Activism Bike Reporter

Chevron touts big oil profits = past. Cyclists generate people power = future. Bike the Math rocks!

Written by Sven Eberlein

Well, there couldn’t be a better symbolism of yesterday’s shareholder meeting at Chevron’s San Ramon headquarters than today’s headliner in the business section of the San Jose Mercury News: a bunch of inspired cyclists biking the math of climate change to the oil giant’s front gate, sitting right on top of the article about the meeting during which Chevron CEO John Watson brags to shareholders about record oil profits.


Chevron touts strong year, skeptics question company’s environmental record

SAN RAMON — During a contentious annual meeting Wednesday, Chevron executives touted the company’s $26 billion in annual profit and robust production efforts, but skeptics peppered management with pointed questions about its environmental practices.

The annual meeting grew heated, with some speakers complaining about the time allotted to talk. One called for Watson to be fired. Another complained that Chevron was not tough enough in debunking what he described as the myth of global warming.

Outside the meeting at Chevron’s headquarters in San Ramon, dozens of protesters demonstrated, brandishing signs saying “Free America from the tyranny of oil,” “Fire Watson” and “Chevron makes orphans.”

This may be the only time I’ll ever be on the same page with Chevron CEO John Watson. I may not be a billionaire but I’m having a great time telling this fossil fool to stop living in the past and go renewable.


The above clip is from today’s business section in The SF Chronicle, which is behind a paywall, but the title Chevron CEO faces down critics (“Chevron Pushes Back” in the print version) gives you an idea of its drift.

There is, however, the very telling interview with John Watson on the SF Gate blog today where he says that cutting carbon will take a long time. He probably means until Chevron and their oily colleagues have drilled for every last drop and he’s sipping tropical cocktails at his Arctic mansion.

“I think we can make some progress on carbon emissions as well, but I think it’s going to take a lot longer than people think if you’re going to balance out all of those factors.”

The next quote I had to read twice.

“One of the things that’s happened is we’re spending a lot of money subsidizing energy that isn’t going to get us to the kind of reduction in carbon emissions that people would like it to.”

First I thought he was talking about the $1.9 trillion a year in fossil fuel subsidies, which would be the only sensible thing to cut when you’re talking about trying to reduce carbon emissions. But no, in John Watson’s alternate universe it’s solar and other renewable subsidies we should get rid off to bring down CO2 levels. Really, in this guy’s carbon bubble we should stop wasting our money on that lazy old sun, the very source of all the fossil fuels it took millions of years to form — those same fossil fuels that will be gone if Chevron follows through on its current business plan to suck them out of the earth and burn them as quickly as possible.

While he stops short of calling money spent on solar power and other renewables wasted, Watson says the country should focus more on conservation and early-stage research on new energy technologies.


He probably means the way Germany has been wasting all its money on solar and renewables and is well on its way to 35 percent renewables by 2020 and at least 80 percent by 2050. Did I hear “new energy technologies?” You couldn’t possible mean for solar and other renewables, Mr. Watson?

Of course, his enthusiasm level for a carbon tax is very low.

While a carbon tax could drive conservation, Watson sounds less than enthusiastic.

So there. According to corporate philosopher Watson, there’s nothing to see here and nothing we can or should do. Sure, conservation is key, but when was the last time you saw Chevron lobbying for higher energy efficiency? Aside from all the flowery PR, the attitude towards conservation by oil companies remains unchanged from what Goldman Prize winner and German renewable energy rebel Ursula Sladek encountered 30 years ago from her corporate power provider: “Conserve energy? Have you lost your mind? We want to sell energy, not save it!”

Closer to home and most recently, ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson sums up the fossil industry’s enthusiasm for conservation: “My philosophy is to make money. If I can drill and make money, then that’s what I want to do.”

As mighty freewayblogger pointed out the other day, Chevron should just change its name to

And that’s exactly why a bunch of concerned citizens and I BIKED the math to Chevron yesterday: to refute their lazy, greed-disguising argument that change is impossible and Chevron is just giving people what they want — more oil, more convenience, more waste, more pollution, more greenhouse gases.

Below some impressions. All photos are mine, except the ones credited otherwise.


Bike the Math

Wednesday, May 29th 2013, Dublin/Pleasanton BART to Chevron HQ, San Ramon

Deb and I got up bright and early to catch the 6.45am BART train from SF. At Bay Fair a bunch of East Bay folks got on, including’s Bill Pinkham, a seasoned activist whose experience with all things bike-related really helped in planning this trip.

I loved his personal pink slip for John Watson.


Bill is an amazing advocate for clean energy and he always comes up with the right sign for each action.


His permanent bike installation pretty much sums it all up.

When we got there, some were still snoozing…


…while David Solnit, the veteran activist and kindred spirit who had hosted a flag making party last Saturday, had already mounted a bunch of flags to people’s bikes.


Here’s David’s flag, that wonderful Obama quote…

photo: Amazon Watch

Of course, some had come to Blade the Math!


The party didn’t really start until my friend Glen and his daughter (The Little One — TLO) arrived. TLO was the youngest member of our group and a total trooper. More on that below.


