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Greenwashing or Real Climate Action? How to Tell The Difference

Green Jobs or Dangerous Greenwash?

By Tahir Latif, Claire James, Ellen Robottom, Don Naylor, and Katy Brown - Working People, July 7, 2023

Greenwash is not always easy to challenge: the claims to offer climate solutions; the PR offensive in local communities; and promises of 'green jobs' that in reality are neither as numerous or as environmentally friendly as promised.

But whether it’s a ‘zero carbon’ coal mine, heating homes with hydrogen, importing wood to burn in power stations, ‘sustainable aviation growth’ or offsetting, there are common themes that can give a reality check on greenwash claims and misleading jobs promises.

Speakers:

  • Claire James, Campaign against Climate Change
  • Ellen Robottom, Campaign against Climate Change trade union group
  • Don Naylor, HyNot (campaigning against HyNet greenwash and the Whitby hydrogen village)
  • Katy Brown, Biofuelwatch (using slides from Stuart Boothman, Stop Burning Trees Coalition who was unable to make it).

Our Green Transition May Leave Black People Behind

By Rhiana Gunn-Wright - Hammer & Hope, Summer 2023

I’m an architect of the Green New Deal, and I’m worried the racism in the biggest climate law endangers our ability to get off fossil fuels.

This summer, the earth raged. Fires in Maui and Canada, floods in Delhi and Beijing, heat everywhere — this is the beginning of the climate impacts scientists have long predicted, and the U.S. is unprepared in terms of everything from infrastructure to public health. And if I’m honest, I raged, too. Never in my life have I wished more to be a cyclone, blowing away everything in my path, or an earthquake, shaking everyone to their core until they take seriously the concerns of Black and Indigenous frontline communities.

August marked a year since the Inflation Reduction Act passed, arguably the most significant climate legislation in U.S. history. But the racist compromises and the marginalization of Black people and their demands that facilitated the bill’s passage have seeped into the climate movement, sowing division and narrowing discourse in ways that not only threaten to keep Black people at the bottom of a new green economy but also undermine efforts to address thornier issues, such as who owns energy resources or how to navigate conflicts about resource distribution and land use, questions that money alone cannot answer.

Workers, Look Out: Here Comes California’s Phony Green New Deal

By Ted Franklin - Let's Own Chevron, July 14, 2022

California politicians never tire of touting the state’s leadership on climate issues. But how much of it is bullshit, to borrow the Anglo-Saxon technical term recently popularized by former U.S. Attorney General Bill Barr?

Some East Bay and SF DSAers got very interested when we learned that the California Air Resources Board (CARB) was holding a one-day hearing on a 228-page draft plan for California’s transition to a green future. The 2022 Scoping Plan Update, to be adopted later this year, aims to be the state’s key reference document to guide legislators and administrations in remaking the California economy over the next two decades. We turned on our bullshit detectors and prepared for the worst. CARB did not disappoint.

The state is currently committed to two major climate goals: (1) to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2030 and (2) to achieve “carbon neutrality” by 2045. These are hardly adequate goals in the eyes of science-based climate activists, but California officialdom is taking them seriously, at least seriously enough to commission a state agency to map out a master plan to reach them.

And there’s the rub. Charged with the outsized responsibility of devising a roadmap to a Green California, CARB’s staff came up with a technocratic vision that caters to the powerful, seems designed to fail, and pays virtually no attention to workers whose world will be turned upside down by “rapid, far- reaching and unprecedented changes in all aspects of society” required to limit global overheating to 1.5ºC. Despite copious lip service to environmental justice, CARB’s draft also ignores the critiques and questions put forward by CARB’s own Environmental Justice Advisory Committee (EJAC), assembled to give CARB input and feedback as the state’s master plan takes shape.

“The state’s 20-year climate policy blueprint is a huge step backward for California,” commented Martha Dina Arguello, EJAC’s co-chair and executive director of Physicians for Social Responsibility-Los Angeles. “The plan on the table is grossly out of touch with the lived reality of communities that experience suffocating pollution and doubles down on fossil fuels at a time when California needs real climate solutions.” 

The idea that an air quality regulatory agency like CARB could come up with a viable plan for a societal transformation on the scale of the Industrial Revolution is absurd on its face. To do this without extensive involvement of labor would seem to doom the project entirely. Yet CARB plowed ahead without any significant input from labor. Result: the only union mentioned in CARB’s draft plan is the European Union.

We searched the draft plan in vain to see if it addressed any of the key questions from labor’s point of view:

What is the green future for California’s workers? How shall we provide for workers and communities that depend on the fossil fuel economy as major industries are phased out? What would a green economy look like, what are green jobs, how can we create enough good green jobs to meet demand, and what public investments will be required?

