Beyond Democrat Dead-ends: What Real Climate Action Looks Like

By Carol Dansereau - CounterPunch, June 2, 2017

The global warming situation is absolutely crazy.  Millions of people are already experiencing drought, famine, floods, wildfires, superstorms and other climate disasters.  As a species, we are teetering on the edge of full-blown catastrophe, with extinction a distinct possibility.  Yet, we can’t seem to put in place obvious solutions that are sitting right there in front of us.

Even crazier, environmentalists repeatedly praise Democrats for phony climate action plans that don’t come close to what’s needed.

Take the “100 by ‘50” legislation recently introduced by Oregon Senator Merkley and other Democrats.  Environmental leaders lined up to celebrate this as the blueprint that will get us beyond global warming, even though it’s nothing of the sort.  Some environmentalists used their endorsements to denounce Republicans for being funded by the fossil fuel industry, deftly ignoring the funding received by Democrats from that same industry.  The message was clear: when we put Democrats back in power and pass a bill like “100 by ‘50”, we’ll be on our way to solving the climate crisis.

This is pure hogwash.  The Democrats have kept us running in circles as the climate crisis has deepened.   And although this new bill purports to get us to 100% clean and renewable energy by 2050—hence the catchy title—it almost certainly won’t do that.  Yes, it is “the most ambitious piece of climate legislation Congress has ever seen”.  But that’s only because prior offerings were so pathetic that “100 by ’50” seems ambitious in comparison.

It’s crucial that we understand this as Donald Trump and the Republicans move forward with their horrifying agenda.  More than ever, we need to be uniting behind a real climate action plan and the broader vision for society it engenders.  We need to be building a movement that has a clear understanding of where our power lies and how to use it.

GGJ Statement on Trump's Withdrawal from Paris Agreement

By staff - Grassroots Global Justice Alliance, June 2, 2017

While the accord was far from what the planet needs, Trump's reckless decision underscores a key overarching issue with the Paris Agreement in the first place.  When the Paris Agreement was signed in 2015, we put out this report entitled "We Are Mother Earth’s Red Line: Frontline Communities Lead the Climate Justice Fight Beyond the Paris Agreement."  We laid out 5 key concerns in the report.  Our number one concern (see page 6) with the agreement was “The Agreement relies on voluntary versus mandatory emission cuts that do not meet targets scientists say are necessary to avoid climate catastrophe.”  Trump’s withdrawal is a clear example that voluntary pledges are not enough.

“Donald Trump is showing us the art of breaking a deal,” says Tom BK Goldtooth, Executive Director of Indigenous Environmental Network. “By abandoning the Paris Agreement, this administration will further perpetuate environmental racism and climate injustice against Indigenous peoples experiencing the worst effects of climate change across the globe. We’ve stated before that the Paris Agreement falls short of embracing the sort of climate solutions that lift up human rights and the rights of Indigenous peoples. Regardless of its shortcomings, it is critical that the United States be held accountable for its contributions to the climate chaos we are seeing across the globe and to take ambitious action to meet the Agreement’s goal to limit temperature increases to 1.5 degrees Celsius. Backing out of this agreement continues a long history of broken promises and threatens the vital and sacred life cycles of Mother Earth.”

Our number two concern (page 6) was “The Agreement advances pollution trading mechanisms that allow polluters to purchase “offsets” and continue extremely dangerous levels of emissions.”  If we truly aim to reach the stated goal of reducing carbon emissions to 1.5 degrees Celsius, we will never get there with a carbon market system.

Monique Verdin, Secretary of the United Houma Nation Tribal Council, Louisiana says “the Paris Accord is not a perfect solution, but to step out of it is to step back. Our coastal communities in the Mississippi River Delta are surrounded by a web of pipelines, oil and gas canals, while our sinking lands are pock marked by oil waste pits. We are being told that our traditional territories may have to be sacrificed to the sea and that our post-colonial sanctuary settlements may have to be abandoned in this unprecedented wake of sea-level rise. If we don’t change our relationships with extreme extraction the heartache of losing some of the most precious biodiversity in the world, will be disregarded for the delusions of “progress.”

