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It’s the hottest week in Portland history and the boss still won’t fix the AC

By CF Ivanovic - (In)Action (Substack), June 24, 2021

The following account, by an IWW member, illustrates just how much climate and the environment are significant workplace issues, and how they will become increasingly relevant to point-of-production, workplace organizing:

An extreme heat wave is sweeping the Northwest right now. Some weather forecasts predict we will see the hottest day in Portland history this weekend with temperatures hitting 110 degrees Fahrenheit. And the climate doomer in all of us is collectively sharing, “hottest day in Portland history, so far.” Yea it fucking sucks. With even more neighbors out on the street, even with a small safety net of the city setting up a few “cooling shelters” for the unhoused, people in all likelihood are going to die.

For those in houses and apartments, most of which without AC, we will deem it too hot to cook, which for restaurant workers it means expect an all day dinner rush baby. Hunched over that pipping hot flat top, AC busted, but thank god the boss was kind enough to plug in a box fan pointed at your feet—or if you’re lucky he’ll let you prop it up on a chair so it’s aimed at your back. Same legal minimum break times being squeezed as short as possible. Hell, maybe your boss is woke and reminded you to drink water. Don’t worry if you’re getting woozy there’s a 33.3% chance you pass out on the sandwich wrapping line instead of the grill or fryer. 

Again, I’m filled with righteous anger. A little voice in the back of my head that wants to shout to my co-workers, “we don’t have to fucking do this.” And how can we? Then I remember it’s the 23rd and rent is due in a week, and I remember there’s an infinite number of excuses and legitimate fears we place in front of us. And that my righteous anger has worked to dissuade those fears in my co-workers about as well as firing a squirt gun at the sun. 

“I want to share the nuts-and-bolts of how we came together and fought back against the Hooters corporation. But right now I’m hot, agitated, and in no way feeling sentimental. Here I want to share a story about some of the stuff that we tried that didn’t work when things first started heating up.”

When I started working at Little Big Burger in 2017 it was a super hot summer[1]. A friend of mine got me the job when they were hiring at the start of the summer and I figured getting minimum wage+tips was better than 10 cents above minimum wage operating rides at an amusement park. It was my first restaurant job. Somehow it felt more dangerous working on that narrow line with a clogged grease trap and no slip mats than operating a 40+ year old spinning metal puke machine. It was barely a month in when my friend told me, “hey there’s a union at this other burger joint in town, we flip burgers, why can’t we have that here?” Perhaps not the most “by the books” organizing conversation, as he showed me the Burgerville Workers Union facebook page, but he was my friend. Nuff said for me. Shit needed to change, and we couldn’t do it alone. We reached out to the union and started trying to talk to our co-workers. 

Our union would go on to win a number of amazing changes. Safety concerns, like a non-slip map, a replacement AC system, managers required to go up on the roof to unclog the vent, getting managers to stop calling the cops on homeless people. And, bread and butter policy changes, like schedules that come out two weeks in advance (instead of 1-2 Days in advance) and getting paid sick leave instead of being forced to work sick or fear getting fired. All of this we won by sticking up for each other, building trust over time, co-writing petitions, and regular ass restaurant workers standing together and marching on our corporate bosses. I want to share the nuts-and-bolts of how we came together and fought back against the Hooters corporation[2]. But right now I’m hot, agitated, and in no way feeling sentimental. Here I want to share a story about some of the stuff that we tried that didn’t work when things first started heating up.

Pandemic Capitalism and Resistance

By Susan King - Green Left (Australia), February 7, 2021

Last year began with huge climate action rallies around Australia in response to the Black Summer bushfires — a climate-change-fuelled catastrophe that made international headlines.

However, by March, Australians, along with the rest of the world, were facing a new global threat — also connected to the climate crisis, agribusiness and habitat loss — COVID-19.

The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated existing global inequality, and exposed the results of four decades of neoliberalism, including the privatisation of healthcare, and the undermining of the welfare state in the advanced capitalist countries.

The pandemic death toll is still rising, countries have experienced second and third waves of infection, as governments sacrifice lives to reopen their economies. The media reports on health systems overwhelmed in Italy, Britain and the United States, but less about the crisis in the Global South, where people are literally dying in the streets, and where health systems are collapsing under the weight of the pandemic.

On The Front Lines: Climate Change Threatens the Health of America's Workers

Rights in a Changing Climate: Human Rights Under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change

By staff - Center for International Environmental Law, December 5, 2019

Climate change and human rights are not separate concepts, but rather go hand-in-hand. In line with the increased recognition in human rights bodies, countries around the world, and public discourse, Rights in a Changing Climate demonstrates the fundamental links between human rights and climate change and documents the growing momentum within the UN climate regime to articulate the legally binding duties of States to protect, respect, and promote human rights in the context of the climate crisis.

