A fracking "long boom" is impossible

The Sacramento Bee has some great articles on the current fracking boom in the US. These include:

I wrote a letter to the editor of the SacBee, which they published with only small changes as “Fracking will soon lead to hardship” (since gone). Here is my original with hyperlinks added (note that their URL ended in “a-fracking-long-boom-is-impossible.html”, which uses my original subject):


A fracking “long boom” is impossible

I greatly enjoyed your collection of in-depth articles on the current US energy boom due to fracking.

However, I was disappointed that environmental concerns were sequestered in their own article; they are critical to understanding the phenomenon in full context.

The “Do the Math” campaign points out that we cannot, as a world, burn more than 20% of our proven fossil fuel reserves, or we will push the climate system into a radically different regime, one extremely harsh for our species.

We are already on track to burn up that allotment within 15 years or so. We must immediately, wrenchingly shift our energy system, or we will face severe hardship and death in my lifetime.

Either way, we won’t be mining natural gas at current rates for 100 years as Obama claims.

Martin MacKerel

#TastesLikeTarSands Banner Drop

Incredible view of the Bay from the seats of San Francisco’s baseball stadium – but what’s that under the Coke bottle?

After having a blast doing a photo shoot for the Tastes Like Tar Sands campaign, I and some friends planned a supporting action that was not officially part of the campaign.

I had been in a bar which had a Giants home game on TV and I had noticed the giant Coke bottle in the background. Aha! So ripe for a banner drop of some kind!

After checking out the structure, we realized that it would take some serious skills and probably some climbing equipment to safely put a banner on or around the Coke bottle itself – it is a giant structure. Instead, we decided to hang the banner from the railing in front of the bottle, and furthermore we could just hold it rather than attach it. That way, we would piss off security and management less, and we would probably get to keep the banner.

In short order the banner was designed and printed just in time for the last game of the 2013 season. We set out with a few extra hands, a videographer, and a couple of photographers.

It was a beautiful day and an exciting baseball game. After watching two-thirds of it, we positioned ourselves, and at the conclusion of the seventh inning – so as not to distract from live gameplay – we unrolled the 40′ x 7′ banner and unfurled it over the railing.

It reads:
Coke: Rots Our Teeth, Ruins Our Climate.

Here’s a shot of us from below (I’m in the green t-shirt):


And here’s the best pic, a wide view with relatively clear text:
We had it out for a good couple of minutes before we were made to leave. We expected that we would get thrown out of the stadium, and that’s exactly what happened, but it was surprisingly civil. Outside, we held up the banner a few dozen feet away from the stadium and took some more pictures with the Bay in the background, and then rolled it up and headed out for some well-deserved drinks.

#TastesLikeTarSands Photo Shoot

Heading to Ocean Beach, with the beautiful Marin Headlands in the background.
The Golden Gate Bridge is just to the right, off-camera.

I recently had the opportunity to be part of a very fun bit of environmental activism: a photo shoot to support the “Tastes Like Tar Sands” campaign, which is pressuring Coke and Pepsi not to buy tar-sands-derived oil for their delivery fleet.

In the last few months, I’ve gotten involved in a lot of environmental activism, primarily focusing on the toxic, dirty tar sands and the proposed Keystone XL pipeline that would transport Canadian tar sands across the US to Texas, endangering communities, ecosystems, and aquifers, as well as worsening global warming.

I’ve engaged in some civil disobedience in front of a State Department office, locked down in a non-violent direct action to shut down construction of a Keystone XL pumping station, participated in a huge demonstration at Chevron’s Richmond refinery, and am now helping Pittsburg, CA residents stop a proposed crude oil storage facility.

All of these things are great, but none can quite compare to dressing up in a modified Coke can costume (which reads “Tar Sands”) and heading to San Francisco’s Ocean Beach to cover myself in mud and sand for a photo shoot. I was joined by a Pepsi can and an activist/hazmat character for an afternoon of fun.

Continue reading “#TastesLikeTarSands Photo Shoot”

My Comments on the Proposed WesPac Pittsburg Crude Oil Storage Facility

For background, see the Contra Costa article on Oil storage and transfer facility proposed for Pittsburg waterfront. We need to make sure that NO MORE FOSSIL FUEL INFRASTRUCTURE is built. (Pittsburg is a town in the San Francisco Bay Area.)


To Whom It May Concern:

I am writing about the proposed WesPac Pittsburg crude oil storage facility.

Such a facility would risk the health of nearby residents by unusual events such as spills. Its day-to-day operations would doubtless also aggravate the existing asthma epidemic in Pittsburg.

Even if the facility operated flawlessly, however, it would contribute to the increased global use of fossil fuels, which generates greenhouse gases that through climate change endanger our physical infrastructure, our health, our environment, and potentially the very viability of human civilization.

It is imperative that we change our energy system. To start with, we must insist on NO MORE FOSSIL FUEL INFRASTRUCTURE.

There is simply no excuse to do otherwise; any statement of environmental impact that claims low impact for additional fossil fuel infrastructure and allows its construction is extremely irresponsible.

Martin MacKerel

Abolish the NSA, Already

After a bit of a lull in August, new revelations about the NSA from the Snowden documents are coming thick and fast again. These are, if anything, bigger stories than the first ones. They show us a picture of a government agency that has gone completely out of control.

One set of revelations shows that the NSA’s actions go well beyond searching for “terrorists”. In addition to previous revelations of spying at the UN, we now know that the NSA:

However, those are all foreign targets, and while I am surprised at their hacking a media organization and at the economic espionage, that’s not entirely out of their remit. Doesn’t make it right, but it’s not totally shocking.