While the agreement was far from what we need at the global scale, at minimum it was still a significant indication that world leaders were taking climate change seriously.  Across the globe, the Paris Agreement was being used as a baseline argument to continue promoting the real Just Transition that we need away from a fossil fuel economy.

EcoWobbles - EcoUnionist News #156

Compiled by x344543 - IWW Environmental Unionism Caucus, June 2, 2017

A smorgasbord of news of interest to green unionists:

After two deadly explosions, Colorado’s largest gas producer faces lawsuits - By Mark Hand, Think Progress, May 30, 2017 - In April, leaking methane from a natural gas pipeline owned by Anadarko reportedly caused a house to explode in Firestone, Colorado, killing two residents and injuring a third. Last week, a storage tank exploded at a Mead, Colorado facility owned and operated by Anadarko, killing one worker and injuring three others; [related]: Anadarko Execs Buy up Depressed Stock After Lethal Colorado Explosions, Then Its Oil Tank Exploded - By Steve Horn, Counterpunch, May 31, 2017 | Back-To-Back Oil & Gas Explosions Rattle Colorado Communities - By Alisa Barba and Leigh Paterson, Inside Energy, May 25, 2017 | Fire at Anadarko oil tank site kills worker, injures 3 - By Collin Eaton, FuelFix, May 26, 2017 | One Dead, Three Injured in Anadarko Oil Tank Explosion - By Lena Moffitt, EcoWatch, May 26, 2017.

Amid layoffs and bankruptcies, solar renegades turn to Trump to fight ‘China’ - By Samantha Page, ThinkProgress, May 30, 2017 - The U.S. solar industry should be on top of the world. Last year, installations nearly doubled over 2015. The industry employs more than 260,000 people — with a growth rate that puts the overall economy to shame; [related]: US tells WTO it is considering tariffs on solar panels - By Peter Maloney, Utility Dive, May 31, 2017.

A Budget That Scorches the Planet - By Rhea Suh, Common Dreams, May 30, 2017 - These cuts don’t make sense—and they undermine one of the fastest-growing segments of the economy: the clean energy sector that employs more than three million American workers; [related]: Trump’s 2018 Budget = Severe Cuts To Federal Funding For Transit, Bicycling, & Walking — Is Not Pro-Life, Not Pro-Child - By Cynthia Shahan, Clean Technica, May 30, 2017.

Coal Miners Crushed As White House Admits Trump Lied About Bringing Back Coal Jobs - By Jason Easley, PoliticusUSA, May 26, 2017 - The truth is that the coal jobs are gone, and they aren’t coming back. Trump lied to former and current coal miners in places like West Virginia, Ohio, Kentucky, and Western Pennsylvania; [related]: #ThanksTrump! Another Dagger in the Heart of Coal Country, USA - By Tina Casey, Clean Technica, May 29, 2017 | Top Trump economic adviser: ‘Coal doesn’t even make that much sense anymore’ - By Joe Romm, ThinkProgress, May 26, 2017.

Coalition of Immokalee Workers news:

Combative Farm Workers in Only Indigenous-Led US Union Win Labor Rights Defenders Award - By staff, Telesur, May 24, 2017 - “Our union is different because the leadership is 100 percent farm workers,” FUJ President Ramon Torres told teleSUR. “For the most part, our union is built by farm workers volunteering their time to make the union strong.”

“Corporate Free” Richmond Candidates Moving Up - By Steve Early, Beyond Chron, May 23, 2017 - Among them were a few political heavyweights—like Greenpeace, the California Nurses Association, and Clean Water Action. But most endorsers of the rally against corporate pollution of air, water, and politics were local branches of 350.org or the Green Party, anti-fracking groups, and on-line networks like RootsAction or the Courage Campaign.

