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Breaking Free

Climate Emergency: Global Insurgency

By Jeremy Brecher - Common Dreams, October 14, 2016

Note: The new, updated 2016 edition of Jeremy Brecher’s Climate Insurgency: A Strategy for Survival, from which the following is drawn, can be now be downloaded for free at the author's website here.)

The Lilliputian defenders of the earth’s climate have been winning some unlikely battles lately. The Standing Rock Sioux, supported by nearly two hundred Native American tribes and a lot of other people around the globe, have put a halt, at least for now, to completion of the Dakota Access Pipeline, a project that threatens their sacred burial sites and the water supply for 17 million people—not to mention the world’s climate. Before that a seven-year struggle terminated the Keystone XL pipeline. Other fossil fuel extraction, transport, and burning facilities have been halted by actions around the world.

But as Bill McKibben has said, "Fighting one pipeline at a time, the industry will eventually prevail."[1] Is there a plausible strategy for escalating today’s campaigns against fossil fuel infrastructure to create an effective challenge to the escalating climate threat? How can we get the power we need to counter climate catastrophe? My book Climate Insurgency: A Strategy for Survival (download) grapples with that question and proposes a possible strategy: a global nonviolent constitutional insurgency. Now that strategy is being tried – and may even be overcoming some of the obstacles that have foiled climate protection heretofore.

This Is What Insurgency Looks Like

By Jeremy Brecher - Labor Network for Sustainability, May 22, 2016

In a small church in the Albany, NY’s low-income, predominantly African-American South End, forty people were gathered for a community meeting. They were organizing a protest against trains carrying potentially explosive oil – dubbed by the residents “bomb trains” — that were running through their neighborhood. City Counselor Vivian Kornegay told the group that many municipalities had opposed the bomb trains and other dangerous fossil fuel infrastructure, but had little power to protect their residents; it was up to a “people’s movement” to do so. “What we want is for all of us to be free, healthy, and safe – and for our planet to be a better place to live.”

Maeve McBride, an organizer for 350.org, explained that the protest was part of a global campaign of direct action and civil disobedience aiming to keep 80% of all fossil fuels in the ground. Pastor Mark Johnson of the St. John’s Church of God in Christ said, “I heard at a meeting last night that we have a constitutional right to clean water and clean air.” Maeve McBride explained that the action was part of a “new wave” that was drawing on a “new paradigm” – “using civil disobedience to protect the public trust,” which included water, air, and the climate itself.

Organizers had met with officials from the police and sheriff’s offices and reported, “they abhor the trains – and are very supportive of us.” Then the group received direct action training. They read out loud the “action agreement” pledging nonviolent behavior and mutual support. Then they lined up to march and while police officers (played by the trainers) ordered them to move away, they scrambled onto an imaginary railroad track. Later that evening the steering committee for Albany Break Free planned outreach to supporting organizations, phone banks, canvassing, leafleting, and details of the action.

The Albany organizers had learned about the “new paradigm” when 350.org North American co-organizers of Break Free From Fossil Fuels had decided to use the “public trust” principle to frame US Break Free actions and formed a Break Free Public Trust Work Group to spread the idea. Some on the The Break Free Albany steering committee had participated in the working group’s webinar on using the public trust doctrine, and they decided to integrate the Public Trust Proclamation into their “topline message” and to hand out the Break Free Public Trust Proclamation to all participants. (The Proclamation appears at the end of this article.]

A week before the action the Albany Break Free steering committee defined their basic message. Potentially explosive crude oil “bomb trains” roll through Albany and surrounding communities, polluting the air and contributing to the climate crisis. Primarily low-income communities of color are put at risk. The urgent need to address climate change means that fossil fuels have to be left in the ground and a transition made to a “twenty-first century renewable energy economy.” They called for an end to all new fossil fuel infrastructure, including pipelines, power plants, compressor stations, and storage tanks. And they called for a just transition away from fossil fuel energy with training and jobs for affected workers, so “no worker is left behind.”

It’s happening: 2016 is the year of climate disobedience

By Kara Moses - Red Pepper, June 14, 2016

Something truly incredible is happening. We're only half way through it, but 2016 is a record-breaking year. The second week of May was extraordinarily spectacular, with records being smashed left right and centre. As tens of thousands of people took direct action in the biggest ever global wave of civil disobedience targeting the world's largest fossil fuel infrastructure projects, energy produced from renewables soared to new heights while coal collapsed to an all-time low, multiple global temperatures records were smashed by the biggest margins ever and Arctic sea ice fell to its lowest ever extent for May.

