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disaster capitalism

Jobs, Justice, and a Livable Earth!

By CJ Lapointe - London Left Green Blog, February 11, 2022

The overwhelming majority of the world’s scientists agree, highlighted in the UN IPCC reports, that global warming/climate change is an urgent threat to the environment, which needs emergency action to cut greenhouse emissions in half by the end of the decade. 

However, the failure of the 2021 UN climate summit, COP26, to take real leadership in addressing the crisis shows capitalism’s inability to put the planet and human life before profit. In fact, countries like the U.S. and China are ramping up the use of fossil fuels, as competition between the two imperialist nations for markets and resources drives extractive industries for coal, petroleum, and rare minerals.

Competition over markets by competing imperialist powers puts an undue burden on the global South, which faces the worst effects of climate change. Instead of reparations in the billions of dollars, countries in Africa, for example, will face deeper environmental racism through exploitation of their labor and resources, and the destruction of air, land, and water.

Daniel Tanuro, agronomist and eco-socialist author writes in his assessment of COP26, “The issue of loss and damage is even more explosive by far. Take the example of Somalia. It has contributed to 0.00026% of historical climate change … but is suffering repeated droughts, clearly attributable to warming. In 2020, 2.9 million people were severely food insecure. International aid is highly insufficient. Kenya, Ethiopia, Sudan and Uganda are experiencing the same drama.”

Tanuro continues, “Who will pay? And who will pay for future disasters? The NGO Christian Aid estimates that, with unchanged policies, climate change will cause the GDP of the poorest countries to fall by 19.6 per cent by 2050 and 63.9 per cent as an annual average by 2100. 

If we limit the temperature rise to 1.5°C, these figures would be -13.1 percent and -33.1 percent respectively. The bill for losses and damages will quickly rise to several thousand billion. The principle of financing by rich countries is enshrined in the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, but imperialist governments plainly refuse to respect it. Period.”

People living in one third of the counties in the United States experienced climate change-driven billion-dollar catastrophes with high death tolls such as arctic temperatures in Texas, Hurricane Ida, and California wildfires. Most of them are working families with a disproportionate number from Black, Indigenous, Latino, and other oppressed communities. 

One of the most recent climate-related tragedies occurred in the U.S. in December as tornadoes ripped through Kentucky and Illinois. A heartbreaking scene played out when six died at an Amazon facility and eight died at a candle-making factory in each of the respective states. Workers’ text messages reveal that the companies refused to allow their workers to leave for safety.

John Leslie, a retired union carpenter and writer for SR News reported, “According to the National Climate Assessment, ‘Some extreme weather and climate events have increased in recent decades, and new and stronger evidence confirms that some of these increases are related to human activities.’ 

The Great Texas Freeze: Lessons One Year Later

By Timothy DenHerder-Thomas, Gopal Dayaneni, and Mateo Nube - Movement Generation, February 9, 2022

The visibility of ecological crisis is increasing every day. Last year’s cold snap in Texas, and the corollary collapse of its energy infrastructure, was but one example of this fact. Humanity is up against the limits of nature’s ability to tolerate globalized industrial production.

What actions would better position Texans to navigate the next superstorm in a favorable manner? Furthermore, how can we reimagine and reconstruct energy systems around the country, so that these dance in a regenerative rhythm with our planet’s life support systems?

The clock is ticking, and we need to make new meaning out of this pivotal moment in planetary history. We can no longer tinker around the edges of an ever-expanding crisis: Tackling this reality with clarity may be the biggest and boldest challenge our species has ever faced.

Here are some important strategic frameworks, formulated by Movement Generation, that we think will help us meet the challenge:

Green Unionism against Precarity

By Steve Ongerth - IWW Environmental Union Caucus, January 1, 2022

Editor's Note: all but one or two of the links in this article link to multiple articles, located on the IWW Environmental Union Caucus site, categorized by topic. Therefore, it is to the reader's interest to explore all of the articles brought forth by each link, at their convenience (and that body of information is ever evolving over time).

An edited version of this article appears in New Politics 72.

In a real sense, under capitalism, all workers are "precarious", meaning that they can be downsized, replaced, deskilled, outsourced, etc. It's simply a matter of degrees.

The ultimate peak in precarity is "gig work" (which has actually always existed; the names simply keep changing, but the concept is the same).

Unions represent a check against precarity, though this occurs on a graduated scale. The stronger the union, the less the workers' precarity.

Union strength manifests in various ways: it can result from a well organized, international, militant democratic union (ideal, but rare, with few real world examples, such as ILWU, and the IWW, of course), though more often than not it's a result of concentration of elite craft workers in skilled trades unions, which represents a strong guard against precarity, but only for workers in the union, in which case, solidarity is limited.

