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Clean Energy Investments for New York State: An Economic Framework for Promoting Climate Stabilization and Expanding Good Job Opportunities

By Robert Pollin, Heidi Garrett-Peltier, and Jeannette Wicks-Lim - Political Economy Research Institute (PERI) - November 2017

This study examines the prospects for transformative clean energy investment projects for New York State. Taken as a whole, these investments should be understood as a major initiative within the state to advance the fundamental goal of global climate stabilization. These investments should be undertaken by both the public and private sectors in New York State, supported by a combination of public investments and incentives for private investors.

This study builds from New York State’s existing Reforming the Energy Vision (REV) project and the New York State Energy Plan, which fleshed out a policy agenda based on the REV project. Governor Andrew Cuomo first presented the REV program in April 2014 and reaffirmed New York State’s commitments in June 2017. The primary goals of the REV program, which are targeted to be achieved by 2030 in New York State, include: 1) a 40 percent reduction in all greenhouse gas emissions; 2) generating 50 percent of all electricity from renewable energy sources; and 3) achieving a 23 percent improvement in energy efficiency in buildings relative to the 2012 level.

The REV goals and the State Energy Plan are unquestionably significant starting points for advancing clean energy policies in New York State. But they are not adequate to enable the state to achieve emissions reduction goals that meet the challenges we face with global climate change. As such, this study works from a more ambitious set of goals, both in terms of emissions reductions and in achieving broader positive impacts with respect to expanding job opportunities and raising living standards throughout New York State.

The first specific aim on which we focus in this study is to achieve, by 2030, a 50 percent reduction below the 1990 level in all human-caused CO2 emissions in New York State, along with comparable reductions in methane emissions resulting from natural gas extraction.

The second, equally important, goal is to achieve the 2030 CO2 emission reduction standard while also expanding job opportunities and raising average living standards throughout New York State. The expansion of clean energy investments will need to focus on 1) dramatically improving energy efficiency standards in New York’s stock of buildings, automobiles and public transportation systems, and industrial production processes; and 2) equally dramatically expanding the supply of clean renewable energy sources—primarily wind, solar, and geothermal power—available at competitive prices to all sectors of New York State’s economy.

In addition to these goals for 2030, this study also explores the prospects for achieving the longer-term aim of bringing CO2 emissions in New York State down to zero by 2050, while, again, concurrently expanding job opportunities and raising average living standards throughout the state.

Read the Report (PDF).

100% renewables: ‘wishful thinking’ or an imperative goal?

By David Schwartzman - Insurge Intelligence, October 24, 2017

In this essay, I was provoked to respond to Stan Cox’s widely-shared article “100 Percent Wishful Thinking: The Green-Energy Cornucopia”, in which he argues that a transition to 100% renewable energy is neither technically feasible, nor desirable.

It is my contention, in contrast, that a 100 percent global renewable energy transition is, indeed, technically possible in a short time frame (20 to 30 years) with a capacity to supply the same level or even more energy to civilization, than the present infrastructure dominated by fossil fuels.

However, this outcome is unlikely in our present economic context:

Insight 1: This renewable energy transition is not likely to bear fruition within the constraints of market capitalism as we know it. Further, a process forward for global demilitarization is a necessary condition to prevent climate catastrophe with its requirement of near future decarbonization of energy supplies.

Axiom 1: Not only is the Pentagon is the world’s single, biggest insitutional consumer of fossil fuels, but global military expenditures now approach $2 trillion per year.

Cox denies the feasibility of a 100% renewable energy transition, basing his views on very problematic critiques focusing largely on the technical aspects of the Jacobson group studies. Those studies led by Mark Jacobson of Stanford University recently provoked controversy when their work received peer-reviewed criticisms from a scientific paper published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences — the same esteemed forum which published Jacobson’s original work.

I agree with Cox in his skepticism with regard to the achievability of a robust global 100% renewable transition unfolding in the next few decades — but only if fossil capital and its military protectors continue to have a powerful role in determining climate and energy policy especially in the U.S.

The Military Industrial (Fossil Fuel Nuclear State Terror and Surveillance) Complex (“MIC” for short) is the main obstacle to making this rapid shift to 100% renewable energy possible. As I have long argued in my papers, and most recently in Schwartzman (2016), the MIC’s perpetual wars driven by a neo-imperial agenda, fuelling the vicious cycle of conflict between state terror and its non-state terrorist antagonists, is perhaps the most fundamental obstacle to constructive action on climate change.