The 'Break Free' fortnight of action kicked off with Reclaim the Power shutting down the UK's largest opencast coal mine, and went on to see 4,000 people shut down one of Germany’s largest coal mines and power plants for three days; 2,000 people brought the world's largest coal port in Australia to a standstill, and major refineries, rail infrastructure, pipelines, power stations and banks were shut down and disrupted. People took bold action in countries with repressive regimes; Turkey, Nigeria, Brazil, South Africa. The Philippines and Indonesia saw some of the biggest mobilisations, with 10,000 people marching to oppose a new coal-fired power plant in Batangas.

Historic turning point

As thousands stepped up to demand an end to fossil fuels and a switch to renewables, across multiple countries their demands were lived out in reality. In remarkable synchronicity, and what some experts have described as a 'historic turning point', coal generation fell to zero in the UK for the first time in over 100 years. This happened four times in a week (the same week as Break Free) having previously never happened since the first coal-fired generator opened in London in 1882. (This follows a record-breaking day one month earlier when, for the first time, solar produced more power than coal for a full 24 hours). In the same week, Germany's renewables supply met the country's demand (on the third day of occupation of the coal mine and power station), while Portugal ran on renewables for more than four days straight.

Stark reminder

It wasn't all good news though. As a stark reminder of why this sea change is so urgently needed, that same week NASA declared that 2016 was set to be the hottest year ever, probably by the largest margin ever, as April was confirmed to be the hottest April on record - the seventh month in a row to have broken global temperature records, and smashing the previous record for April by the largest margin yet. This was the third month in a row that the monthly record had been broken by the largest margin ever. When the string of record-smashing months started in February, scientists started talking about a 'climate emergency'.

This came just days after news of the world reaching a 'point of no return' with global concentrations of carbon dioxide reaching the 400 parts per million (ppm) milestone at two important measuring stations, one of which (Cape Grim, Australia) sits in a region of stable CO2 concentrations – climate scientists believe it will never again fall below that point. There is no going back now, a grim forecast indeed.

The record temperatures of recent months are wreaking havoc with ecosystems across the world; a more literal sea change triggered the third recorded global coral bleaching, affecting 93% of the Global Barrier Reefs. In the northern parts of the reef, it’s expected the majority of coral is dead. Meanwhile Arctic sea ice falls to its lowest ever extent for the month of May, prompting fears that this year could set the record of worst ever summer sea ice melt.

Remarkably also during the Break Free fortnight, Shell spilled nearly 90,000 gallons in the Gulf of Mexico - the largest amount of oil since BP's 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster - just shy of qualifying as a 'major' spill under the Coast Guard’s classification system.

All this happened in the space of one fortnight. The fortnight the climate justice movement has been talking about for nearly a year, just the beginning of the promised 'escalation' after the Paris agreement which was predictably inadequate to address the scale of the problem. World governments may have agreed to limit warming to 1.5C but with no legal obligations and no commitments to end fossil fuels, it’s up to us to keep it in the ground. And around the world, people are doing just that and taking matters into their own hands.

Railroad Workers United Former Co-Chair and Organizer Mark Burrows Speaks at Chicago Break Free Rally

On Sunday, May 15th in Whiting, Indiana, former RWU Co-Chair Mark Burrows was invited to speak to a group of community members and environmental activists about rail safety. Mark touched on the Lac Megantic tragedy and frame-up of railroad workers in Canada, crew fatigue and single employee train crews.

“Energy Without Injury”: From Redwood Summer to Break Free via Occupy Wall Street

By Desiree Hellegers - Counterpunch, May 23, 2016

On Sunday, May 15, more than a hundred climate change kayaktivists took to the waters of Padilla Bay in Anacortes, Washington, risking arrest to land on the banks of the Tesoro oil refinery. In the shadow of the refinery smoke stacks, they unfurled banners calling attention to the potentially lethal risks that fossil fuel workers confront each day on the job. “Seven Dead, No More Casualties, Tesoro Explosion April 2, 2010” read one banner focused on Tesoro’s checkered workplace safety record. “Solidarity is Strength, We are all workers,” read another banner. Yet another called for a “Just Transition,” as kayaktivists knelt on the ground, paddles in hand, in what organizers described as a demonstration of respect for the workers killed at the refinery, and for those still working in the refinery. The messaging on the banks of the refinery signaled the central challenge that climate change activists confront in trying to find common ground—if not common cause–with refinery workers.