Instead of answering questions like these, CARB’s draft plan promotes a bevy of false solutions to reach California’s already inadequate targets. CARB’s depends on the state’s problematic cap-and-trade carbon trading scheme as well as carbon capture and storage (the favored scam of the oil industry) and hydrogen (the favored scam of the gas industry). The draft gives the nod to 33 new large or 100 new peaker gas-fired power plants. Missing: cutting petroleum refining, oil extraction, and fracking; banning new fossil fuel infrastructure; degrowing military and police budgets; and committing more resources to education, mass transit, healthcare, and housing. Instead of proposing an economy of care and repair to replace the old fossil fuel economy, CARB offers electric cars and more pipelines.

Far from providing a roadmap to a green future, CARB has come up with California capitalism’s most ambitious response yet to the radical ecosocialist Green New Deal that the world needs and we are fighting for.

Trade Union Papers and Positions

By staff - European Trade Union Institute, June 14, 2022

IndustriAll policy brief on the energy crisis

In a policy brief, IndustriAll union analyses the causes and effects of the recent energy price increases with a thorough criticism of the response measures being taken at the EU level. The policy brief notes that the observed rise in energy prices in the EU in 2021 was mainly driven by price developments in EU and international commodity markets, while the gas price on wholesale markets has reached unprecedented levels. It also adds that the impact of the commodity price increase on electricity goes beyond the share of the related commodities in the power generation due to the applied price-setting mechanism. This means that an electricity mix made of a majority of decarbonised sources, but requiring fossil-based sources to ensure part of its supply, is also exposed to the price increase of fossil-based electricity. Europe`s structural dependence on energy imports has even increased in the last decades, as in 2019, 61% of its gross energy consumption relied on imported energy products. IndustriAll also points to the investment challenge the EU is facing: beyond the electricity grid investment needs, reaching the EU 2030 emission reduction target would require €438 bn of additional annual investment, equivalent to 2.7-3% of GDP, while current investment commitments are massively falling short of this. The paper also claims that, not least due to market liberalisation, the EU has a fragmented energy supply chain where final consumers bear risk. An overview is provided about the response measures member states have undertaken to alleviate the effect of the price increases on consumers, from the temporary reduction of energy-related taxes and levies to handouts and `energy cheques`. The EU has recently published a toolbox to tackle energy prices. This document lists the initiatives that Member States can implement within the framework of the EU Energy and Single Market rules. Compensation measures and direct support for poor end-users, safeguards against disconnections, tax reductions, reform of the renewable support schemes, and the provision of state aid to companies and industries are among the most important recommendations to Member States.

IndustriAll argues that while reaching climate neutrality must remain the EU’s main objective, the current geopolitical situation and its impact on energy supplies and costs demand the mobilisation of all available means to secure affordable energy for all in the coming months.

IndustriAll Just Transition Manifesto

IndustriAll Europe launched a Just Transition Manifesto as the measures of the Fit for 55 package that implement European Green Deal objectives are taking their final shape. The union stresses that 25 million industrial workers in Europe potentially face restructuring and job losses due to the green transformation - exacerbated by the COVID-19 crisis, digitalisation, trade and market developments and a volatile geopolitical situation.

The manifesto is calling to policymakers Europe to ensure a transition to a green economy that is fair and just to ALL workers, and that does not destroy but preserves and creates good quality jobs. It speaks out for a transition that is anticipated, managed and negotiated with workers for every aspect that concerns them. For achieving this, the union demands a comprehensive Just Transition framework that provides guarantees for adequate resources, is based on effective policy planning, promotes and strengthen workers’ rights, and involves trade unions through intense social dialogue. 

The main demands of the manifesto are:

  • An industrial policy fit for ambitious climate goals and good quality jobs.
  • Adequate resources to fund the transition.
  • Stronger collective bargaining and social dialogue to negotiate the transitions.
  • A toolbox of workers’ rights and companies’ duties to anticipate and shape the change.
  • Tackling new skills needs and a right to quality training and life-long learning for every worker to support the Just Transition.

Understanding Sunrise, Part 2: Organizing Methods

By Dyanna Jaye and William Lawrence - Convergence, March 24, 2022

Sunrise melded mass protest, electoral work, and distributed organizing to great effect, but 2020 upended its plans and forced a reassessment.

