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Getting to Net Zero in UK Public Services: The Road to Decarbonisation

By Dr. Vera Weghmann, et. al. - Unison, November 2021

Public services as a whole (excluding transport) represent about 8% of the UK’s direct greenhouse gas emissions. The NHS alone represents about 4% of the UK’s emissions. When procurement, construction, and social housing are taken into account, public services’ impacts are much greater.

Different sectors within the overall framework of public services have declared their decarbonisation plans. Some are ahead of the national targets. The NHS has declared that it will reach net zero by 2040, with an ambition to reach an 80% reduction by 2028 to 2032. More than one-third of local authorities (single- and upper-tier) committed themselves to decarbonise their local area by or before 2030.

The government aims to reduce direct emissions from public sector buildings by 75% against a 2017 baseline by the end of the Sixth Carbon Budget.

This report identified 21 different measures that should be taken across buildings, transport, electricity generation, waste, procurement and land use along with costed measures for each of nine different public services.

In our analysis, the UK’s public services need a capital investment injection of over £140 billion to 2035 to meet their Net Zero obligations. This will set the public sector on track to meet their climate targets and contribute to the UK’s overall carbon reduction aims. The analysis also identified measures that required annual operational expenditures of £1 billion to hit net zero targets. UNISON fully advocates that quality public services are best delivered by public ownership of public services and utilities rather than privatisation, outsourcing or PFI contracting of public services.

As well as improving the quality of life for service users, workers and the wider community, a number of the measures will also result in significant savings to public services’ budgets, through lower energy bills, cheaper to run fleets, and procurement savings. UNISON fully advocates that quality public services are best delivered by public ownership of public services and utilities rather than privatisation, outsourcing or PFI contracting of public services.

Read the text (PDF).

Facing Fossil Fuels’ Future: Challenges and Opportunities for Workers in Canada’s Energy and Labour Transitions

By Teika Newton and Jamie Kirkpatrick - Climate Action Network and BlueGreen Canada, September 2021

Canada has a climate plan but it does not lay out a plan for the future of oil and gas extraction that aligns with the goal to limit global warming to 1.5°C, leaving workers and communities with an uncertain future. The Canada Energy Regulator warns that the future of oil sands extraction, which makes up 62 percent of Canada’s oil output, is uncertain due to the projected drop in the future oil demand as the global pace of decarbonization increases.

Meanwhile, a study backed by the UN Environment Programme further states that global oil and gas output would have to decline by over one third by 2030 and over one half by 2040 to achieve the goal of limiting warming to 1.5°C. In early 2021, the International Energy Agency, one of the world’s foremost authorities on global energy forecasting, published a landmark report, Net Zero by 2050, in which the agency declared that oil and gas output should be constrained to existing operations in order to meet the 1.5°C temperature goals articulated in the Paris Agreement. Constraining Canadian oil and gas output to existing fields approximates a similar rate of phaseout to that proposed by the UNEP-backed report.

he Canadian oil and gas industry, including upstream activities, pipelines, and services, provides approximately 405,000 jobs - 167,000 direct jobs and 238,000 jobs across supply chains. In response to oil price crises, industry’s solution to protect profits has historically been to slash jobs while maintaining output. As a result the number of jobs per barrel of output has already fallen by 20% since 2000.

While oil and gas jobs have significantly better compensation and training provisions than most sectors in the economy, these jobs are also somewhat more precarious and have higher health and safety risks. Union density is higher but is also falling at a more rapid rate than in oth-er industries.8 Finally, automation is projected to threaten between 33%-53% of Canadian oil and gas jobs by 2040.

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Myth and Reality About Technology, Skills and Jobs

Luddism for the age of robotics

By Simon Pirani - The Ecologist, May 7, 2021

Climate breakdown is driven by industrial production, production by machines controlled by people. But can those very people demand a new, low carbon production?

Are the technologies developed by giant capitalist corporations – Walmart’s logistics or Elon Musk’s driverless cars – the foundation on which a post-capitalist society can be built? No way, argues Gavin Mueller in his latest book, Breaking Things At Work: the Luddites were right about why you hate your job (Verso, 2021).

He challenges “Marxist theoreticians” who see “the capitalist development of technology as the means for creating both abundance and leisure”, to be “realised once the masses finally [take] the reins of government and industry”.

Against these technocratic illusions, Mueller proposes “a decelerationist politics: of slowing down change, undermining technological progress, and limiting capital’s rapacity, while developing organisation and cultivating militancy”.