Hence, a path towards the dissolution of the MIC is essential for the world to have any remaining chance to keep warming below the 1.5 degrees Celsius goal by 2100, coupled with bringing down the atmospheric carbon dioxide level below 350 ppm.

A Global Green New Deal is such a path (Schwartzman, 2011), as argued by Felix FitzRoy in his outstanding contribution to this symposium “How the renewable energy transition could usher in an economic revolution”.

Trade unions in the UK engagement with climate change

By Catherine Hookes - Campaign against Climate Change Trade Union Group, August 15, 2017

Despite being faced with many immediate battles to fight, it is to the credit of many trade unions that they are also addressing the long term wellbeing of their members, and of future generations, by introducing policies to tackle climate change. A new report providing the first ever overview of the climate change policies of 17 major UK trade unions could help raise wider awareness of this important work.

The author, Catherine Hookes, is studying for a masters degree at Lund University, Sweden, and her research drew on a comprehensive web review of policies in these unions, going into more depth for many of the unions, interviewing key figures and activists. The research was facilitated by the Campaign against Climate Change.

For anyone within the trade union movement concerned about climate change (or for campaigners wishing to engage with trade unions on these issues) this report is of practical use in understanding the context, the diversity of different trade unions' approaches, and the progress that has been made in the campaign for a just transition to a low carbon economy.

While every attempt was made to ensure the report is comprehensive, and accurately reflects union positions, there are clearly controversies and different viewpoints over issues such as fracking and aviation. Trade unions with members in carbon intensive industries will always have a challenging task in addressing climate change, but their engagement in this issue is vital. And, of course, this is a rapidly changing field. It is very encouraging that since the report was written, Unison has voted to campaign for pension fund divestment. This is an important step in making local authority pension funds secure from the risk (both financial and moral) of fossil fuel investment.

Anyone attending TUC congress this September is welcome to join us at our fringe meeting, 'Another world is possible: jobs and a safe climate', to take part in the ongoing discussion on the role of trade unions in tackling climate change.

Read the text (PDF).

Reversing Inequality, Combatting Climate Change: A Climate Jobs Program for New York State

By J. Muin Cha, Ph.D. and Lara Skinner, Ph.D.- The Worker Institute - June 2017

Economic inequality in New York is rising. Currently, the state has the second highest level of economic inequality in the country. Unequal job growth across the state and stagnant wages in several sectors are two of the main contributors to rising inequality. While the state overall has seen several years of employment growth, there are stronger employment gains in New York City than in other parts of the state still suffering from job losses and stagnant employment levels. Additionally, in many sectors, such as construction and manufacturing, wages are not increasing at the same pace as inflation, leaving many workers with paychecks that fail to cover basic household costs.

At the same time, New York is falling far short of its necessary greenhouse gas pollution reductions. To stop catastrophic climate change, global greenhouse gas emissions must be reduced at least 80 percent below 1990 levels by 2050, which would require four times the current annual emissions reduction rate. By 2050, New York State’s emissions must be only a fraction of what they are now to meet the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s targets set to prevent irreversible damage. We are far from that target. In the transportation sector, emissions are actually increasing and energy sector emissions may also be increasing given likely underestimation of methane emissions from natural gas.

New York State can take action now to protect New Yorkers from the worst effects of climate change, and do our part in reducing global emissions, while also fighting against growing economic inequality. Extreme weather, such as Hurricanes Irene and Sandy, is predicted to become more the norm, not the exception. These recent extreme weather events highlighted New York’s deep inequality: some could afford to leave the city or move into hotels when their residences flooded while others were left stranded.

Adopting a bold and aggressive plan to invest in climate-addressing infrastructure can be an important step towards simultaneously addressing the crises of inequality and climate change head on and position New York as a national leader in charting the path to a low-carbon, equitable economy. The recommendations presented below aim to create good, high-road jobs that provide familysustaining wages and benefits for communities across the state. These proposals could also result in meaningful emissions reductions and put New York on the path to building an equitable clean-energy economy that can work for all New Yorkers. The authors hope this report helps spark additional research and policy development on how to simultaneously reduce greenhouse gas emissions and reverse inequality by protecting workers and creating good, family-sustaining jobs in new lowcarbon sectors. Future research, in particular, could perform a detailed analysis of the cost of job creation strategies in low-carbon sectors, how to finance these strategies, and a cost-benefit analysis that includes the cost of potential job loss and reduced economic activity in high-carbon sectors.

Read the Report (Link).

