Category Archives: direct action

A Sad Chapter in Bay Area Bicycle Advocacy

I am truly speechless.   It turns out that Janel Sterbentz, one of the organizers of last Friday’s protest at the Fell/ Divisadero Arco station, and whose “Women who Ride” interview for the Bike NOPA blog was suppressed because she said that “cars leave destruction and unpleasantness in their path” has been forced to resign from her position as Bike to Work Day Coordinator at the Bay Area Bicycle Coalition (BABC), following SF Bicycle Coalition Program Manager Marc Caswell’s condemnation of her comments made on this blog as well as her role helping to organize Friday’s protest.

Many months ago, after being nearly knocked off her bike in front of the Arco station on Fell St.,  Janel asked the SFBC what was being done to improve safety along this critical thoroughfare.   Marc told her that she should “take on a Fell street campaign because the SFBC ‘doesn’t have time’ to work on it.”

So she takes it on as a volunteer.  After a year of rallying the neighborhood associations, speaking with the SFMTA and working with the SFBC, the city came up with a proposal and brought it before transportation engineers at a public hearing.  Several residents in the neighborhood voiced their disapproval of removing a few parking spaces to make a left turn lane and the proposal was stalled. The SFMTA came back a month later with a watered down plan for a 7am to 7pm tow zone- a half measure that will not come close to fixing the dangerous condition at the Arco station.

Someone please explain to me why it is acceptable to sacrifice the safety of thousands of vulnerable road users every day so a handful of people can continue to enjoy city-subsidized free private vehicle storage along the public right of way.  I just don’t get it.

So, seeing that the system had totally failed, Janel plans to help mobilize a protest last Friday that captures widespread media attention and galvanizes the support of motorists and cyclists alike to finally close the dangerous gas station entrances on Fell, and what does she get?  Fired from her bicycle advocacy job.   You heard me right.

The SFBC in earlier days engaged in direct action, guarding the crossing at Masonic and Fell

Now you might say- well the bicycle coalitions don’t want to be associated with a direct action protest.   But hold on just a second.  It wasn’t too long ago that the SFBC coordinated a series of direct actions in the Panhandle with their volunteer crossing guard program (started by yours truly when I was Program Director) that put pressure on the city and now- even though the intersection at Masonic and the Panhandle isn’t perfect- we do have a dedicated phase for non-motorized traffic.  It seems that the new SFBC staff has a very short memory.

Now, I don’t expect the bike coalitions to participate in every protest (even though the public would never have known who Janel was employed by) but I do expect them not to undermine grassroots efforts by their members and off-duty employees to draw attention to one of the most dangerous stretches of roadway in the city for bicyclists.

As program director at the SFBC for almost three years, I understand the importance of public image.  But this latest incident is a disturbing example of the coalition actually going against their base- acting in a way that undermines the very cause they are meant to be promoting.  This is one of a series of recent events that is raising concern about the Coalition amongst longtime members.

Janel’s general comments several weeks ago on my blog about environmental organizations are absolutely right on:

“@onthelevel: I agree, a sentiment often develops that the organizations who speak for and represent the movement are on top of the issues and are working in our best interest. That they know what they are doing so we don’t need to get involved unless we are told what to do……”

These comments- made as a private individual- were seized upon by SFBC Program Manager Marc Caswell, who immediately sent an e-mail to Andrew Casteel, Executive Director of the BABC, essentially suggesting that Andrew reassess whether Janel should continue working at the BABC:

“As BABC Board, I’m a bit concerned by Janel’s public comments criticizing, ostensibly, the SFBC.  While I can understand the frustration regarding not having comments published– and don’t really care to get involved in that discussion– the later blog comment by Janel is a direct criticism of not only an allied organization, but a member organization(!) of BABC.”

Marc goes on to say:

“Of course, anyone is free to say what they want– but, as a BABC staff person, comments and public statements criticizing allies isn’t a positive way to move the movement forward.  And comments like this do, in fact, reflect upon the employer.”