Fully Decelerated Carbon-Neutral Luddism

By Dr James Muldoon - Verso Books, April 26, 2021

Gavin Mueller wants us to hit the brakes. Tech companies have amassed enormous financial and ideological power and are driving society towards a future of surveillance and algorithmic management. We are enthralled by a vision of technological progress that has blinded us to the reality that new technology in the workplace is often implemented to control workers, rather than to make our lives easier. In his new book, Breaking Things at Work: The Luddites Are Right About Why You Hate Your Job, Mueller revives the misunderstood legacy of the Luddites in the service of a new decelerationist politics, one which calls bullshit on the promises of automation. Inspired by the history of workers’ struggles against scientific management and factory discipline, the book offers a vision of how we could develop a militant opposition to new technological interventions in the workplace that threaten workers’ autonomy.

The book is part of a growing movement on the Left that is critical of the idea that the ideas and practices of Silicon Valley could simply be adopted for progressive ends. Read alongside Aaron Benanav’s Automation and the Future of Work and Jason E. Smith’s Smart Machines and Service Work, we can see the tide turning on a techno-optimist tendency which sees the glimmers of a communist future in the “sharing” economy and Amazon’s capacity for central planning. Mueller “wants to make Marxists into Luddites” and has this segment of the pro-tech Left squarely in his sights.

Before we invent the future, Mueller calls on us to rethink the past. Marxists, he claims, “have not been critical of technology, even when that technology is deployed in the workplace in ways that seem detrimental for workers.” Technology is too often seen by the Left as a neutral force that could be reclaimed and used for emancipatory purposes. For Mueller, many Marxists – from Karl Kautsky and Rosa Luxemburg to Lenin and the Bolsheviks – fall prey to an economic determinism and fatalism that views the development of capitalist production and organisation as leading inevitably to a socialist society. This view of technology carries on into the twentieth-century’s organised labour movements, and from there to contemporary post-work theorists. In light of these failings, the book turns to previous workers’ struggles and “heretical strains of Marxism” for a profound reconceptualistion of the role of technology in a post-capitalist future.

Freight Automation: Dangers, Threats, and Opportunities for Health and Equity

By staff - RAMP, HIP, and Moving Forward Network, April 20, 2021

The freight transportation system in the United States is a fundamental part of our economy, infrastructure and environment, but many freight system frontline workers labor in arduous conditions yet receive low wages and limited benefits.

Freight Automation: Dangers, Threats, and Opportunities for Health and Equity explores how automation in the freight transportation system affects the health of workers, communities, and the environment—and also how these effects will be inequitably felt by people with low incomes and communities of color. Created PHI’s Regional Asthma Management and Prevention, Moving Forward Network, Human Impact Partners and community partners, the report also provides recommendations for policies and programs that promote health and equity for frontline workers and fence-line communities.

Read the text (PDF).

Workers and Communities in Transition: Report of the Just Transition Listening Project

By J. Mijin Cha, Vivian Price, Dimitris Stevis, and Todd E. Vachon, et. al. - Labor Network for Sustainability, March 17, 2021

The idea of “just transition” has recently become more mainstream in climate discourse. More environmental and climate justice advocates are recognizing the need to protect fossil-fuel workers and communities as we transition away from fossil-fuel use. Yet, as detailed in our report, transition is hardly new or limited to the energy industry. Throughout the decades, workers and communities have experienced near constant economic transitions as industries have risen and declined. And, more often than not, transition has meant loss of jobs, identities, and communities with little to no support.

While transition has been constant, the scale of the transition away from fossil fuels will be on a level not yet experienced. Fossil fuels are deeply embedded in our economy and society. Transition will not only affect the energy sector, but transportation (including passenger and freight), agriculture and others. Adding to the challenges of the energy transition, we are also transitioning to a post-COVID-19-pandemic world. As such, we cannot afford, economically or societally, to repeat the mistakes of the past that left so many workers and communities behind.

To better understand how transition impacts people, what lessons can be learned, and what practices and policies must be in place for a just transition, in the Spring of 2020 we launched the Just Transition Listening Project (JTLP). The JTLP has captured the voices of workers and community members who have experienced, are currently experiencing, or anticipate experiencing some form of economic transition.

Those who have suffered from transitions are rarely the ones whose voices are heard. Yet, no one is more able to fully understand what workers and communities need than those who have lived that experience. The JTLP is the first major effort to center these voices. In turn, the recommendations provided can make communities and workers whole. In many ways, these recommendations are common sense and fundamental to creating a just society, regardless of transition. Yet, the failure of elected officials to deliver just transition policies points to the need for wide scale movement building and organizing.

