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Climate Politics and the Ukraine War

By staff - Fight the Fire, September 2022

There are three aspects to the war in Ukraine.

First, the war began as a Russian invasion. A large majority of Ukrainians support the resistance by the Ukrainian armed forces. This is a fight for democracy. Invasion is always an act of dictatorship, whether in Ukraine, Vietnam, Afghanistan, Iraq or Palestine.

Putin’s invasion is of a piece with his previous military interventions in Chechnya, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Kirghizstan and Syria. This is part of reestablishing Russian power and influence in the region of the old Soviet Union and the previous Russian Empire.

But Putin is also afraid of the spreading movements for democracy in Belarus and Central Asia. And he is afraid of the growing internal opposition in Russia. Military excursions to solidify internal power are a constant in the history of Putin’s Russia.

A victory for Ukraine would make the movements for democracy in Central Asia and Eastern Europe stronger.

But then there is the second aspect: this is a real war between Russia and Ukraine. But it is also a proxy war between the United States / NATO and Russia.

What this is not is a confrontation between the forces of democracy led by Biden, Scholtz and Macron and the forces of dictatorship led by Putin. What Russia is doing to Ukraine now, the US has done to many countries. Joe Biden supported the American invasions of Vietnam, Somalia, Afghanistan and Iraq. Washington, Paris and Frankfurt have supported the Israelis, the Assads in Syria, the Saudis in Yemen and Sisi in Egypt. The list goes on and on.

The most important climate crime in the world right now is the US economic blockade of Afghanistan. The purpose of this blockade is to punish the Taliban and the Afghan people for defeating the American military. The blockade has turned a serious drought caused by climate change and a massive earthquake into a serious famine.

A victory of Ukraine over Russian invasion would also strengthen the power of NATO and American imperialism in many parts of the world.

The third aspect of the war is political. Putin is the leading figure in the growing global movement of the racist right. Other leading figures include Modi in India, Bolsonaro in Brazil, Trump in the United States, Orban in Hungary, Le Pen in France and Duterte and Marcos in the Philippines. There are many more leaders, in many more countries, that constitute this reactionary international, which is a bullwark for climate chaos.

Rallies Held Across US for 'Climate, Care, Jobs, and Justice'

By Kenny Stancil - Common Dreams, April 23, 2022

Scores of people in communities around the United States took to the streets on Saturday to demand swift and bold legislative and executive action to tackle the fossil fuel-driven climate crisis as well as skyrocketing inequality.

At "Fight for Our Future" rallies held in Washington, D.C., Phoenix, Atlanta, and more than 40 additional cities across the country, the message was simple: Time is running out for Congress and President Joe Biden to make the bold investments needed to create millions of unionized clean energy and care sector jobs that can simultaneously mitigate greenhouse gas pollution along with economic and racial injustice.

The nationwide mobilization—organized by a coalition of more than 20 labor, civil rights, and environmental justice groups including SEIU, NAACP, the Sierra Club, the Sunrise Movement, the Center for Popular Democracy, and the Green New Deal Network—took place one day after Earth Day.

Climate Change Is Making Jobs Deadlier—and OSHA Can’t Take the Heat

By Emily Hofstaedter - Mother Jones, April 19, 2022

At 5:30 p.m., December 10 of last year, they heard the unmistakable wail of tornado sirens. Some of the workers crafting cinnamon, pumpkin spice, and vanilla candles asked to go home: Western Kentucky’s Mayfield Consumer Products plant, with its vulnerable wide-span roof, was the kind of building to avoid in a storm.

Staff were first told to shelter in a hallway. But they were soon ordered back to the factory floor to finish their ten-hour shifts. Leave, managers warned, and you’re fired. The threat worked.

Just after 9 p.m., the sirens wailed again. The tornado obliterated the Mayfield plant. Eight workers died.

Mayfield’s management, according to a survivors’ class-action suit, was aware of the danger—forecasters had been predicting major tornadoes all week—and had rejected a request by floor supervisors to stop work for the day. But the firm’s other plant, just six miles away, did shut down for the storm. The difference? The first factory was working overtime to ship candles for the lucrative Christmas rush.

