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Blockade Australia: Our Perspective

By staff - Black Flag Sidney, July 27, 2022

Blockade Australia (BA) is a climate activist group whose primary strategy is to shut down activity at fossil fuel sites and disrupt the economy as a form of protest. So far, they have coordinated two major blockades in NSW: in November 2021, they disrupted $60 million worth of coal exports for eleven days in the Port of Newcastle; in March 2022, activists blockaded terminals for five days at Port Botany; at the end of June, they attempted a six-day blockade of Sydney’s economic centre.

Their activism has been met with alarming state violence. Earlier this month, around one hundred police raided a BA camp of activists and made several arrests. The Port Botany blockade earlier this year triggered the bipartisan enactment of new laws in NSW Parliament, increasing the penalty for protesting without police or state approval to up to $22,000 in fines and/or two years’ imprisonment. These laws will affect all protests which are unapproved by police, and should be fiercely opposed.

BA doesn’t formally adhere to a specific political ideology, although their social media activity suggests anti-capitalist and anti-electoral leanings. They aim to create a “consistent and strategic” disruption “that cannot be ignored,” to temporarily shut down the fossil fuel industry’s operation and force a “political response,” though BA does not define what this would look like concretely.

Overall, BA’s strategy relies on small affinity groups rather than a political organisation to coordinate individual non-violent disruptive stunts, a strategy which places them outside of the mass movement for working class liberation. It’s important to note here that we condemn in the strongest terms the state violence against BA activists. We express our solidarity to activists who, like us, are interested in building “power… opposing the colonial and extractive systems of Australia.” We argue, though, that BA cannot build this power with isolated actions and sporadic disruption alone.

Leaping Backwards: Why is Energy Poverty Rising in Africa?

By Sean Sweeney - New Labor Forum, July 18, 2022

How can the world end energy poverty in the Global South and simultaneously reduce greenhouse gas emissions to fight climate change? In 2021, 860 million people had no access to electricity. [1] Today, a third of all humanity lacks access to reliable power. Roughly 2.6 billion people heat their homes with polluting fuels and technologies, and using traditional stoves fueled by charcoal, coal, crop waste, dung, kerosene, and wood.2 The majority of families in the Global South are today able to turn on an electric light—and therefore have “access to electricity” for at least some hours in the day—but for many that is as far as it goes. For other basic needs, dirty and perhaps life-threatening energy continues to be the norm.

The urgency of providing energy to the great numbers of people in the Global South who lack it runs headlong into the necessity to divert climate disaster by reducing worldwide carbon emissions. It is this challenge that sits at he center of current debates on “sustainable development.” For some years, the standard answer from the climate policy world has been the following: the Global South is well positioned to “leapfrog” the phase of centralized energy and jump feet first into the transition to modern renewables, in the same way as mobile phones have proliferated in the developing world without first having to install traditional land-line infrastructure.3 Whereas large nuclear, coaland gas-fired power stations and hydroelectric dams take years to build, by comparison wind, solar, and battery technologies are small, easy to install, and, the argument goes, increasingly affordable. Rural communities without electricity can set up stand-alone “micro- grids,” so there is no need for traditional transmission and distribution grids which are expensive and inefficient. The Global South—which refers broadly to Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean, the Pacific Islands, and the developing countries in Asia—is blessed with so much sun and wind, there is no reason why energy poverty cannot be consigned to history relatively quickly.4

That is the good news. The bad news is that it is not happening, and there are few signs that it will.

Appalachia Does Not Need More Fossil Fuel Greed

By Emily Satterwhite - DeSmog, May 31, 2022

A fossil fuel executive recently told Fortune, “Appalachia is the elephant in the room,” referring to the claim that demand for natural gas is rising, while supply in Appalachia and the United States is falling. Such corporate executives would like to see expansion of production in order to bail out their dying industry.

And Fortune’s interviewee is right. Appalachia is the elephant in the room. We need to talk more about the role of Appalachia in the country’s energy system. But what he gets wrong is that the future does not entail further dependence on fossil fuels. The future that Appalachia can and will lead is in renewable energy.

For over a century, this region has powered the country’s growth with our natural resources, including coal, gas, and oil. However, our communities have not seen the prosperity and health the fossil fuel industry continues to promise. Instead, we are suffering the impacts of pollution, greenhouse gas emissions, and a boom-and-bust industry. It’s time to stop waiting for these corporations to fulfill their promises because, frankly, fossil fuels will never help the people of Appalachia. The only thing we can count on the industry to do is pollute, profit, and extract. 

