Yes, #YesAllWomen!

I am incredibly heartened to see the huge explosion of the #YesAllWomen hashtag/meme. And flabbergasted. I see women I know coming out about being raped or sexually assaulted. I see stories and stories and stories spill over. I see men getting it. I see the mainstream media shift its interpretation of the Isla Vista shootings from just being about guns and “mental illness”.

It reminds me of this great passage about the movie Django from a blog post on The Last Psychiatrist:

Anyway, perfectly ordinary slaveowner DiCaprio asks a rhetorical question, a fundamental question, that has occurred to every 7th grade white boy and about 10% of 7th grade white girls, and the profound question he asked was: “Why don’t they just rise up?
[I]t’s completely legitimate for a guy who doesn’t know the score to ask this question, which is why 7th grade boys ask it; they themselves haven’t yet felt the crushing weight of the system, so immediately you should ask, how early have girls been crushed that they don’t think to ask this?

I myself have thought for a long time about women: why don’t they rise up? And it’s great to see you rising up. With all due respect to Yoda, anger leads to change.

Letter to the Editor Concerning WSPA’s Self-serving Op-Ed

The president of WSPA (the Western States Petroleum Association – a fossil fuel lobbying group), somehow got this nonsense published in the San Francisco Chronicle the other day.

The next day there was a great letter to the editor, which I reproduced here:

When elves can deliver oil

Reading the piece by the president of the Western States Petroleum Association (“America’s energy renaissance,” Open Forum, April 8) made me wish I lived in the alternate reality of PR spin that she was describing, where little railcar explosions that level towns only happen in the land of Sillytown and Whoopsyville and never anywhere near you.

All this wonderful black gold comes from magical fracked wells in the Midwest to make things better and better, and it gets delivered by whistling elves with rainbows across the sky overhead. Yes, this does seem a wonderful place to live.

Adam Knowles, San Francisco

I had to write in myself. I don’t know if it will get published, but here it is:

It’s hard to top Tuesday’s letter from Adam Knowles, but I would like to add one point concerning the self-serving op-ed from the president of the Western States Petroleum Association. One of the reasons so many of us are adamantly opposed to crude-by-rail is its ability to bring in Canadian tar sands – one of the dirtiest fossil fuels, with very high emissions that cause climate change.

Moving to safe, sane, clean energy is the path to true energy security and is the only course of action that can be called “responsible”.


Some Modest Suggestions for #Googlebus Activism

Second Update:
I recently attended a meeting of “Tech Workers Against Displacement”. After that meeting, I realize that the Google bus protests are, at this point, probably pissing off potential allies (tech workers) more than achieving any real goals. So, while I still think Google et al. have a lot to answer for, I’d no longer recommend most of the below (the ILLEGAL one’s still not a bad idea, though, nor blocking fare enforcement of natural persons).

In general, we need more strategic thinking in addition to creative actions. I look forward to seeing how this movement develops.

Well, the Supes have done it. Missed a chance to treat the large corporations like the rest of us, and require an EIR for the tech commuter bus “pilot” program (what pilot lasts 18 months?).

So, like or not, the “pirate” buses will be reinvested with symbolic significance. Here are some ideas for activism focused on them:

  • Enter the bus, and insist on gathering money from the riders. At some fair amount, like $50, you leave, and take the money to the MTA (they have a building at Market and Van Ness, or you can feed it all into a Muni fare collector). Note: this is best done in costume, as a Muni fare enforcer. Please refrain from shooting anyone on the bus if they evade the fare.
  • When a bus stops at a red zone, sit in front of it and call SFPD’s non-emergency number: 415.553.0123. When the cops arrive, ask them to ticket the bus. If they demur (perhaps not knowing that the buses’ actions are still illegal under city law until the pilot starts, and anyway illegal under state law), point out that the bus companies can always appeal the ticket. Tell the police that the buses should be cited under California Vehicle Code (CVC) 22500.
  • While passengers are boarding, run a heavy chain through a wheel of the bus. Loop the chain through the loop of a fixed metal object (eg a bicycle rack or Muni bus shelter) and close it with a heavy padlock.
  • While the bus is idling, spray-paint the word “ILLEGAL” on the side of the bus. Use multiple people with stencils for a large effect and quick completion.
  • Let the air out of the tires of one side of the bus.

And, of course, you shouldn’t let this limit you. The more creative actions are the best – I very much enjoyed the “Gmuni” free bus program from!


Some other thoughts:

  • With a small group, surround a group of Muni fare enforcers, linking arms and chanting “Google won’t pay? We won’t pay!”.
  • On the day when the courts hear the lawsuit about San Francisco’s bullshit attempt to exempt the shuttle regularization from CEQA (or the day before), block Google buses everywhere in a people-heavy, arrestable way (small groups sitting in front of each bus, not leaving until arrested).
  • On May 1st, stop Google buses everywhere (could use less people-heavy methods like locking the bus to a bike rack) and leave signs on the buses telling the workers to take the day off for May Day!