Nowhere did Janel indicate that she was talking about any specific organization.   But that didn’t stop Marc (who is also on the board of the BABC) from leaping to the conclusion that she was referring to the SFBC.

Marc also took issue with the fact that Janel helped organize the successful protest last Friday.   Note that the SFBC has not breathed a word about the oil spill or why people should ride a bike in response to it in almost two months.  A month ago, a number of people (including Marc) were invited by e-mail to take part in planning this protest.  However, the SFBC refused to take part, instead choosing to target Janel for her role in organizing peaceful action at a location where cyclists’ lives are daily put at risk and only half-measures have been supported by the Board of Supervisors.

Marc continues in his e-mail to Andrew:

“Beyond that smaller concern, I’ve been CC’ed on the email threads about the Fell Street Arco station protest in the coming month—and I’ve noticed that Janel is the *creator* of the event on Facebook…. as a Board member of the organization, my top job is to ‘ensure the health’ of the organization– and I think these recent public actions are undermining that.  I’m not sure what we can do to fix it– but I want to at least express my concern as BABC Board with you both as staff.  I’d welcome any further discussion on this topic and am available if you need me.“

Andrew’s response to Marc was:

“Janel has not run any of those blog posts or events by me for approval”

As if he controls every activity a part-time employee engages in outside of work.  I’m sorry but that is the logic of the corporation, not of a grassroots bicycle advocacy organization.

So to try and put all of this into some perspective, you have Janel Sterbentz- a passionate and productive employee of the BABC- forced to resign because:

a)     She made a general comment about the state of environmental organizations on a blog.

b)    She helped to organize a protest against the Gulf Oil Spill, the worst environmental disaster in US history and against the continued obstruction of one of the most important bike lanes in San Francisco.

c)     She made a (very reasonable and timely) documentary about the need for a bike path on the west span of the Bay Bridge and gave it to Senator Boxer’s aid at the National Bike Summit as an individual constituent and got flack from her boss who said it was not appropriate to share the video without approval from her superiors in the California Bicycle Delegation.

It is indeed a sad state of affairs when a committed activist such as Sterbentz is terminated from her official role in bicycle advocacy for speaking out against car culture.   And all that much worse because it came from a fellow colleague.   This is not what I pay my membership dues for. And though I don’t relish criticizing my friends at the SFBC, I do strongly suggest that if people are disturbed by this series of events, that they express their discontent to the acting ED Renee Rivera and the Bay Area Bicycle Coalition Board.

The region’s bicycle coalitions need to seriously check themselves about this incident.  There’s a real world out here and people are getting hurt by car dependence.   Silence is no longer an option.

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.

“Duckling Delay” on Caltrain

With all the terrible news coming out of the Gulf and the distressing dysfunctionality with which humans are relating to other species on the planet, here is a nice respite.

I was on Caltrain yesterday travelling with my bicycle from San Francisco to San Jose and overheard a conductor telling this story.

A few days ago, the train was stopped at Hayward Park in San Mateo, and the engineer gets out of his compartment- extremely rare for them to do- walks down the stairs, and tells the conductor that he needs his help- something unusual had arisen.

They open the doors, walk out in front of the train and there are a handful of ducklings stuck between the rails.   They can’t get over the other rail by themselves and the mother duck is quacking with great alarm as this huge diesel train is stopped right above them.

The engineer, refusing to proceed over the ducklings, lifts the beleaguered ducklings across the other rail with the help of the conductor and the ducklings waddle away to freedom following the grateful mother duck.

They radio to central rail control in San Jose and report that they have experienced a ten minute “duckling delay.”

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.

The Sky is Not For Sale

PROTESTERS DISRUPT SAN FRANCISCO CARBON TRADE CONFERENCE- ONE ARRESTED

THEIR RALLYING CRY: *THE SKY IS NOT FOR SALE!*

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

April 16, 2010

Contact: Joshua Hart- joshuanoahhart [at] gmail.com

San Francisco- A new direct action group calling themselves “Offset This!” today disrupted the “Navigating the American Carbon World” conference taking place at the Marriott Hotel in San Francisco to protest carbon trading and offsets, false solutions that distract attention from the urgent need to reduce our carbon emissions.