Fossil fuel executives and their allies are using the devastating war in Ukraine to promote their industry in order to stuff their pockets with our hard-earned money, and the federal government has chosen to take their side. The liquified natural gas (LNG) industry is “unleashing” buildout to rake in global profits, leaving everyday Americans to pick up the increasing tab. I find myself asking: Is the federal government the people’s government, as they say they are? Or are they working for fossil fuel executives?

The people know that we must shift course to a renewable future that will bring our communities the jobs, health, prosperity, and safety we deserve. There are four reasons to do so: economic stability, cost savings, reliable jobs, and community health. 

The oil and gas industry is notoriously volatile. Prices rise abruptly, hurting consumers while executives continue to make a hefty profit. Renewable energy on the other hand, has proven to be much more stable in terms of price. At the end of April, renewables met nearly 100 percent of California’s demand for the first time, followed by 103 percent the following week.

Germany going fossil-free – and Protecting Fossil Fuel Workers

By Staff - Labor Network for Sustainability, May 2022

Germany, which imports around two-thirds of its gas from Russia and other former Soviet Union states and which aims for net-zero carbon emissions by 2045, is planning to require nearly 100% renewable electricity by 2035. Robert Habeck, German’s economic affairs and climate minister, said Germany needs to triple its rate of emissions reductions.

In response to the Russian attack on Ukraine, Germany has denied a license to the recently constructed Nord Stream 2 pipeline that was to be a major conduit for gas from Russia to Germany. It is also scheduled to close its three nuclear plants by the end of this year.

Germany adopted a plan two years ago to close all coal-fired power plants by 2038. It includes compensation for coal regions, coal companies, and their workers. The total government investment to diversify the regions’ economies and create new jobs over the coming two decades as coal is phased out is $47.3 billion.

For the new German policy: Germany’s New Government Had Big Plans on Climate, Then Russia Invaded Ukraine. What Happens Now? – Inside Climate News

For more on Germany’s just transition program for coal regions and workers: What should coal communities do when power plants shut down? Ask Germany. – Vox

South Africa's Coal Miners’ Union Calls for a Public Pathway Approach to Energy Transition

By staff - Trade Unions for Energy Democracy, April 5, 2022

At its recent 17th National Congress, South Africa’s National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) adopted a bold position in favor of keeping the country’s electrical power utility Eskom fully public.

Attended by roughly 750 delegates, the three-day congress — held in Boksburg, South Africa, from March 30th to April 1st, 2022 — adopted a report titled “Just Transition and the Energy Sector.” The report declares:

As a union with a long history of internationalism, NUM is today part of a global trade union-led effort to secure a Just Transition to a low carbon future. Once championed by unions, the term just transition has been hijacked by capital and its original meaning has been distorted. It is now being used to advance a global “green structural adjustment” agenda, one that is using the climate emergency as cover to advance privatisation and to dismantle public companies and assets.

In recent years, NUM has worked alongside the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (NUMSA), TUED, AIDC and the Transnational Institute to repel government-led efforts to break up and privatize the national utility Eskom.

'Coal Country' Mines Seam of Class Anger in West Virginia Explosion

By Alain Savard - Labor Notes, April 4, 2022

If Don Blankenship were a fictional character, critics would say he was a cartoon evil capitalist. Unfortunately, he’s real. One of his lesser crimes was to dump toxic coal slurry into disused mineshafts, poisoning the water of his neighbors, all to save $55,000. While they sickened, he piped his own water from the nearby town of Matewan. Yes, that Matewan. He has characterized strikes as “union terrorism.”

As chair and chief executive of Massey Energy, he received production reports from Upper Big Branch mine every half hour, including weekends. And no wonder, Blankenship’s compensation was tied to production, and UBB produced $600,000 worth of top-quality coal every day in a mile-deep operation near Whitesville, West Virginia.

That is, until it exploded in a completely preventable disaster that killed 29 miners on April 5, 2010.

The workers knew something bad was bound to happen. Methane readings were too high, the ventilation and air control systems were a shambles. One day the mine was sweltering, the next freezing cold. They operated in a fog of coal dust and exhaustion. Management threatened anyone who spoke up.