The company now faces a state investigation, but it doesn’t have much reason to worry: thanks to weak state and federal worker protections, companies responsible for on-the-job deaths pay an average fine of $12,000. That’s if the laws are enforced—a 2019 federal audit found that Kentucky “failed to properly investigate nearly every single worksite death” in a two-year period, and its safety record’s far from the worst.

Who Is Working-Class, and Why It Matters

By Van Gosse - Convergence, April 9, 2022

Many political analysts, including some on the Left, are positing a radically new configuration of class in the United States. Their argument, reduced to its essence, is that the traditional markers of class are no longer relevant, and now the great divide is between those who have graduated from college versus the rest. It is further argued that this new class structure is reshaping our political party system in dramatic ways:  the Democrats are becoming the party of the educated, in addition to traditional constituencies among African Americans and single women. Conversely, the Republicans are becoming a party of the working class—defined as the non-college-educated—across traditional racial and ethnic lines (for a cogent example of this analysis, see Matt Karp’s “The Politics of a Second Gilded Age”).

I think this analysis is wrong in all respects.  We need an analysis of how class functions in the U.S. that is based in our distinct history of stratification (and division) along ethno-racial lines.  Beyond that, we need an accurate reading of the Democratic Party in particular, if we are to advance the struggle for a multiracial democracy against white nationalism.

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]

Court Blocks Giant Gulf Fossil Fuel Lease Sale

By staff - Labor Network for Sustainability - March 2022

In November 2022 the Biden Administration prepared to sell oil and gas permits for 80 million acres in the Gulf of Mexico – the largest such sale in US history. Now a federal court has halted the sale because of the failure to adequately assess the impact on climate change.

The court ruled that the Biden Administration must consider the emissions and climate impacts in the leasing program. This ruling will stop not only Lease Sale 257 but future leasing decisions as well.

A sign-on letter urges President Joe Biden and Interior Secretary Deb Haaland not to appeal the decision.

The DOI should now accept the court’s ruling on Lease Sale 257 to vacate the sale and correct the Trump administration’s flawed climate impact assessments that falsely conclude that the resulting emissions from offshore drilling would have no impact on the climate crisis. The DOI should not continue to defend unlawful drilling for oil and gas in public waters in appellate court given the impacts on our climate, clear violations of federal environmental standards, and public commitments made by President Biden to end the practice. https://www.labor4sustainability.org/strike/climate-safe-energy-production-from-below/

The Fossil Fuel Industry Is a Jobs-Killer

By Wenonah Hauter - In These Times, February 14, 2022

For years now, any discussion about climate action or the need to move off fossil fuels has run headlong into a familiar quandary: The industries fueling the climate crisis create good jobs, often in areas of the country where finding work that can support a family is incredibly difficult. 

This leaves activists gesturing towards well-intentioned goals like a ​“just transition,” a promise that likely rings hollow for workers and many labor unions because it’s hard to see where this has actually happened — even though, by every measure, we need to create some real policies that turn this vision into reality. While there are encouraging examples of labor unions throwing their support behind robust climate plans, it has proven difficult for the climate movement to find its way out of the jobs versus environment framing. 

But that is especially true when we refuse to question the original premise. The truth is that the fossil fuel industry wildly inflates its employment record, and the recent data show they are producing more fuel with fewer workers. Instead of avoiding this reality, perhaps it is time to tackle it head on. Dirty energy corporations are not creating jobs as much as they are cutting them these days, and that provides an opening to envision the kinds of employment — in areas like orphaned well clean up and energy efficiency — that will provide employment for the thousands of workers the industry is no longer employing. 

Some of the most common jobs estimates are produced by the American Petroleum Institute (API), the powerful oil and gas trade association. Over the years, API has released reports claiming that the domestic fracking industry creates somewhere between 2.5 million to 11 million jobs, both directly and indirectly. These numbers — or versions of them — are floated in political debates and in the media, but they are significantly out of step with other estimates, including the federal government’s labor reports. Food & Water Watch, an organization I founded, created a more accurate model that relies on direct jobs and relevant support activities, including pipeline construction and product transportation. The total comes to just over 500,000 in 2020, or about 0.4 percent of all jobs in the country. 