Green Jobs and Intergenerational Justice: Trump’s Climate Order Undermines Both

By Dana Drugmand - Common Dreams, March 30, 2017

With the stroke of a pen, President Trump has written off both the biggest economic development opportunity of the twenty-first century, and the security of today’s young people, future generations and the other species inhabiting this planet. Or so it seems.

The White House’s “Energy Independence Executive Order” is clearly a blow to the progress made under the Obama Administration to fight climate change and transition from fossil fuels to a clean energy economy. The new Order aims to rescind the Clean Power Plan, lift a moratorium on coal mining on federal land and roll back regulations on methane emissions from oil and gas fields. It comes on the heels of Trump’s official approval of the controversial Keystone XL pipeline. These actions are supposedly meant to boost jobs, but the only thing they actually boost is the already enormous share of fossil fuel profits.

A review of the numbers indicates that this is indeed not about jobs. Keystone XL, for example, would result in only 35 long-term jobs post-construction, according to State Department analysis. By contrast, the wind power industry employed 88,000 Americans at the start of 2016, and wind power technician is now the fastest growing profession in the nation. In electric power generation, solar provides more jobs than coal, oil and natural gas combined. According to an Environmental Defense Fund report, both solar and wind jobs are growing at a rate 12 times faster than the rest of the U.S. economy. In almost every state, there are now more jobs in the clean energy sector than in fossil fuels. For a president that claims to be so intent on creating jobs, ignoring renewables and energy efficiency in favor of fossil fuel exploitation is simply irrational.

It is also completely irresponsible and immoral. Intergenerational equity tends to be overlooked in the climate change conversation, yet it is an important dimension of the issue. Decision-makers have spent decades expanding the fossil fuel economy and running up a huge carbon debt – and their children and grandchildren will be forced to foot the bill. According to a 2016 report by Demos and NextGen Climate, failing to make steep cuts in emissions will cost the Millennial generation nearly $8.8 trillion in lost lifetime income. Beyond this financial implication, exacerbating climate change threatens the very survival of future generations and most other life on Earth. According to famed climate scientist Dr. James Hansen, the climate crisis implies “young people and future generations inheriting a situation in which grave consequences are assured,” and it “requires urgent change to our energy and carbon pathway to avoid dangerous consequences for young people and other life on Earth.” But instead of changing course, the Trump Administration’s fossil fuel frenzy in effect mortgages the future of my generation and those to follow.

Of course this all-out assault on clean air, clean water, and a stable climate will not go unchallenged. Citizens and activists are already gearing up to fight back in the streets and in the courts. One lawsuit in particular pits the federal government and fossil fuel industry against a group of youth plaintiffs, with a trial expected later this year that observers are billing as “the trial of the century.” And following in the spirit and scope of the Women’s March, tens of thousands of people will gather in Washington DC and other cities on April 29th to take part in the People’s Climate March.

State and local governments are also taking action to move forward on addressing the climate crisis. Maryland lawmakers just passed a bill to ban fracking, which the state’s Republican governor is slated to sign. A handful of states in the northeast and on the West Coast currently have pending legislation to implement a fee on carbon pollution. Hawaii has a mandate for 100 percent clean energy electricity by 2045. Municipalities all across the country are taking steps to slash carbon and transition quickly to entirely renewable energy. These and other initiatives become ever more important in this alarming age of science skepticism and “alternative facts.”

What this all comes down to is a power struggle between the ruling elite class of billionaires and the greater populace. Ultimately the authority to govern is derived from the people. We can and must use our collective people power to counter the greed of the fossil fuel industry and the big money polluting our politics. Most importantly, we must continue to fight and refuse to give up.

The Ouarzazate Solar Plant in Morocco: Triumphal 'Green' Capitalism and the Privatization of Nature

By Hamza Hamouchene - Jadaliyya, March 23, 2016

Ouarzazate is a beautiful town in south-central Morocco, well worth visiting. It is an important holiday destination and has been nicknamed the "door of the desert." It is also known as a famed location for international filmmaking, where films such as Lawrence of Arabia (1962), The Mummy (1999), Gladiator (2000), and Kingdom of Heaven (2005) were shot, as was part of the television series Game of Thrones. That is not all what Ouarzazate has to offer as its name has recently been associated with a solar mega-project that is supposedly going to end Morocco's dependency on energy imports, provide electricity to more than a million Moroccans, and put the country on a “green path.”