“Coal Country,” a play recently re-opened at Cherry Lane theater in New York, tells the story of the disaster through the words of the miners and their families. They are backed up by stunning original songs by Texas songwriter Steve Earle, who accompanies himself on guitar or banjo from the corner of the stage. “The devil put the coal in the ground,” he growls, and you can believe it. Jessica Blank and Erik Jensen created the play, and Blank directs it.

Performance Coal, the subsidiary of Massey that ran Upper Big Branch, was created specifically to exclude the union. Gary Quarles (played by Thomas Kopache), recalls that when he first hired into the mine, he couldn’t believe how management shouted at the men. That wasn’t tolerated on his union jobs. Unrelieved overtime was another difference.

Managers brought in experienced miners like Quarles for their knowledge about extracting coal, but dismissed their knowledge about how to run a safe mine. Union mines are safer according to Phil Smith of the United Mineworkers of America, "because workers elect their own safety committees and they know they can report hazards without fear of retribution.”

Amid Rolling Blackouts, Energy Workers Fight For Clean Public Power In South Africa

By Casey Williams - In These Times, March 31, 2022

Can South Africa transition from a reliance on coal to clean power while maintaining jobs? The energy workers fighting for a just transition think so.

The lights went out around Johannesburg on a Monday morning in November 2021, not to flicker back on until early that Friday in some areas. It marked the last rolling blackout of a year troubled by more outages than any in recent memory. The fate of Eskom, the beleaguered power utility behind the crisis, is now at the center of South Africa’s struggle for a just energy transition — a break from fossil fuels without leaving behind frontline communities or energy workers.

As a public company, Eskom has a constitutional mandate to guarantee electricity as a basic right. But the utility struggles to meet that mandate with its aging equipment, staggering debt, corruption and rules that require it to break even, which drive exorbitant rate hikes. Moreover, the electricity running through Eskom’s wires comes almost entirely from coal, smothering the country’s eastern coal belt in deadly pollution and adding planet-warming emissions to the atmosphere — and putting the utility at odds with South Africa’s decarbonization commitments and global calls for renewable energy. South Africa, the 26th-largest country by population, ranks 14th in carbon output worldwide and is responsible for 1% of global emissions, because of this reliance on coal.

Few believe Eskom will survive in its current state, and what comes next is the subject of a high-stakes debate — and is about more than the climate. The state-owned company employs 45,000 workers and supports 82,000 coal jobs in a country where more than a third of the population is out of work. Eskom is a union shop, as are South Africa’s biggest coal mines.

The government’s plan, already underway, is to invite private companies into the energy sector on the dubious grounds that clean energy is bound to win in a competitive market. The powerful miners and metalworkers unions oppose privatization, which they worry will hobble their organizations, if not eliminate the jobs they’re entrusted to protect. 

The unions have reason to worry. European multinationals have installed most of South Africa’s wind and solar capacity so far, importing technicians and hardware. The local jobs that come with them are often low-paid and temporary, vanishing once plants get up and running. Workers with permanent jobs, meanwhile, have struggled with for-profit energy companies over the right to strike.

While some union leaders and workers have responded to the threat of privatization by defending coal mines and the union jobs they offer, unions also say they support decarbonization efforts. There are currents within the labor movement organizing for a just transition to turn Eskom into a unionized, public and clean power utility, run by and for the South African people.

This tug-of-war holds lessons for workers everywhere: The South African labor movement has largely succeeded in making the public debate about ownership and power— about who owns energy resources and who decides how they’re used — rather than simply about renewables versus coal. Still, the temptation for labor to double down on coal jobs remains strong as the South African economy flags and unemployment spikes, emblematic of how hard it can be to fight for long-term goals if jobs are under threat.

End the addiction to fossil fuel- support the Ukrainian resistance

By Alan Thornett - Red Green Labour, March 24, 2022

Putin’s merciless invasion of Ukraine – which is his next step in the restoration of the Russian empire – has been stalled by the remarkable popular resistance that has been mounted against it. The southern port city of Mariupol is been flattened by Russian artillery and is facing a humanitarian catastrophe but has refused to surrender. On the other hand, the invaders have been pushed back on several fronts.