How to explain the massive gap between industry propaganda and reality? The API figures include a range of employment categories; in addition to direct industry employment, they add indirect jobs (those within a supply chain) and induced jobs (those that are supposedly ​‘supported’ by direct and indirect jobs). These categories make up the vast majority of their total. Convenience store workers, for example — working where gas happens to be sold — make up almost 35 percent of the industry’s supposed employment record.

12 Guilty Fogeys: Big Oil’s $86 billion offshore tax bonanza

By staff - Friends of the Earth, Bailout Watch, and Oxfam, September 2021

Few letter-soup acronyms in Washington bureaucratese are so aptly pronounced as GILTI and FOGEI, two esoteric provisions in the tax code worth tens of billions of dollars to Big Oil’s multinational majors.

Under the Trump Administration’s radical 2017 tax law, companies that extract oil and gas overseas enjoy special exemptions within the Global Intangible Low-Tax (GILTI) regime covering Foreign Oil and Gas Extraction Income (FOGEI).

It is a fitting accident of nomenclature: FOGEI’s GILTI carveout helps prop up the fossil firms most culpable for the climate crisis — to the tune of $84 billion. An additional international tax loophole enjoyed by Big Oil is worth at least another $1.4 billion, for a grand total of over $86 billion in offshore tax giveaways.

Read the text (PDF).

Indigenous Resistance Against Carbon

By Dallas Goldtooth, Alberto Saldamando, and Kyle Gracey, et. al. - Indigenous Environmental Network and Oil Change International, September 1, 2021

This report shows that Indigenous communities resisting the more than 20 fossil fuel projects analyzed have stopped or delayed greenhouse gas pollution equivalent to at least 25 percent of annual U.S. and Canadian emissions. Given the current climate crisis, Indigenous peoples are demonstrating that the assertion of Indigenous Rights not only upholds a higher moral standard, but provides a crucial path to confronting climate change head-on and reducing emissions. 

The recently released United Nations climate change report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) states that in order to properly mitigate the worst of the climate crisis, rapid and large-scale action must be taken, with a focus on immediate reduction of fossil fuel emissions. As the United Nations prepares for its upcoming COP 26 climate change conference in Glasgow, Scotland, countries are being asked to update their pledges to cut emissions — but as the IPCC report states, current pledges fall short of the changes needed to mitigate the climate chaos already millions of people around the world. 

While United Nations member countries continue to ignore the IPCC’s scientists and push false solutions and dangerous distractions like the carbon markets in Article 6 of the Paris Agreement, Indigenous peoples continue to put their bodies on the line for Mother Earth. False solutions do not address the climate emergency at its root, and instead have damaging impacts like continued land grabs from Indigenous Peoples in the Global South. Indigenous social movements across Turtle Island have been pivotal in the fight for climate justice.

Read the text (PDF).

In the Coal Mines, Workers Are Dying to Make a Living: Mining companies increasingly rely on cheaper contractors who face longer hours and higher risk of accidents

By Kari Lydersen - In These Times, August 18, 2021

Trebr Lenich always called his mother before his drive home from overnight shifts at Mine No. 1, operated by Hamilton County Coal in Hamilton County, Ill. The call she answered the morning of Aug. 14, 2017, worried her. 

“He said, ​‘Mom, I am just so exhausted, so wore out,’ ” Teresa Lenich says. 

Her son routinely worked long hours on consecutive days. That day, he never made it home.

Coworkers following Trebr said his driving was erratic and suspected he was falling asleep, Teresa says. Heading back to the West Frankfort home he shared with his parents, girlfriend and baby daughter, Trebr drove into a ditch and hit an embankment. According to the sheriff’s report, his engine then caught fire. 

Like many young miners, Trebr was employed through a contracting company that provides temporary workers for mines with no promise that they’ll be hired on permanently.

This staffing structure — and the disappearance of labor unions from Illinois mines — has made work less safe and more grueling for miners, according to advocates and multiple studies. Without job security, temporary workers are reluctant to complain about potentially unsafe conditions (including long work hours) and to report accidents. And because temporary workers may have inadequate experience in a particular mine, they might not understand that mine’s specific risks.

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