Pantrarna! – Radical Youth Organizing in Suburban Sweden

I came across this trailer for a documentary about a Swedish group called “The Panthers” (inspired by the Black Panthers, of course) and my mind was blown. Watch it, maybe five or ten times if you’d like, and then I’ll explain the background a little bit.

Sweden, Race, and the Suburbs

In the United States, historically, the “inner city” has been populated by poor people – immigrants or Blacks – and in the last 60 years, the suburbs have been primarily known as rich, white areas. In much of Europe, this is reversed – the inner cities are richer, whiter, and more politically powerful, and the poorer people are in the outlying suburbs. In particular, the people of color who have immigrated in large numbers to Europe since the end of World War Two live in these suburbs. (In the US we are now shifting to this pattern – our cities are being violently reshaped, with evictions and displacement of lower-income people, especially people of color, to the suburbs. Nowhere is this more evident than in the San Francisco Bay Area – a topic for a different blog post.)

It’s worth remembering that race is a social construct. It wasn’t so long ago in the US that Irish people weren’t considered white. Jews are thoroughly integrated into whiteness in America in a way that would astonish someone who lived just 60 or 70 years ago. While white supremacy is a global system, it’s going to look and act differently in each place. You can see that in Sweden, people who would read as white in the US are identified as Other. So if you watch that trailer again or watch the “do not treat us like animals” documentary (see below), keep in mind that almost anyone with a little bit of melanin is likely to have a history of racial oppression in Sweden.

THAT is a dope logo.

Continue reading “Pantrarna! – Radical Youth Organizing in Suburban Sweden”

Public comment on "Refining Emission Tracking Regulation" aka the fossil fuel industry is dying

The “Refining Emission Tracking Regulation” is a proposed rule for the Bay Area Air Quality Management District. Some groups are trying hard to make sure that it requires reporting of the types of crude oil the refineries take in. I agree with this goal, as you can see from the letter below.


February 21st, 2014

To: Stationary Source Committee
Bay Area Air Quality Management District
939 Ellis Street
San Francisco, CA 94109

Re: Comments on Petroleum Refining Emission Tracking Regulation, Greenhouse Gas Emissions, and the Regional Climate Action Strategy

As you are no doubt aware, in November the Board passed a Climate Action Resolution (Resolution No. 2013) committing to a goal of reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions to 80% below 1990 levels by 2050.

Very few people have grappled with the enormity of this task. As luck would have it, just last night I was beginning to prepare for a presentation on the topic and I started working on a graph to illustrate the problem. I am not pleased with the aesthetics of the graph, but I am including it on the following page because it’s the best thing I have on hand at such short notice (I found out about this meeting and the submission deadline just a couple hours ago).

A picture is worth a thousand words, but a poor picture requires a few dozen words for clarification.

Although the graph is lightened only from 2014 onward, it is based on BAAQMD’s 2010 report, so the 2011 and 2014 numbers are projections. Nevertheless, you can see that BAAQMD was assuming a linear increase in all sources of greenhouse gases.

The thick black line goes from the 2014 point to Executive Order S-3-05’s 2020 goal (matching 1990 levels) and then to the 2050 goal. The most important point to take away from this graph is that today’s refinery emissions are by themselves almost as high as the 2050 goal for all sources.

It is clear that along with other sectors, the refineries must decrease their GHG emissions. Unlike other sectors, however, a large proportion of refineries’ emissions are inherent to the core function of the industry.

The Bay Area refinery industry will have to contract, not only to meet the lower regional emissions caps, but also because of reduced demand of fossil fuels due to other sectors reducing their GHG emissions.

It is important that BAAQMD keep a very close eye on refineries’ GHG emissions, and one of the most important determinants of their emissions is the type of crude oil (aka feedstock) that the refineries take in. BAAQMD must recognize that the Refinery Emission Tracking Regulation is a key tool to meet its own Climate Action Resolution and will be part of the Regional Climate Action Strategy currently being developed.

For this reason the Refinery Emission Tracking Regulation should be as thorough as possible, it should include reporting and monitoring of refinery feedstock as well as strong punishments for misreporting, and it should be enacted reasonably quickly.

Martin MacKerel

Update (2018-09-06)

Four and a half years later, BAAQMD has failed to implement any such regulation.


Climate Change Support Circle

Hokey? So be it.

I have been an activist for over a decade, and have been working on climate change for just under a year now. And I have to say, climate change work is much more emotionally difficult that any other activism I’ve engaged in.

For a while now – perhaps back in May of last year – I’ve wanted to have a kind of emotional support group. Finally, after much thinking and some planning, I organized the first meeting of what I’m calling a “climate change support circle” this past Monday.

The most basic tenet of the support circle is confidentiality. In discussion before we started, we agreed that we would not even anonymize anything we heard – our circle is so small that even if I just wrote here about what someone said without giving too much detail, several someones outside the circle could probably make an educated guess about the speaker’s identity. So I will write only about the overall process, and not much about what we said.