More than a dozen sessions were disrupted by protesters calling for real and immediate cuts to carbon emissions to avoid the worst impacts of climate change.  One protester was arrested after causing a ruckus during the plenary session. The activists condemn the conference agenda as a distraction to the urgent need to end our addiction to fossil fuels and explore real solutions to the climate crisis. One of the largest carbon trading events in the country, the conference draws hundreds of bankers, speculators, fossil fuel companies, and mainstream environmental organizations who are working together to promote carbon markets.

Far from promoting a fringe opinion, the group opposing the conference finds itself in agreement with renowned climatologist James Hansen, who (as a private citizen), issued a statement of support for a protest against the same conference organized by the Mobilization for Climate Justice on April 15.

“Cap-and-trade with offsets will have little effect on business-as-usual– indeed, with the help of “offsets”, it is designed to perpetuate business-as-usual.  It not only fails to put us on a path towards ending our fossil fuel addiction, but squanders the precious time needed to prevent the crossing of disastrous “tipping points”, said Dr. Hansen

“The same corporations and individuals that brought us to the brink of financial collapse now want us to trust them to set up a market to protect the climate.   The stakes are too high to allow this to happen.  Nature- unlike the federal government- doesn’t do bailouts,” said Carling Sothoron, a local community activist.

In an ironic twist, the Marriott has been hosting the annual meeting of the American Society of Addiction Medicine at the same time as the Carbon Trading Conference.  “There’s never been a better time to harness the best minds in addiction research to help treat those who are hooked on obscene profits from the fossil fuel economy,” said Joshua Hart, a professional transportation planner who was arrested at the conference.  “Denial is one of the most common symptoms of addiction, and this conference is in serious denial, believing that we can somehow ‘offset’ our emissions somewhere else rather than reduce them here at home.”

Carbon trading markets in Europe have been plagued by scandals, reported abuses and even outright fraud. It was reported by Reuters on April 13 that Spanish Police have busted a multi-million dollar carbon trading fraud ring. There is also evidence that large polluters have been increasing their emissions in order to be awarded free credits with which to sell when they subsequently “reduce” their emissions.

“Cap and trade may enrich the few but it is a demonstrably ineffectual approach toward averting climate disasters for young people.  Protesters drawing attention to this injustice deserve our gratitude” said James Hansen (speaking as an individual).

Photos and videos of the protests, and interviews available upon request.


###

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.



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

Car Crazy Cutie- Kill Me Now

I was just down in Santa Cruz today.  My alma mater.  Home of the banana slugs.   There is still this car culture fantasy there, where teenage dreams of driving the wood-paneled stay-wag down to the Boardwalk with the surfboard hanging out the back still evoke a fading, increasingly sour romance.  Smells like benzene and cancer on the ocean breeze to me.

Will someone please improve these ridiculous car culture idols already?  They are on the side of a parking garage on Front St.

Yeah, easy to get out of jail free if you accidentally kill someone…so don’t worry about paying attention while you’re driving…

Been working at a convenience store

Managed to save just a little bit of money

(so I can buy a car and run down those who can’t afford one)

or freeway of noise, fumes, danger, and death (I guess that’s kinda like love)

…because my wife doesn’t love me since I got weak and pasty from sitting in traffic all the time

and of course the obligatory bicycle themed one, to prevent the People Power people from raising hell!  (they should anyway)

Confronting False Climate Solutions: Exposing the Truth About Carbon Offsets

"Me and my Ford are doing something good for the planet"

With a scientific consensus having emerged that human beings are warming up the planet, risking catastrophic damage if we continue with business as usual, much of the conversation around climate change has shifted away from “why is this happening?” to “what are we going to do about it?”  The solutions being discussed range from the local and practical, such as organizing community bicycle repair co-ops to the global and fantastical, like placing giant space mirrors in orbit.  One of the ‘solutions’ that has been eagerly embraced by industry is that of carbon trading and offsetting, where a company (or individual) who doesn’t want to cut their carbon emissions essentially pays someone else to do it for them, thereby salving their consciences and improving their public image.  Many of the largest financial institutions in the world- the same ones who are responsible for ongoing climate damage- are heavily invested in the carbon market, including Goldman-Sachs, Barclays and Citibank.

