Climate change is more than a tech problem, so we need more than a tech solution

By Martin J Boucher and Philip Loring - Ensia, March 20, 2017

At the COP 21 climate change convention in Paris at the end of 2015, leaders from 194 nations agreed to pursue actions that will cut greenhouse gas emissions enough to keep global warming within 1.5 °C (2.7 °F) above pre-industrial conditions. Meeting this goal will avoid continued and increasing harm to people and ecosystems around the world caused by a changing climate, and it is also a great opportunity to turn the world into a place that embodies our collective and pluralistic values for the future. Nevertheless, there remains a notable gap between current trajectories of global GHG emissions and the reductions necessary to see COP 21’s goals realized.

Numerous technological and economic strategies for bridging that gap are currently being discussed, including transitions to renewable energy and/or nuclear power, carbon capture and storage, and cap and trade. However, many overlook the fundamental social issues that drive climate change: overconsumption, poverty, industrial agriculture and population growth. As such, even if these strategies succeed in mitigating CO2 emissions — renewable energies, for instance, seem to have achieved irreversible momentum — they leave unaddressed a second gap, a sustainability gap, in that they allow issues of ecological overshoot and social injustice to persist. We argue that there is an opportunity to reverse climate change by attending to these sustainability issues, but it requires that we reject the convenience of technological optimism and put aside our fears of the world’s “big” social problems.

In 2004, Stephen Pacala and Robert Socolow wrote in Science that it is possible to address climate change by breaking the larger problem of CO2 emissions down into a series of more manageable “wedges.” They offer 15 different solutions based on existing technology, including nuclear energy, coal carbon capture and storage, energy efficiency, and increased adoption of conservation tillage, for mitigating climate change one wedge at a time. Their pragmatic approach to the problem has been popularly received, as evidenced by the thousands of citations that the paper has received. However, their approach can also be critiqued for glossing over the immense costs involved and for its piecemeal and top-down nature. In other words, they assume that this complex global environmental problem can be fixed with a handful of standardized solutions.

Climate change is just one of many related sustainability problems that the world faces. In addition to rising atmospheric CO2, we are approaching or have already exceeded multiple other planetary boundaries — such as fresh water, nitrogen, phosphorus and biodiversity loss — that CO2-mitigating technologies cannot solve. Solving climate change on its own would require immense investments but leave too many other problems unaddressed. That is not to say that these technological innovations are irrelevant; Pacala and Socolow’s desire to break down the challenge into manageable pieces is both valid and appreciable. What’s missing from their assessment is the fact that the world is a complex system, and systemic problems require systemic solutions.

Energy Democracy and Just Transition Endorsed at Launch of South Africa’s New Trade Union Federation

By John Treat - Trade Unions for Energy Democracy, May 1, 2017

At a historic launch event held outside Johannesburg on April 21-23, 2017, almost 1,400 voting delegates from two-dozen unions representing 700,000 workers convened to launch the new “South African Federation of Trade Unions” (SAFTU).

In addition to adopting the name, logo and colors — red, black and gold — delegates also endorsed a range of principles adopted at a preparatory “Workers’ Summit” convened by the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (NUMSA) in April 2016, adopted a new constitution, and approved a report from the Steering Committee proposing a range of campaigning priorities for the next period.

In a recent article, then SAFTU convener Zwelinzima Vavi said:

We’ve got a mix of workers in the private sector, manufacturing, transport, mining and construction. And we’ve got unions in the public sector – the biggest ones are the South African Policing Union and the National Union of Public Servants and Allied Workers.[SAFTU] is independent but not apolitical. It is truly worker controlled and democratic and not ‘sloganising’ over the issues. SAFTU is truly fighting and militant.”

At a TUED strategy meeting in New York in early April, Karl Cloete, NUMSA’s Deputy General Secretary, told union representatives from 12 countries that while the new federation’s campaigning priorities will focus on the many grave and urgent challenges facing South Africa’s highly exploited workers and exceptionally vulnerable poor, SAFTU would also make energy democracy and just transition part of its core agenda.

Tesla Workers File Charges with National Labor Board as Battle with Elon Musk Intensifies

By David Dayen - American Prospect, April 20, 2017 (article copublished by Capital & Main)

Workers at Tesla’s Fremont, California, electric car factory have filed an unfair labor practice charge with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), accusing the company of illegal surveillance, coercion, intimidation, and prevention of worker communications. The employees, who have been attempting to organize the approximately 7,000 workers at the plant through the United Auto Workers, claim that Tesla violated multiple sections of the National Labor Relations Act, which protects the right to unionize.

