Category Archives: Oil Industry

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.


###

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.



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)

Carbon Offsets or Car Ban, Off Streets? A Tussle over the Meaning of Green

In the days leading up to Copenhagen, it seems that everyone has been talking about false market based climate ‘solutions’ such as carbon offsetting and trading. A couple of weeks ago, I cycled over to the Green Festival in San Francisco, put on by the non-profits Global Exchange and Green America (formerly Co-op America), to find out why carbon offsetting continues to be promoted as a solution, despite evidence that it can actually worsen emissions, and provide psychological cover for carbon-heavy lifestyles.

With this in mind, I put on a suit and tie, bought a half dozen helium heart balloons, tied them onto the back of my bike and coasted into downtown, red balloons flailing wildly in the wind as I flew down the Post St. hill.  The romantic descent was only quelled somewhat by a sudden waft of urine as I navigated around garbage trucks through the Tenderloin.   Luckily the balloons were hard to miss, and (I hoped) would act as airbags in case of assault by four wheeled death monster– an idea actually in development according to the blog Copenhagenize.

Why was I doing such a thing on a sunny Saturday afternoon in November when I could have been out riding on beautiful Mt. Tamalpais overlooking the Pacific Ocean?  Screw nature.  Forget love.  I was heading to the Green Festival obsessed with profit.  Yes that’s right.  My mission was to gauge American consumer interest in an innovative new product created by 3 young entrepreneurs in the hills of mid Wales.

CheatNeutral.com, the company created by Christian Hunt, Alex Randall and Beth Stratford, promises to ‘offset’ your indiscretions by channeling your fee to another couple so as to “buy” their fidelity.   The idea is that the overall ‘heartbreak, pain, and jealousy in the atmosphere’ would thereby remain stable.   Romantic candlelit interludes and carnal pleasure fests alike- quantified and fed into the capitalist system, a privatisation of the most private areas of your life.

According to Operations Director Beth Stratford, Cheatneutral is one of a growing number of ‘guilt management tools’ now being marketed to assist in the rationalisation of a whole range of immoral and selfish acts.

But would San Francisco, the sex positive playground of the West, the home of the polyamorous burning man hipster, the Lusty Lady and the Barbary Coast take the bait, buy the snake oil and pay to break their partner’s heart?  Or would it click that carbon offsetting is a dangerous distraction from the changes in behaviour that are now essential if we are to avert a future catastrophic crumbling of civilisation?  Perhaps both.

Eager to find out, the new San Francisco marketing director for Cheatneutral.com strolled into the giant hall with hundreds of exhibitors flown in from around the country, thousands of attendees from the Bay Area and the vibe of a giant Whole Foods Market.  My mission: to separate the sneaky cheaters from the loyal and faithful- to see whether the Green festival is really green– or just greenwash.

I handed out Cheatneutral Flyers, and explained the valuable service that we offered.   Past stalls with hemp dresses, organic lotions, yerba mate beer, and assorted green sundry, I plied the trade, and neither the humour (nor the serious message) seemed to be lost on people, besides a few who started inquiring about prices and who I had to hurriedly explain that it was actually a joke.

Walking down the hallway, I ran into none other than Gavin Newsom the San Francisco mayor who has had his share of embarrassing extramarital affairs.   A moment like this only comes along every so often.  I strode up to him, his handlers visibly nervous at the approach of this suited man with a walrus moustache grasping a bunch of heart balloons.  “Mayor Newsom, I’d like to tell you about our company.   We’re Cheatneutral.com and we’re proud to be able to offset your sexual indiscretions for a small fee.”   He looked confused for a minute, then smiled broadly.  Apparently, he has been waiting for just such a service.  He accepted the flyer, then continued down the hall, the gallons of product in his coiffed hair leaving a slime in his wake that would rival the Exxon Valdez.

I approached the booth of a company called “Brighter Planet” who sell carbon offsets- even allowing you to earn them for every dollar you charge to your credit card!  Talk about missing the point.

Here are the chilling words from their website:

“At Brighter Planet, we’re proud to be pioneers of a new environmentalism: one that is accessible to everyone, fits easily with one’s lifestyle, and is fun to share. We invite you to sign up and join our growing community!”

I had a genial conversation with the guys from the company- one of them couldn’t stop laughing, while as soon as I started taking pictures he became very huffy and kicked me out of their booth.    I guess it’s hard to admit that you are making a living by lying to people, making them feel green when they’re really not.