This report summarizes lessons learned and policy recommendations in three overall concepts for decision-makers: Go Big, Go Wide, and Go Far.

Read the text (PDF).

Is Labor Green? A Cross-National Panel Analysis of Unionization and Carbon Dioxide Emissions

By Camila Huerta Alvarez, Julius McGee, and Richard York - Nature and Culture, March 1, 2019

In this article, we assess whether unionization of national workforces influences growth in national carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions per capita. Political-economic theories in environmental sociology propose that labor unions have the potential to affect environmental conditions. Yet, few studies have quantitatively assessed the influence of unionization on environmental outcomes using cross-national data. We estimate multilevel regression models using data on OECD member nations from 1970 to 2014. Results from our analysis indicate that unionization, measured as the percentage of workers who are union members, is negatively associated with CO2 emissions per capita, even when controlling for labor conditions. This finding suggests that unionization may promote environmental protection at the national level

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Employment Aspects of the Transition from Fossil Fuels in Australia

By Jim Stanford - Centre for Future Work, December 16, 2020

Climate change poses a fundamental threat to the well-being and security of people everywhere. And Australia is on the front lines of the challenge. We have already experienced some of the fastest and most intense consequences of climate change, in many forms: extreme heat, droughts, floods, extreme weather and catastrophic bushfires (as in 2019-20). Climate change is no longer an abstract or hypothetical worry. It is a clear and present danger, and we are already paying for it: with more frequent disasters, soaring insurance premiums, and measurable health costs.

The problem of climate change is global; emissions and pollution do not respect national borders. But to address the global threat, every country must play its part. And Australia has a special responsibility to act, and quickly, for several reasons:

  • We are suffering huge costs because of climate change.
    We are a rich country, that can afford to invest in stabilising the climate.
  • We are one of the worst greenhouse gas (GHG) polluters in the world.
  • In fact, as shown in Figure 1, Australia has the highest GHG emissions per capita of any of the 36 industrial countries in the

Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). Our emissions – around 22 tonnes of CO2 equivalent for every Australian – are almost twice as high as the OECD average. We emit 4 times per person more than the average Swede.

Worse yet, Australia has been very slow in addressing climate change with effective and consistent policies. Climate policy has become a political wedge issue, subject to reversals and changes in direction depending on the fleeting political imperatives of the day. After a temporary decline (largely sparked by a short-lived national carbon tax, which was then abolished in 2014), Australia’s total emissions have increased again in recent years (see Figure 2). Under existing policies, emissions are projected to stay at or above current levels over the coming decade.

Read the text (PDF).

Green growth vs degrowth: are we missing the point?

By Beth Stratford - Open Democracy, December 4, 2020

It’s time to stop talking past each other and unite against the real enemies of environmental justice.

The row about ecological limits to growth is back with a vengeance. On one side are those who are deeply sceptical about the idea of ‘infinite growth on a finite planet’. They argue that to be sure of offering a good life for all within planetary boundaries, we need to kick our addiction to consumption growth (in wealthy countries at least). These ‘green growth sceptics’ include those advocating for ‘degrowth’, ‘prosperity without growth’, ‘steady state economics’, ‘doughnut economics’ and ‘wellbeing economics’.

In the opposite corner are ‘green growth’ advocates who believe that the historical relationship between GDP and environmental impact can be not just weakened but effectively severed. For green growthers, the key to maintaining a habitable planet is decoupling — reducing the environmental impact associated with each pound or dollar of GDP. By deploying new technologies, and shifting the nature of our consumption, they argue we can do our bit for the environment while continuing to grow GDP, even in wealthy countries.

Green growth sceptics do not dispute the need for decoupling, but observe that the faster we grow the faster we have to decouple. Even a modest goal like 2% growth per year implies doubling the scale of consumption every 35 years. Unfortunately, we have never approached the rates of decoupling that would be necessary for rich countries to get back within their fair share of ecological space while maintaining that kind of exponential growth.

Green growth advocates tend to respond that the historical record shouldn’t be taken as a guide to what is possible in future. Pessimism about future technological breakthroughs will be self-fulfilling, they say.

For some this is a compelling and entertaining debate. But it is not going to be settled in a timeframe that is useful for maintaining a habitable planet. In the meantime, these adversaries are in danger of delivering a major own goal. Because the more time we spend in nerdy (and sometimes venomous) exchanges about decoupling, the less time we have to build the broad-based movement we need to take on the vested interests who benefit from the status quo.

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