2014/12/01

How do we get from here to liberation?


Some thoughts on property destruction, violence against the police, and the Black Friday Ferguson solidarity protest (#BlackoutBlackFriday) in San Francisco.

After the non-indictment of Darren Wilson on Monday, November 24th, 2014, very militant protests erupted all over the country, with more the next night and in the days following. The protests explicitly aim to "shut it down", to interfere with business as usual. Protestors blocked many freeways, closed many a mall, halted BART service across the Bay for two and a half hours on Friday, and some protestors damaged and/or looted property in Ferguson, Oakland, and San Francisco. And in San Francisco there was definitely violence against individual police officers.


The cries of outrage against the response are weaker than usual. We seem to be at a very interesting moment in history in which more people seem sympathetic to property destruction and rioting as a response to the consistent, long-standing dehumanization of African-Americans and their mistreatment at the hands of police. The excellent piece Hey, Step Back with the Riot Shaming has been shared on Facebook tens of thousands of times, and even Time magazine — Time! — has an article entitled Ferguson: In Defense of Rioting.

Late Thursday night I re-watched Do the Right Thing (which I last saw as a teenager around the time it came out). I'm glad I did, as it helped me manage my anger and leaven it with an understanding of the tragic results of acting too directly on that anger. The title of the movie comes from this short clip, that at first reflection seems otherwise unrelated to the rest of the movie:



It's a good motto to live by, and one that arguably Mookie fails to heed when he calmly and deliberately fetches a garbage can to throw through the window of the pizzeria, sparking a riot that ends in the building burning down.

2014/11/12

Public Comment to the EPA on the Clean Power Plan

The folks over at 350 Silicon Valley have made a web page that explains really easily how to send a letter to the EPA regarding the Clean Power Plan (the plan to limit climate-related pollution from coal plants). Their aim is to send 1000 letters by the deadline of December 1st - and they already have almost 800!



November 12, 2014

To Whom It May Concern:

I support the Clean Power Plan and recommend that it be made as strong as possible.

Everything the climate science tells us is that things are worse than we thought: our impacts are greater, our limits are lower, than we thought just a few years ago.

There are several possible "tipping points" that we may cross soon regarding global warming that could make our planet toxic to most life as we know it.

It is imperative that we address climate change with drastic and immediate measures, harshly limiting the use of all fossil fuels, from coal to natural gas.

Please do everything in your power to curtail the use of fossil fuels and promote renewable, clean energy.

Sincerely,
Martin MacKerel

2014/11/02

Zero Diesel: A Pathway to Environmental Justice and Climate Sanity

TL;DR: Diesel is bad. I'm proposing a campaign called Zero Diesel with two differentiators: 1) a focus on network effects: attempting to increase the network benefits of electric vehicles and decrease the network benefits of diesel, region by region, and 2) organizing parents of asthmatic children (with a focus on poor people of colour) to use people power to force companies and government agencies to pay the costs of electrification. When necessary, we'll engage in antagonistic action (e.g. boycotts and direct action such as blockades and interference with business as usual).

Why: Diesel is a Climate and EJ (Environmental Justice) Villain


After four decades of the Clean Air Act and the EPA, we still have 200,000 premature deaths a year in the US due to air pollution (7 million worldwide), as well as a staggering load of asthma and other health issues. One of the biggest culprits is diesel combustion, which is an outsize contributor to smog formation as well as the production of PM2.5 — fine particulate matter below 2.5 microns in size. This is absolutely tiny — by comparison, an average human hair is 70 microns in diameter. High levels of PM2.5 are linked to hospital admissions and death as well as the aggravation of asthma and other respiratory problems.

This pollution is not evenly distributed, of course. The residents of areas heavily impacted by air pollution tend to have more melanin and less money. So we end up with a situation where poor children of colour are disproportionately afflicted with asthma, leading to obesity, emergency room visits, and missed school days — a cascading series of impairments on an already vulnerable population.

In addition, diesel is particularly bad for climate pollution. While it is better than gasoline in terms of CO2, it produces a lot of black carbon — one of the worst short-term contributors to global warming.

Climate and Electric Vehicles


In order to drastically reduce our emissions of the heat-trapping gases that cause climate change ("greenhouse gases"), we have to do two things: 1) electrify everything and 2) switch to clean sources of electricity. I think that #2 is actually easier than #1 — it's easier to change a few tens of thousands of power plants than hundreds of millions of cars — and in fact #2 is well under way, due in part to financial considerations and in part to a massive grassroots movement against fossil fuels. That’s not to say that we don't need to continue to organize and force the transition to clean energy; the market is headed in the right direction, but it won't be fast enough on its own. But #1 is the weaker point right now.

In particular, the installed plant of over one billion automobiles worldwide poses a formidable obstacle to weaning ourselves from fossil fuels for transportation. A push for mass transit will help, but personal automobiles as well as trucks and commercial vehicles of many kinds are likely to continue to be needed for decades at least. While electric and hybrid vehicles are finally doing well in the market, they are still a small percentage of vehicles sold and a minuscule fraction of actively used vehicles. Part of the issue is that there are strong network effects: the charging network for electric vehicles (EVs) is still in its infancy while the refueling network for liquid fossil fuels is pervasive and standardized. At this juncture we need extra-market forces to accelerate the adoption of electric vehicles.

2014/11/01

A Virgin Galactic rocket exploded. Good.

It's unfortunate that a pilot died, but it's good that a Virgin Galactic rocket launch failed and crashed.

Virgin Galactic's whole purpose is to start a new industry: space tourism. Many people have paid $200K and up to get a seat on a short space flight.

First of all, such luxury indulgences are obscene in a world where so many lack the most basic necessities.