The day ended with a rap and ride by Fossil Fool, with his phenomenal new pedal powered mobile sound system:

“Don’t be greenin’ it if you ain’t meanin’ it

Only hurts the movement for those who believe in it…”

The Low Down on Offsetting
Offsetting isn’t going to deliver us a stable climate any more than clicking your heels together and saying “there’s no place like home”.  Offsets and other carbon trading measures simply allow the global rich to continue their unequal, immoral, and selfish appropriation of the Earth’s atmosphere.  Offsetting and other false solutions to the climate crisis need to be stamped out and ridiculed at every opportunity.

Put simply, carbon heavy behavior like excessive consumption, driving and flying need to become so socially repugnant that if you choose to engage in them you will lose your friends and everyone will hate you.  Period.  Full Stop.  It cannot be overstated the dramatic and tectonic- yet potentially sudden changes that this will require.

Guys who speed around in fancy cars must be deprived of the sex that presumably results from this primal macho display.  Nothing like starving Africans and flooded homes to extinguish a girl’s appetite.  But don’t worry we at Cheatneutral will compensate you for your flaccid moments with our Offset Project Program.™

Joking aside, bottom line is that we need to make this into a battle for individual hearts and minds- and that inevitably means behaviour shift as well.   For too long we have been afraid of confronting each other’s oil addictions, discouraged by green organisations petrified of “offending the motorist” or being seen as too marginal.

Yet a major intervention, with all the family and friends round, sitting us down, smiling, and telling us that things can’t go on like this, is now what we desperately need.  That for our own lives and happiness we should move back into the neighbourhood where we live, stop working so much so we can buy stuff we don’t need, get acquainted with our neighbours and ride a bicycle.  Doesn’t sound that bad to me.

A climate friendly world would be a better world- but not for corporate greed (photo: Ecotopia)

The implications of the science are far more radical and marginal (by today’s standards) than even the most rabid hairshirt hippie ever dreamed up in a haze of cannabis laced idealism.  Yet, it doesn’t seem to be translating into personal limits.

We need to put the science of climate change first- not our heavily ad-influenced assumptions about personal mobility and Victorian attitudes about our relationship with the natural world.  Let’s figure out how much damage we’ve done, what it’s going to take to limit the worst of it, how much carbon all six billion of us can safely continue to emit, and restructure our societies to allow that to happen.

I’m talking- if not cold turkey- then a pretty cool bird.   Using fuel simply to meet basic human needs, and to assemble infrastructure we will need over the long term, before the resource becomes unaffordable and out of reach.  A pre-planned soft landing, lifting our heads out of the thick tar sands of oil addiction and see the forest for the trees (don’t get excited Green America- trees won’t offset the Alberta tar sands!).

As I understand the science there may not be even enough atmospheric space left for the global south to meet their basic needs like food, water, clothing and shelter and for us in the North to meet our own, without taking unacceptable risks to our safety (sorry, Donald Trump, your flight to the Bahamas is not a basic need).

The battle is not so much political or economic as moral.   We are not powerless automatons, a society destined to perish in our own effluent just because some asshole in a suit wants to sell us the latest product.   Presumably we all have free will and determine our own course in life- the effects of propaganda aside.

If we don’t buy their shit, and don’t buy into their insane growth-at-any-cost worldview, then their climate-wrecking machine will grind to a halt just as surely as a car without oil will sputter.

Anyone who’s been watching ongoing international climate negotiations can say it with confidence.   Copenhagen will not yield a safe, sensible plan for climate stability.  Governments and the corporations propping them up cannot be trusted it seems with such a basic function as protecting life on planet Earth.

It’s time to drop the pretense that the plane and the car aren’t selfish symbols of a 20th century level of unprecedented personal mobility that we can no longer afford- personally, culturally, or globally.  We can no more neutralise the billions of tons of carbon that we are responsible for ejecting into the atmosphere as offset that selfish and ill-advised cheat that tore apart our lover’s heart.  Love is not for sale.   Neither is the atmosphere.

The credit for the title of this post goes to Zach Houston, who I found in a corner typing poems for people on an old manual typewriter at the Green Festival.  Cheatneutral inspired a poem:

the car ban off streets
will be the only true
beauty is not even
having to travel
because we can
already be
there by
thinking
green
growth can
some how
hold out
against
predatory
marketeering
of sarcastic
surface fix
for sale:
nature, used

Walk 21: Pedestrian Blackjack Claptrap or Sustainable Transport Agenda?

