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decarbonization

Decarbonizing energy intensive industries: what are the risks and opportunities for jobs?

Multiplying Labor's Power

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.

A Child Shall Lead Them: to Heat Pumps for Europe

By staff - Labor Network for Sustainability, June 2022

While the Russian military continues to devastate Ukraine and the US sends billions for military aid to Ukraine, European countries continue to support the Russian war effort by purchasing Russian oil and gas. Meanwhile, fossil fuel companies reap a bonanza on shortages that are impoverishing American consumers at the gasoline pump. And even as climate catastrophe is causing still more devastating heatwaves, droughts, and floods those companies are planning to expand fossil fuel production to exploit the Ukraine crisis still more.

Why not starve the Russian war machine by a crash program to replace fossil fuels with renewable energy? Among those asking that question is Lillian Fortuna, an 11-year-old activist who started this petition to President Joe Biden:

Dear President Biden:

Right now your administration is taking advice from big fossil fuel companies regarding what to do about Europe’s dependency on Russian oil and gas. These companies want to increase production of natural gas here and ship it to Europe as a replacement for Russian gas, which, surprise, happens to be enormously profitable for them. Sadly, your administration has granted more drilling leases than the Trump administration just as data has emerged showing the industry was undercounting its methane emissions by 70%. It is really surprising that you are choosing this solution instead of using this moment as an opportunity to help Europe switch to ever-cleaner electricity, which is what will really undercut Putin’s power. Environmentalist Bill McKibben has an amazing plan to do just that.

We are writing to ask you to immediately invoke the Defense Production Act to get American manufacturers to start producing electric heat pumps in quantity, so we can ship them to Europe where they can be installed in time to dramatically lessen Putin’s power.

To read and sign the full petition: https://www.change.org/p/joseph-r-biden-stop-putin-by-sending-heat-pumps-to-europe

To read Bill McKibben’s “Heat Pumps for Peace and Freedom”: https://billmckibben.substack.com/p/heat-pumps-for-peace-and-freedom?s=r

AFT and UAW Call for Electric School Buses

As Illinois Coal Jobs Disappear, Some Are Looking to the Sun

By Kari Lydersen - In These Times, May 26, 2022

While Illinois phases out coal, clean energy jobs hold promise—both for displaced coal workers, and those harmed by the fossil fuel economy.

Matt Reuscher was laid off a decade ago from Peabody Energy’s Gateway coal mine in Southern Illinois, in the midst of a drought that made the water needed to wash the coal too scarce and caused production to drop, as he remembers it.

Reuscher’s grandfather and two uncles had been miners, and his father — a machinist — did much work with the mines. Like many young men in Southern Illinois, it was a natural career choice for Reuscher. Still in his early 20s when he was laid off, Reuscher ​“spent that summer doing odds and ends, not really finding much of anything I enjoyed doing as much as being underground.”

By fall of 2012, he started working installing solar panels for StraightUp Solar, one of very few solar companies operating in the heart of Illinois coal country. He heard about the job through a family friend and figured he’d give it a try since he had a construction background. He immediately loved the work, and he’s become an evangelist for the clean energy shift happening nationwide, if more slowly in Southern Illinois. With colleagues, he fundraised to install solar panels in tiny villages on the Miskito Coast of Nicaragua, and he became a solar electrician and worked on StraightUp Solar installations powering the wastewater treatment center and civic center in Carbondale, Illinois — a town named for coal. 

Solar installation pays considerably less than coal mining, Reuscher acknowledges, but he feels it’s a safer and healthier way to support his family — including two young sons who love the outdoors as much as he does. 

“You work with people who are really conscious about the environment. That rubs off on me and then rubs off on them,” Reuscher notes, referring to his sons.

Illinois has more than a dozen coal mines and more than a dozen coal-fired power plants that are required to close or reach zero carbon emissions by 2030 (for privately-owned plants) or 2045 (for the state’s two publicly-owned plants), though most will close much sooner due to market forces. Reaching zero carbon emissions would entail complete carbon capture and sequestration, which has not been achieved at commercial scale anywhere in the United States. 

Coal mines also frequently lay off workers, as the industry is in financial duress, though Illinois coal is bolstered by a healthy export market. A ​“just transition” — which refers to providing jobs and opportunities for workers and communities impacted by the decline of fossil fuels — has been an increasing priority of environmental movements nation-wide, and was a major focus of Illinois’ 2021 Climate and Equitable Jobs Act (CEJA). The idea is that people long burdened by fossil fuel pollution and dependent on fossil fuel economies should benefit from the growth of clean energy. Reuscher’s story is a perfect example. 

But in Illinois, as nationally, his transition is a rarity. Solar and other clean energy jobs have more often proven not to be an attractive or accessible option for former coal workers. And advocates and civic leaders have prioritized a broader and also difficult goal: striving to provide clean energy opportunities for not only displaced fossil fuel workers, but for those who have been harmed by fossil fuels or left out of the economic opportunities fossil fuels provided.