Other checks against precarity include high demand for skilled craft workers in rare supply, High demand for hard to replace workers (such as workers that required skilled credentials, such as teachers or transport workers), or tight labor markets (which exist in our semi-post COVID-19 world, due to a combination of factors spelled out in the Vox article).

This is nothing more than class struggle 101, as expertly phrased by Karl Marx, et. al.

There are new forms of precarity emerging due to climate catastrophe (brought on by capitalism). Workers find themselves facing new health and safety hazards and/or threats to their working environment.

Climate Jobs and Just Transition Summit: Strong Unions, Sustainable Transport

Hurricane Capitalism

By Eric Fretz - Marx 21, September 3, 2021

Again and Again under capitalism, we have seen poorer people disproportionately hit by the deadly effects of events like cyclones and earthquakes, as natural disasters highlight existing unnatural inequalities. It is now obvious that not just the effects, but the causes of extreme weather are stemming from capitalism.

The recent IPCC report proved that higher air and sea temperatures caused by global warming have already led to more hurricanes, and will continue to do so. “In the past seventy years,” Bill McKibben noted, “the United States has averaged three land-falling storms a year; Ida is the seventeenth in the past two years.” 

But warming also leads to a “rapid intensification” of storms. Ida turned into a hurricane in just six hours.

When Ida hit the Louisiana coast Sunday as a Category 4 hurricane with winds up to 150 mph, it was the second most powerful storm to hit the state in its recorded history.

Devastation 

Over 1 million homes and businesses in Louisiana and Mississippi are without power, including the entire city of New Orleans, parts of which may remain without electricity for weeks. 

Sewage pumping stations in New Orleans, which have no backup power, stopped working, leaving 441,000 people in 17 parishes with no clean drinking water, and no water to flush toilets. Another 329,000 people were under boil water advisories. However, it may be hard for many to boil water without electricity.

Added to this misery was a heat advisory which combined with humidity to reach real feel temperatures of over a hundred degrees

Tens of thousands of residents were left to themselves in figuring out how to evacuate, and even those with cars were at a standstill on choked highways. 

In a chilling reminder of the horrors of Katrina, the New Orleans Police Department announced that “anti-looting patrols” would be set up. The mayor then used the resulting arrests to justify a curfew and calling in the National Guard—not to rescue people or rebuild, but to patrol the streets. 

As in Katrina, it is poor and black people who are most at risk of losing their homes—and their lives.

Ida came one year after Hurricane Laura, which brought widespread destruction to the mostly Black industrial area around Mossville, causing chemical fires and turning Lake Charles into a toxic soup. The displacement and continued housing shortage caused by Laura worsened the spread of Covid in the area. 

The displacement caused by Ida in New Orleans could be even worse. Hospitals in Louisiana are already filled with over 2,400 patients with coronavirus. There were not enough empty beds in the state to evacuate patients from New Orleans hospitals. Staff in one hospital reported having to manually pump air into the lungs of intubated Covid patients as they moved them to a floor with a working generator.

Making "Build Back Better" Better: Aligning Climate, Jobs, and Justice

By Jeremy Brecher - Common Dreams, June 1, 2021

At the end of March 2021, President Joe Biden laid out his $2 trillion American Jobs Plan–part of his "Build Back Better" infrastructure program–to "reimagine and rebuild a new economy." Congress is expected to spend months debating and revising the plan. The public and many special interests will play a significant role in that process. President Biden has promised to follow up with additional proposals to further address climate policy and social needs.

Many particular interests will seek to benefit from the overall Build Back Better program–and that's good. But as Congress and the public work to shape the ultimate form of that program, we also need to keep our eyes on the ultimate prize: combining climate, jobs, and justice. What policies can integrate the needs of working people, the most oppressed, and our threatened climate and environment?

The Green New Deal reconfigured American politics with its core proposition: fix joblessness and inequality by putting people to work at good jobs fixing the climate. The Biden administration's Build Back Better (BBB) plan has put that idea front and center in American politics. Now we need to specify strategies that will actually achieve all three objectives at once.

There are many valuable plans that have been proposed in addition to Biden's Build Back Better plan. They include the original Green New Deal resolution sponsored by Sen. Ed Markey and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez; the THRIVE (Transform, Heal, and Renew by Investing in a Vibrant Economy) Agenda; the Evergreen Action Plan; the Sierra Club's "How to Build Back Better" economic renewal plan; the AFL-CIO's "Energy Transitions" proposals; the BlueGreen Alliance's "Solidarity for Climate Action," and a variety of others. All offer contributions for overall vision and for policy details.

There are six essential elements that must be integrated in order to realize the Build Back Better we need for climate, jobs, and justice:

  • Managed decline of fossil fuel burning
  • Full-spectrum job creation
  • Fair access to good jobs
  • Labor rights and standards
  • Urgent and effective climate protection
  • No worker or community left behind

These strategies can serve as criteria for developing, evaluating, and selecting policies to make Build Back Better all that it could be.

