Volume 42 Number 30

PETA vs. Gore


› news@sfbg.com

GREEN CITY Al Gore’s 2006 Oscar-winning documentary An Inconvenient Truth invigorated the global warming debate, and the environmental movement owes him a great deal of appreciation. After all, they don’t just give away the Nobel Peace Prize like samples of teriyaki chicken at Costco.

Yet some activists point to a gaping hole in Gore’s strategy to prevent climate change through lifestyle change: where’s the meat? For more than a year, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals has hassled Gore to set an example by not eating animal flesh, and more important, to use his group, the Alliance for Climate Protection, to explain that vegetarianism is an important tactic in the fight against global warming.

PETA has the facts to back up its case. In 2006, the United Nations released a 400-page report concluding that global greenhouse gas emissions — which include carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrogen dioxide, among others — from livestock production surpass emissions from all cars and trucks combined. That same year, the University of Chicago released a study saying that converting to an entirely plant-based diet lessens one’s own ecological footprint about 40 percent more than switching from an average American car to a Toyota Prius.

Of course, changing to a hybrid doesn’t prevent anyone from getting to where they want to go — which, for most people, includes the butcher shop.

Last March, PETA began its campaign with a polite invitation asking Gore to try meatless fried chicken. When it received no response, the campaign turned to tougher tactics. The animal advocacy group created a billboard depicting a chubby caricature of Gore munching on a drumstick, alongside the words "Too chicken to go vegetarian? Meat is the No. 1 cause of global warming." PETA has been buying space for the ad near the sites of Gore’s speaking engagements, and periodically sends letters asking him to address the issue.

Perhaps the issue strikes too close to home. Gore spent much of his childhood on his father’s cattle ranch in Carthage, Tenn. At his father’s memorial service in 1998, Gore remembered the ranch as a positive influence as a young boy. He explained how he learned to "clear three acres of heavily wooded forest with a double-bladed axe" and "deliver a newborn calf when its mother was having trouble."

Yet PETA notes that the clearing of forests has left 30 percent of the earth’s dry surface dedicated to livestock production, and that cattle farts and manure alone are responsible for more greenhouse emissions than cars.

According to the Alliance for Climate Protection, it’s not Gore’s responsibility to address the issue: "There are a lot of top 10 lists about personal behavior, about people monitoring their own involvement," said group spokesperson Brian Hardwick. "We recognize that there are many causes to climate change and causes of global warming. But we don’t think it’s our job to hone in on every detail."

Meat appears to be a glaring omission on the group’s Web site, which includes lengthy lists of ways people can help prevent global warming, including everything from keeping car tires full to changing incandescent light bulbs to energy-saving compact fluorescents. But the group doesn’t suggest anything drastic. They don’t ask people to stop driving; rather, they ask people to drive less by carpooling or walking. Neither do they ask people to stop using central heating at home; instead they ask people to remember to not run the heating when they’re gone.

Hardwick says this moderate approach is about building a movement, and indeed, they now claim 1.1 million supporters. "Our movement is designed to be inviting to people of all walks of life," he said. "Our emphasis in our campaign is that we want people to join together and demand solutions from our leaders."

PETA, which typically takes a vegan-or-nothing approach, has recognized the Alliance for Climate Protection’s strategy and isn’t asking the group to adopt an anti-meat stance. According to spokesperson Nicole Matthews, PETA would be content with a recommendation to eat less meat.

"If people reduce or eliminate their meat consumption, of course it would help reduce that household’s emissions — and certainly [help] the aggregate change as well," Hardwick admits. But, he was quick to add, "Eating less meat is good; changing laws is better."

PG&E’s attack on CCA


EDITORIAL It’s a bit odd (if not terribly surprising) that the San Francisco Chronicle ran a front-page story April 16 on public power and alternatives to Pacific Gas and Electric Co. — and almost entirely ignored what’s going on in the paper’s hometown. And it’s striking (if, again, not surprising) that the story, by Kelly Zito, allowed a dubious expert from the University of California at Berkeley, who never supported public power and generally supports private sector and deregulation efforts to undermine, without rebuttal, the community-based anti-PG&E efforts.