Two enemies, one fight: climate disaster and frightful energy bills

By Simon Pirani - People and Nature, May 16, 2022

Two clouds darken the sky. A close-up one: gas and electricity bills have shot up since the Russian invasion of Ukraine, and millions of families are struggling to pay. And a bigger, darker, higher one: the climate disaster, and politicians’ refusal to tackle it.

Ultimately, both these threats have a single cause: fossil fuels and the systems of wealth and power that depend on them. We need social movements to link the fight to protect families from unaffordable bills with the fight to move beyond fossil fuels, and in that way turn back global warming.

Here I suggest ways to develop such a movement in the UK, starting by demanding action on home heating.

As California Considers Dropping Fossil Fuels from Major Pension Funds, New Report Calls Out ‘Misinformation’ on Costs

By Sharon Kelly - DeSmog, May 13, 2022

CalPERS and CalSTRS, which oppose fossil fuel divestment legislation, have “wildly exaggerated” divestment costs, according to Fossil Free California’s latest report.

A newly published report by Fossil Free California finds California’s pension fund managers are circulating divestment “misinformation” by exaggerating the costs involved in shedding their fossil fuel investments in documents prepared for state lawmakers.

California lawmakers are currently considering Senate Bill 1173 (SB-1173), California’s Fossil Fuel Divestment Act, which would require the California Public Employees’ Retirement System (CalPERS) and the California State Teachers’ Retirement System (CalSTRS), to stop investing in fossil fuels before the decade is out. The move would impact billions of dollars currently invested in oil, gas, or coal on behalf of California’s teachers, firefighters, and other public employees.

The report titled “Hyperbole in the Hearings” found that the pension “funds have wildly exaggerated losses from past divestments” like those involving tobacco, firearms, and some forms of coal. It concludes that CalPERS and CalSTRS estimates for costs associated with fossil fuel divestment are also exaggerated.

Extraordinary sums of money, invested on behalf of California’s public employees and teachers, are on the line. The two pension funds have estimated holdings of $7.4 billion and $4.1 billion respectively in fossil fuel investments that would need to be divested if the law went into effect. 

REPORT: Canadian pension fund investment managers’ entanglement with fossil fuel industry raises conflict of interest concerns

By Adam Scott and Patrick DeRochie - Shift Network, May 5, 2022

New analysis finds 80 Canadian pension managers with 124 different roles at 76 fossil fuel companies, raising questions from beneficiaries about fiduciary duty and pension administrators’ potential conflicts of interest on climate-related investment decisions. 

Shift Action for Pension Wealth and Planet Health’s May 2022 report, Canada’s Climate-Conflicted Pension Managers: The Oil and Gas Insiders Overseeing Canadians’ Retirement Savings, reveals the deep entanglement between the fossil fuel industry and directors, trustees and investment managers at Canada’s largest public pension funds. 

The overlap raises serious questions from beneficiaries about their pension administrators’ ability to objectively manage climate-related financial risks and make critical climate-related investment decisions – when the pension administrators are so deeply entangled with an industry whose products are the primary cause of the climate crisis, whose bottom line depends on the continued production of climate-damaging products, and that has a long and ongoing legacy of obstructing efforts to cut carbon pollution.

The analysis finds that among Canada’s ten largest pension funds, which together manage more than $2 trillion in assets:

  • 80 different pension directors, trustees, executives and senior staff currently hold or previously held 124 different roles with 76 different fossil fuel companies. 

  • This includes nine current pension fund directors or trustees that currently hold 13 roles on the board of directors of 12 different fossil fuel companies, and 56 senior staff or investment managers at pension funds who hold 76 different corporate director roles at 39 different fossil fuel companies. 

  • Seven of the ten pension funds have at least one board member who simultaneously sits on the board of a fossil fuel company. 

  • In some cases, over a quarter of the pension fund’s board has direct connections to the oil and gas industry.

The best long-term interests of pension fund beneficiaries are not aligned with the financial interests of shareholders of fossil fuel companies. A pension director who is also a corporate director of a fossil fuel company could find themself with real or perceived conflicts of interest between their fiduciary duty to invest in the best long-term interests of pension beneficiaries, and their simultaneous legal obligation to act in the financial interests of the fossil fuel company on whose board they sit.

Press Release

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Workers and Communities in Transition: Virtual Discussion on the Just Transition Listening Project

By J. Mijin Cha, Vivian Price, Dimitris Stevis, and Todd E. Vachon - Labor Network for Sustainability, May 3, 2022

The Center for Global Work and Employment, Labor Education Action Research Network (LEARN) and Center for Environmental Justice at Colorado State University have recently sponsored a virtual discussion on the Just Transition Listening Project (JTLP)’s 2021 report Workers and Communities in Transition. You can watch the recording online on LEARN-TV.

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