Rights in a Changing Climate showcases the increasing number of explicit and implicit references to different human rights in climate agreements and policies. It reveals that rights-based action is being discussed with greater frequency and with ever more explicit instructions for how States must incorporate a rights-based approach to climate action.

“The climate crisis is a human rights crisis. This doesn’t change when you step into the halls of the UNFCCC. Over the past decade, we’ve seen increasing momentum behind the integration of human rights and climate change under the UNFCCC,” says Erika Lennon, Senior Attorney at CIEL. “Going forward, human rights must be foundational to all climate action. Incorporating the voices and knowledge of women, youth, Indigenous Peoples, and local communities is vital to ensuring a rights-based approach to climate action and most effectively limiting global temperature rise to below 1.5°C.”

“CIEL’s report provides a vital guidebook for States as they consider their climate action plans and submit revised Nationally Determined Contributions early next year,” says André Weidenhaupt, Director General at the Ministry of the Environment, Climate and Sustainable Development of Luxembourg. “Solving the climate crisis requires the protection of human rights.”

The report concludes with an urgent call to action. “The greatest threat to human rights is climate change itself. As the climate crisis worsens, so do the threats to the realization of human rights. Parties must therefore urgently increase ambition to fulfill their legal obligations under human rights law. To ensure that Parties do not undermine human rights in doing so or act on climate at the expense of the rights of local communities, they should build on this momentum and place human rights at the center of climate action.”

Read the report (PDF).

Working on a warmer planet: The effect of heat stress on productivity and decent work

By Tord Kjellstrom, Nicolas Maître, Catherine Saget, Matthias Otto and Tahmina Karimova - International Labour Organization, July 1, 2019

The phenomenon of heat stress refers to heat received in excess of that which the body can tolerate without physiological impairment. It is one of the major consequences of global warming. By 2030, the equivalent of more than 2 per cent of total working hours worldwide is projected to be lost every year, either because it is too hot to work or because workers have to work at a slower pace. This report shows the impact of heat stress on productivity and decent work for virtually all countries in the world. It presents innovative solutions based on social dialogue to promote occupational safety and health for the most vulnerable groups of workers.

Read the report (Link).

Avoiding “Hothouse Earth”: Organizing Against Climate Catastrophe and Extinction

By BRRN Radical Ecology Committee - Black Rose Anarchist Federation, January 24, 2019

Climate alarms are going off all over Earth, from the devastating wildfires that have raged recently in California to the mass-bleaching of the Great Barrier Reef, the warming of Antarctica from below, and the continued melting of Greenland, even in winter. In August of last year, 2017 was found to be the hottest year on record without an El Niño Southern Oscillation (ENSO) event, a cyclical phenomenon which periodically warms the Pacific Ocean, while the past four years (2018 included) have been the hottest on record.

Aptly summarizing our current predicament, Will Steffen and colleagues published “Trajectories of the Earth System in the Anthropocene” in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) in August 2018. The authors describe the risks posed to the “Earth system” by biosphere degradation and the surpassing of environmental thresholds beyond which feedback loops such as reduced albedo effects (from lost ice and snow cover) and increased emissions (from forest fires, lost phytoplankton, and/or liberated methane) render global warming a self-perpetuating phenomenon. These conditions would result in the irrevocably infernal conditions of an imagined “Hothouse Earth.” (See the image below for a visual representation.) Steffen and colleagues are clear about the implications of this framing: “Collective human action is required to steer the Earth System away from a potential threshold and stabilize it in a habitable interglacial-like state.”

Courtesy Will Steffen et al.

Besides this infamous “Hothouse Earth” paper, several other new studies have illuminated the proverbial sword of Damocles hanging above us: in its October 2018 report, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) concludes that we have at most 12 years to prevent catastrophic climate breakdown, defined as an exceeding of the globally agreed-upon target of an 1.5-2°C (2.7-3.6°F) increase in average global temperatures since the onset of industrial capitalism. Since the pre-industrial age, Earth has warmed by more than 1°C (1.8°F), so we are already on the knife’s edge. As the global temperature rises, risks to humanity and the rest of nature rise in tandem. See the Guardian graphic below for an illustration of some of the relationships between these risks.

In light of such cumulative risks, which the U.S. climatologist Michael Mann has likened to traversing a minefield—“The further out on to that minefield we go, the more explosions we are likely to set off”—the new IPCC report emphasizes the stark terms of the tasks before us.

“To keep warming under 1.5°C, countries will have to cut global CO2 [carbon-dioxide] emissions 45 percent below 2010 levels by 2030 and reach net zero by around 2050, the report found […]. To stay under 1.5°C warming without relying on unproven CO2 removal technology means CO2 emissions must be cut in half by 2030, according to the report.”

What happens to workers when wildfires and natural disasters hit?

