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Jacobin

For a Living Wage and a Habitable Planet, We Need Climate Jobs Programs

By Paul Prescod - Jacobin, June 2, 2022

Climate and labor activists are coming together to hammer out ambitious but realistic plans for massively expanding the clean-energy sector in a way that also creates good union jobs. For both paychecks and the planet, it’s the only path forward.

The stalling of President Joe Biden’s “Build Back Better” agenda raises serious concerns for those looking to the federal government for strong action on climate change. Much of the more ambitious climate-related aspects of the legislation have already been gutted — and the fact that it still can’t pass a Congress with a Democratic majority is a worrying sign for the future.

But despite the dysfunction at the federal level, there are encouraging developments occurring at the state level. Increasingly, climate and labor activists are coming together to hammer out ambitious but realistic plans for massively expanding the clean-energy sector in a way that creates family-sustaining union jobs.

These state-based efforts are often facilitated by the Climate Jobs National Resource Center. States like New York, Connecticut and Maine have managed to get real buy-in from the building trades on a vision that defies the false jobs versus environment dichotomy. Recently, the Illinois legislature passed landmark climate legislation that puts the state on a path to reaching 100 percent clean energy by 2050, all with the full support of the Illinois AFL-CIO.

Rhode Island has now joined the party. Earlier this year Climate Jobs Rhode Island, a broad labor-environmental coalition, released a report titled “Building a Just Transition for a Resilient Future: A Climate Jobs Program for Rhode Island.” The report, compiled in partnership with the Worker Institute at Cornell, takes a comprehensive approach to limiting carbon emissions — containing recommendations on retrofits, public transportation, renewable energy, and climate resilience.

The Rhode Island initiative is a good model for activists in other states to consider. In addition to meaningfully addressing climate change, there’s no doubt that this program would result in the creation of tens of thousands union jobs. It points the way forward for both the climate and labor movements, which must join together in order for the working class to have any hope of a sustainable future.

Noam Chomsky: Ending Climate Change “Has to Come From Mass Popular Action,” Not Politicians

By Poyâ Pâkzâd, Benjamin Magnussen, and Noam Chomsky - Jacobin, November 19, 2021

Benjamin Magnussen: To change subjects: What do you see as the greatest obstacle in solving the climate crisis?

Noam Chomsky: There are two major obstacles. One is, of course, the fossil fuel companies. Second is the governments of the world, including Europe and the United States. We have just seen that very dramatically over the summer. On August 9, 2021, the IPCC [Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change] issued its last analysis of the climate situation. It was a very dire warning — much more than before.

The message basically was, “We have two choices.” We can either start right now cutting back on fossil fuel use, [and] do it systematically every year, until we phase them out by mid-century. That’s one choice. The other choice is cataclysm. The end of organized human life on earth. Not immediately — we’ll just reach irreversible tipping points, and it goes on to disaster. Those are the options.

How did the great powers react? The day after the IPCC report, Joe Biden issued an appeal to the OPEC cartel [Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries] to increase production. Europe chimed in by calling on all producers, including Russia, to increase production. Increase production. This is a response to the IPPC warning that we have to start reducing right now.

That’s for political reasons, for profit for the oil companies. [The] political reason is that they want the price reduced. It’s better for them. [For] Joe Biden, if the gas prices are high, it harms his electoral prospects. [If] you read the major business press right now, [there’s] a big discussion going on: What’s the best way to increase production? Is it through the American shale oil — the fracking industry — or is it through OPEC? But how do we increase production best? That’s the business press. Turn to the petroleum journals. [They are] euphoric: “We just found new fields to exploit. Demand is going up. It’s great.”

Let’s go to the US Congress. The Biden program — under pressure from young activists, the Bernie Sanders movements, and so on — is actually a big improvement on any previous ones, on paper. It’s not wonderful, but it’s much better than anything else. Well, the [previous] negotiations in Congress over the “reconciliation bill,” initiated by Bernie Sanders, cut back very sharply from Sanders’s proposals. It’s a very valuable bill. It somewhat reverses the huge assault on the population during the neoliberal era.