Dozens of Labrador mining staffers show signs of lung disease, report finds - By staff, Canadian Press, May 24, 2017 - A new medical report has found that 35 people who worked at mining properties in Labrador have signs of silicosis, a lung disease that can develop from breathing in silica dust; [related]: Report sheds light on silica dust danger, despite 'very poor cooperation' from Wabush Mines - By Peter Cowan, CBC News, May 24, 2017

In Dramatic Shift, Kentucky Voters Potentially Becoming Numb to Politicians Talking About Coal Jobs - By Farron Cousins, DeSmog Blog, May 30, 2017 - When politicians promise to bring Kentucky's mining jobs back, voters typically don't take their pledge literally, UK political science professor Stephen Voss said. But they may vote for those candidates because they believe they want to support the coal industry.

Economic Inequality Is A Driver Of Climate Change - By Marlene Cimons, Nexus Media, May 24, 2017 - “Since the Reagan administration, the left has been hobbled by a supposed environment versus jobs/economy dichotomy,” Holmberg added.

Environmental organizations still have a diversity problem - By Nikhil Swaminathan, Grist, May 25, 2017 - A report on the employment practices of green groups finds that the sector, despite its socially progressive reputation, is still overwhelmingly the bastion of white men; [related]: The environmental movement (still) has a major diversity problem - By Natasha Geiling, ThinkProgress, May 26, 2017.

The Epic Battle Between Big Oil and the People of California - By Dan Bacher, Red, Green, and Blue, May 27, 2017 - Food and Water Watch, the California Nurses Association, Greenpeace, 350.org, Friends of the Earth, Rootskeeper, Center for Biological Diversity, Davis Stand and many other statewide and national environmental and health groups sponsored the rally.

Fiscal Fightback: Trump's Budget Could Ignite Progressive Uprising - By Christopher Cook, Common Dreams, May 27, 2017 - Instead of Trump’s trickle-down tax breaks for the wealthy and big business, the People’s Budget restores modest Clinton-era tax rates on millionaires and billionaires, bringing in job-creation revenue while making the economic playing field at least a bit more level. The People’s Budget expands opportunities, stimulates local economies, and invests in America’s future—roads and bridges, health and education, workers’ wages and safety, and environmental sustainability.

Forestry and fishing named as most most dangerous jobs, new data shows - By Andrew Brown, Canberra Times, May 27, 2017 - Analysis of data from Safe Work Australia has revealed 52 agriculture, forestry or fishing workers died on the job in 2015.

Haitian Garment Workers Go On Strike! - By Winter Jones, Ideas and Action, May 19, 2017 - According to Rapid Response Network, Haitian workers are often paid below the minimum legal wage and are given ridiculous production quotas. Union members are harassed and fired arbitrarily, despite union activities being legally protected under Haitian law.

Imperial Pacific must Pay Legal Wages, Compensate Injuries of Saipan Construction Workers - By staff, Hong Kong Confederation of Unions, May 16, 2017 - Although Imperial Pacific “denounced” this abuse of workers by its contractors, this is clearly insufficient. Hundreds of exploited workers remain uncompensated.

Indian coal unions plan nationwide strike - By staff, IndustriALL, May 12, 2017 - Around half a million coal workers in India are set to hold a three-day nationwide strike from 19 to 21 June, 2017 over pensions and wages.

IRENA Report Says in 2016, Large Hydropower Accounted for 1.5M Renewable Energy Jobs - By Gregory B. Poindexter, Renewable Energy World, May 30, 2017 - When accounting for direct employment, the largest renewable energy technology by installed capacity — large hydropower — the total number of global renewable energy jobs climbed from 8.3 million to 9.8 million in 2016, according to a report released on May 24 during the 13th Council of the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) in Abu Dhabi, U.A.E.; [related]: Global Green Energy Job Count Approaches the 10 Million Mark - By Jeff St. John, GreenTech Media, May 31, 2017 | U.S. Renewable Energy Jobs Employ 800,000+ People and Rising: in Charts - By Paul Horn, InsideClimate News, May 30, 2017.