“I know my rights, and I know that we acted within them,” said Jonathan Galescu, a body repair technician. Galescu and his colleagues have previously cited low pay, hazardous work conditions, and a culture of intimidation as motivations to unionize the plant.

On February 10, several Tesla employees passed out flyers to their colleagues during a shift change. The literature featured a blog post from Medium written by Jose Moran, a Tesla production associate on the body-line. Moran’s post was the first public acknowledgment that some workers at Tesla were interested in organizing a union.

According to the NLRB complaint obtained by Capital & Main, managers at Tesla “conduct[ed] surveillance” on the workers who passed out the literature, and those who received the flyers. A month later, on March 23, Tesla management held a meeting, telling workers “they were not allowed to pass out any literature unless it was pre-approved by the Employer,” the complaint reads.

“We should have the right to distribute information to our co-workers without intimidation,” said Michael Sanchez, who works on door panels at the factory and has joined the unionizing effort. “You can’t fix problems if you’re not allowed to talk about them.”

Employees also object in the complaint to a confidentiality agreement presented last November, which vowed consequences (including “loss of employment” and “possible criminal prosecution”) for speaking publicly or to the media regarding “everything that you work on, learn about, or observe in your work about Tesla”—including wages and working conditions. Confidentiality agreements are common in auto factories to protect trade secrets, but Tesla’s was so far-reaching that five members of the California legislature wrote to the company, warning that the agreement violated protected employee activity.

Disillusioned Shell Whistleblower Runar Kjoersvik

By John Donovan - Royal Dutch Shell Plc.com, March 17, 2017

We have published a series of articles about Runar Kjoersvik, the Norwegian safety expert who in 2014 was dismissed by Shell on trumped-up charges.

Evidence was gathered in a covert surveillance operation as part of a vicious campaign conducted against him by Shell Norway senior management.

Runar was twice elected by his fellow workers, first as a SAFE Union representative and subsequently as the Main Safety Delegate.

His election was not a fluke. The employees who elected him at the Nyhamna Gas Plant in Norway knew Runar was fully qualified. He had attended several Norwegian law and HSE courses where he learnt how to protect legal rights according to rules, regulations and Norwegian Law. He also earned a diploma of strategic leadership from college university.

So in general, he had very skilled training and a long education that has led him to different managerial positions in several international companies giving him flawless feedback prior to his time at Shell.

He was, therefore, confident that his skills for managing the Main Safety Delegate position were first-rate and genuinely believed he could do a good job both for his co-workers and for A/S Norske Shell.

Senior plant managers congratulated Runar on achieving the Main Safety Delegate position and told him:

You will now be able to make an influence on Shell in a greater perspective, you will get to know the organisation, and make an influence through the work environment committee. This will be very positive for your future development and career.

Runar was also impressed by Shell’s claimed core values: honesty, integrity and respect for people, set within codes of conduct and ethics.

The future looked good. A responsible job and a decent employer.

The promising outlook did not last very long.

The Day of Mourning for injured and killed workers was invented by Canada. Now we're killing more workers than anyone

By Ed Finn - Rabble.Ca, April 28, 2017

April 28 is the National Day of Mourning for workers killed or injured on the job. This is the second of a two-part series. read part one here.

The lack of safety in Canada's workplaces is a national -- and international -- disgrace. Many of our industries neglect safety training, skimp on safety equipment and keep employees unaware of the danger of new chemicals. In our fiercely competitive global market, they will put the maximization of profits ahead of the "costly" provision of safe workplaces -- as long as they can get away with it.

Our governments, too, have given on-the-job safety an inexcusably low priority. Oh yes, they've beefed up work safety rules, even given workers the right to refuse dangerous duties, the right to sit on industrial health and safety committees -- even the right to be informed about the dangers of any material they are obliged to handle.

But, as with Bill C-45, no such legal rights can be exercised without managerial retaliation unless workplaces are regularly inspected and safety laws strictly enforced. And on that score, our federal and provincial governments have fallen shamefully short.

Without stringent government oversight, employers are left free to flout safety rules and regulations. They can maintain their profits-before-personnel policy with virtual impunity.

A climate insurgency: building a Trump-free, fossil-free future

By Jeremy Brecher - The Ecologist, April 28, 2017

As the thousands of foot-weary protesters leave the April 29 Peoples Climate March in Washington, DC - and its scores of sister marches around the country - one question will no doubt be foremost on their minds:

How can a march, or indeed any other action they take, force a reversal in the world's hurtle to climate doom?

After all, a single march, no matter how large, is not going to force President Trump and his administration of fossil-fuel company executives and climate-change deniers to reverse course.