North Dakota, Using Taxpayer Funds, Bailed Out Oil and Gas Companies by Plugging Abandoned Wells

By Nicholas Kusnetz - Inside Climate News, May 23, 2021

The bailout, environmentalists say, raises bigger questions about who will pay, in an energy transition, to close off the nation’s millions of aging wells.

When North Dakota directed more than $66 million in federal pandemic relief funds to clean up old oil and gas wells last year, it seemed like the type of program everyone could get behind. The money would plug hundreds of abandoned wells and restore the often-polluted land surrounding them, and in the process would employ oilfield workers who had been furloughed after prices crashed.

The program largely accomplished those goals. But some environmental advocates say it achieved another they didn’t expect: It bailed out dozens of small to mid-sized oil companies, relieving them of their responsibility to pay for cleaning up their own wells by using taxpayer money instead.

Oil drillers are generally required to plug their wells after they’re done producing crude. But in practice, companies are often able to defer that responsibility for years or decades. Larger companies often sell older wells to smaller ones, which sometimes go bankrupt, leaving the wells with no owner.

These “orphaned wells” become the responsibility of the federal or state governments, depending on where they were drilled. While oil companies are required to post bonds or other financial assurance to pay for plugging them, in reality those bonds cover only a tiny fraction of the costs, leaving taxpayers on the hook. One estimate, by the Carbon Tracker Initiative, a financial think tank, found that those bonds cover only a tiny fraction of the expected costs of cleaning up the nation’s oil and gas wells.

But in North Dakota, it turned out that most of the wells the state plugged were not truly orphaned, but had solvent owners. After the industry warned last year that the pandemic-driven oil-crash was threatening its finances, state regulators stepped in, assumed ownership of more than 300 wells, and used CARES Act funds to plug them, meaning the companies avoided paying anything themselves.

“What happened was a bunch of people got a free ride,” said Scott Skokos, executive director of the Dakota Resource Council, a grassroots environmental group in the state.

You can’t fix what’s meant to be broken

By D'Arcy Briggs - Spring, April 22, 2021

Regarding the battle against climate change, there is a common liberal argument that says we simply need an improvement in technology, or to push market investments to companies already producing this kind of tech. We’re seeing a boom in renewable energy investment, with many groups clamoring to add these companies to their portfolios. But this push towards new technologies doesn’t exist in an economic vacuum. They are directly informed by the labour processes which create them. No matter how many wind farms or electric cars we create, capitalism will necessarily find a way to destroy us.

Because capitalism is in a constant state of over-production, there is a drive to replace old goods with new ones. If we were happy with the amount and quality of products we fill our lives with, and if we could replace them among our own means, consumer capitalism wouldn’t be able to exist. I think this is pretty self evident and we can easily relate. We are constantly bombarded with ads for new products: phones with better cameras, computers with faster processors, cars with stronger engines, etc. Capitalism can’t function in a world with clean, ‘green,’ energy. It can’t function in a world where the working class are given the tools to function and thrive. Simply put, you can’t fix what’s meant to be broken.

Fossil Fuel Companies Took Billions in U.S. Coronavirus Relief Funds but Still Cut Nearly 60,000 Jobs

By Nicholas Kusnetz - Inside Climate News, April 2, 2021

When Congress looked to prop up a tanking economy and stanch its hemorrhaging of employment as the pandemic spread last year, the oil industry was among those that sought relief. Now, a new analysis shows that dozens of fossil fuel companies received billions of dollars in tax benefits in the coronavirus relief package, but slashed tens of thousands of jobs anyway.

While Congress ended up sending billions in direct loans to small and large businesses, a significant portion of CARES Act benefits came in the form of changes to the tax code. At least 77 fossil fuel companies took advantage of those to claim a total of $8.2 billion in benefits last year, even as they cut nearly 60,000 jobs, according to an analysis published Friday by BailoutWatch, a nonprofit supported by Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors.

Chris Kuveke, a BailoutWatch analyst, said the data shows that the aid to the industry failed to deliver the benefits that Congress had intended.

“These companies did not use that money they received through the CARES Act to maintain payroll,” he said.

As oil prices collapsed last year, some energy companies began lobbying Congress and the federal government for various forms of relief. Occidental Petroleum, for example, enlisted its employees to send letters to members of Congress to ask that they “provide liquidity” to the energy industry, according to Bloomberg News.

Among the various forms of stimulus included in the final relief package were changes to the tax code that proved beneficial to the oil industry.

For example, companies for years were allowed to “carry back” their losses in one year to offset profits from previous years to get a retroactive tax refund. That allowance helped companies with volatile earnings, but it was eliminated by the 2017 tax cuts signed into law by President Donald Trump. The change was one of the few provisions of the tax overhaul that modestly increased the tax burden for corporations, even as the bill overall drastically reduced corporate taxes, said Thornton Matheson, a senior fellow at Urban-Brookings Tax Policy Center.

