Category Archives: Media

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.

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.

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.


###

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?

Howard Zinn, American Hero

In case you missed it, Howard Zinn the American historian died yesterday.  The New York Times has an obituary here.

For some reason, it took me until December 2009 to finally get around to checking out A People’s History of the United States. I borrowed it on CD from the library and listened, fascinated, while I did mundane things like washing dishes.  You know, the good kind of multi-tasking.   Even if you live outside of the U.S. this book is of critical importance in understanding how we got where we are today, given American influence abroad. Particularly fascinating are the chapters on the Civil Rights Movement.

Zinn describes his role as a historian:

“America’s future is linked to how we understand our past.  For this reason, writing about history, for me, is never a neutral act.  By writing, I hope to awaken a great consciousness of racial injustice, sexual bias, class inequality, and national hubris.  I also want to bring into the light the unreported resistance of people against the power of the Establishment: the refusal of the indigenous to simply disappear; the rebellion of black people in the antislavery movement and in the more recent movement against racial segregation; the strikes carried out by working people all through American history in attempts to improve their lives.”

Zinn was unrelenting in his expose of the abuse of power- particularly corporate power in the U.S.  It is particularly ironic that he died only a week after the Supreme Court expanded corporate power on an unprecedented scale.

From his  A Power Governments Cannot Suppress:

“Our political leaders would prefer us to believe we are one family- me and Exxon, you and Microsoft, the children of the CEO’s and the children of the restaurant workers.  We must believe our interests are the same.  That’s why officials speak of going to war “for the national interest,” as if it were in all our interest.”

Thank you Howard Zinn- you are a true hero.  May your writings be read even more widely following your death.  May they shed light on our history so that we may be empowered to confront the injustices of our own time.

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.

——————————————————————————

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

——————————————————————————-

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)

Police Attack Copenhagen Climate Protesters

This makes me sick.

I hope everyone has “taken note of” the near blackout of accurate news about Copenhagen.   That is certainly the case in the American mainstream press- even PBS.  I’d be curious to hear whether it has been the same in the UK and elsewhere. Very few Americans are aware of the brutal police violence against peaceful, unarmed climate protesters that has taken place over the past two weeks.  For honest, non-corporate controlled reporting, Indymedia comes through again.

If there was any doubt left that our “democratic” governments are incapable of reigning in our fossil fuel use and protecting our planet’s climate, the failure of the COP 15 conference should be a sobering reminder.  Much can be gleaned between the lines in Obama’s speech at the conference.   Listen to his tone of voice and watch his body language during the speech.   This is not a man who has hope for the future.    And hope is why we voted him in.   I, for one, would like my twenty bucks and my vote back.

Let the failure of the Copenhagen conference launch a new era of DIY localization, civil disobedience, and educational outreach to new groups of people yet to be made aware of the truth of what is going on in the world.  And let’s be thankful for the brave protesters in Copenhagen who suffered through freezing conditions, police violence, and times when hope seemed far away- we stand with you!

It’s easy to be depressed at this dark time of year- even without the failure of the climate negotiations and police torture enforcing the status quo.  But sitting around and moping isn’t going to help anything.   I recommend a vigorous bike ride up some nice hills where the air is clean, hooking up with local allies and hatching a plan to cut emissions in 2010, and lots of local, seasonal, and organic greens.

If you’re sad or lonely, you should know that it’s not your fault.   Western society loves to attribute unhappiness to individual shortcomings, but more evidence surfaces every day that our society has a series of systemic flaws that actively generate loneliness and isolation. Not the least of which is the motor traffic that has made all but a few of our public spaces unpleasant and anti-social.  And of course the capitalist system is all too ready to provide false remedies that burden your health and burn a hole in your pocket.   It all leaves a bad taste in the mouth and mounting debt as the underlying problems fester.  If you don’t believe me about the historic importance of community that has been taken away from us, read the introduction to Malcolm Gladwell’s new book Outliers.

Let’s re-imagine this dynamic.  Happy winter solstice everyone.  And do feel free to pop round for a cup of hot tea :)