The Republicans are 100 percent opposed. Nothing. [They] won’t accept anything. The Democrats do have a swing vote. The so-called moderate Democrats, who should be called “ultra-reactionaries,” are the swing vote. One of them is the chair of the Senate Energy Committee, [who] also happens to be the champion in Congress of receiving funding from the fossil fuel industry — which is quite an achievement, because they pay off everyone — but he’s the champion. His name is Joe Manchin. He has a policy — he’s made it explicit — that’s taken from the playbook of the oil companies. He made it very clear; he said: “No elimination, only innovation.” So, no cutbacks on the use of fossil fuel. If you can make up something new, it’s okay. So, he’s blocking it. There are climate change provisions in it. They’re already out. Blocked.

In Europe, it varies. There are some countries, like Denmark, for example, that are moving toward renewable energy pretty significantly. Others vary. But when it comes to the crunch, telling the oil companies and the producers right now what to do, Europe is, as far as I know, unified in saying, “Increase production” — right after the warning that we have to decrease production. That’s the world we live in.

Canadian Pension fund managers pledge climate action; Unions can push for more

By Elizabeth Perry - Work and Climate Change Report, October 26, 2021

In the run-up to COP26, and on the same day that Canada’s Big Six Banks joined the United Nations Net-Zero Banking Alliance (NZBA), Canadian institutional investors and some of its pension fund managers also hit the news, by releasing a new Canadian Investor Statement on Climate Change. Coordinated by the Responsible Investment Association (RIA), the statement signed on October 25 states: “We recognize that a transition to a net-zero economy will involve a major transformation of sectors and industries. We encourage all companies and stakeholders to facilitate a just transition that does not leave workers or communities behind. We also recognize that the financing required for transition activities and climate solutions presents an investment opportunity….. We further recognize that Indigenous Peoples have managed collective wealth for millennia – including lands, waters, and …..We support a transition to a net-zero economy informed by Indigenous perspectives, that supports Indigenous economic opportunities, and encourages business practices that align with the principles of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP).”

The Statement sets out specific expectations for investees which include just transition, and pledges five actions for the investment community, such as integrating climate-related risks and opportunities into the investment processes and developing a climate action plan to achieve net-zero by 2050. Further, the 36 signatories pledge to “ Ensure that any climate-related policy advocacy we undertake supports a just transition and the ambition of achieving global net-zero emissions by 2050 or sooner, and engage with our industry associations to encourage climate advocacy efforts that are consistent with these goals.”

Pension funds which have signed on to the Statement (so far) include: British Columbia Investment Management Corporation, British Columbia Municipal Pension Board of Trustees, British Columbia Public Service Pension Board of Trustees, Canada Post Corporation Pension Plan, Caisse de dépôt et placement du Québec, Ontario Pension Board, Pension Plan of The United Church of Canada, University of Toronto Asset Management (UTAM), and the University Pension Plan.

 “Only Labor Can Force Canadian Pension Funds to Divest From Oil “ (Jacobin, October 19) puts this lofty new institutional Statement in perspective, as it takes a more critical look at one of the leading pension fund managers, the Caisse de dépôt et placement du Québec, and its September announcement that it would quit all oil production investments at the end of 2022. After also highlighting examples of the fossil and mineral exploration investments of some of Canada’s major pension funds, the article concludes: “ ‘Financial sustainability’ — despite the Caisse’s announcement — will continue to take precedence over climate justice.” 

Thus, the main point of the Jacobin article is to urge unions to take action:

 “….the unions who represent the beneficiaries of these pension funds can fight to make sure that the deferred wages of workers are used for the common good. In many cases, unions appoint trustees to boards of investment funds. If the labor movement chose to organize around these issues, it would be a game changer. …. Public sector funds are subject to legislation and can be reformed through political action. Although they’ve been carefully designed to be free of democratic accountability, they are not immune to external pressure. Sustained organizing by unions and their members can lead to greater amounts of worker control over the use to which these large sums of money are put.”