But in the midst of this journalistic train wreck was the nut of a fascinating story: PG&E is on the ropes as communities try to find more renewable energy supplies — and is fighting back in ways that are demonstrably illegal.

There’s a message here for San Francisco, where plans for community choice aggregation are moving along slowly but steadily. The giant private utility will be trying to sabotage the efforts here, and City Attorney Dennis Herrera needs to be moving — now — to make sure there’s no illegal interference.

The focus of Zito’s story was Marin County, where there’s an active and aggressive move to create a CCA (community choice aggregation) system that would replace PG&E as an energy supplier in 11 cities. The program would function as a buyers’ co-op, purchasing electricity in bulk for all of the businesses and residents in those communities, then using PG&E’s lines to transmit the power to customers. Marin is pushing the environmental angle: PG&E uses at most 12 percent renewable power, and Marin Clean Energy can offer consumers 100 percent green power. While that option might cost a bit more (an additional $5 per month for the average customer) Marin’s CCA also says it can offer a 50 percent renewable option that meets or beats PG&E’s rates.

The Chronicle‘s expert, UC Berkeley professor Severin Borenstein, is quoted as saying that it’s risky for cities to get into the electricity business. But that’s just horse pucky: cities have been in the power business for as long as there’s been electric power. In the Bay Area, Alameda, Palo Alto, and Santa Clara all have established successful public power agencies — and all have cheaper rates than PG&E.

The state law authorizing CCA programs bars PG&E, a regulated utility, from lobbying against their implementation. In fact, in hearings before the state Pubic Utilities Commission, the company promised it would be neutral toward CCAs and wouldn’t try to discourage its customers from joining the public programs.

But in the Central Valley, where a group called the San Joaquin Valley Power Authority has been trying to create a broad-based CCA, PG&E has admitted it illegally tried to scotch the deal. Lawyers for the SJVPA filed a complaint with the CPUC, and on April 10, PG&E settled in a way that clearly admitted guilt. The company agreed to cease its illegal lobbying and pay the SVJPA $450,000 in legal fees.

It was a significant victory for public power — and San Francisco needs to make it clear right now that it will fight just as vigorously to stop PG&E interference in its own CCA efforts. The CPUC is accepting comments on the settlement, and Herrera should file a statement supporting SVJPA, in effect putting PG&E on notice that it will face immediate, furious legal action if it dares try to undermine a San Francisco CCA. Herrera also needs to put a legal team together to prepare to fight PG&E as the city’s own plan moves forward.

It’s embarrassing that San Francisco — the only city in the United States with a congressional mandate to run a public power system — is behind Marin County and the Central Valley in getting its own CCA up and running. But the process is moving forward€. And the city needs to be starting its own marketing campaign to inform the public that cheaper, greener power is on the way.

Marin has been sending out fliers showing how effectively the CCA can replace fossil-fuel and nuclear generation with greener energy options. The county has clear information about lower prices and consistent efforts to fight global warming. San Francisco is lagging here — and it’s time to get on the stick.

The floating peakers


EDITORIAL The political fight over siting four city-owned power plants is heating up, and creating strange alliances. The San Francisco Public Utilities Commission wants to put three of the plants — which are small natural-gas-fired turbines — in the southeast part of the city, adjacent to the pollution-belching Mirant power plant at the foot of Potrero Hill. The commission argues that the city-owned plants would run only at peak hours (thus the term "peaker plants") and would generate lower carbon emissions and noxious fumes than Mirant does. Supporters of the plants argue that the state’s Independent System Operator (Cal-ISO), which controls the electricity grid, won’t allow Mirant to shut down unless the peakers are in place.