Real Solutions

The solution to climate change is dead simple.   We need to stop (or at least dramatically reduce) the burning of fossil fuels as soon as possible.   Any “solution” that does not progress toward this goal is a dangerous distraction from the major transition that is required.  By providing psychological justification to continue to dump carbon into the atmosphere, the sale of offsets allows people to live within a narrative that says we can continue our existing lifestyles and still have a safe, stable future.  That’s why auto, oil, and utility companies have seized upon offsetting- because it provides ecological cover for their increasingly damaging business practices.  Just like a cigarette addict cannot imagine a life free of smoking, it is difficult for most of us to imagine a life without fossil fuels.  Because of our collective addiction, we are eager to embrace false solutions (think Marlboro lights, filters, smokeless tobacco, etc.)   The reality is that we need to overcome our chronic dependence on oil, coal, and gas if we are to avoid lasting damage to the future of life on the planet.   The sale of carbon offsets distorts this basic truth, and distracts us from implementing real solutions to the current crisis.

The Future of Carbon Trading

The carbon trading industry (that includes carbon offsets) is already a multibillion dollar industry.  Offset firms like Terrapass have grown rapidly over the past several years, with their bumper stickers proclaiming “I clean up after my car” now a common sight on Bay Area roads. With the possible passage of federal Cap and Trade legislation, carbon trading is likely to become a trillion dollar industry by the end of this decade.  Fortunately the truth about carbon markets is coming out.  A number of critical articles have appeared lately in national publications including Harper’s, the New York Times, Business Week and the Nation exposing carbon trading as a deceptive shell game.  A number of travel companies such as Responsible Travel have rejected offsets, and now believe that they are a “medieval pardon that allows people to continue polluting.”  However, millions of people continue to believe that if they pay $49.95 a year to an offset firm, they can erase the damage to the atmosphere that their driving or flying habits cause.  This is a destructive lie that needs to be exposed.

San Francisco: Ground Zero in the Battle Over Carbon Offsets

In April, there are a number of events happening in San Francisco related to carbon offsets.   This would seem to be a good time to enter into a dialogue about real solutions.  E-mail me at velorution@yahoo.com if you’d like to be involved in this dialogue or can support this campaign.

1)    The Green Festival being held April 11th/12th run by Global Exchange and Green America continues to promote the false solution of carbon trading, by “offsetting” their own emissions and allowing offset companies to have booths at the event.  If lefty environmental organizations are promoting offsets, what kind of message does that send?  Why not contact the director of the Festival and ask him? http://www.greenfestivals.org/contact-support/greg-roberts/?catid=227

2)    “Navigating the American Carbon World” will be one of the biggest carbon trading conferences ever.  It will be held in SF April 14th-16th, sponsored by Terrapass, who have amassed millions selling questionable offsets. http://www.nacw2010.org/

3)    Fossil Fools Day, an international day of action on climate change is held every year on April 1st. http://www.fossilfoolsdayofaction.org/2009/category/frontpage/

There is a long and proud history of direct action in the United States.   Without it, we would still have racial segregation in this country, women would not have the right to vote, and working people would not have weekends.  The climate emergency demands that we confront a system that is killing the planet.  This will mean increasingly doing more than just asking nicely.

But for now, we’ll ask nicely because that’s who we are.  We’re nice.  Especially to Global Exchange who is challenging the business practices of  Chevron.   So here goes….will you guys please stop pretending that the shell game con known as carbon offsetting is doing anything more than making it possible for business to continue as usual?  Pretty please?

Trust Us. The Problem is Under Control. Go Back to Sleep

Shell thinks the impossible is possible, which I believe is called doublethink.

