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‘Just transition’ bill for oil industry workers exposes labor rift

By Jesse Bedayn - Cal Matters, February 17, 2022

A leading environmental lawmaker has proposed a bill that would create a state fund to support and retrain thousands of oil industry workers as California tries to phase out fossil fuel production.

The idea of guiding California’s 112,000 oil industry workers out of their current field and into other careers is often referred to as “just transition,” and is considered by policy researchers a necessary step to counter job losses as the state strives to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. 

But even with a Democratic supermajority in the state Legislature, such a proposal faces an uphill battle because it’s pitting unions against unions.

Community and environmental groups say the state should start moving half the industry’s workforce out of oil fields, refineries and plants now in order to meet California’s goal of cutting 40% greenhouse gas emission by 2030. But a union that represents a portion of these workers has opposed efforts in the past. 

The State Building and Construction Trades Council of California – known as the Trades – which represents labor groups that include Ironworkers, electrical workers and Teamsters, worry about losing good-paying jobs. Last year, The Trades opposed a bill that would have prevented oil drilling near schools and communities, citing job losses. 

This time, however, the Trades is being countered by another group of unions including steelworkers, municipal workers and teachers. Although the current bill doesn’t specify an amount, those unions hope the state will dedicate $470 million annually for wage subsidies and training to help workers move into the growing green energy sector. 

Trades leaders say that beginning to dismantle the industry now will only push workers into lower-paid jobs. Instead, Trades officials say, the state should invest in big-ticket infrastructure projects such as high-speed rail and offshore wind projects that will create comparable jobs to what workers have been doing for decades.

Assemblymember Al Muratsuchi’s bill exposes a rift among labor unions on how the state should address the transition to a green economy at a time of growing income inequality and fewer well-paying jobs for middle-class workers. 

It also puts labor’s main organizing body, California Labor Federation, in an uncomfortable position after Steelworkers requested that the organization convene “labor to labor” talks on the subject. Both sides say talks haven’t happened yet.

Richmond Progressive Alliance Listening Project, Episode 5: Asthma Club

Jobs, Justice, and a Livable Earth!

By CJ Lapointe - London Left Green Blog, February 11, 2022

The overwhelming majority of the world’s scientists agree, highlighted in the UN IPCC reports, that global warming/climate change is an urgent threat to the environment, which needs emergency action to cut greenhouse emissions in half by the end of the decade. 

However, the failure of the 2021 UN climate summit, COP26, to take real leadership in addressing the crisis shows capitalism’s inability to put the planet and human life before profit. In fact, countries like the U.S. and China are ramping up the use of fossil fuels, as competition between the two imperialist nations for markets and resources drives extractive industries for coal, petroleum, and rare minerals.

Competition over markets by competing imperialist powers puts an undue burden on the global South, which faces the worst effects of climate change. Instead of reparations in the billions of dollars, countries in Africa, for example, will face deeper environmental racism through exploitation of their labor and resources, and the destruction of air, land, and water.

Daniel Tanuro, agronomist and eco-socialist author writes in his assessment of COP26, “The issue of loss and damage is even more explosive by far. Take the example of Somalia. It has contributed to 0.00026% of historical climate change … but is suffering repeated droughts, clearly attributable to warming. In 2020, 2.9 million people were severely food insecure. International aid is highly insufficient. Kenya, Ethiopia, Sudan and Uganda are experiencing the same drama.”

Tanuro continues, “Who will pay? And who will pay for future disasters? The NGO Christian Aid estimates that, with unchanged policies, climate change will cause the GDP of the poorest countries to fall by 19.6 per cent by 2050 and 63.9 per cent as an annual average by 2100. 

If we limit the temperature rise to 1.5°C, these figures would be -13.1 percent and -33.1 percent respectively. The bill for losses and damages will quickly rise to several thousand billion. The principle of financing by rich countries is enshrined in the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, but imperialist governments plainly refuse to respect it. Period.”

People living in one third of the counties in the United States experienced climate change-driven billion-dollar catastrophes with high death tolls such as arctic temperatures in Texas, Hurricane Ida, and California wildfires. Most of them are working families with a disproportionate number from Black, Indigenous, Latino, and other oppressed communities. 