The CARES Act eliminated that change, and even expanded on the original provision, allowing companies to carry any losses incurred from 2018-2020 back five years, instead of the two years allowed before the 2017 tax bill. Matheson said the oil and gas industry was among a few likely to benefit most from that part of the CARES Act, because its earnings can swing wildly with commodity prices.

Thus the change allowed companies to stretch losses from 2018 back to 2013, when oil prices were above $100 a barrel and profits for some of them were sky high (prices fell sharply in late 2014, and have not fully recovered).

Marathon Petroleum, a major refiner, benefited the most, the analysis found, claiming $2.1 billion in tax benefits, according to the BailoutWatch analysis. The company cut nearly 2,000 jobs last year, not counting those in its retail business.

Marathon disputed the figure, saying that less than 30 percent of its $2.1 billion tax benefit was due to the CARES Act provisions. However, its annual securities filing said that based on the carryback “as provided by the CARES Act, we recorded an income tax receivable of $2.1 billion” to reflect the company’s estimate of the refund it expected to receive in its 2020 tax return.

Marathon spokesman Jamal T. Kheiry said some of the layoffs were associated with the idling of refineries, and added that the company was generous with employees who lost their jobs. “To help affected employees transition, we provided severance, bonus payments, extended healthcare benefits at employee rates, job placement assistance, counseling and other provisions,” he said.

NOV, a drilling company, cut nearly 8,000 workers, more than 20 percent of its employees, despite receiving a $591 million tax benefit. The company did not respond to a request for comment.

Occidental collected $195 million and cut 2,600 jobs.

Eric P. Moses, a spokesman for Occidental, said the job cuts were associated with its 2019 acquisition of Anadarko Petroleum “and completed prior to the COVID pandemic and Congress’ passage of the CARES Act.”

Only 18% of global Recovery spending in 2020 was green

By Elizabeth Perry - Work and Climate Change Report, March 10, 2021

The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) released Are We Building Back Better? Evidence from 2020 and Pathways for Inclusive Green Recovery Spending, on March 10. It estimates that in 2020, the world’s fifty largest economies announced USD14.6tn in fiscal measures to address the pandemic economic crisis, and states: …. “Excluding currently uncertain packages from the European Commission, 18.0% of recovery spending, and only 2.5% of total spending, is expected to enhance sustainability. The vast majority of green spending has come from a small set of high-income nations” with France, Germany and South Korea highlighted for their relatively high percentage of green recovery spending. Canada’s spending is small, with only brief references which state that we have focused on “cleaning dirty energy assets”, and have made fossil fuel investment. (no details or examples given). It is notable that the report covers 2020, so that U.S. spending is also low, though hope is expressed for the Biden/Harris administration. Notably, the report looks to the future: “….. the largest window for green spending is only now opening, as nations shift attention from short-term rescue measures to recovery. Using examples from 2020 spending, we highlight five major green investment opportunities to be prioritised in 2021: green energy, green transport, green building upgrades & energy efficiency, natural capital, and green research and development.”

Each of those topics is analyzed, with some exemplary policies highlighted. Some overarching issues: “Of particular note, despite continuing high global unemployment and widespread damage to human capital, spending on worker retraining in 2020 was small and almost exclusively non-green. Nations transitioning to a low-carbon economy must invest in human capital to enable and match future growth priorities. Structural changes in major sectors, including energy, agriculture, transport, and construction, require shifts in the structure and capabilities of the domestic labour force.”

Also, regarding “green strings”: “Although some dirty rescue-type expenditure may have been necessary to ensure that lives and livelihoods were saved, many of the largest of these policies could have included positive green attributes. For instance, airline bailouts in nations all over the world, including South Africa, South Korea, the United Kingdom, and the United States could have included green conditions. Green conditions tied to liquidity support, like requirements to reach net-zero emissions by 2050 or mandates to increase sustainable fuel use, can ensure short term relief while also promoting investment in long-term technological development and acting as a strong guide in national efforts to meet climate targets.”

The report is supported by the United Nations UNEP, the International Monetary Fund and GIZ through the Green Fiscal Policy Network (GFPN). The data was collected by the Oxford University Economic Recovery Project and is now available through the Global Recovery Observatory, a new database which will be updated regularly (most recently at the end of February).

The report cites many other studies and reports, notably: “Will COVID-19 fiscal recovery packages accelerate or retard progress on climate change?” by Cameron Hepburn, Brian O’Callaghan, Nicholas Stern, Joseph Stiglitz, and Dimitri Zenghelis, which appeared in the Oxford Review of Economic Policy in May 2020.

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