Leading up to the Copenhagen conference in December, Shell ads like the one above dominated not just any newspaper, but the online version of the UK Guardian, the bastion of progressive and liberal thought in Britain.  The only paper with the chutzpah to publish George Monbiot and the only paper to print a halfway decent analysis of my research in September 2008.

So I started to wonder why.   What was Shell’s strategy here?  Why did they not also flood other papers with the same, misleading ads claiming to be on top of the climate change problem, claiming that CO2 can presumably be caught with a butterfly net?  The cogs started whirring, the juices started flowing, and I think I may have finally come up with some sort of answer.   An answer that perhaps provides us with a glimpse into the inner workings of one of the largest corporations on the planet.  Or maybe I’m way off base.  Or maybe it’s obvious and I’m just venting sequestered CO2.

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Memo (Top Secret)

From: Derrick Leavussum, Marketing Director, Shell

To: Jeroen Van der Sneer, Chief Executive, Shell

Re:  Our Copenhagen Strategy

As I’ve been telling you, it’s like everything else in advertising, Jeroen.  It’s about market segmentation.  Take readers of the Daily Mail, the Sun, and the Times.  We’ll allow them to relax in the knowledge  (or at least creeping doubt) that climate change is a left-wing conspiracy to take away our second homes and 4×4′s.  Boy, those hackers we hired to break into the computers at the University of East Anglia sure paid dividends, didn’t they?  Not such a bad plan after all, eh Jeroen?

It’s those pesky Guardian readers that have the potential to really rock the boat.   If enough of them mobilize to go to Copenhagen, they may not disrupt the conference, but there’s a strong likelihood that the brutal suppression of protest we are planning with the Danish Police will radicalise them even further. And you know what will happen then.  The same thing that happened to the Kingsnorth power station.   The same thing that is about to happen to Heathrow’s Third Runway we’ve been so excited about, Jeroen.   The same thing that is happening to the public perception of our beloved market-based climate solutions.   It seems that wherever this “Climate Camp” go, they destroy our financial interests.  I’ve told you before that there’s not much we can do to re-sedate individuals once they’ve been exposed to this lot.   And our research shows that the biggest pool of malcontents they’re drawing from are Guardian readers.

Jeroen, we’ve already tried telling the truth, and that just got our sponsorship deal yanked.  If we could somehow convince these people that we are concerned about climate change and working on solutions, then maybe they will just stay home and watch telly.  We could have ads with butterflies and a cool seventies lava lamp theme.   What do you think of my idea, Jeroen?   Can I go for a ride with you in your sports car?

Love,

Derrick

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OK maybe I went a bit overboard, but it’s just disturbing to me when an oil company puts out ads not so that people will buy their products, but because they are engaging in psychological warfare against those who would be most likely to get involved in massive grassroots action to save the biosphere from continued devastation.  They should call it sedative advertising.   And the Guardian, despite its platform for revolutionary thought, goes right along with it.

After that SF Bay Guardian article about the Green Festival, I got Derrick Jensen’s books out of the library and have been tearing through them.  I think the following quote describes exactly what I’m getting at.  He’s talking about a book that was put out by US govt. agencies to ostensibly examine the benefits of removing dams.  I think he’s absolutely right.  We have to stop them ourselves.

“The primary purpose of Dam Removal was to convince people that something is being done about the murder of the planet.  If the interests and their experts were doing nothing, then we would know we have to stop the murder ourselves.  But if they are doing something-anything- then both they and we can relax, because the experts are taking care of the problem.  ‘See,’ they can say and we can hear, ‘we put out a book on dam removal.  We’re working on it.  Have patience.  Trust us.’

I no longer have patience.  I no longer have trust.  I no longer have time.  Nor do salmon, sturgeon, or the others.  It’s a rigged game.  It is now, and within this culture it always has been.  So long as this culture stands it always will be.   The primary basis for dam removal decision-making by the powers that be is cost-benefit analysis, and the analyses are always- always- stacked in favor of the powers that be.  If you are one of them you count.  If you’re not, you don’t”

-Derrick Jensen, Endgame vol. II: Resistance

(any resemblance to persons living or dead in this post is purely coincidental)