After I got on my concrete soap box to tell folks how much I appreciated everyone coming out at the crack of dawn on a school day…

photo: Debra Baida

We were off to the non-race, destination Chevron.

photo: Debra Baida

There were about 40 of us as we got on the Iron Horse trail, with a few more catching up and joining later.


It took a little while to figure out how to find the right flow and tempo, but once everyone realized how beautiful, mellow, and non-trafficky this route was going to be…

photo: Debra Baida

…we just floated along in smaller groups.


Here’s Deb, during a break…


It really was a perfect day, cool enough temperatures to ride, slowly warming up as we went…


When we got to Bollinger Canyon Rd, we had one more pow wow.

photo: Debra Baida

The plan was ride down the big suburban boulevard but take a right turn before the Chevron gate and loop around the block, so we would come out heading right towards the front gate for maximum effect. Instead of stopping there, we would turn left while hooting and hollering, then reconvene at the trail head and do the same thing again.

Off we went, into automobile central!

photo: Debra Baida

Deb peeled off at the intersection, so she could catch a photo of us as we got to the intersection right across from Chevron. Stopped at the red light, ready to go!

photo: Debra Baida

We could see Amazon Watch’s awesome gigantic pink slip for Watson across the street.

photo: Debra Baida

And here we come!!!!

Photo: Paul Chinn, The Chronicle

And again!

Mark DuFrene/Bay Area News Group

It was about 9.30am and people representing all kinds of groups had been there since shareholders arrived at 7.30am. The mood was great and there were people everywhere.


Chevron makes sure that on this particular day nobody gets to step on their property marked by a line on the pavement. There were tons of cops enforcing that line, plus making sure nobody was in the street.

Police making sure I don’t cross the street illegally.

photo: Kirstin Miller


That pretty much leaves the sidewalks. Glen & TLP parked themselves across the street…


Everyone was just crammed onto the sidewalk…

photo: Debra Baida

I started taking some pics of the people who had come out. The ones calling attention to Chevron’s dirty money in politics, like MoveOn and Public Citizen, were getting the attention of commuters…


Amazon Watch had brought 70 hazmat suits calling attention to the incredible pollution Chevron has caused in the Amazon…


and the lovely women from the Asian Pacific Environmental Network had a lot to say about Chevron’s safety and pollution record at the Richmond refinery.


The stage was on the little raised green space, which I guess must still be part of the public sidewalk. Polly Rich of 350 Contra Costa gave an impassioned speech about the potential of solar and geothermal energy, with Amazon Watch’s Adam Zuckerman behind her in a hazmat suit.


Then I got to say a few words about how Chevron’s business model is not only an utter human and environmental disaster but a very short-sighted and downright stupid long-term strategy.

photo: Kirstin Miller

At around 10am shareholders started to come out, and I’m sure they were pretty surprised at this reception. I think there were about 200 people waving and hollering.

Right at the front entrance, an impromptu press conference got started, with folks like Servio Curipoma, a community representative from the indigenous communities suffering the effects of reckless oil explorations in the Ecuadorian Amazon, and Dr. Henry Clark, a fighter for environmental justice from Richmond for over 30 years, telling us how CEO Watson basically blew them all off.


Here is Servio with a photo of his deceased mother and a bottle of “Chevron Water” from his native land he had dared Mr. Watson to drink, before being told by the billionaire CEO that he was being manipulated by greedy lawyers. (with RPA’s Andres Soto, his translator Alex Goff, Dr. Clark, and Amazon Watch’s Adam Zuckerman & Atossa Soltani).

photo: Amazon Watch

With that, we got back on our bikes and rode the Iron Horse Trail for the second time that day, but this time TLO was leading the way.


I’ll leave you with a quote from TLO that sums it up quite nicely…

“I enjoyed the ride, I never rode 12 miles before. I think I did pretty good for the first time. I like the idea of Bike The Math because Chevron is polluting. I watched a video yesterday (ChevronToxico) and Chevron said that the oily water was full of vitamins of minerals, but here are some facts: it can cause cancer, death, severe illnesses causing amputation, and birth defects. Thank you for inviting us, Sven Eberlein.”

No, thank YOU, TLO, knowing that you rode with us gives me hope for the future.

About the author

Sven Eberlein

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  • Great event Sven…the gall these large oil companies exhibit is phenomenal. Since the global warming issue has been building since the beginnings of the industrial revolution…I really wonder if we stopped petroleum and coal in its tracks right now…how long would it take for normal CO2 levels to stabilize at historical norms?

  • good question, Al. From what I understand, some greenhouse gases like methane, ozone and other short-lived pollutants would have an immediate impact if we were to reduce them, whereas CO2 can linger in the atmosphere for more than a century. So really, if we were treating this as the emergency that it is, we should be reducing methane emissions from landfill and industrial farming asap. My personal feeling though is that it’s interconnected anyway, because it’s the long-lived greenhouse gases like oil and coal that are feeding industrial agriculture and growing landfills in the first place. More info here.

  • I’m just catching up on my online reading. The shots “stopped at the red light” and “And here we come!” are really powerful. Thank you for the day, the inspiration, and the exposure.