By Elizabeth Perry - Work and Climate Change Report, December 8, 2017

Sadly, we are becoming  used to seeing headlines about the costs of fighting climate change-related wildfires, hurricanes, and floods – most recently, the record wildfire season of 2017.   These news reports usually discuss loss  in terms of the value of  insurance  claims – for example, “Northern Alberta Wildfire Costliest Insured Natural Disaster in Canadian History – Estimate of insured losses: $3.58 billion”   from the Insurance Bureau of Canada, or in terms of the budgets of emergency service agencies – for example, “Cost of fighting U.S. wildfires topped $2 billion in 2017” from Reuters (Sept. 14), or in terms of health and mental health effects – for example, “Economic analysis of health effects from forest fires”  in the Canadian Journal of Forest Research (2006).  “The Science behind B.C.’s Forest Fires” (December 5) post by West Coast Environmental Law discusses the links to climate change, and concludes that the record wildfires of 2017 foreshadow growing economic and  human costs in the future.

When employment effects of disasters are reported, it is usually by statistical agencies interested in working days lost or unemployment effects,  for example,  “Wildfires in northern Alberta: Impact on hours worked, May and June, 2016”  from Statistics Canada, or “Hurricane Katrina’s effects on industry employment and wages ” from the Bureau of Labor Statistics ( 2006) . While all these are important, Hurricane Katrina taught that there are also other aspects, including those of environmental and economic justice.

IPCC Report: First Thoughts on Next Steps

By Sydney Azari - Medium, October 14, 2018

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released an ominous report this week driving home an urgent and serious reality:without immediate action to transform society, climate catastrophe will not only be our children’s future, but our own.

The key takeaway from the IPCC report is this: if we do not radically transform every aspect of society starting NOW, we are facing ecological collapse and mass death in the short term. The report does not deeply analyse the geopolitical implications of such widespread environmental upheaval. Since human societies are inseparable from the environment, we know that the precarity resulting from collapsed ecological systems could lead to catastrophic and violent political outcomes as well.

The report has generated a shock through the consciousness of many people- mostly for what is unsaid. The foundation upon which we have built our lives is quickly crumbling. The American Dream, the white picket fence, and retirement will never be ours. It will never be our children’s. It will never be our children’s children’s. We are entering a time of uncertainty and pain that the hustle-and-bustle of everyday life hasn’t left much room to consider. This is a critical turning point, a challenge we must meet head on if we are to survive.

We cannot pretend that climate change does not mean that EVERYTHING we are accustomed to must change in response. Change is inevitable. Pain is inevitable. Uncertainty is inevitable. The outcome is unknown. The only variable that can be manipulated to change outright planetary collapse is our own agency in the situation.

Whether the shock of the report leads us to retreat inward or rise to the challenge will be determined by our capacity to locate meaning in the future and perceive a way toward it. Determining a direction forward is the difference between shock exhausting us or serving as fuel for the long journey ahead.

I hope these tactics can offer a light to draw us from the darkness.

Towards a Progressive Labor Vision for Climate Justice and Energy Transition

By Sean Sweeney and John Treat - Trade Unions for Energy Democracy, June 2, 2017

Discussion document submitted to Labor for Our Revolution (LFOR):

This memorandum proposes an analysis and provisional framework around which to construct an ambitious and effective agenda for progressive labor to respond to the converging environmental crises, and to pursue a rapid, inclusive approach to energy transition and social justice.

Such an agenda could serve to bring a much-needed independent union voice to policy and programmatic debates on climate change and energy within Our Revolution spaces and processes. Labor’s voice in these debates frequently echoes the large energy companies on one side, or the large mainstream environmental NGOs on the other.

Unions that supported Bernie, alongside other union locals and individual leaders and activists who participate in Labor for Our Revolution (LFOR), understand that we cannot afford to regard environmental issues and climate change as peripheral concerns situated outside of labor’s “core agenda.” This is not the place to review the science, but recent assessments from climate scientists, already sobering, have become increasingly grave. The health impacts of rising airborne pollution and warming temperatures already cut short the lives of millions on an annual basis, and will increasingly do so without a major change in direction.

Importantly, a global movement has emerged that today challenges the destructive trajectory of “business as usual.” This is a movement that progressive labor in the US can work with and should support.

Progressive labor can and should articulate a clear alternative to the anti-scientific, “energy superpower” agenda being advanced by Trump—an alternative that can help build and strengthen alliances with the climate and environmental justice movements. Progressive unions are already involved in Labor Network for Sustainability (LNS) and / or Trade Unions for Energy Democracy (TUED); both LNS and TUED bring significant experience and capacity, and can serve as platforms for expanded and accelerated collaboration and programmatic work.

Many would agree that progressive labor’s approach must be science-based and internationalist. It must aspire to be socially and economically transformative, and must be able simultaneously to inspire and mobilize union members, and provide a basis for durable, effective alliances with other social movements. This, then, is our starting point.

At the same time, progressive labor’s approach must recognize that incremental efforts to “move the needle” are no longer sufficient. For this reason, such an approach must also be built around clear programmatic commitments that are evidence-based, grounded in a realistic assessment of the urgency, and commensurate to the task.

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