One of the most recent climate-related tragedies occurred in the U.S. in December as tornadoes ripped through Kentucky and Illinois. A heartbreaking scene played out when six died at an Amazon facility and eight died at a candle-making factory in each of the respective states. Workers’ text messages reveal that the companies refused to allow their workers to leave for safety.

John Leslie, a retired union carpenter and writer for SR News reported, “According to the National Climate Assessment, ‘Some extreme weather and climate events have increased in recent decades, and new and stronger evidence confirms that some of these increases are related to human activities.’ 

Workers' want more government action on climate change, TUC poll finds

By Matt Trinder - Morning Star, February 10, 2022

Working people want more government action on climate change but only a quarter believe that plans from Tory ministers will create many new green jobs in their local area, a TUC poll finds.

Today’s research, published ahead of next week’s release of official statistics on jobs in Britain’s green industries, suggests that 86 per cent of workers support the transition to a low-carbon economy.

The vast majority — 78 per cent — agree that the government should invest in retraining and reskilling people to achieve this, with 3 per cent objecting.

But just 26 per cent think that ministers are doing enough to make the necessary changes, compared to four in 10 who believe the government’s response has been inadequate.

Two in three feel it is important that their employer is actively helping to tackle climate change, but only a third say bosses are addressing the issue.

And just 13 per cent report being given the opportunity to participate in making the business they work for greener, despite 71 per cent wanting management to consult them.

The proportion left out of the loop drops to one in 10 for those earning less than £29,000 a year.   

TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said:  “Changing our economy and society to deal with climate change gives us the chance to create millions of new, good, green jobs.

“Workers are ready, but ministers are doing nowhere near enough to create good new jobs and future-proof the industries that are delivering good jobs now.

“Workers and unions are coming together to innovate and create worker-led decarbonisation plans.

“Ministers and employers need to get with the programme — and deliver the just transition we all need.”

Workers Can’t Wait: Just Transition Now – Building Global Labour Power For Climate Justice

A Green New Deal for Transportation: Establishing New Federal Investment Priorities to Build Just and Sustainable Communities

By Yonah Freemark, Billy Fleming, Caitlin McCoy, Rennie Meyers, Thea Riofrancos, Xan Lillehei, and Daniel Aldana Cohen - Climate and Community Project, February 2022

The transportation system is the connective tissue that transforms pockets of communities into a networked society. It links home, school, work, and play. It drives economic growth, social mobility, and employment opportunities. 

The transportation sector currently emits more carbon pollution than any other sector in the US economy. The automobiles we drive, the trucks, trains, and ships that deliver our goods, the airline flights we take, and other transportation activities account for about 28 percent of US greenhouse gas emissions. The passage of President Biden’s Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act is replete with new funding for state and local highway expansion, and seems likely to further exacerbate the sector’s emissions. More than 120 years after electric vehicles briefly achieved popularity in the 1900s, petroleum products still power over 91 percent of today’s transportation system. Americans collectively drive more than three trillion vehicle miles per year, most of those as a single driver in an automobile. Life in the United States is organized around personal automobiles powered by petroleum. For a Green New Deal in transportation to be possible, that has to change. A climate-safe future requires a swift and just decarbonization of the transportation sector, a major expansion of public and active transportation, and the parallel decarbonization of the electricity sector.

Transportation often exacerbates social inequity and racial injustice within and between communities. Its infrastructure speeds the movement of those who are better off, to the detriment of those who are most in need. In far too many communities, governments, planners, and engineers prioritize vehicles over people and efficiency in travel time at the cost of quality of life. Choices made by elected officials and transportation agencies about how funds are allocated at the federal, state, and local levels have played a major role in reinforcing these outcomes over the past century.