IMG_0203
I was invited to present my research Driven to Excess, on motor traffic and neighbourhood social decay, at the Walk 21 conference in early October.   The conference was inspiring, if a little corporate.  In particular, the choice to invite a speaker from the Global Road Safety Partnership, an auto industry front group, rang alarm bells.    It was great though to be able to meet the people behind much of the research that I had read as part of my Transport Planning Masters program at UWE.   People like Daniel Sauter, who together with Marco Huettenmoser conducted research on the social impact of various speeds of traffic, an important addition to the literature.

Leinberger and Aspirational Housing

images
Christopher Leinberger, a visiting fellow of the Brookings Institute, spoke about the emerging public preference for walkable urban environments compared to driveable suburban layouts.  He discussed the ‘walk score’ from 0-100 that real estate agents are increasingly using in the states to identify walkable residential neighbourhoods, where 0-20 represents the need to drive anywhere for your daily needs, and 100 represents walkable corner shop tree-lined urban utopia.  Apparently 1 walk score point now represents $500- $3000 in value on a new house.  And this insatiable demand for walkable urban housing units in the United States is forecast to increase by 56 million by 2025 (!!!).

Leinberger spoke about how television provides a glimpse into the kind of residential living that our culture desires.   In the 1950’s and 60’s it was all shows based in the suburbs- Leave it to Beaver, Brady Bunch, Addams Family etc.  People wanted a large yard and detached housing. That has largely been replaced by the dense urban ideal, represented by Seinfeld, Sex and the City, and (blech!) Friends.  The dwindling exurbs of California, foreclosed and emptying of people, are the outward manifestation of this aspiration.   Somewhere deep down, we can intuitively sense the type of urban planning that is killing us.

The American Love Affair Cools- Industry Responds

With the warming to dense, urban, walkable environments, there has been a corresponding cooling of the love affair with the automobile- particularly among the young generation- those born in the 80’s and 90’s.  If this is happening in LA, as reported in the LA Times, don’t doubt for a second that something significant is occurring.

Picture 1

Good- then start manufacturing streetcars and bicycles!

All this combined with the recession has likely generated not a little bit of panic in the auto industry boardrooms.   Interestingly, Toyota has just launched its ‘beyond cars’ advertising campaign.   This is what car companies do when their focus groups start talking about bicycles….they try to convince us they’re not selling cars- they’re selling all the things that cars have taken from us, like “local lunches, social networks, safer kids, clean drinking water, etc.”  A page out of the official corporate greenwash manual to be sure.

“The Global Road Safety Partnership”

IMG_0275

The "Global Road Safety Partnership" at Walk 21

Speaking of a desperate industry, needing to associate itself with the walkable communities movement…..for the final plenary session, the conference organisers invited none other than former Daimler Chrysler employee Kathleen Elsig of the “Global Road Safety Partnership”, an organisation set up by the World Bank and car companies to influence the global road safety agenda.  Not too unlike the programs the tobacco industry funds to discourage teens from taking up smoking.   Lots of good pr allowing them to unload millions of cars onto roads in the global south that aren’t prepared for them.   As a result, millions of vulnerable road users will be maimed or killed every year so that Daimler Chrysler can make a buck.

Just to make sure I’m not getting all hot and bothered over nothing here, I did a search of the academic literature.  Something interesting came up in the respected academic journal Injury Prevention, entitled Car manufacturers and global road safety: a word frequency analysis of road safety documents- showing that the GRSP attempts to de-emphasize lower speeds and discussion of the safety of walkers and cyclists.

Here is an excerpt from the research:

“After the establishment of the GRSP, there were some concerns that car makers would be unlikely to promote initiatives that conflict with their commercial interests. Our analyses provide little reassurance in this respect. For example, whereas the World report emphasizes the importance of speed reduction, particularly to promote the safety of pedestrians, a recommendation that is based on strong evidence, the GRSP documents emphasize driver training and safety education campaigns, which is contrary to the available research evidence.

Compared to (the World Health Organisation’s) World report on road traffic injury prevention, the GRSP road safety documents were substantially less likely to use the words speed, speed limits, child restraint, pedestrian, public transport, walking, and cycling, but substantially more likely to use the words school, campaign, driver training, and billboard.