If we were to believe the makhzen's (a term that refers to the king and the ruling elite around him) narrative, recycled without nuance or critical reflection by most media outlets in the region and in the West, the project is very good news and a big step toward reducing carbon emissions and tackling climate change. However, there is space for scepticism. One recent example of such deceptive talking points was the official celebratory announcements of a "historic" agreement at the COP21 in Paris.

My recent visit to Ouarzazate has prompted me to deconstruct the dominant narrative around this project. In particular, to scratch beneath the surface of the language of "cleanliness," "shininess," and "carbon emission cuts" in order to observe and scrutinize the materiality of solar energy. This analysis examines the project through the lens of the creation of a new commodity chain, revealing its effects as no different from the destructive mining activities taking place in southern Morocco. As Timothy Mitchell argues, analyzing this materiality of such a project can help us trace the kinds of economic and political arrangements that particular forms of energy engender or hinder (Timothy Mitchell 2011).

Last year, I wrote a critique and an assessment of the Desertec solar project, advancing arguments for why it failed and why it was misguided from the start. A similar approach is necessary to understand the political and socio-environmental implications of what is currently being dubbed the largest solar plant in the world. Actually, most of the arguments made in the Desertec piece still stand. The purpose here is not to be gratuitously harsh or cynical, but to raise a few important questions and points in order to contribute an alternative perspective to the hype surrounding existing media coverage.

What seems to unite all the reports and articles written about the solar plant is a deeply erroneous assumption that any move toward renewable energy is to be welcomed. And that any shift from fossil fuels, regardless of how it is carried out, will help us to avert climate chaos. One needs to say it clearly from the start: the climate crisis we are currently facing is not attributable to fossil fuels per se, but rather to their unsustainable and destructive use in order to fuel the capitalist machine. In other words, capitalism is the culprit, and if we are serious in our endeavors to tackle the climate crisis (only one facet of the multi-dimensional crisis of capitalism), we cannot elude questions of radically changing our ways of producing and distributing things, our consumption patterns and fundamental issues of equity and justice. It follows from this that a mere shift from fossil fuels to renewable energy, while remaining in the capitalist framework of commodifying and privatizing nature for the profits of the few, will not solve the problem. In fact, if we continue down this path we will only end up exacerbating, or creating another set of problems, around issues of ownership of land and natural resources.

Well, If You Ask Me: The Sun's Going Down in Nevada

By Dano T. Bob - IWW Environmental Unionism Caucus, January 30, 2016

Boy, the state government and utility commission of Nevada sure know how to kill some jobs! In the most recent installment of the corporate fossil fuel utility attack on renewable energy, Nevada just pulled the plug on viable Net Metering for solar energy, thus all but killing the nascent solar industry there.

Here’s the word from GreenTech Media on the decision from December:

“The Nevada Public Utility Commission voted unanimously in favor of a new solar tariff structure on Tuesday that industry groups say will destroy the Nevada solar market, one of the fastest-growing markets in the country.

The decision increases the fixed service charge for net-metered solar customers, and gradually lowers compensation for net excess solar generation from the retail rate to the wholesale rate for electricity, over the next four years. The changes will take effect on January 1 and will apply retroactively to all net-metered solar customers.

The broad application of the policy sets a precedent for future net-metering and rate-design debates. To date, no other state considering net-metering reforms has proposed to implement changes on pre-existing customers that would take effect right away. Changes are typically grandfathered in over a decade or more.

“While the people of Nevada have consistently chosen solar, the state government today decided to take that choice from them, and damage the state’s economy,” said SolarCity CEO Lyndon Rive.

In July, NV Energy proposed reducing the net-metering credit by roughly half — to 5.5 cents per kilowatt-hour from the current 11.6 cents — to better reflect the cost of serving solar customers. The plan would have established a three-part structure made up of a monthly basic service charge, a demand charge and an energy charge.

According to The Alliance for Solar Choice (TASC), NV Energy’s proposed rate would amount to a $40 monthly fee for most solar customers, who typically save $11 to $15 per month on their electricity bills, thereby eliminating all savings.”

As a radical, I can’t say I love SolarCity particularly. As Elon Musk’s cousins venture into the solar economy, it is a leasing based model instead of ownership, with lots of the benefits going to the company with a lesser upfront cost to customers for installation.

But, “green” jobs are “green” jobs and the solar market in sunny Nevada was booming! Whatever the faults of Solar City’s capitalist owners, it’s the solar workers who’re suffering at the hands of this policy change.