Sup. Aaron Peskin says the peakers will not only reduce emissions, but will give public power a kickstart. But Sup. Michela Alioto-Pier, who normally supports Mayor Gavin Newsom’s plans, opposes the plants on environmental grounds, and Sups. Ross Mirkarimi and Chris Daly, who say the southeast has been a toxic dumping ground for years, appear to be siding with her. Add to this the cost of building a structure to house the turbines, which has varied from as high as $500 million to as low as about $250 million, and you have a confusing mess.

But as Amanda Witherell reports in this issue, there’s another solution, one Mirkarimi floated several months ago: why not put the peakers on barges and site them offshore?

It’s a fascinating idea. Floating power plants are common all over the world; Manhattan alone has more than 30. Putting the plants on a barge would, by some estimates, cost half as much as building a home for them on land — and they could be moved around so no one neighborhood has to suffer all the impacts. (The plants, for example, could spend some time in the Marina, maybe upwind of Mayor Newsom’s house, so the southeast doesn’t have to take all the emissions.) If the city follows its own plans and builds enough renewable energy to obviate the peakers in a few years, they could easily be shipped off and sold elsewhere. Or the city could lease them to other communities (bringing in some nice cash) when they aren’t needed here. And floating plants won’t face the serious seismic issues that plants on the unstable southern San Francisco shoreline do.

There are, of course, other issues with this, including the obvious problem of putting barges in the bay, which the Bay Conservation and Development Commission would probably object to. And where, exactly, would they go? This might not be the best idea in the end.

But given the lack of good options here, this is at least worth a second look. Mirkarimi needs to push his resolution calling on the city to review that option. It’s well worth a full study. In fact, the board ought to put all final consideration of the combustion turbines on hold until the SFPUC looks at the barge proposal.

Editor’s Notes


› tredmond@sfbg.com

I like Muni. I always have. I know that makes me strange and sick, but I’ve always enjoyed riding the buses and trains, and my kids love riding the buses and trains, and in the end, despite all the problems, it’s one of the great things about San Francisco.

Then there are days like April 20.

It wasn’t an unusual Sunday; sunny, a bit chilly. There was, of course, the grand stoner holiday, and people were flocking toward a 4:20 convergence in Golden Gate Park, but one would think the folks at Muni would realize such a cosmic event was in the offing and plan for it.

One would be wrong.

We joined a small group waiting for a westbound bus at Haight and Divisadero. The sign told us the next bus was coming in five minutes; Michael and Vivian sat on the horribly uncomfortable seats designed to keep homeless people from sleeping on them, and in about 10 minutes along came a 6 Parnassus. It slowed down enough for us to see that it was standing room only (but nowhere near as bad as the 14 Mission is every day), then pulled away without taking on passengers.

Okay: bus too crowded. Driver decides no more passengers can fit safely aboard. It’s called "passing up" a stop, and it happens. Typically there’s another, emptier bus just behind. And sure enough, the sign said a 71 Haight/Noriega would be along in three minutes.

Well, seven minutes, actually — and then the same thing happened again: full bus, no stop. At this point there were maybe 30 people at the bus stop, and some had been waiting quite a while and were getting pissed. After a while, along came another 71 … and passed us up. The corner was getting crowded; people were yelling at the bus, chasing it, running into the street, and trying to climb in the back door when it stopped in traffic. Not exactly safety first.

Eventually we walked, which was fine, except that Vivian, who at six is already a slave to fashion, was wearing shoes that looked lovely but weren’t exactly designed for a hike so she wound up with blisters, and I had to stop and get her some Band-Aids and beg for new socks at a shoe store. Such is life in the big city; I can’t really complain that much.

But there’s an issue here that intrigues me: What is Muni supposed to do in this situation? It doesn’t seem as if this should be an impossible management problem. A Muni controller could, for example, radio the next five buses on the Haight Street line and tell them each to pass up alternate intersections so everyone gets a chance to ride eventually.