In other words, in response to a health crisis where 30,000 people get seriously injured every day, where mostly poor, mostly brown, mostly self-propelled people get hit by cars, the industry- through its front group the GRSP- advocates not for policies that are proven to keep children’s hearts beating in this hostile motor-filled world of ours, but for programs that are unlikely to affect car sales or the dominance of drivers on public roads.  Not to be dramatic about it or anything.  But to prevent the heartbreak of a parent just one time. One less car sold. Twenty seconds in the journey of a driver.  These things make a difference, but to the car industry the risk of allowing auto-hegemony to slip is apparently not worth it.  The GRSP has also been scrutinised by the always vigilant George Monbiot.

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At the very least, a mistake on the part of the Walk 21 conference organisers to invite her.  At the worst, a dangerous willingness to provide a platform to a group that lobbies against peer-reviewed evidence, putting millions of brown, voiceless people in harm’s way just to sell a few more million set of wheels.  Hardly the kind of image the conference needs as it tries to include the majority world, while inducing a new generation of expense account consultants, city planners, and starry-eyed urbanists to shell out for 2010 and fly thousands of miles to pat each other on the back and eat fancy corporate-funded hors d’oeuvres.

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Kathleen Elsig

When it came time for questions, I gulped down a sushi roll, walked up to the microphone and asked, “Ms. Elsig, do you think an effective strategy in the fight against the global road safety pandemic would be to sell fewer cars?” A muttering rippled through the hundreds in the audience- how would a representative of the auto industry answer this one? She answered, “well that’s a loaded question…..hah hah hem hah….local communities should develop their own sustainable transport plans blah blah….”   So thank you, Ms. Elsig I’ll take that as a yes.  Nice to know we have you on the record on that matter….

Steve Heminger Maintaining Tremendous Carbon
Steve-Heminger

A ghost from my Bay Area bicycle advocacy days, Steve Heminger, Executive Director of the San Francisco Bay Area Metropolitan Transportation Commission (the MTC), gave the plenary talk on the Thursday about how (NEWSFLASH!) carbon is an important consideration for transportation planning in Northern California (41% of CO2 emissions are from transport in the Bay Area, compared with 14% globally) .   And something about how pedestrian planning was about people stepping in doggie doo, and how cars run over not only the poo but the dog as well.  Subsequent chuckles of semi-comprehension from the audience.  (Did he just make a joke about dead pets?  Cringeworthy…)

Steve showed a pie chart of how the Bay Area spent its transportation funds, with more than 80% going to maintenance and operations, and how the burden of maintaining the region’s highway system grows more onerous each year.   Of course it’s not helping our carbon emissions that 10% of the region’s federal funding goes toward expanding those highways, placing a progressively greater burden on planning agencies.

He went on to moan a bit about how the carbon reductions for the transport sector seemed insurmountable, but boasting about how the Bay Area was at least beginning to worry about the problem.  Yes but, continuing to expand the system that we desperately need to begin to wind down would make it more difficult, wouldn’t it Steve?   There was the sense from his talk that all was fine and dandy with our current transport system, if only we could deal with those pesky carbon emissions.

So, I hear now from sources in the Bay Area, that under the leadership of Heminger, the MTC has scuttled its climate protection initiative that would have funnelled money into non-motorized projects and re-channelled it into Heminger’s dirty little baby- a ‘freeway performance initiative.’

So much for bold leadership in a time of crisis.

This is really a reflection of the ideological position held by the elected officials that make up the MTC- that Earth’s atmosphere is a troublesome burden better put off for another day- kinda like the US/ UK attitude toward the Copenhagen conference.   The truth of course, as many people are realising on their own- is that climate presents us with an opportunity to really kick the fossil fuel habit once and for all- and the dangerous, polluted, noisy, and anti-social streets that result from it.  Real green shoots, signs of spring, not corporate false-solution offset it to another day empty greenwash.

It’s not our current government’s fault that the decision was made decades ago to give the green light to personal motoring, but it is their cowardice to admit we were wrong that is hurtling us ever closer- making it more and more likely ever day that the eventual outcome will be catastrophic- perhaps terminal- for our human species.

A good reason to walk in the street I’d say….

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The Greenwash:

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-From Toyota’s “Beyond Cars” Greenwashing Campaign

The Reality:

“The street is quite anonymous- we only know our immediate neighbours”

“Our 4-year old girl has a constant cough and we limit the amount of time she spends outside…..we’re constantly breathing in pollution”

-From my research in Bristol with residents of Muller Rd (21,000 cars/ day)

The Problem with Sustrans: How a Grassroots Phenomenon Has Turned Into a Private Unaccountable Corporation

Oh Sustrans, what hath become of thee?