Only Labor Can Force Canadian Pension Funds to Divest From Oil

By Tom Fraser - Jacobin, October 19, 2021

One of Canada’s largest institutional investors, responsible for managing billions of dollars in workers’ pensions, has committed to fossil fuel divestment. It’s a good step — but without pressure from the labor movement, these promises will mean nothing.

On September 28, the institutional investor and pension manager Caisse de Dépôt et Placement du Québec (CDPQ) announced that it would no longer invest in oil production. The Caisse made this decision as part of their strategy to reach net-zero by 2050. Canada’s second-largest pension fund manages the retirement contributions of over six million Quebecois. Their stability and security in old age is bound up with the Caisse’s ability to assure returns on its vast asset portfolio.

Although it comes with caveats, the Caisse’s announcement could potentially be the start of a wider movement on the part of investment companies to divest Canada’s public sector pension funds from fossil fuels. With such massive portfolios, pensions could be at the forefront of a just transition.

The Sydney “Green Bans” Show How We Can Transform Our Cities

By Kurt Iveson - Jacobin, July 10, 2021

In the 1970s, trade unions in Sydney began imposing “green bans” on property developments that were going to cause social and ecological harm. The movement should be an inspiration for challenges to the power of big business everywhere.

Fifty years ago, in June 1971, the New South Wales branch of the Builders Labourers Federation (NSWBLF) voted to ban construction of a luxury housing development in the Sydney harborside suburb of Hunters Hill. Their bulldozer-driving comrades in the Federated Engine Drivers and Firemen’s Association followed suit. The goal was to protect Kelly’s Bush, one of the last undeveloped areas of bushland on Sydney Harbour.

Over time, the tactic they used came to be known as a “green ban,” distinguishing it from a more conventional “black ban.” While trade unions imposed the latter in disputes over wages and conditions, green bans blocked construction on projects that were environmentally or socially destructive, or that threatened sites with heritage value.

The Kelly’s Bush green ban resulted from an unlikely alliance. Hunters Hill was a wealthy suburb, and most residents had little to do with the workers’ movement. Earlier that month, however, the Battlers for Kelly’s Bush — a resident action group — held a meeting of over six hundred people. It called on the unions to protect the bushland.

The NSWBLF was militant, proudly working-class, and maligned by respectable opinion. It was led by socialists and communists. Yet the union found common cause with the middle-class Battlers for Kelly’s Bush.

NSWBLF secretary Jack Mundey explained the union’s decision in a 1973 interview:

What is the good of fighting to improve wages and conditions if we are going to choke to death in polluted and planless cities? We are fighting for a shorter working week. If we get it, we still have to live in these cities. So “quality of life” should not just become a cliché. It should become a meaningful thing, and the workers should be concerned about every aspect of life — not just their working conditions.

Developer AVJennings attempted to circumvent the green ban by using nonunion labor. The NSWBLF hit back. Union members employed at another Jennings site sent a telegram to the developer’s head office: “If you attempt to build on Kelly’s Bush, even if there is the loss of one tree, this half-completed building will remain so forever, as a monument to Kelly’s Bush.”

The NSWBLF executive backed up their members’ threat. In August, AVJennings shelved their development plans. Kelly’s Bush remains untouched to this day.

Read the rest here.

Green Left Show #14: Why nuclear is NOT a climate solution

Rich People Are Fueling Climate Catastrophe, but Not Mostly Because of Their Consumption

By Matt Huber - Jacobin, May 2, 2021

The same study keeps coming out to show that the rich are causing climate change and environmental breakdown. In 2015, Oxfam released a report entitled “Extreme Carbon Inequality” that found the top 10 percent of people in the world are responsible for 50 percent of emissions, while the bottom 50 percent are only responsible for 10 percent. That same year, economists Thomas Piketty and Lucas Chancel crunched the data to reveal similarly stark numbers: the “top 10% emitters contribute to 45% of global emissions.”