James Hardie asbestos victim receives record $1m compensation payout in Adelaide - By staff, ABC (Australia) News, May 26, 2017 - A terminally ill South Australian man will receive a record compensation payout from former asbestos supplier James Hardie, after the Adelaide District Court made an Australian-first ruling and forced the company to pay "exemplary damages".

Ten Reasons Why Transit Privatization is Bad for the District:

By staff - ATU Local 689, May 30, 2017

1. Privatization does not guarantee savings.  Proponents of privatizing transit often make lofty claims about savings through private sector efficiencies. But frequently these claims couldn’t be farther from the truth. Public agencies are often more efficient because no profit margin gets siphoned off to shareholders.

• In Phoenix, Veolia demanded an additional $27.5 million on top of its existing $386 million contract. Veolia threatened to leave on short notice during contract negotiations if the city did not meet its demands. 1

• Officials canceled a management contract with First Transit in Green Bay, Wisconsin. The public agency experienced a cost savings by managing the system in-house.

• Veolia was dropped after 3 years by Chatham Area Transit (CAT) in Savannah, GA after the CAT chairman concluded that the private operator “was becoming too expensive.”

2. Service issues may rise: any savings often come from cutbacks.

Contractor claims about service should be taken with a grain of salt. Up-front savings are often coupled with cutbacks, hurting the most vulnerable users like the disabled and children.

• In San Diego, First Transit promised $10 million in annual savings by taking over the North County Transit District. Modest cost declines were primarily due to service cutbacks. First Transit operated 14,000 fewer service hours while other costs shot up by $1.4 million primarily due to administrative fees. 

• Between 2008 and 2010, MV Transportation was fined 295 times for bad service in the city of Fairfield, CA, which had turned to the private operator as a solution to budget shortfalls. Officials concluded that the private operator “exhibited mostly negative trends in all areas” related to performance and efficiency.

• In Nassau County, NY Veolia slashed service to close a $7.3 million budget gap. More than 30 routes saw cutbacks, in all 60% of the system experienced service declines. 

• After 19 years of privatized service in the Toledo, OH area, paratransit riders complaints

were so numerous that the agency fired First Transit. 

Leaks and Militarized Policing: Water Protectors are Proven Right

By Michael J. Sainato - CounterPunch, May 30, 2017

The water protectors’ efforts to stop the Dakota Access Pipeline were a historic mobilization of Native American tribes from all across the country coming together in solidarity for the Standing Rock Sioux. The original route of the pipeline was moved from Bismarck, North Dakota, onto Standing Rock Sioux reservation land and sacred tribal grounds.

Despite the overt violation of treaties between the federal government and the Standing Rock Sioux, the pipeline’s construction persisted while mainstream media outlets and Democratic Party leaders all virtually remained silent on the issue.

The void in media coverage was filled by alternative media outlets and citizen journalists. Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vt) and Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI) were two of the small handful of elected officials willing to speak out on behalf of the NoDAPL fight.Throughout months of living at the Standing Rock camps, water protectors endured constant abuse, violence, and a propaganda campaign from the Morton County Sheriff’s Office and hired security contractors.

On May 27, the Intercept reported, “a SHADOWY INTERNATIONAL mercenary and security firm known as TigerSwan targeted the movement opposed to the Dakota Access Pipeline with military-style counterterrorism measures, collaborating closely with police in at least five states, according to internal documents obtained by The Intercept.”

Fight Back for Energy Independence Over Corporate Profits

By Lois Marie Gibbs - Common Dreams, May 27, 2017

‘Homeland Security – No more wars over oil!’ That’s what families in communities across Pennsylvania were promised a decade ago.

‘We’ll extract natural gas from the ground, using an unconventional process called hydrofracturing, to acquire enough natural gas that the U.S. will no longer be dependent on foreign oil!’

At least that’s what we were told. No longer would we need to send our young men and women overseas to fight oil wars.

Today America is there, with over 100 years of natural gas reserves. Moreover, if our country was to also invest in energy conservation and renewables, our nation could have 200 years of reserves today.