Oh Sustrans, what hath become of thee?

A few weeks ago, I received an e-mail about the Bristol Cycle Expressway, a proposed cycle path that could connect large areas of north Bristol directly to the Bristol and Bath Railway Path:

Josh,

Be good to stay in the loop on this – as an interested cyclist who has two kids having to cross the Gloucester Rd on the way to / from school each day…. Thought of a cycle path alongside the Severn Beach line occurred to me a few years ago and I corresponded with Sustrans but they couldn’t be bothered thinking about anything other than reasons not to do it.

Thanks,

C

C’s e-mail got me wondering—how many times has someone with a good idea for a new cycle path contacted Sustrans and received this kind of response? How many perfectly good ideas have been thrown in the bin because of a bureaucratic lack of vision from those tasked with keeping that vision whole? How many opportunities have been lost and positive energy squandered?  I wonder….

This e-mail was received the same week as it was revealed by a Bristol councillor that an investigation is underway into Sustrans’ cozy relationship with the city, specifically their employees being seconded to the City Council for the Cycling City project, and exclusion of other charities and firms to win contracts from the £11.4 million budget.  Frankly, it’s too much to keep a lid on, and I felt like On the Level cannot ignore this issue any longer.

Because of these dispiriting experiences with Sustrans, I began to do some research into the organisation, speaking with former and current employees, co-founders, and doing research on the internet. Bear with me while I shatter some of your illusions about the UK’s “leading sustainable transport charity”….

Disclaimer
Let me preface what I’m about to say with the following:

I am deeply grateful to John Grimshaw and others involved with Sustrans for creating the Bristol and Bath Railway Path- seemingly from sheer will, as well as the many other incredible rail-to-trail conversions that have enriched so many lives and communities throughout the UK.  I have several friends who work for Sustrans, and many of the organisation’s programs are truly positive contributions to people’s quality of life and transport choices.  Many well-meaning, passionate, and effective people work for Sustrans and my critique is in no way intended to diminish their work.   The following is directed primarily at the structure of the organisation itself.  This article may ruffle some feathers, but sometimes feathers need to be ruffled, and once in a while every organisation could do with some honest criticism.

CYCLEBAG and Sustrans’ Roots

From a modest, grassroots beginning as Bristol-based CYCLEBAG (Channel Your Calf and Leg Energy Bristol Action Group), a group of cyclists keen to restrain the inexorable growth of motor traffic and convert abandoned railways for cyclists’ use, Sustrans has now become a large corporate institution, with nearly 200 staff and 14 offices around the country, responsible for spending millions of pounds of public money channelled to them from central and regional government.

A charity is a fascinating entity.  It tends to thrive on the tension created between the status quo, and a significant element of the public who wants to change that status quo.   If the tension is relieved, by, for example, actually changing the status quo in some lasting and significant way, the charity has potentially put itself, and the hundreds of employees who depend on a paycheck every month, out of a job.  By actually succeeding in its mission, Sustrans might place its very existence on the line.  So as it turns out, what’s good for Sustrans is not necessarily good for the UK…..

Sustainability without Democracy?

It appears that I’m far from the only one who has serious reservations about Sustrans’ role in the movement for sustainable transport.  There are an increasing number of concerns including here, here and here, but they centre around this:  should a private charity with no accountability to the public or its membership (Sustrans calls them supporters) be given millions of taxpayer pounds every year without adequate consultation or oversight?

With the stakes so high in the fight against climate change, and with transport being the fastest growing source of emissions, can we really depend on Sustrans to bring about the change we so badly need?  Or have they become too complacent and corporate in recent years, losing their grip on the vision of a true National Cycle Network, terrified of taking on the Jeremy Clarksons of the world, afraid of conflict, afraid of their own success, paralyzed by the possibility of their failure…. What if people thought that Sustrans was watching the hens, when all along they’d been turning a blind eye as the foxes helped themselves through the back door of the henhouse?  What then?

Sadly, my own experience over the past two years living in the UK confirms C’s experience.  Several months ago, after I cycled from Reading to Bristol along the Kennet and Avon canal towpath, about 100 miles of gorgeous unspoiled countryside, but difficult to ride because of the muddy, rocky, and irregular pathway running alongside the canal, I rang up Sustrans’ Oxford office and volunteered to work toward a continuous high quality pathway along the entire Kennet and Avon from London to Bristol, potentially the first long distance completely off-road cycleway in the UK.  The corridor is there- all it really needs is some improved surfacing.  I spoke to Simon Pratt, their director and he basically said, “we don’t have the money, it’s not a high priority, no one would use it, and I’m really very busy at the moment- please go away.”

