking a coal train around the time he wrote this song.   I love it: “if you’re having a good time everything will be fine…”

Become the Bike Bloc

This lot has energy and a creative plan to harness human power to resist false solutions at Copenhagen.  Their mysterious large device, pioneered with Bristol cycle engineering prowess, is being assembled at an ultra secret location in Denmark to prepare for actions on the 16th.

The Great Climate Swoop

In October, hundreds of people converged on the Ratcliffe-on-Soar coal burning power station in Nottinghamshire, England with one single goal- to shut the mother down.  This is one of an increasing number of direct actions directed at the source of greenhouse gases.  I was speaking with a friend who was there, and he said he saw the mass action as having been successful, even though the plant remained operational.   “At least now it’s pretty clear that they can’t build a coal fired power station without spending millions of pounds on barbed wire and electric fences in order to defend it against their own people…”  Rumors are that there will be an attempt to reclaim the negotiations on Dec. 16th.  I wonder how fast the water cannons will come out.

I don’t believe in global warming

This is a good one- hits the nail on the head “If I believed in global warming then all I would think about is global warming.” (as opposed to more important things like sex, presumably) Welcome to Planet Earth circa 2010.

Polar Bear

Produced by Plane Stupid, this is clearly a response to those cuddly and friendly appeals by environmental organisations to ‘save the cute polar bears.’  This video reminds us that climate change caused by aviation means a grizzly and sad end to these beautiful creatures, as seen in tragic new photographs of a polar bear eating its own cub. (Warning this is reality.  And yes even more graphic than the video)

Rap News: Lord Monckton Rap Battles Al Gore

The Australian outfit Juice Media have created quite the stir with their spot on, tuned in rap news- the presenter Robert Foster lays down the lyrics: “it’s tempting to cry victim when the system tries to curb behaviors, but are we the victims, or are we the perpetrators?