So what happened to that promise of ‘Homeland Security’ and ‘Energy Independence’? And why aren’t we celebrating?

How the Light Gets In

By H. Patricia Hynes - Portside, May 25, 2017

Every now and then I re-visit these lines of the Canadian poet and songwriter, Leonard Cohen:

Ring the bells that cannot ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack in everything
That's how the light gets in.

In these times of climate change denial, macho military chest-beating, stagnant wages, and soulless extremes of wealth and poverty, light-bearing cracks are all that we have.  They surface in unexpected places.

Take North American Windpower magazine, a monthly shaft of light.  It was first sent to me by a friend who never subscribed to it. When I told her how informative - and realistically hopeful - it was, she turned her non-subscription over to me.

The March 2017 issue carried the story of an oil sands worker in Alberta, Canada, Lliam Hildebrand, who created a national initiative, Iron and Earth, to retrain out-of-work oil sands tradespeople - among them pipefitters, electricians, boilermakers, drillers, and construction laborers - to enter the Canadian renewable technologies workforce, including solar, wind and hydro.  A survey of 1,000 oil sands sector workers revealed that 63% responded that they could transition directly to the renewable energy sector with some training; and 59% reported that they were willing to take a paycut to transition into the renewable sector.  The Canadian wind company, Beothuk Energy Inc., has signed a Memorandum of Agreement with Iron and Earth to retrain oil and gas workers for the company's proposed offshore wind farm project, which has the potential to create 40,000 jobs.

Why not a similar US program for unemployed coal industry workers, given that everyone knows - except the President - that the cost of coal generated electricity cannot compete with renewables, and that solar and wind are the biggest job creators in electric power generation.  A team of developers recently proposed to install a large solar farm atop two mountaintop removal sites in the heart of coal country, Pikeville, Kentucky.  Further, they have pledged to hire as many unemployed coal miners as they can.  What more prescient sign of the times than this: in April 2017, the Kentucky Coal Museum installed solar panels on its roof!

In nearby West Virginia, the Coal River Mountain Watch is fighting to save 6,600 acres of their mountain from being blown up for strip mining of coal with a proposal for a 440 Megawatt wind farm.  The windpower would generate electricity for 150,000 homes, remove only 200 acres of hardwood forest, create 200 jobs with 40-50 being permanent and longer lasting than coal jobs, and provide sustainable income for the local economy.

New NAFTA Must Put People and Planet First

By Tobita Chow - Common Dreams, May 28, 2017

The White House has sent formal notice to Congress that it is initiating the process to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). All evidence suggests that despite Trump’s claims to the contrary, this puts us on track to yet another corporate trade deal that will protect the profits of multinational corporations at the expense of workers and the environment around the world.

Even so, progressives now have a historic opportunity to rewrite the rules of global trade to put people and the planet first. Above all, we must end the corporate court system “free trade” relies on, which tilts the playing field in favor of multinational capital, and replace it will strong standards that protect workers and the environment, backed by enforcement mechanisms with real teeth.

Celebrating Barry Commoner, Father of the Modern Environmental Movement

By Peter Dreier; image by Oliver Morris - Common Dreams, May 29, 2017

Described in 1970 by Time magazine as the “Paul Revere of ecology,” Commoner followed Rachel Carson as America’s most prominent modern environmentalist. But unlike Carson, Commoner viewed the environmental crisis as a symptom of a fundamentally flawed economic and social system. A biologist and research scientist, he argued that corporate greed, misguided government priorities and the misuse of technology accounted for the undermining of “the finely sculptured fit between life and its surroundings.” Today’s environmental activists and thinkers — including radicals like Van Jones, Naomi Klein, Bill McKibben, Robert Bullard, and Beverly Wright — stand on Commoner’s shoulders.

Commoner — who was born 100 years ago, on May 28, 1917, and died in 2012 — insisted that scientists had an obligation to make scientific information accessible to the general public, so that citizens could participate in public debates that involved scientific questions. Citizens, he said, have a right to know the health hazards of the consumer products and technologies used in everyday life. Those were radical ideas in the 1950s and ’60s, when most Americans were still mesmerized by the cult of scientific expertise and such new technologies as cars, plastics, chemical sprays and atomic energy.