The Anacortes actions were part of a global two-week wave of activism spanning six continents under the shared rallying cry to “Break Free” from fossil fuels. As actions unfolded in the U.S. from Albany, NY and Washington, D.C. to Chicago, Denver and Los Angeles, more than a thousand activists converged on Anacortes, just south of the Canadian border. The aim of activists was to confront, by land and sea, the role of big oil in rising global temperatures and sea levels–and to disrupt the flow of oil to the Shell and Tesoro refineries.

In the face of activists’ resolve to blockade the oil shipments to the port, both Shell and Tesoro suspended tanker and rail transport for the duration of the three-day action. Nonetheless, an estimated 150 activists camped out on the rails for two nights before the police moved in in the early hours of Sunday, May 15, arresting 52 activists and charging them with criminal trespassing.

In a phone interview, Eric Ross, organizing director of the Backbone Campaign out of Vashon, Island, WA, which handled much of the logistical planning and coordination for the water-based Break Free events in Anacortes, indicated that the workers at Tesoro, who daily face toxic exposure on the job, are among the many “casualties of extractive industries” and the byproduct of the “reckless endangerment” that defines the behavior of multinational corporations, whose main focus is on “extracting money.” “They’ve chosen to make their billions by extracting resources from communities that don’t consent to that reckless endangerment of our children, our communities and our climate,” Ross observed. Ross heralded the three-day cessation of oil transportation as a victory for Break Free: “I think it’s a really impressive show of the power of our movements and just how afraid these extractive industries are of organized people.”

Zarna Joshi, an activist with the grassroots group Women of Color Speak Out, was one of several speakers who addressed kayaktivists on the banks of Fidalgo Bay before they struck out for the banks of the Tesoro refinery. In a phone interview, Joshi described the Break Free action as the culmination of “a real building of momentum” over the past two years. She indicated that in the Pacific Northwest, climate activists have been “building relationships with people in labor, building relationship with people in the First Nations—particularly Salish Sea First Nations—building community and building trust.”

In fact, an entire day of the three-day event was devoted to a Native-led march and ceremonies at March Point in the shadow of the Shell refinery. While the 1855 Point Elliott Treaty included March Point within the boundaries of the Swinomish Reservation, an executive order by President Ulysses S. Grant in the 1870s redrew the boundaries of the reservation to exclude March Point, ultimately opening it up for development by Shell and Tesoro. Last year, Shell was “fined $77,000 by the Washington State Department of Labor & Industries for an uncontrolled release of toxins that sickened residents and sent at least two people to the hospital.”

Skagit County, Joshi observed, “has one of the highest levels of cancer in the entire state, and those levels of cancer are linked to the pollution coming from the refineries.” Activists, Joshi said, “were standing in solidarity with workers, and not just with workers at these refineries, but with workers around the whole region whose jobs are being threatened by the fossil fuel empire, by climate change, by health crises.”

Among the participants in the Anacortes actions was Laurie King, former long term organizer with Portland Jobs with Justice, now retired, who planned to attend one of a number of workshops focused on effecting a “just transition” for workers currently employed in the fossil fuel industry. “I’m a union activist, so I’ve been asking a lot of questions about what do the workers think and what kind of jobs do people think of fighting for for the workers. I think that this whole movement has to be a two-pronged movement and that the same energy that goes into the desire to save the planet for everyone also has to be into a just transition with the same fervor, the same degree of planning and we have to figure out really concrete ways to have a just transition.” Over her decades of union organizing, King observed, “I’ve talked to many, many workers, and if they had a choice, of course they’d rather be doing things that are not hurting themselves or the planet. The thing is that it isn’t easy to find another well paying job, and we environmentalists have to deal with that in the most deep way and not just slough it off.” King went on to observe, “I think we have to be just as fervent about fighting for jobs for the workers who are in the fossil fuel industries at the same time that we’re fighting against fossil fuel structures.”

EcoUnionist News #105

Compiled by x344543 - IWW Environmental Unionism Caucus, May 25, 2016

The following news items feature issues, discussions, campaigns, or information potentially relevant to green unionists:

Lead Stories:

Ongoing Mobilizations:

The Thin Green Line:

Just Transition:

Bread and Roses:

Breaking free from fossil fuels in Cascadia: The solutions path forward

By Patrick Mazza - Cascadia Planet, May 18, 2016

Over the first half of May climate warriors put their bodies in the way of fossil fueled business as usual around the world. Break Free civil disobedience events targeted major carbon bombs on six continents.