They have already cancelled the Environmental Protection Agency's Clean Power Plan, authorized drilling and mining on public lands, and gutted regulations that protect local people and environments against the extraction of fossil fuels.

He has cleared the way for the Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipelines. His allies in Congress are whetting their knives to gut the Clean Air, Clean Water and Environmental Policy Acts. The fossil fuel industry is lining up for permits to build new infrastructure that will accelerate global warming and threaten local environments to boot.

The Coal Industry is a Job Killer

By Basav Sen - CounterPunch, April 28, 2017

When Donald Trump announced he was rolling back the Obama administration’s signature climate rules this spring, he invited coal miners to share the limelight with him. He promised this would end the so-called “war on coal” and bring mining jobs back to coal country.

He was dead wrong on both counts.

Trump has blamed the prior administration’s Clean Power Plan for the loss of coal jobs. But there’s an obvious problem with this claim: The plan hasn’t even gone into effect! Repealing it will do nothing to reverse the worldwide economic and technological forces driving the decline of the coal industry.

And the problem is global. As concern rises over carbon dioxide, more and more countries are turning away from coal. U.S. coal exports are down, and coal plant construction is slowing the world over — even as renewables become cheaper and more widespread.

To really bring back coal jobs, Trump would have to wish these trends away — along with technological automation and natural gas, which have taken a much bigger bite out of coal jobs than any regulation.

Could domestic regulation have played some role in the decline of coal? Sure, some. Rules limiting emissions of mercury and other pollutants from burning coal, and limiting the ability of coal-burning utilities to dump toxic coal ash in rivers and streams, likely put some financial pressure on coal power plants.

However, those costs should be weighed against the profound health benefits of cleaner air and water.

Cleaning up coal power plants (and reducing their number) leads to fewer children with asthma, fewer costly emergency room visits, and fewer costly disaster responses when massive amounts of toxic coal ash leach into drinking water sources, to name just a few benefits. Most reasonable people would agree those aren’t small things.

There’s also the fact that the decline in coal jobs, while painful for those who rely on them, tells only a small part of the story. In fact, there are alternatives that could put hundreds of thousands of people back to work.

Here are a few little-known facts: Coal accounts for about 26 percent of the electricity generating capacity in our country — and about 160,000 jobs. Solar energy accounts for just 2 percent of our power generation — and 374,000 jobs.

In other words, solar has created more than twice as many jobs as coal, with only a sliver of the electric grid. So if the intent truly is to create more jobs, where would a rational government focus its efforts?

It’s not just solar, either. The fastest growing occupation in the U.S. is wind turbine technician. And a typical wind turbine technician makes $25.50 an hour, more than many fossil fuel workers.

By rolling back commonsense environmental restraints on the coal industry, Trump is allowing the industry to externalize its terrible social and environmental costs on all of us, giving the industry a hidden subsidy. He’s also reopening federal lands to new coal leases, at rates that typically run well below actual market value.

By subsidizing a less-job intensive and more established industry, Trump’s misguided policy changes will thwart the growth of the emerging solar and wind industries, which could create many, many more jobs than coal. In fact, hurting these industries by helping coal might even result in a net job loss for everyone.

Then again, maybe this was never about jobs. Maybe the administration’s intent all along was to reward well-connected coal (and oil and gas) oligarchs who make hefty campaign contributions. If so, that was a good investment for them.

For ordinary working people — and for our planet — the cost could be too much to bear.

Climate Movement to May Day Strikers: "We've Got Your Back"

By Deirdre Fulton - Common Dreams, April 27, 2017

Just as labor leaders are standing firmly behind this Saturday's national climate mobilization, the environmental movement has declared its support for workers who plan to strike as part of Monday's May Day demonstrations.

May 1st, International Workers Day, will see rallies, marches, and strikes around the country and the world; in the United States, acts of civil disobedience, work stoppages, and boycotts will target the Trump administration and support immigrants who have experienced an increase in raids and racist rhetoric since the election of President Donald Trump.

"May 1st is the first step in a series of strikes and boycotts that will change the conversation on immigration in the United States," said Maria Fernanda Cabello, a spokesperson from Movimiento Cosecha, which is part of a coalition organizing the actions. "We believe that when the country recognizes it depends on immigrant labor to function, we will win permanent protection from deportation for the 11 million undocumented immigrants, the right to travel freely to visit our loved ones abroad, and the right to be treated with dignity and respect."

An open letter signed this week by more than 80 environmental and climate justice groups recognizes that these demands and those of green groups have many points of intersection. 