In 2021, Congress passed the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act – the centerpiece of President Biden’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Framework. It provides substantial new funds for intra-city public transit, intercity passenger rail, and new electric vehicle charging infrastructure. It also includes $7.5 billion in new discretionary funding for innovative transit projects in the RAISE program (formerly BUILD and TIGER), along with new incentives for roadway repair and maintenance. However, the bill also allocates $350 billion towards new road and highway projects that will be administered by state and local departments of transportation. Much of this funding is likely to be spent on highway expansion projects. In short, the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act is poised to invest in a small number of innovative, low-carbon public transit projects alongside a massive new investment in roads and highways – locking in higher emissions for the sector than those that predated the bill. In other words, the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act could invest dramatically more on highway expansion than on innovative, low-carbon public transit projects. That dynamic has to change.

In this report, we propose a series of critical opportunities for new transportation-related policies to improve equal access, mobility, and opportunity in our transportation system, reduce emissions, support global climate cooperation, and develop long-lasting infrastructure and workforce development strategies on a changing planet. We argue for a move away from past policies that encouraged the release of greenhouse gases and other air pollutants while furthering social inequity. Crucially, this report aims to shift the conversation surrounding the transportation sector and decarbonization from focusing exclusively on electric vehicles and high-speed rail to addressing the many disparate parts of America’s transportation system. This includes a focus on intra- and intercity rail in addition to high-speed rail; an approach to electric vehicles that pairs supply-side policies (e.g. manufacturing tax credits) with a more progressive demand-side approach that benefits low and middle-income households with few public transit options instead of wealthy, coastal city residents who tend to purchase high-end luxury electric vehicles (e.g. Tesla).

Instead, the transportation system should be viewed as a strategic lever for investing in good-paying low-carbon jobs, justice, and a decarbonized economy. We build on the important progress Congress members have made through their introduction of bills such as the Moving Forward Act to identify a series of policies that would further that ambition.

Read the text (PDF).

Climate-Safe Energy Production–From Below

By Jeremy Brecher - Labor Network for Sustainability, February 2022

Climate-safe energy is being produced locally all over the country in ways that also produce jobs and increase racial, social, and economic justice – fulfilling the basic principles of the Green New Deal.

Protecting the climate requires meeting the original Green New Deal proposal’s goal of 100% of national power generation from renewable sources within ten years.[1] That requires greatly expanding climate-safe sources of energy. It involves an unprecedented transformation of the energy system, and that requires national investment and planning. But much of the transformation will actually be composed of local building blocks – and those can begin right now. Indeed, hundreds of local initiatives around the country, ranging from community solar to municipal ownership to local microgrids, are already expanding renewable energy production.

Sunlight, Jobs, and Justice

Solar gardens are sprouting up all over Denver.

On November 3, 2020, Denver voters overwhelmingly approved Ballot Measure 2A, the Climate Protection Fund, to raise approximately $40 million per year dedicated to climate action. As stated in the ballot measure, the intent of this fund is to “fund programs to eliminate greenhouse gas emissions and air pollution and adapt to climate change. Funding should maximize investments in communities of color, under-resourced communities and communities most vulnerable to climate change.”[2]

Community solar gardens use photovoltaic (PV) panels to produce electricity from sunlight for an entire neighborhood. Now such solar gardens are dotting sites owned and financed by the City of Denver, including rooftops, parking lots, and vacant lands. The power generated from the solar gardens will be shared between city facilities, income-qualified residents, and publicly accessible electric vehicle charging stations.

In accord with the principles of the Green New Deal, Denver’s solar garden program has a strong justice dimension. Since Denver owns the project, it can set its own standards. Ten percent of the energy generated by the solar gardens is allocated to low-income housing through the Denver Housing Authority. An additional 10 percent will be allocated to low-income households through Energy Outreach Colorado, and will be exempt from subscription fees. A paid workforce training program available to Denver residents will provide 10 percent of the city and county’s solar workforce.

The solar gardens are designed to contribute to the goal of Denver’s “80 x 50 Climate Action Plan” to transition Denver to 100 percent renewable electricity for municipal buildings by 2025; achieve 100 percent community-wide renewable electricity by 2030; and reduce Denver’s greenhouse gas emissions 80 percent, as compared to a 2005 baseline, by 2050.[3]

What Germany’s Effort to Leave Coal Behind Can Teach the U.S.