More recently, a wide-ranging scientific review argued that “consumption of affluent households worldwide is by far the strongest determinant and the strongest accelerator of increases of global environmental and social impacts.” And just last month, a new study found that the wealthy — who they identify as a “polluter elite” — are “at the heart of the climate problem.” The study recommends, “far reaching changes in lifestyles are also required if we are to avoid dangerous levels of global heating.”

It shouldn’t be surprising that those on the Left have seized on these studies as grist for the mill of class struggle. Here at Jacobin, this data has led to call-to-arms articles like “Only class war can stop climate change” and “To save the planet, expropriate the rich.”

So far, so good. Yet these studies share a fatal flaw: they conceptualize the rich’s contribution to global heating and environmental breakdown solely in terms of their “affluence” or “consumption.” While the “lifestyles of the rich and famous” are often egregious from an environmental standpoint, we need to look beyond their personal consumptive choices to understand the true significance of their contribution to climate change — and to understand the political challenge ahead of us for actually halting catastrophic climate change.

The basis of these studies is household income data and an inferred relationship with spending patterns associated with emissions or “carbon footprints,” so it is no surprise that someone like Thomas Piketty, a world-famous analyst of income inequality, would use this data to link such inequality to carbon emissions.

But income is not the best way to understand inequality under capitalism. A plumber could have the same income as a college professor. The plumber could also have the exact same income if they ran their own plumbing business or if they worked for a massive plumbing corporation.

For Marxists, class and inequality has to do with your relationship to the means of production. More broadly, class is less about how much money you make and more about what you own and control. For the vast majority of us, we only own our labor power to sell on the market to live. For the rich, it is their ownership of property, businesses, and monetary wealth itself that makes them so powerful in a capitalist society.

To Save America, Help West Virginia

By Liza Featherstone - Jacobin, March 30, 2021

A Democratic swing vote in an evenly divided Senate, West Virginia Democrat Joe Manchin has already proved to be a significant obstacle to progressive policy. His opposition was a significant reason for Biden’s failure to raise the minimum wage to $15; Manchin also played a key role in shrinking the household stimulus checks, as well as the weekly unemployment checks. He will be a necessary and highly undependable vote as Democrats attempt to address the climate crisis, advance union organizing rights, and counter racist Republican efforts to legislate voter suppression.

However, the infrastructure bill that Biden and the Democrats are preparing to unveil, which is expected to call for $3 trillion in investment in public goods and services, presents an opportunity for West Virginians — and for all of us. Manchin has been championing this legislation, even calling for it to be funded with an increase in taxes on corporations and the wealthy. On this issue, Eric Levitz of New York magazine has convincingly argued, Manchin is actually pulling Biden to the left.

Manchin’s salience puts West Virginia in a powerful position. The state has urgent needs, given the long decline of the coal industry and the double impact of the opioid and coronavirus public health crises. Almost a third of West Virginians filed for unemployment between mid-March 2020 and the end of January 2021.

A report by University of Massachusetts economists with the Political Economy Research Institute (PERI), released in late February, proposed a recovery plan for West Virginia, with good jobs and environmental sustainability at its center. The study showed how compatible these priorities really are. The state’s coal industry has spent years successfully demonizing Democrats and environmentalists as job killers. Under recent regimes of neoliberal austerity, there might been some truth to that, but with more generous investment from the federal government, West Virginia can redevelop its economy and lead the nation in fighting climate change at the same time.

PERI found that the struggling Appalachian state could reduce carbon emissions by 40 percent by 2030 and reach zero emissions by 2050 — the targets the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) determined in 2018 were needed in order to avoid irreversible damage to our planet and to human civilizations — while creating jobs and promoting prosperity. The UMass researchers found that $3.6 billion per year in (both public and private) investments in a clean energy program — averaged over the 2021–2030 time period — would generate about 25,000 West Virginian jobs per year. The PERI researchers also analyzed the effect of $1.6 billion a year — also over 2021–2030 — in investments in public infrastructure, manufacturing, land restoration, and agriculture, finding that these efforts would generate about 16,000 jobs per year.