The Ukrainian resistance has relied heavily on both Western economic sanctions and Western military aid including hand-launched anti-tank and surface to air missiles without which Putin’s blitzkrieg might have been unstoppable. The economic sanctions have not just put Putin under pressure at home, but they have given the population the confidence to resist such an overwhelming force.

As the Russians have met much stronger resistance than they expected they have resorted to ever more indiscriminate, long-range bombardment of the civilian population with missiles launched from ships in the Black Sea and from Russia itself. The result of which has been a rapid escalation of civilian casualties. Putin has thousands of planes and missiles, of course, and could wipe Ukraine off the map. But whether that would be politically sustainable (or survivable for him at home) is another matter.

Russia is now a brutal kleptocracy, with Putin as the new Stalin. Anti-war demonstrators facing up to 16 years in jail and opposition politicians, who oppose war, driven into exile. Ten million people, a quarter of the population, are internally displaced and with almost five million already refugees abroad. Many thousands, mostly civilians, are dead. EU countries, to their credit, have opened their borders, suspended visa requirements, and taken in millions of people. This is in sharp contrast to Boris Johnson’s miserable Little Englander government that has been running around in circles in a (very successful) attempt to give refuge to as few people as possible.

How can the climate and anti‑war movements come together?

By Christian Zeller - Red Green Labour, March 23, 2022

Translated from the German- originally published here.

Exit from the fossil economy and rearmament, solidarity with the Ukrainian resistance

We live in a time of abrupt turns. [1]

Global warming is accelerating. The climate is changing faster than previously thought. The Russian war of aggression against Ukraine is largely aimed at the territorialconquest of a neighbouring state, the destruction of its army and the overthrow of its government. [2] This is something that has not existed in Europe in this way since 1945.

Even before this assault, the NATO countries, Russia and China started an arms race. The antagonisms between the various imperialisms intensified enormously. [3]The wave of rearmament that was already being prepared and launched before the war in Ukraine is an expression of intensifying competion for access to scarce resources that are so urgently needed in connection with the energy transition.

Global warming, this war and the danger of wars to come are interconnected and should be understood in a common context.

Fossil Fuel Phaseout–From Below

By Jeremy Brecher - Labor Network for Sustainability, March 2022

Protecting the climate requires rapidly reducing the extraction of fossil fuels. That’s a crucial part of the Green New Deal. While the federal government has done little so far to reduce fossil fuel production, people and governments all over the country are taking steps on their own to cut down the extraction of coal, oil, and gas.

Introduction

The U.S. needs to cut around 60% of its greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 2030 to reach zero net emissions by 2050.[1] The world will need to decrease fossil fuel production by roughly 6% per year between 2022 and 2030 to reach the Paris goal of 1.5°C. Countries are instead planning and projecting an average annual increase of 2%, which by 2030 will result in more than double the production consistent with the 1.5°C limit.[2]

In the previous two commentaries in this series we have shown how initiatives from cities, states, and civil society organizations are expanding climate-safe energy production and reducing energy use through energy efficiency and conservation. These are essential aspects of reducing climate-destroying greenhouse gas emissions, but in themselves they will not halt the burning of fossil fuels. That requires action on the “supply side” – freezing new fossil fuel infrastructure and accelerating the closing of existing production facilities. That is often referred to as a “phaseout” or “managed decline” of fossil fuels.

Such a phaseout of fossil fuel production is necessary to meet the goals of the Green New Deal and President Joe Biden’s climate proposals. The original 2018 Green New Deal resolution submitted by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez called for a national 10-year mobilization to achieve 100% of national power generation from renewable sources. Biden’s Build Back Better plan sought 100% carbon-free electricity by 2035 and net zero GHG emissions by 2050. These goals cannot be met without reducing the amount of fossil fuel that is actually extracted from the earth.[3]

While the US government and corporations are failing to effectively reduce the mining and drilling of fossil fuels, hundreds of efforts at a sub-national level are already cutting their extraction. 50 US cities are already powered entirely by clean and renewable sources of energy. 180 US cities are committed to 100% clean energy.[4] According to a report by the Indigenous Environmental Network and Oil Change International, Indigenous resistance has stopped or delayed greenhouse gas pollution equivalent to at least one-quarter of annual U.S. and Canadian emissions.[5] Such reductions are an essential part of a widespread but little-recognized movement we have dubbed the “Green New Deal from Below.”[6]

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