Here in Cascadia a tent city held a rail line leading into the region’s largest oil refinery complex at Anacortes, Washington for 36 hours. In Newcastle, Australia people power disrupted the world’s largest coal port by land and sea. Some of the largest coal plants in Brazil and Germany, and the world’s largest open-pit coal mine in Britain, were just some of the 20 sites around the world where around 30,000 people stood up to say now is time to break free from coal, oil and gas, and the carbon pollution disrupting weather patterns across the planet. An off-the-charts April temperature spike underscored the urgency of rapid transition to clean, renewable energy.

The Break Free actions were always intended to focus this necessity, to put forward a powerful solutions “yes" to complement the fossil fuels “no.” Now the real work begins.

Fortunately, the solutions are with us, and already working in many places. We can move beyond an economy based on energy from coal, oil and gas. We can make a just transition to a world run on 100% renewable energy, create millions of new jobs, and build stronger communities. Following are eight solutions that we can forward to break free from fossil fuels in Cascadia:

  • Four Solutions for Clean Energy show how we can move to 100% renewables in electrical power, transportation and buildings.
  • Four Solutions for a Socially Just Transition line out how to move our communities beyond fossil fuels while improving the quality of life, especially for lower-income people, and providing new opportunities for displaced workers.

The solutions are given in an order, but it does not indicate a ranking. All are important and necessary. We need to pursue all eight to meet the huge climate and energy challenges facing us. We can unite a broad movement around these solutions, and create a better world for ourselves and our children. It’s up to us, and the solutions are at hand.

A Just Transition: Break Free

By John Paul Wright - RailroadMusic.Org, May 17, 2016

There is a suggestion called a Just Transition that is floating around parts of the labor and environmental communities. To fully understand this term, we as workers, community members, union members and activists would need to explore,

  1. What we used to have.
  2. When and how we transitioned historically.
  3. Where we want to go.

In 1803, President Thomas Jefferson, shortly after the Louisiana Purchase, commissioned a U.S Army expedition called the Corps of Discovery. The task was to map and claim the west before Britain and other European powers tried to claim it. Part of the mission was to find a water transportation route to the Pacific Ocean. In 1805, the Lewis and Clark expedition set sight on the Pacific Ocean. After finding no direct water route, they returned to St Louis in 1806. it took industry and the U.S Government sixty-four years after Lewis and Clark returned, to connect the nation by rail, from sea to shining sea.

In 1869, Leland Stanford, railroad baron and co-founder of Stanford University, drove the “golden spike” that connected the rails of the first transcontinental railroad. The railroad spike sits in the Cantor Arts Center at Stanford University. Before the spike was driven into the ceremonial railroad cross tie at Promontory Point, Utah, the United States had not yet been connected, ocean to ocean with a transportation policy.

As the railroad companies grew and people moved at speeds never before traveled across land, small communities were rapidly becoming connected to larger markets. Farming communities had access to rail transportation and industries popped up in the railroad towns. In 1913, Ford starts mass production on his first assembly line. On June 29th, 1956, the National Interstate and Defense Highways Act was enacted. It took industry 43 years to get a policy in place, that would give the automobile industry the green light to further transition this country from rail transportation of people, to personally owned vehicles.

The trucking industry was born, the railroad transitioned from steam to diesel fueled locomotives. The movement of industrial commodities replaced the passengers that were owning personal transportation. The nation’s population rapidly grew with the workers needed to build these new innovations and dreams. New industries were created with investment and taxation. The nation was more, so called secure, or was in a better position militarily, hence the name of the government policy that created the nation’s highway system.

Of course, this is a broad over simplification of many ideas, policies, historical facts and timelines. There were many other policies that were discussed and pitched. There were many laws, taxes and industrial failures and successes, as well as, iconic brands, dreams and ways of life that were transitioned or simply disappeared as one industry won favor over another.

EcoUnionist News #104 - Special #BreakingFree 2016 Edition

Compiled by x344543 - IWW Environmental Unionism Caucus, May 17, 2016

The following news items feature issues, discussions, campaigns, or information potentially relevant to green unionists:

Lead Stories:

Ongoing Mobilizations:

The Thin Green Line:

Just Transition:

Bread and Roses:

An Injury to One is an Injury to All:

Whistleblowers:

EcoUnionist News #103

Compiled by x344543 - IWW Environmental Unionism Caucus, May 9, 2016

The following news items feature issues, discussions, campaigns, or information potentially relevant to green unionists*:

Lead Stories:

Ongoing Mobilizations:

The Thin Green Line:

Just Transition:

Bread and Roses:

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