In fighting for such priorities, progressives need resist the pull of what we might call “woke neoliberalism.” Woke neoliberalism functions by using charges of racism and sexism — very real problems! — against initiatives that could help the entire working class. (Remember Hillary Clinton’s, “If we broke up the big banks tomorrow, would that end racism?”) In the debate over the Biden infrastructure bill, some well-meaning people are falling into that trap, already pitting investment in care work and infrastructure against each other.

The Washington Post reported on Monday, “Some people close to the White House say they feel that the emphasis on major physical infrastructure investments reflects a dated nostalgia for a kind of White working-class male worker,” citing SEIU president Mary Kay Henry’s private admonitions to the White House not to overlook the care economy. Henry said, “We’re up against a gender and racial bias that this work is not worth as much as the rubber, steel and auto work of the last century.” Economists Heidi Shierholz, Darrick Hamilton, and Larry Katz reportedly argued to the White House that investing in care work would create more jobs than investing in infrastructure.

Let’s not do this.

The Transition to Green Energy Starts with Unions

A Real Green New Deal Means Class Struggle

By Keith Brower Brown, Jeremy Gong, Matt Huber, and Jamie Munro - Jacobin, March 21, 2019

On the morning of November 13, 2018, the Twitter account of the Sunrise Movement, a youth-based organization demanding a Green New Deal (GND), posted the following message:

BREAKING: we’ve begun a sit in inside @NancyPelosi’s office because @HouseDemocrats have failed our generation time and time again. They offer us a death sentence. We demand a #GreenNewDeal.

Joined by the Congresswoman-elect from New York’s 14th District, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the crowd of young activists occupying Pelosi’s office catapulted the idea of a Green New Deal into mainstream discussion. Unfortunately, just before Christmas, Majority Leader Nancy Pelosi brushed aside the proposal for a GND select committee and replaced it with a hollowed-out and toothless substitute.

Not to be deterred Ocasio-Cortez and Massachusetts Senator Edward Markey introduced in February a new resolution outlining more specific principles and goals for a GND. It has already gained seventy-six co-signers in Congress and has spurred another round of international media attention. Once again, the resolution was brushed off by Pelosi as a “green dream or whatever they call it.”

As four climate writers in Jacobin argued on the day it was unveiled, the resolution is quite good. While a few business-friendly elements of the plan don’t square with a socialist climate politics, it does commit to confronting the overwhelming challenge of climate change with massive federal programs that tackle head-on the country’s horrific economic and racial injustices in access to clean air, water, housing, transit, and many other basic needs.

The confrontational strategy used by both Sunrise and Ocasio-Cortez to promote the GND is a major step forward for climate politics. During the Obama administration, most environmental groups focused on cozying up to the Democratic political establishment, only to watch an ill-conceived “cap and trade” bill go down in flames amidst a lack of popular mobilization. In contrast, the recent GND campaign began in earnest with corporate-free electoral campaigns that challenged neoliberal politicians, and won startling victories. After the election, these forces chose a public showdown with Democratic elites and their fossil fuel industry donors. As the campaign sharply targeted these establishment obstacles to climate action, it popularized the vital demand for a GND across a mass audience.

This wave of confrontational activism has now catapulted the GND into mainstream attention. Unfortunately, a policy’s popular support is anything but a guarantee of its passage. Medicare for All, for example, enjoys 70 percent popular approval but elite opposition to it remains formidable. And while confrontations with elected elites are certainly a step in the right direction, they won’t be sufficient to win a GND on the scale — and at the pace — we so desperately need.

In the likely case we don’t completely end capitalism in the next decade, we need a plan for effectively dealing with climate change anyway. Winning a transformative GND will require massive leverage over the political and economic system. We need the ability to force these changes over the objection of broad sections of the capitalist class, who are fiercely unwilling to lose their profits. The confrontational tactics and electoral challenges of the growing GND movement are essential parts of the leverage we need, but we think history shows they won’t be enough. We will also need direct leverage against the capitalist class, right in the places where they make their money.

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