This is the kind of response you would expect from a local authority or their hired hacks, not a charity working to develop a National Cycle Network (NCN) and achieve a sustainable transport system. You would think Sustrans would be very eager to engage and work with advocates who are keen to work to improve the NCN.   Yet each time I’ve tried to volunteer with Sustrans, I have been met with indifference at best.

Sustrans and Bristol
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It also turns out that very few Sustrans employees are personally involved in the Bristol Cycling Campaign-something I find very odd considering many of them live and cycle in Bristol.  In fact, it sometimes seems that Sustrans goes out of its way to ignore Bristol, as if to prove to other areas of the country that the City that hosts their headquarters curries no special favour. When plans for a bus rapid transit route threatened the Bristol-Bath Railway Path (Sustrans’ flagship facility) they were sluggish in responding to the threat, terrified of offending the local council, actually going on record in the Evening Post saying essentially that they had “no comment” about the plans.

Though the beast finally woke from its bloated lottery-money induced slumber and opposed the plan with some force, the damage had been done.  Thankfully, local activists stepped into the vacuum and formed Save the Railway Path, organised a 1000 strong march to the Council house that succeeded in getting the City Council to shelve the ill-conceived plans.  We know that Sustrans knew about the BRT plan as early as July 2007 if not earlier, yet they did nothing to alert others and provoke opposition. They only jumped on the bandwagon when it was clear that their credibility was on the line if they did nothing.

To Campaign or Not to Campaign?

So, with millions of pounds flowing into the organisation every year from government, Sustrans risks biting the hand that feeds it if it challenges the status quo too vociferously.   And after all, as Sustrans staff constantly remind you (even as the last polar iceberg melts and the reality of our fossil based transport system grows daily more nightmarish) they are not a campaign organisation.

This is backed up by those with a close familiarity with the organisation, who tell me that Sustrans has always been led by a small team of engineers- they love building stuff and solving problems, but they lack a vision of how to achieve a future with fewer cars, or of the strong cohesive communities that would result.  They also have a strong case of NIH (if it’s ‘not invented here’ we don’t want anything to do with it).  Hence the resistance to members of the public volunteering their own ideas.

As rangers, Sustrans has a trusting army of volunteers it can guide and control, but working with politically savvy campaigners means that Sustrans loses control, and might be seen as campaigning (god forbid). Confronting our car-addicted culture in any meaningful way is something Sustrans is clearly not prepared to do.

They are very prepared, however, to campaign on their own behalf, for the award of £50 million of lottery funding toward their Connect 2 project.  Last year, they mobilised their entire staff to successfully wage a campaign for £50 million (that will keep their small army of engineers in work for years to come), while drawing criticism from their opponents for heavy-handed and questionable campaign tactics.
Unfortunately some of the projects that were promised if Sustrans won the £50 million seem to now be falling through the cracks in Bristol.

The National Cycle “Network”: Fear of Change, Fear of Conflict, and Fear of Death on the Road

Safety standards have been sacrificed for the illusion of a complete network...

Safety standards have been sacrificed for the illusion of a complete network...

As it does so often, it boils down to fear.  Fear of losing funding and putting two hundred people out of work.   Fear of confronting the government over its disastrous short-sighted selfish transport policies.  Fear of being at odds with landowners, Network Rail, British Waterways, and local authorities.

Historically, when a NCN route has come into conflict with the aforementioned, Sustrans too often simply gives up and directs cyclists onto country lanes which go miles out of the way, up steep hills, or along busy roadways.

Sustrans proudly claims in their annual report that:

“The National Cycle Network is a great success story. 12,000 miles have been completed so far, a third of which is traffic-free.”

To those who have tried to actually use the National Cycle Network to travel throughout the UK on a bicycle, the Network begins to look like a desktop study with little regard taken of gradients, directness, or signage.  It appears that any route will do if it looks OK on a map – if the route is longer, it adds miles to the total so it looks impressive to funders, even if it means Granny can’t pedal to her local bus stop.