By Alec MacGillis - ProPublica, January 31, 2022

In late September, just before the German parliamentary elections, the Alternative für Deutschland held a large campaign rally in Görlitz, a picturesque city of about 56,000 people across the Neisse River from Poland. I was making my way down a narrow street toward the rally when I entered a square that had been dressed up as Berlin circa 1930, complete with wooden carts, street urchins and a large poster of Hitler.

Görlitz, which was barely damaged in the Second World War, often stands in for prewar Europe in movies and TV shows. (“Babylon Berlin,” “Inglourious Basterds” and other productions have filmed scenes there.) It was a startling sight nonetheless, especially since, a few hundred yards away, a crowd was gathering for the AfD, the far-right party whose incendiary rhetoric about foreign migrants invading Germany has raised alarms in a country vigilant about the resurgence of the radical right.

In fact, at the rally, the rhetoric about foreigners from the AfD’s top national candidate, Tino Chrupalla, was relatively mild. Germany’s general success with handling the wave of more than a million refugees and migrants who arrived in the country starting in 2015 has helped undermine the party’s central platform. Chrupalla moved on from migrants to other topics: the threat of coronavirus-vaccination mandates for schoolchildren, the plight of small businesses and the country’s desire to stop burning coal, which provides more than a quarter of its electricity, a greater share even than in the United States.

Coal has particular resonance in the area around Görlitz, one of the country’s two large remaining mining regions. Germany’s coal-exit plan, which was passed in 2020, includes billions of euros in compensation for the coal regions, to help transform their economies, but there are reports that some of the money has been allocated to frivolous-sounding projects far from the towns most dependent on mining. Chrupalla, who is from the area, listed some of these in a mocking tone and told the crowd that the region was being betrayed by the government, just as it had been after German reuni­fication, when millions in the former East Germany lost their jobs, leading many to abandon home for the West. “We are being deceived again, like after 1990,” he said.

Such language was eerily familiar. For years, I had been reporting on American coal country, where the industry’s decadeslong decline has spurred economic hardship and political resentment. In West Virginia, fewer than 15,000 people now work in coal mining, down from more than a 100,000 in the 1950s. The state is the only one that has fewer residents than it did 70 years ago, when the U.S. had a population less than half its current size — a statistic that is unlikely to surprise anyone who has visited half-abandoned towns such as Logan, Oceana and Pine­ville. Accompanying the decline has been a dramatic political shift: A longtime Democratic stronghold, West Virginia was one of only 10 states to vote for Michael Dukakis in 1988; in 2020, it provided Donald Trump with his second-­largest margin of victory, after Wyoming, which also happens to be the country’s largest coal producer, ahead of West Virginia.

California Weighs Help for Oil Workers in Green Future

By Anne C Mulkern - Energy Wire, January 31, 2022

California officials are brainstorming how to help oil industry workers as the state moves to phase out fossil fuels and replace gasoline-powered vehicles with electric cars.

Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom’s office and legislators are talking to unions representing industry workers, and a new state Assembly document outlines potential solutions. But it’s a complex quandary, raising questions about whether to guarantee workers their current salaries and benefits as their jobs disappear.

“One of the major hurdles in transitioning existing fossil fuels activities to clean energy ones has been the potentially negative economic consequences to workers and communities,” according to a document from the Assembly Office of Policy and Research obtained by E&E News. “As the state implements its ambitious climate goals, there is an opportunity to assist workers impacted by the transition to a green economy.”

Nearly 112,000 people work in 14 fossil fuel and ancillary industries in California as of 2018, according to a report last year from the Political Economy Research Institute (PERI) at University of Massachusetts, Amherst. The total includes oil and gas extraction operations, and support activities, and sectors such as fossil-fuel-based power generation.

What California decides to do about oil industry workers has the potential to ripple beyond the nation’s most populous state, said Catherine Houston, legislative, political and rapid response coordinator with United Steelworkers District 12.That union represents many oil industry workers.

“California typically takes the lead in a lot of these types of things, and we become an example for other states across the nation,” Houston said. “So whatever we do can potentially serve as a federal model.”

Unions and Climate Change: Toward Global Public Goods

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