The need

Why is this support circle necessary? Because when you work on climate change, you think about climate change. And you will know, and be constantly reminded, that we are fucked. In some ways it’s harder than dealing with the death of someone you love, or even your own mortality – we are looking at the possibility of horrible death for billions of people. And even the possibility of the extinction of the human species within a century or two. People tell me stories of going to the park and then breaking down in tears when they see small children playing, because they know that those children will suffer terribly, and that their lives will be much worse than their parents’ or grandparents’.

Continue reading “Climate Change Support Circle”

California Is Taking Tar Sands Seriously

No gunky tar sands for California, please.

Opponents of tar sands, take heart! One little speck in the rivers of the bureaucracy’s paperwork gives us great hope in the fight against this extreme fossil fuel.

Tar sands, for those of you who are new, are what they sound like – tar mixed with sand. It’s heavy, gunky, disgusting stuff that takes an incredible amount of energy to dig up, process, transport, and refine. In fact, it’s so inefficient that one must “spend” one barrel of oil to get only three back. Compare this to conventional oil, in which the energy of one barrel of oil is used to obtain 70 barrels of oil.

This has grave implications for emissions of heat-trapping gases like carbon dioxide. Because so much energy is used to obtain and refine tar sands, gasoline derived from tar sands has a lot more emissions behind it than gasoline from regular oil. So if we want to reduce our emissions, the first thing we can do is avoid using these extreme, unconventional fossil fuels.

Regional and State Agency Responses

We’ve seen that the San Francisco Bay Area’s regional air quality regulator, BAAQMD, recently passed a historic resolution to commit to doing its part to meet California’s goal of dramatic emissions reductions by 2050. This implies that Bay Area refineries will have to reduce their use of low-quality crudes, and over time reduce their operations and eventually shut down.

Now a new player is in the mix, from an unexpected quarter – the Governor’s Office of Planning and Research, which is tasked with keeping an eye on California’s long-term plans and goals.

Over in Pittsburg, CA, a company named WesPac is trying to quietly build a major oil terminal with a huge rail component. They’re so quiet, in fact, that the vast majority of Pittsburg residents still have no idea that this project has been proposed. One of the concerns of the Pittsburg Defense Council, a grassroots group trying to stop the WesPac project, is that it would bring in particularly dangerous types of crude oil.

WesPac has downplayed the possibility of tar sands, but the OPR is not fooled. In a short letter just over one page long, they asked Pittsburg three simple questions, which basically boil down to: Will this proposed oil terminal receive tar sands-derived oil? This basic question was not covered in the draft environmental impact report, and, unconscionably, the Pittsburg Planning Department does not plan to directly address this issue in the final EIR.

Larger Implications

This is big news in a lot of ways:

  • It means California is taking tar sands seriously at the state level.
  • It means California is considering the impact of tar sands when evaluating new fossil fuel infrastructure.
  • It means that the local Pittsburg Planning Dept is acting cavalierly to ignore the key question of what types of crude oil would come in to the proposed WesPac oil terminal.
  • It should put fossil fuel companies and city and county planning departments on notice that regulatory agencies will look very carefully at what specific types of crude oil they deal with.
  • It drives another nail in the coffin of the tar sands industry.

So, tar sands opponents, celebrate this victory! More and more regulators are waking up to the terrible consequences of tar sands.


If you live in or near Pittsburg, CA, email the Pittsburg Defense Council and help them out! If you live in the greater Bay Area, help the 350 Bay Area BayCAP campaign ensure that BAAQMD follows through on its strict new resolution.

Full text of OPR letter to Pittsburg concerning the WesPac project

The Governor’s Office of Planning and Research recently sent a letter to the City of Pittsburg regarding the proposed WesPac oil terminal. Unfortunately, the Pittsburg Planning Department intends not to answer these three short questions in the final EIR. OPR has serious concerns about tar sands, because of California’s mandates to reduce greenhouse gas emissions (the heat-trapping gases that cause climate change).

For more on this, see the “Tar sands in Pittsburg? California government concerned.” post (letter on Scribd here).

Continue reading “Full text of OPR letter to Pittsburg concerning the WesPac project”

Letter to certain SF supervisors concerning bike funding.

San Francisco loves to think that it’s a world-class biking city, but it spends less than a half a percent of its transportation budget on bicycle infrastructure. The SF Bicycle Coalition is at last pushing them hard on increasing funding. Here’s my email to three of the supervisors concerning this pressing need.

more money for bikes, and soon!

Unfortunately, I won’t be able to be at the hearing this Wednesday about biking in San Francisco. So I will share my thoughts with you now.

I have been biking in San Francisco for 13 years, and it’s gotten much, much better in that time. However, as a whole, SF is still way too car-centric.

A key point most people don’t mention is climate change. As part of our responsibilities under AB 32 and S-3-05, San Francisco must dramatically reduce its emissions – very quickly. This means consistently favoring transit and bikes over cars, even in cases – like Polk St – where it gets politically contentious.

Part of getting to those goals is putting our money where our mouth is. If bicycling accounts for 3.5% of all trips, and we have a goal to get to 20% by 2020, how can we have <1% of SFMTA funding go to bikes?

We need a massive increase in funding. It should be at least 5%, but 10% is much more realistic.