Chris Hutt, who was involved with the founding of Sustrans, told me the following:

“Most of the NCN is on-road. During the push to achieve the millennium target they abandoned a defined safety standard and adopted an interim standard (ie. anything goes). At this point the NCN network ceased to mean anything very much. Odd fragments of off-road paths, some good, some poor, some an embarrassment, joined up with notional on-road routes to create the illusion of a national network. Sustrans have compromised on the crucial standards for the sake of getting the miles clocked up – exactly the ‘more is better’ mentality that underlies much that is wrong with our culture.”

That's 9 extra miles of the National Cycle Network!  No extra charge!

That's 9 extra miles of the National Cycle Network! No extra charge!

The claim that “a third of the network is traffic-free” is also misleading.   This includes a large number of substandard side paths that run along busy roads or motorways, where cyclists and walkers are burdened with toxic air, a noisy environment- not to mention hazardous crossings of side roads where non-motorised traffic is de-prioritised.   Doesn’t really seem like a traffic-free environment, unless you’re sitting at a desk in an office in Bristol drawing lines on a map……

The “On-Road” vs. “Off-Road” Debate

Speaking of busy roadways and cycling, there has been a longstanding and simmering dispute between the “on-road” philosophy generally aligned with the CTC, and the “off-road” philosophy who gravitate toward Sustrans.  In reality- of course- this ridiculous, self-indulgent dispute is outdated, as all but a very few cyclists want safe, direct, pleasant and high quality routes whether they are free of motor vehicles or not (of course all else being equal, a non-motorised facility is preferable).

Well, the problem comes when the presence of cycle paths is used as justification to diminish the rights of cyclists and pedestrians to use the public roads.   Unfortunately Sustrans has contributed to this dangerous bias.  A man I met at a recent conference on cycle campaigning (where Sustrans were conspicuously absent) conveyed the following story to me:

“A local cyclist, Daniel Cadden, was pulled over by the police in Telford for riding on a B road with a parallel cycle path, and charged with inconsiderate cycling.   His case went to court and was featured in the local press, where a  Sustrans ranger wrote a letter ‘apologising on behalf of all cyclists’ for Daniel’s ‘irresponsible behaviour.’  This apology may very well have influenced the judge who initially found Daniel guilty….”

Even though his conviction was ultimately overturned, the damage was done by Sustrans, who have seemingly internalised the cyclist inferiority complex.

This opinion that cyclists have no right to ride on busier roads – and if they do so are inviting legal and/or physical punishment – is not limited to isolated individuals within Sustrans; it comes from the very top.  A friend of mine told me about the time he met John Grimshaw, the former CEO of Sustrans:

“I was telling (John) about a ride I had done on the National Cycle Network – because of the poor signage I had missed a turn and ended up on a busy A road that was narrow and heavily trafficked.   I was terrified for my life because of the fast traffic and the narrow road, and drivers were honking their horns at me.  I was surprised when John rebuked me: ‘It’s people like you who give cyclists a bad name.”

It seems that on balance, Sustrans may be contributing to the negative perception of cyclists and making our roads less safe for those on two wheels.  Most of their work reinforces the notion that cyclists shouldn’t be on the roads, which of course strengthens their hand in seeking funding for off-road routes.  Unfortunately the ultimate price is paid by regular cyclists who depend on the road network to get them home safely.  A case of the fox watching over the hens?

Has Oil Wealth Compromised Sustrans?
merchants-crest-cutout shell_oil

Who actually runs Sustrans and makes decisions about how our public money is spent?  A board of 11 trustees runs the “company” and these 11 actually appoint their own successors, meaning that there is virtually no democratic influence over the policies of the organisation.  One of the board members is a man named Chris Curling.   Curling belongs to the powerful and secretive Bristol based Merchant Venturers, a largely rich, white, and male organisation that has its roots in the slave trade.  They have an enormous amount of behind the scenes political power in Bristol (as evidenced by City Council corruption revealed by a recent FOI request).

The Venturers have nearly £1 million invested in Shell, an oil company guilty of environmental destruction, human rights violations, and complicity in the murder of Ken Saro Wiwa, and eight other Nigerian environmental activists.  The Merchant Venturers sign off on their accounts on November 10th every year, the same day that these activists were hanged for organising popular resistance to Shell’s crimes against the Nigerian people and environment.  Is this just an odd coincidence?  Curling’s presence on the Sustrans board raises some troubling questions indeed for an organisation supposedly dedicated to promoting sustainable travel and reducing our reliance on petrol.

What to Do?