Retraining Investment for U.S. Transition from Coal to Solar Photovoltaic Employment

Edward P. Louie and Joshua M. Pearce - Energy Economics, 2016

Although coal remains the largest source of electricity in the U.S., a combination of factors is driving a decrease in profitability and employment in the coal-sector. Meanwhile, the solar photovoltaic (PV) industry is growing rapidly in the U.S. and generating many jobs that represent employment opportunities for laid off coal workers. In order to determine the viability of a smooth transition from coal to PV-related employment, this paper provides an analysis of the cost to retrain current coal workers for solar photovoltaic industry employment in the U.S. The current coal industry positions are determined, the skill set evaluated and the salaries tabulated. For each type of coal position, the closest equivalent PV position is determined and then the re-training time and investment are quantified. These values are applied on a state-by-state basis for coal producing states employing the bulk of coal workers as a function of time using a reverse seniority retirement program for the current American fleet of coal-powered plants. The results show that a relatively minor investment in retraining would allow the vast majority of coal workers to switch to PV-related positions even in the event of the elimination of the coal industry.

Read the report (PDF).

From Climate Crisis to Solar Communism

By David Schwartzman - Jacobin, December 1, 2015

IWW EUC Note: readers should be aware that the term "communism" here does not mean "bureaucratic state capitalism", and can be inclusive of ecosocialism, post-scarcity-anarchism, and/or green syndicalism (depending on one's implementation of the ideas discussed here):

The proposals elites are offering at COP21 wouldn’t halt climate change. What would a socialist solution look like?

Jacobin Editor's Note: Leaders from 147 countries have assembled in Paris for COP 21, the most important climate summit since the 2009 Copenhagen meeting. But climate justice activists worry the result will be the same: platitudes and handwringing, with no firm commitment from Global North countries to drastically curb carbon emissions.

What, then, would a just solution look like?

David Schwartzman, a biogeochemist and professor emeritus at Howard University, has been thinking and writing about climate and energy issues for many years. He recently spoke with Jacobin about the state of the climate crisis, the connection between global warming and the military-industrial complex, and why “the communist horizon in the twenty-first century, if there is to be one, will be solar communist.”

What is the current consensus on the climate crisis?

According to Climate Interactive — a major monitor of climate change — based on public commitments from the major carbon-emitting countries, projected warming by 2100 will be 3.5°C (6.3°F), or 1.5°C above the 2°C warming limit (above the pre-industrial global temperature) agreed upon at the 2010 Cancun Climate Change Conference. The United Nations now gives a somewhat lower projected warming of 2.7°C (4.9°F).

Moreover, some leading climate scientists now think that even the 2 degree limit is too high. For example, NASA climate scientist Jim Hansen describes the 2 degree limit as a “prescription for disaster” because of projected impacts such as sea level rise and acidification of the ocean. His assessment is reinforced by a newly published study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. This evidence reinforces the long-term demand of many poor countries for a 1.5 degree limit.

What about fossil-fuel reduction? Is that making an impact?

Roughly 60 percent of greenhouse gas emissions come from fossil-fuel use, with coal, natural gas (due to methane leakage into the atmosphere), and tar sands oil having the highest carbon footprint. Conventional liquid oil has the lowest carbon footprint, about three-fourths that of coal. (The other greenhouse gases derived from human activity include nitrous oxide, the breakdown product of nitrate fertilizer, with methane also coming from agriculture.)

China is the world’s leading carbon emitter, almost double that of the second-place United States.

The big three — China, the US, and the European Union —produce 55 percent of global carbon dioxide emissions. China has committed to leveling off its emissions by 2030 (using carbon emission trading), while the US promises to reduce its greenhouse emissions 26–28 percent by 2025 relative to 2005 emissions.

As Naomi Klein has recently argued — citing the assessment of the Tyndall Centre for Climate Research — the US goal falls far short of what is required for even the 2-degree goal, which would require reductions of at least 8 to 10 percent per year.

Projected warming, in combination with lackluster efforts to cut emissions, has created an imminent crisis. This is the reality check for serious activists. Any remaining possibility of keeping warming below 2°C will require rapid and radical cuts in global carbon emissions — starting with the fossil fuels with the highest carbon footprint — and the simultaneous creation of a viable global wind and solar power infrastructure.

EcoUnionist News #32

Compiled by x344543 - IWW Environmental Unionism Caucus, February 10, 2015

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

The following news items feature issues, discussions, campaigns, or information potentially relevant to green unionists:

Lead Stories:

USW Refinery Workers Strike News:

Rail Safety:

Carbon Bubble:

Green Jobs and Just Transition:

Global Anti-Capitalism:

An Injury to One is an Injury to All!:

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