But even more glaringly, we are faced by the urgency of climate change. It is criminal to invent a new industry that requires truly obscene amounts of energy based on fossil fuels at a time when we need to rapidly and drastically scale down the use of such fuels.

The Virgin Galactic program should be shut down; if Richard Branson won't do it, governments should outlaw it. If they won't do it, people should pressure potential customers to boycott it, and should engage in direct action to shut it down. All of the capital put into Virgin Galactic should be put into ramping up wind and solar energy and energy efficiency programs.

The crash of a Virgin Galactic rocket is a good thing for humanity as a whole.

2014/10/26

Kinder Morgan lockdown interview and transcript

A view of the "bomb train" and one of the trucks that had offloaded some of the oil and was being blocked from leaving.

Early in the morning on Thursday, September 4th, 2014, eight people locked down to the gates of a crude-by-rail facility owned by Kinder Morgan in Richmond and prevented trucks from coming or going for three hours. Later that afternoon, two of the organizers (one of whom was me) were interviewed on Andrés Soto's half-hour show on KPFA, in which we talked about the action, the dangers of crude-by-rail, and the context of the larger climate movement. The transcript is below.


But first, a great overview video:


Blockade the Bomb Trains! Lockdown at Kinder Morgan 4 Sept 2014 from Peter Menchini on Vimeo.


El Show de Andrés Soto on KPFA 3:30pm, Thursday, September 4th, 2014


Here's the full audio - about half an hour.



Transcript of El Show de Andrés Soto on KPFA Thursday, September 4th, 2014


[Music and intro up to 00:38.]
Andrés: This is El Show de Andrés Soto, formerly of the Morning Mix.

Crude-by-rail. The Bay Area’s been targeted for dangerous Bakken crude deliveries to refineries throughout the Bay Area. There was an important action yesterday in Everett, Washington, to halt crude-by-rail and one this morning in Richmond. There’s also a critical court hearing in San Francisco tomorrow to stop the Kinder Morgan crude-by-rail operation in Richmond. We will speak with the key organizers of the action in Richmond today and talk about all of the events and activities, today on El Show de Andrés Soto on KPFA 94.1 FM, sometimes the people’s radio station. All of this and some very cool music.

2014/09/07

Letter to Kern County Board of Supervisors on crude-by-rail project and refinery re-opening

Apparently Kern County wants to increase crude-by-rail and re-open a refinery. That's a horrible idea, since we need to start closing refineries and move to all clean energy, immediately. Here is my letter of comment, sent through an action page hosted by the Center for Biological Diversity.
Comment
Subject: Reject the Alon Bakerfield Project

You would do well to read California Attorney General Kamala Harris's January 15th, 2014 letter to the City of Pittsburg, CA regarding a proposed crude-by-rail terminal there. Many of her concerns apply to this project, including:
  • the issue of cumulative emissions on an already highly-impacted community,
  • the increased and novel risks of transporting extreme crudes such as diluted tar sands bitumen and Bakken shale oil, and
  • the effects that new fossil fuel infrastructure may have on California's ability to meet its own (legislated) greenhouse gas emissions goals.

The full letter is available at http://pittsburgdc.org/?p=655

To protect our climate and meet California's greenhouse gas emission goals, we must not build any more fossil fuel infrastructure. Period.

Martin MacKerel

2014/07/26

What is Islamophobia?

I just had a bit of jolting experience.

I wanted to make some notes (on actual paper, for once), and I grabbed a notebook. The notebook had all kinds of random scribblings: notes about books; ideas for blog posts; to-do lists started, amended, re-written, and abandoned; German vocabulary for understanding something by Walter Benjamin; notes from a USPTO Software Patent Roundtable. I mean this thing is random. Various projects that never got off the ground over the last five years.

And I think to myself, why don’t I rip out the pages relating to the more thoroughly dead projects? As I start to do so, I stop briefly. I look down at the page. It’s got Arabic letters on it.

And I remember that one time I saw that the tiny, hole-in-the-wall mosque on my block taught weekly Arabic lessons, all levels, beginners welcome, etc. And I decided to check it out. It was a very informal affair, taught by a native speaker to a handful of students with very little knowledge of Arabic. I quickly realized that this class would progress very slowly, if at all, and said, ok, well I checked it out. And thought no more thereon.

When I paused at the page, though, it wasn’t because of this memory. It was because some tiny part in the back of my brain said, woah. Hold up. This is dangerous stuff. Might need to put that in the shredder, not the recycling. What if the feds were searching the garbage and this tidbit just elevated your KST score?

Well, it didn’t say all that. The tiny part of my brain just said “woah”. But behind the woah was a lot of forethought about danger. And although I regard the scenario as far-fetched, unfortunately it’s not as far-fetched as it used to be. (After all, we now know that the US government takes a picture of the outside of every piece of mail and that their procedures for “No Fly” lists and evaluating “Known and Suspected Terrorists” are decisively Kafka-esque.)

This is the power of state-backed Islamophobia today. It reached way into the back of my brain and planted this fear not of Muslims, but a fear of Islam as a dangerous subject, a known or suspected terrorist, a bad reputation.

When will we tire of their games? The war on Communism, the war on drugs, the war on Islam. It’d be pathetic if it didn’t have such dire human consequences.




2014/05/28

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.

2014/04/08

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".

2014/04/02

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 Googlebuses.com!

Update:

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!

2014/03/21

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 colour 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 colour, 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.

2014/02/21

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.

Yours,
Martin MacKerel




2014/01/29

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'.

2014/01/27

The Octopus: North American Crude-by-Rail Projects from BNSF

I recently came across this brochure from the railroad company BNSF about all the wonderful crude-by-rail facilities it connects to and how BNSF is doing their small part to destroy the planet.