Category Archives: Oil Industry

Plug the Holes or We Won’t Go

[Youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5zIxlsDZOmM]

We will return to the Arco station every week to peacefully block the Fell St. entrances until BP plugs the holes in the Gulf and until the City plugs the dangerous driveways on Fell and makes it safe for people to live less oil dependent lives.

Fridays 5:30pm-8:30pm Fell and Divisadero San Francisco

Special thanks to Janel Sterbentz for producing this video- if the BABC won’t put her talents to use then we certainly will!

Full text of speech available here.

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.

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.

Chevron in Vain Struggle to Save Face on Social Media

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Don’t Mention James Hansen

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.


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