I called Judson True, a nice guy who has the unfortunate job of handling press calls for Muni this week, and he told me Muni does the best it can at line management — that in theory, someone watching the Haight Street line should have radioed in the problem (I think the drivers ought to do that too) and a controller should have been able to shift more buses to that line. I suspect this may have been a screw-up. But one thing that happens when you keep cutting the Muni budget is that the ranks of controllers and line managers — those middle-management "bureaucrats" Matier and Ross and the like always whine about — start to thin out. And this shit happens.

You wonder: how often do these people who complain about government spending actually ride the bus?

Bay Area National Dance Week


PREVIEW Can dance save the world? Those of us who are hooked on it like to think so. At the very least, it makes you feel more alive as a human being. But in the cultural pecking order, dance often gets the short stick: you can’t buy or own it, hang it on a wall, or sell thousands of DVDs of it. You pretty much have to depend on bootlegs or YouTube to get your fix. Maybe that’s why such fervor surrounds Bay Area National Dance Week and its 10 days of dance madness. This year, BANDW celebrates its 10th year with a throw-open-the-doors event designed to give all comers a chance to see or try all manner of free moves: hula hooping, belly dancing, salsa, body orchestration, Scottish country dance, Sufi dancing, Greek dancing, swing, fire twirling, and more. Some 300 participants are on board, the majority from dance companies and studios. For us working stiffs, weekday classes take place mostly in the evening, but ODC Dance Commons will offer Dance Week–related classes throughout the day. For those who prefer watching, there will be many free performances as well, ranging from San Jose’s sjDANCEco, to Mill Valley’s RoCo Dance with Oakland’s Axis Dance Company, to San Francisco’s Mark Foehringer Dance Project. Get the details of what the good people at BANDW have in store for us from their 24-page brochure, available at select cafés, libraries, and most dance studios. The kickoff conga line event starts Friday at 11:30 a.m. in Union Square.

BAY AREA NATIONAL DANCE WEEK April 25–May 4, free. www.bacndw.org

Calvin Harris


PREVIEW With youthful bravado and a cocksure attitude, it might be easy to dismiss the one-man electro entity and MySpace phenom Calvin Harris as an overconfident knob-twisting kiddo. Judging from the playfully self-aggrandizing title of his debut, I Created Disco (2007), or his slinky banger "Girls," which is about the wide assortment of females on his jock — a fictional harem that rivals the likes of R&B lothario R. Kelly’s — Harris might be accumuutf8g as many enemies as he is groupies.

But there’s more to the sassy 23-year-old Dumfries, Scotland, musician-producer than feigned egoism. On Disco, Harris presents a modernized and exuberant take on electro, giving the once-clichéd genre a laddish makeover full of cheeky hyperbole and a "taking the piss" mentality — a key element missing in so much electronic music nowadays. With a heavy arsenal of crunchy beats, soulful-yet-robotic synths that sound like they’ve been appropriated from an ’80s Nintendo game, and a L’Trimm-esque booming bass line, Harris proves he’s got the chops to make the dance floor erupt. Flitting between an expressive faux-Cockney drawl and an un-ironic white boy falsetto, Harris has a knack for making pill-popping in Vegas, smoking neon-hued rocks, and an irrational love for the ’80s sound downright discolicious.

Most recently the young Mr. Harris lent his sonic aesthetic to the pint-sized pop vixen Kylie Minogue. The disco sprites hooked up after an Aussie producer discovered Harris’ MySpace page, and the rest was pop perfection history. Animated by a club-ready cacophony of handclaps, saucy softcore voice-overs, and trilling keys, the Harris penned-and-produced Minogue number "In My Arms" is the highlight of her recent X (EMI). A string of top 10 singles in the United Kingdom, production credits for pop princesses Sophie Ellis-Bextor and Róisín Murphy, and a sophomore album slated for late 2008 — is there anything this kid can’t do?