What is totally shocking is that the NSA considers Americans and American companies as “adversaries” and has acted to make the US less safe by subverting encryption every chance it could. In particular, we now know that the NSA:

  • infiltrated and corrupted Internet standards groups in order to weaken security,
  • corrupted individual employees of US tech companies,
  • when that wasn’t successful, hacked into tech companies’ systems to steal encryption keys, and
  • worked with companies to deliberately place security holes in commercial software.

This is the height of irresponsibility. In the guise of protecting the US, the NSA has made everyone much, much less safe. It should be called the National Insecurity Agency.

This level of corruption and blatant disregard even for US persons and corporations shows that the NSA has ranged far beyond its original mandate. It clearly has a culture of arrogance and a refusal to accept any ethical limits whatsoever.

It’s clear now that the NSA has strayed so far that it cannot be reformed. The only reasonable course of action is to abolish the NSA.

"Guilty" of Misdemeanor Trespassing

Some guy wearing my shorts underneath an excavator (a 100-ton bulldozer), locked down through its tread.

On June 24th, 2013, I and several other people engaged in a non-violent direct action in which we temporarily halted construction of a Keystone XL pumping station in Seminole County, OK. If completed, the Keystone XL pipeline would allow increased exploitation of tar sands, a particularly dirty fossil fuel.

Yesterday, September 3rd, I chose to take a plea deal and pleaded guilty to “trespassing after being forbidden” related to that action. I do not regret my actions, and I hope that in the months and years to come more and more people choose to engage in such direct actions and protests of all kinds in order to prevent construction of more fossil fuel infrastructure. We must act now to prevent further pollution of land, air, and water and limit the risk of climate catastrophe. Such actions are not without their costs, but inaction is the most costly path of all.

Martin MacKerel

Daniel Ellsberg’s Comments on Bradley Manning and Masculinity

At the Harvey Milk LGBT Democratic Club‘s annual dinner, on Wednesday, July 24th, 2013, Daniel Ellsberg accepted the “In His Footsteps” award on behalf of Bradley Manning. (The footsteps are Harvey Milk’s.) He pleasantly surprised the audience by including an provocative call to redefine masculinity (that starts about 6:23 in).

Continue reading “Daniel Ellsberg’s Comments on Bradley Manning and Masculinity”

Theatre Review: Monkey: Journey to the West

The musical “Monkey: Journey to the West” is awesome. I loved the music, with hints and references to other works. The stage show is incredible, involving many different genres: acrobatics, wires, staged martial arts, and aerial dance. The costumes are amazing. It was engaging from start to finish.

It’s a curious mix of Chinese and Western. The musical is directed by a Chinese producer and features a Chinese cast. The music is composed by a Brit, using both Chinese and Western instruments. While the monkey journeys to the West, what he finds there is Buddha – a quintessentially Eastern icon to Westerners. In fact, to a Chinese government that reveres its past but is uncomfortable with religion, the story of the Journey to the West might be problematic. Despite not having been staged in China yet (so far England, Paris, and New York), the songs are sung in Mandarin.

What intrigues me most about “Monkey” is its potential as a cultural bellwether. It is an optimistic model for future integration and cooperation of China and the West. We have a work of art, produced by a mixed team, which does not stereotype China, but respects it by adapting one of its most famous classical stories and presenting it in its native tongue in a modern, Western form to Western audiences. I’m curious what the future will bring.

Chicago Restore the 4th Protest

Today I attended a Restore the Fourth protest in Chicago. It was well attended, with about 250 mostly first-time protesters, and was put together by a small group of first-time organizers. This is about as grassroots as it gets.

The crowd had great energy and many creative signs. The protest demanded that the Fourth Amendment be restored. There was a lot of anger at the NSA, with many calling for it to be abolished entirely. Some chants included:

  • The NSA / has TMI!
  • The NSA / is not OK!
  • Big Bro / has got to go!
  • Free, free Snowden! Free Edward Snowden!
  • Restore the Fourth

As we approached Millenium Park, we came across hundreds of people enjoying the sun in the park. Onlookers were by and large very sympathetic. I was jazzed to see a couple hundred people marching through a crowded area chanting against the NSA. I can only imagine how NSA employees feel right now.

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Book Review: The Meaning of Freedom

The Meaning of Freedom book cover

I stumbled upon Angela Davis’s book The Meaning of Freedom And Other Difficult Dialogues in the basement of the City Lights bookstore. It seemed like a great find at the time – I’d love to hear what Angela Davis has to say! And although something like the “meaning of freedom” is a huge and slippery topic, I’d expect Davis to make some profound contributions.

Unfortunately, this book disappoints. Rather than being one book-length discussion of freedom, or even a progression of inquiries, it is a collection of speeches Davis has made over the last twenty years. Each speech is remarkably like the others, which is fine if you’re taking one speech and tailoring it for different audiences and developing it over time as you tour. But it doesn’t make for a great book of essays read one after the other.

I’m in general agreement with each essay. Davis problematizes our understanding of freedom by focusing on questions of race, racism, and incarceration in the US. (She also explores a little bit how the US model of incarceration – the prison-industrial complex, we call it – has been exported to the rest of the world.) In particular, she shows how the prison-industrial complex functions to keep black Americans, in particular, as less than full citizens. She speaks often of prison abolition by analogy to the abolition of slavery, and considers incarceration the modern-day incarnation of slavery. She makes a lot of connections between the “civil death” of prisoners and that of slaves.

These are ideas I’d heard before, but it was useful to absorb them laid out the way Davis does. It would have been much better, however, for her to distill her thoughts down in a small booklet, rather than have similar points repeated so many times.