Sunrise Movement grew from a labor of love by 12 young people, including the two of us, into the most prominent climate justice organization in the country. We put the Green New Deal on the map, strengthened the Left insurgency in the Democratic Party, and helped drive youth turnout to defeat Trump in 2020. Climate change became a political priority for the Democratic Party, and Sunrise directly influenced Biden’s Build Back Better agenda.

In the last year, though, despite a few impactful protests demanding ambition and urgency from Congress, Sunrise members and observers alike have noted a loss of strategic clarity and organizing power compared to 2017 through 2020. And it’s not just Sunrise: the entire Left has struggled to make the jump from punching upwards in the Trump era to winning material reforms in the Biden era.

In this essay, we’ll pull back the layers of Sunrise’s organizing model: how we actually recruited young people and united them in a structure for collective action. We’ll first discuss the major influences on Sunrise’s organizing and run through how it all played out in practice, the good and the bad.

We share a diagnosis that a central shortcoming in Sunrise’s organizing model was the absence of a sustained method of mass organizing at a local level, which left us nowhere to go once we could no longer rely on the fast-but-shallow growth of distributed organizing methods. We’re proud of the movement’s accomplishments while humble about its shortcomings. We offer our reflection in the practice of learning together in public; we hope our transparency can empower the next generation of movement builders—in Sunrise and across movements—to lead transformative organizing for the next era.

Understanding Sunrise, Part 1: Strategy

By William Lawrence - Convergence, March 14, 2022

Sunrise Movement made climate change a key political issue, but new conditions require new theory and strategy.

The state of Sunrise Movement, one of the more successful and visible U.S. Left organizations to emerge in the last five years, reflects trends in the broader Left. We hit a high-water mark with Sen. Bernie Sanders’ February 2020 victory in the Nevada caucus. Shortly after, the revenge of the Democratic establishment and the COVID pandemic halted all momentum and put Sunrise into a rear-guard attempt to salvage what could be won in a Biden administration. The underwhelming first year of that administration has left us floundering.

Today, a private and public reckoning is well underway. A new generation of leaders is taking account of Sunrise’s successes and failures, and working to design the next life of the movement. Early Sunrise leaders—of which I am one—are in the process of moving on, and handing over leadership of this youth organization to a more youthful cohort.

As a leader in Sunrise’s development from its founding in 2017 through early 2021, I feel obliged to offer an evaluation of our strategy and methods. My aim is to offer a detailed account of Sunrise’s aims and influences, in order that the next generation of strategist-organizers both inside and outside Sunrise may learn from what we did well, while overcoming our limitations.

You can consider just about every word of this essay as a self-critique and a practice of learning in public. As ever, I write with deep appreciation for all the climate justice fighters who find a place to place their hope amidst the looming dread of this crisis.

Part 1 of this essay, which you are reading now, focuses on Sunrise’s strategy, including our demands, rhetoric, and relation to the US party system. Part 2 will look at Sunrise’s methods of organizing.

I hope these essays not only illuminate our specific choices and why we made them, but demonstrate how the theoretical concepts on which we build our organizations actually shape their development. Sunrise’s successes owe much to the theories underpinning our strategy and methods, and our failures reveal much about where these theories fall short. I hope my reflections on these recent experiences may aid in developing better theory to face the challenges of the 21st century.

Statement on UN IPCC Climate Report

By staff - Climate Justice Alliance, March 1, 2022

Climate Justice Alliance Calls on White House, Congress, UN to Center Frontline Wisdom/Solutions & Reject False Techno Fixes Accelerating Climate Change

We must keep fossil fuels in the ground; If we take anything away from Part 2 of the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Assessment, that should be it. Like so many times before, once again we find ourselves calling on the White House and Congress, and all world leaders to act boldly and courageously to reduce and eliminate greenhouse gas emissions at their source.

As Climate Justice Alliance (CJA) Co-Executive Director, Ozawa Bineshi Albert pointed out after participating in the most recent UN Climate Change Conference (COP26), “we must act with an urgency that is not happening now and we need community leaders experiencing harm to lead with solutions.”

Hans-Otto Pörtner, Co-Chair of the working group that issued the report explains, “The scientific evidence is unequivocal: climate change is a threat to human wellbeing and the health of the planet… Any further delay in concerted global action will miss a brief and rapidly closing window to secure a liveable future.

However, we cannot rely on unproven fossil fuel industry backed, techno-fixes and market schemes that are really just band-aid approaches to solving the climate crisis: practices that do not guarantee a reduction or elimination of emissions at their source, such as geoengineering approaches like carbon capture and storage, solar radiation management, carbon removal and the like. We must safeguard Earth and all her creatures for generations to come. That means stopping the harm that continues to pollute her for future generations. We must center frontline solutions that are grounded in a Just Transition as we move away from the dig, burn, and dump economy to local, community-controlled renewable and regenerative models that reduce emissions while building community wealth and justice at every turn. 