I say enough is enough.  We need an open, democratic organisation to boldly advocate a set of transport and planning reforms in the UK: compulsory purchase orders (CPO’s, or eminent domain for American readers) for the development of an integral cycling network in the UK.   It’s all very well and good that Mr. and Mrs. Smith use their section of abandoned railway as a parking space for their Land Rover, but guess what?  Human beings kind of need safe, carbon neutral migration routes and like the millions of badgers, foxes, rabbits, and birds, we’re growing increasingly fed up with becoming roadkill…..

So what is the solution to the sad state of Sustrans? According to employees, staff morale is at an all time low.  Not an ideal situation to say the least.  However, it seems there is now an opportunity to reinvent itself with the recent departure of founder and visionary John Grimshaw. I’m beginning to think Sustrans should simply merge with the Department for Transport, become the Department for Sustainable Transport, carry out the programs it carries out, but be governed by MP’s in the House of Commons not an unelected, self-appointed board with no accountability to the public.

The other alternative is that they get their chutzpah on and become an actual campaigning organisation- pushing government and the private sector to make the necessary changes we need to reduce our fossil fuel dependent transport system- promoting an ambitious program of continuous non-motorised travel-ways along canals and railways, and return to the spirit that galvanised a whole generation to believe in the bike to deliver us personally and culturally to a new world of freedom and mobility via two wheels.  That’s the image they convey and a goal I suspect their supporters believe them to be working toward.

If it was up to me, I’d encourage them to pursue the latter option, but it will necessarily involve conflict, and for a conflict-averse corporation like Sustrans, frankly I’m not sure they’re up for the fight.  Be that as it may, Sustrans should at least be honest about their current role, and if they continue to solicit donations along cycle paths, let their membership (sorry- supporters) have a democratic voice in the policies of the organisation.

Until that happens, I would discourage anyone from donating money to Sustrans.  Why not support the more democratic CTC or your local cycle campaign instead? Giving money to Sustrans as it stands now is like adding a little extra on top of your council tax bill every quarter.

And for god’s sake, Sustrans- stop pouring cold water on creative suggestions from the public to improve the National Cycle Network.  If you’re not willing to do battle with the entrenched interests that are obstructing real change around transport issues, at least get out of the way so that those who are up for the fight can get on with it.

Sustrans were offered the opportunity to be interviewed and to provide comment for this article, but they declined.  They were also sent a list of questions to clarify their policies, but so far six months later I have yet to receive a reply…..

We’ve been taken for a ride…

Happy 2009 everyone.   In light of Bristol’s apparent failure (yet again) to provide a light rail/ tram system for the city, I thought it would be good to take a look at the historical perspective.  The film above, Taken for a Ride, is one of the most important independent films ever produced about the proven conspiracy by corporate interests to destroy public transport infrastructure.  Take an hour and watch it- it demonstrates that our current car dependence didn’t come about because people wanted motorcars- the alternatives were systematically bought up and dismantled so people were forced to drive.  What’s good for General Motors was most definitely not good for America (or the rest of the world…)

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Bristol’s trams were a vital part of the city’s transport infrastructure until 1941…in the 1990′s there was hope of a new tram, but mismanagement and a dispute between South Gloucestershire and Bristol dashed those hopes.   This website outlines the history of the tram to north Bristol that was killed in 2004.

btrcntr1

Here they are lined up in the city centre- how is it possible that with all the wealth in Bristol, our political leaders tell us we “can’t afford” a tram in 2009?  Is this progress? Something doesn’t add up here…

While smaller cities than Bristol (pop. 411,000)  such as Newcastle-upon-Tyne (pop. 260,000) and Nottingham (pop. 289,000) boast extensive urban rail systems, Bristol is left floundering with overpriced diesel buses and dangerous, polluted streets.  In Germany and other places on the continent, often cities with only 50,000 population have tram systems.  Why are we so backward in the UK?

Could it be the same reason why the trams were destroyed in the first place- to eliminate competition and boost the corporate profits of the oil and auto interests?  Instead of Standard Oil, General Motors, and National City Lines, today in the UK we have BP, Vauxhall, and First.

The names have changed but the formula hasn’t.   This corporate greed and government complicity has led us to where we are today- incessant gridlock, harmful chemicals in our air, deaths on our roads, and skyrocketing obesity.

The question is, when do we stop this mad hatter’s tea party ride and get our transport systems back where they should be– serving the public rather than corporate profits and the worst selfish instincts in ourselves?