"Today, workers face unprecedented attacks on wages, benefits, workplace safety, and the right to organize free from fear and retaliation," reads the letter, whose signatories include 350.org, Greenpeace, Rising Tide North America, and the Sierra Club. "But we know that we are all stronger when workers in our communities have safe, fair, and dignified employment with which they can support their families without fear of deportation or violence."

What's more, the letter continues:

The effects of our fossil fuel economy fall first and worst on working class communities, communities of color, immigrants, and Indigenous peoples who have not only contributed the least to climate disruption, but have the least resources to shoulder the burden of a transition to a new, climate-friendly economy. It is these frontline communities who are also at the forefront of change and whose solutions and leadership we most need.

[...] As environmental and climate justice organizations, we support workers who choose to walk off their jobs on May 1st because we know that the fight to protect land, water, air and soil is inseparable from the fight to protect the life and dignity of workers, migrants, and communities of color.

This language dovetails with that of Mary Kay Henry, international president of Service Employees International Union (SEIU), who declared Wednesday, "Every day SEIU members and our communities experience the impact of toxic pollution in our air and water and the catastrophic impacts from climate change that are made worse from this pollution."

Of Saturday's Peoples Climate March, Henry said: "We march because we are on the frontlines. As working people, people of color, and immigrants, we march because our families are disproportionately hardest hit by pollution and climate change's impacts. We march because as service and care workers we are on the frontlines of caring for and responding to impacted families and communities."

The letter from eco- and climate-justice groups calls on employers not to retaliate against workers who choose to go on strike, and pledges to defend workers who face retaliation.

Declaration of the Launching Congress of the South African Federation of Trade Unions (SAFTU)

By staff - Trade Unions For Energy Democracy, April 23, 2017

The South African Federation of Trade Unions (SAFTU) has been born. We have passed a milestone in the history of the South African trade union movement at this Launching Congress held in Boksburg from 21-23 April 2017.

700,000 workers represented by 1,384 voting delegates from 24 unions and other non-voting unions have taken the first decisive step to building a new, vibrant, independent, and democratic workers’ federation, leading the struggle against exploitation, mass unemployment, poverty, inequality and corruption and taking up the struggle for the total emancipation of the working class from the chains of its capitalist oppressors.

Delegates formally adopted the name, logo and colours of red, black and gold. A constitution was adopted and a Report from the Steering Committee which  spelt out the way forward for the coming period, and endorsed the principles adopted by the Workers Summit on 30 April 2016.

We are building a fundamentally different type of workers’ organisation – independent of political parties and employers but not apolitical, democratic, worker-controlled, militant, socialist-orientated, internationalist, Pan Africanist from a Marxist perspective and inspired by the principles of Marxism-Leninism. 

Our historic mission is to rapidly build a united mass force of workers, which will transform their lives and pave the way for the transformation of society as a whole from one based on the greed of a rapacious capitalist elite to one run for the benefit of the working class and all the people of South Africa and the world.

But time is not on our side. Unless we urgently mobilize our forces to confront the quadruple challenge of unemployment, poverty, inequality and corruption and revive the trade union movement, turn the tide and fight back against their appalling conditions of life, we shall slide into a new age of barbarism, and even worse exploitation of the working class and the poor. 

USFSA’s Participation in the #PeoplesClimateMarch

By staff - The US Food Sovereignty Alliance, April 28, 2017

The US Food Sovereignty Alliance, an alliance of food justice, anti-hunger, labor, environmental, faith-based, and food producer groups, is joining in solidarity with the It Takes Roots Coalition at the People’s Climate March in Washington D.C. on April 29, 2017 to stand for “the rights, actions, and leadership of communities who are at the frontlines of fighting for water, land, and home.”

As a US-based organization, the USFSA upholds the right to food as a fundamental human right and works to connect our local and national struggles to global movements led by farmers, fishers and indigenous people. Corporate-controlled industrial agriculture and fishing are significant contributors to climate change and smallholder farmers producing and harvesting food build the resiliency of ecosystems which contribute to both nourishing people and cooling the planet.

Humans have a right to the resources required to meet their basic needs and provide themselves with shelter, sustenance, and an adequate livelihood. The means of meeting these needs are often embedded in cultural practices that are vital for people’s sense of identity. Food feeds more than the body.

Climate change increases hunger.  A sustainable and nutritious food supply is essential for the entire human population, but it’s also essential for the economic well-being of food producers.  People who produce food – like farmers and fishers – are often hardest hit by climate change, which directly affects their family’s food supply and sources of income.  With 78 percent of the world’s poor relying on farming to support their families, it’s important to develop sustainable ways of farming that support both the environment and those who rely on crops for economic stability.

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