Together with 1,140 organizations and as a part of the Build Back Fossil Free Coalition in a letter issued last week, we called on President Biden to use his Executive powers to immediately 1) ban all new oil and gas contracts on federal areas, 2) stop approving fossil fuel projects, and 3) declare a climate emergency under the National Emergencies Act that will unlock special powers to fast track renewable projects that will benefit us all.

Additionally, as this report rightly points out, the United States must pay its fair share as the major culprit of climate change and heed the traditional knowledge of Indigenous peoples as we craft real solutions and reject false ones that will only serve to accelerate climate chaos in Black, Brown, Indigenous, Asian, and other low-income and vulnerable communities. We must invest in mitigation and adaptation resources for all frontline communities, in the Global South, and all other nations immediately. 

At the same time that the United Nations was preparing to craft this damning report on the fossil fuel industry, the largest delegation of badged participants at the COP26 were fossil fuel lobbyists. Only a few from vulnerable and most impacted communities were allowed in. This is unacceptable – the UN must end rules that restrict and keep out those most impacted by climate change from fully participating in future climate change conferences. Finally, we call on the UN to end its long practice of bowing to pressure from fossil corporations and member nations aligned with them, and reject false solutions that enable polluters to continue business as usual while doing nothing to stop emissions at their source.

This most recent IPCC Assessment focuses on impacts, vulnerability, and adaptation. An upcoming section in April will focus on ways to reduce emissions, and the final part will present lessons to member states during the next Climate Change Conference (COP27) to be held in Egypt. If the nations of the world truly want to solve the climate crisis they will heed the calls of those most impacted and look to them to lead rather than those who created the crisis in the first place; here in the United States that looks like addressing this issue as the emergency that it already is.

Shell Needs to be Dismantled. Here’s How:

By Marie-Sol Reindl - Open Democracy, February 11, 2022

Don’t be fooled by Shell’s green rebrand. The company is still deeply undemocratic and destroying the environment.

It has been a turbulent year for the oil and gas giant Shell.

Last May, Dutch courts ruled that Shell must drastically reduce its carbon emissions. In October, ABP, a major shareholder, divested from the company. The following month, the firm announced plans to move its headquarters from the Hague to London and drop its iconic prefix, ‘Royal Dutch’ (the company is now just Shell plc). And, in recent weeks, it has come under fire for its mammoth 14-fold increase in quarterly profits, having made $16.3bn (£12bn) pre-tax profit in the last quarter of 2021, while gas prices surged across Europe.

Now, as Shell presents itself as a global leader in the green energy transition, it is still actively investing in new oil and gas drilling.

But that is not the company’s only problem.

For a start, Shell’s profit-maximising business model is deeply undemocratic, benefitting top management and shareholders at the expense of communities around the world. The firm has also not reckoned with its colonial past and severe human rights violations, while its privileged access and influence over political decision-making processes are an obstacle towards building a democratic and green energy system. And, finally, its investment in ‘innovation’ is primarily dependent on gas and carbon capture, which keeps the world locked into a fossil fuel future.

While many agree that ending fossil fuel extraction is necessary, questions remain over how to dismantle oil and gas giants such as Shell. These companies will certainly not stop polluting of their own volition – so governments and civil society must take strategic action to force them to do so.

Can this be done via carbon pricing, bankruptcy, strategic litigation or nationalisation? When assessing these mechanisms, it’s critical to consider how – and if – they would reckon with the corporation’s colonial legacy and safeguard labour rights to build a fairer and regenerative energy system.

CLARA Statement on COP26 Outcomes

By staff - Climate Land Ambition and Rights Alliance, November 13, 2021

The science is clear: we are facing “Code Red for Humanity.” COP 26 started with soaring rhetoric promising to ‘keep 1.5 alive.’ Once again though, this COP has failed to listen to science and give credence to the peoples’ voices ringing outside the negotiating rooms of the COP and those taking to the streets calling for climate justice.

One bright spot, however, is the agreement on the Glasgow Committee on Non-Market Approaches and the forthcoming work program. CLARA is committed to seeing these approaches succeed in order to enable enhanced cooperation on mitigation and adaptation in order to provide communities with the support they need for climate action. But the market based mechanisms in the rest of Article 6 risk undermining real climate action with offsets that do nothing to enhance ambition to keep temperature rise below 1.5 (see more below).

Read the text (PDF).

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