CALVIN HARRIS Thurs/24, 8 p.m., $12–$13. Popscene, 330 Ritch, SF. www.popscene-sf.com



PREVIEW Patrick Bodmer and Philipp Jung have known each other for 22 years. But according to Jung, the two DJs behind Berlin minimal house outfit M.A.N.D.Y. "sometimes lose each other" amid their various musical commitments. The most recent solution to this problem was pretty chilling: an extended stint in Iceland, where they spent three weeks recording in the wintry cold of February. Staying an hour outside of Reykjavík, they sketched out songs with help from Lopazz, a signee to their Get Physical label whose vintage equipment and field recordings of Mongolian sheep came in handy for M.A.N.D.Y.

"You don’t have the time to sit down and write songs in Berlin," Jung said over the phone from Berlin. "It was good to be isolated, but we weren’t sure if we could survive out there." Survive they did, but don’t be fooled by their frigid choice of studio. It’s the glowing warmth of their remixes and skillful manipulation of the clean 4/4 beat at house music’s foundation that has reaped them so much admiration as producers at home and abroad. Their original productions — which include the bassy synth sparkle of 2004 hit "Body Language," a co-production with Booka Shade — and their remixes for such artists as Röyksopp and the Knife bring into spare focus each track’s pliable, underlying blip-pulse, carefully giving the melody the space to kick one’s space-disco synapses into joyous movement.

They primarily have been engaged in remixes during the past couple of years, most recently releasing a mix disc for the Fabric imprint in January. Their present tour, which showcases the Get Physical roster, pushes forth into a year that will see the release of a new 12-inch and a return to the 10- to 12-hour nights they customarily spin in Europe. "We like playing really long sets," Jung explained excitedly. Clearly there’s little sleep to be had in M.A.N.D.Y.-land.

GET PHYSICAL NORTH AMERICAN TOUR with M.A.N.D.Y., Booka Shade, and Heidi. Fri/25, 10 p.m. doors, $22 advance. Mezzanine, 444 Jessie, SF. (415) 625-8880, www.mezzaninesf.com

Sibling rivalry


REVIEW This week most San Francisco cineastes will be focused on the International Film Festival — but please don’t let this Italian import, one of the best in years, leave town before you catch it. Cowritten (with director Daniele Luchetti) by Sandro Petraglia and Stefano Rulli of the fantastic Best of Youth (2003), the film shares that four-hour epic’s ability to pare decades of roiling postwar Italian political history into an absorbing personal drama. Accio (Elio Germano) is the youngest child, perpetually at odds with everyone in his poor family. He is a natural contrarian and zealot — first as a divinity student too self-righteously pious even for the priests to bear, then as an avid member of the Fascist Party. (His hometown is the small central Italian city Latina, a one-time party stronghold founded during the Mussolini era that previously had been an undrained swamp.) Those proclivities, not exactly fashionable in the story’s 1960s and ’70s setting, particularly exasperate Accio’s brother Manrico (Riccardo Scamarcio, one of those Italian men who are so good-looking they almost constitute a traffic hazard), a charismatic born leader who becomes increasingly involved in the Communist Party and underground radical actions. Still, blood is thicker than water — and by the end we realize this famiglia‘s constant yelling and slapping are as much forms of affection as anything else. And the siblings do have something else in common, namely a jones for Manrico’s upper-class girlfriend Francesca (Diane Fleri). My Brother has been compared to Italian leftist classics like Marco Bellochio’s Fist in His Pocket (1965) and Bernardo Bertolucci’s Before the Revolution (1964), no doubt largely because its manically malcontent protagonist — an indelible performance by Germano — and almost too-hyperactive imagery echo their restless intellectual agitprop. Fortunately, this is too warmly human a drama to share those films’ Godardian paternity.

MY BROTHER IS AN ONLY CHILD opens Fri/25 in Bay Area theaters.