Commoner linked environmental issues to a broader vision of social and economic justice. He called attention to the parallels among the environmental, civil rights, labor and peace movements. He connected the environmental crisis to the problems of poverty, injustice, racism, public health, national security and war.

Commoner first came to public attention in the late 1950s when he warned about the hazards of fallout caused by the atmospheric testing of nuclear weapons. He later used his scientific platform to raise awareness about the dangers posed by the petrochemical industry, nuclear power and toxic substances such as dioxins. He was one of the first scientists to point out that although environmental hazards hurt everyone, they disproportionately hurt the poor and racial minorities because of the location of dangerous chemicals and because of the hazardous conditions in blue-collar workplaces. Commoner thus laid the groundwork for what later become known as the environmental justice movement.

Commoner grew up in Brooklyn, New York, the child of Russian Jewish immigrants. He studied zoology at Columbia University and received a doctorate in biology from Harvard University in 1941. After serving in the Navy during World War II, Commoner was an associate editor for Science Illustrated and then became a professor at Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri, a position he held for thirty-four years. There he founded, in 1966, the Center for the Biology of Natural Systems to promote research on ecological systems. He later moved the center to Queens College in New York.

While serving in the Navy, Commoner discovered a disturbing unintended consequences of technology. He was put in charge of a project to devise an apparatus to allow bombers to spray DDT on beachheads to kill insects that caused disease among soldiers. The military wanted to remove the insects before troops landed. Commoner’s crew discovered that the DDT sprayed from bombers effectively eliminated hordes of flies on the beach, but also that more flies soon came to feast on the tons of fish that the DDT had also killed. This lesson became a central theme for Commoner throughout his career: humans cannot take action on one part of the ecosystem without triggering a reaction elsewhere.

After the war, many scientists, including Albert Einstein, alarmed by America’s use of the atomic bomb on Japan in 1945, began to rethink their role in society. They questioned whether dropping the bomb had been necessary for the United States to win the war. They were shocked by the scale of the damage in terms of both immediate deaths and long-term human suffering. And they worried about the potential for a prolonged arms race between the United States and the Soviet Union, which, they feared, could end in a nuclear war in which all humanity would be the losers.

The Case for Phasing out Alberta’s Tar Sands

By Gordon Laxer - Resillience, May 23, 2017

Proponents call them oil sands while opponents call them tar sands. Whatever they’re called, Alberta’s bitumen reserves are so massive, James Hansen warns that it could be game over for the world’s climate if all are extracted and burned.[i] We can’t do that and possibly keep the world below the Paris target of a two degrees Celsius rise above pre-industrial levels.

What to do about Alberta Sands oil is an issue for Americans as well as Canadians. The US imports over 3 million barrels of oil a day from Canada, accounting for 38% of US oil imports, outpacing the combined imports from the four next largest sources – Saudi Arabia, Venezuela, Mexico and Columbia. Sands oil comprise the majority of US oil imports from Canada.

The future of Sands oil imports became an American issue after more than 1,200 people were arrested in 2011 in front of the White House protesting the proposed Keystone XL pipeline. Shortly after, President Obama blocked and then banned the XL line to take mainly Sands oil to the Gulf coast. President Trump overturned that decision in March, allowing the Keystone XL line to be built, a move applauded by Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau.

Big Oil faces huge obstacles getting Sands oil to major markets. In the context of today’s low international oil price, the Sands are among the costliest to produce on the planet. They emit massive amounts of extra greenhouse gases because they are heated by huge amounts of natural gas to separate oil from sand. To get from remote, landlocked northern Alberta to tidewater, Sands oil must cross political barriers – through one or more Canadian provinces or cross the border to the US. That means they need a social license – public and government support – to get to market. The future viability of the Sands then greatly depends on politics.

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