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The Green New Deal–From Below

By Jeremy Brecher - Labor Network for Sustainability, October 30, 2021

This is the first in a series of commentaries on “The Green New Deal–From Below.” This commentary explains the idea of a Green New Deal from Below and provides an overview of the series. Subsequent commentaries in this series will address dimensions of the Green New Deal from below ranging from energy production to the role of unions to microgrids, coops, anchor institutions, and many others.

The Green New Deal is a visionary program to protect the earth’s climate while creating good jobs, reducing injustice, and eliminating poverty. Its core principle is to use the necessity for climate protection as a basis for realizing full employment and social justice.

The Green New Deal first emerged as a proposal for national legislation, and the struggle to embody it in national legislation is ongoing. But there has also emerged a little-noticed wave of initiatives from community groups, unions, city and state governments, tribes, and other non-federal institutions designed to contribute to the climate protection and social justice goals of the Green New Deal. We will call these the Green New Deal from Below (GNDfB).

The purpose of this commentary is to provide an overview of Green New Deal from Below initiatives in many different arenas and locations. It provides an introduction to a series of commentaries that will delve more deeply into each aspect of the GNDfB. The purpose of the series is to reveal the rich diversity of GNDfB programs already underway and in development. The projects of Green New Dealers recounted here should provide inspiration for thousands more that can create the foundation for national mobilization–and reconstruction.

The original 2018 Green New Deal resolution submitted by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez called for a national 10-year mobilization to achieve 100% of national power generation from renewable sources; a national “smart grid”; energy efficiency upgrades for every residential and industrial building; decarbonizing manufacturing, agriculture, transportation, and other infrastructure; and helping other countries achieve carbon neutral economies and a global Green New Deal. It proposed a job guarantee to assure a living wage job to every person who wants one; mitigation of income and wealth inequality; basic income programs; and universal health care. It advocated innovative financial structures including cooperative and public ownership and public banks. Since that time a wide-ranging discussion has extended and fleshed out the vision of the Green New Deal to include an even wider range of proposals to address climate, jobs, and justice.

The Green New Deal first emerged as a proposal for national mobilization, and national legislation has remained an essential element. But whether legislation embodying the Green New Deal will be passed, and how adequate it will be, continues to hang in the balance. Current “Build Back Better” legislation has already been downsized to less than half its original scale, and many of the crucial elements of the Green New Deal have been cut along the way. How much of the Green New Deal program will actually be passed now or in the future cannot currently be known.

But meanwhile, there are thousands of efforts to realize the goals of the Green New Deal at community, municipal, county, state, tribal, industry, and sectoral levels. While these cannot substitute for a national program, they can contribute enormously to the Green New Deal’s goals of climate protection and economic justice. Indeed, they may well turn out to be the tip of the Green New Deal spear, developing in the vacuum left by the limitations of national programs.

People's Utility Justice Playbook​

By Yesenia Rivera and Johanna Bozuwa - Energy Democracy Project, October 2021

Have you ever wondered who is in charge of your electricity? And why?

The People’s Utility Justice Playbook has two components:

  1. a “History of Utilities” report to summarize the history of utilities for everyone to understand how our current energy system originated.
  2. a “People’s Utility Justice Playbook” to expose the tactics from electric utilities that are undermining community’s efforts, so we can build our organizing strength—to not only fight back but also to build the democratic energy system for climate justice.

This is the basic information we need to fight back against energy utilities attempting to slow or stop progress toward economic and climate justice.

History of Utilities​

Electric utilities have expanded into almost every aspect of our lives to become one of the most powerful and concentrated industries on Earth. To have a better understanding of what we’re fighting against, we first need to learn about the history of energy utilities! This PDF summarizes the entire timeline and how the rise of energy democracy came about.

People's Utility Justice Playbook

In order to fight the industry-owned utilities’ tactics, we need our own strategies for combat!

We have our very own playbook sourced from energy justice activists on the ground. They suggest strategies and tactics they employ when fighting against utilities that anyone fighting against utilities could use!

Read the History (PDF).

Read the Playbook (PDF).

The Green Jobs Advantage: How Climate Friendly Investments are Better Job Creators

By Joel Jager, et. al. - World Resources Institute, International Trade Union Confederation, and The Global Commission on the Economy and Climate, October 2021

As part of their COVID-19 recovery efforts, many governments continue to fund unsustainable infrastructure, even though this ignores the urgency of addressing climate change and will not secure longterm stability for workers.

Our analysis of studies from around the world finds that green investments generally create more jobs per US$1 million than unsustainable investments. We compare near-term job effects from clean energy versus fossil fuels, public transportation versus roads, electric vehicles versus internal combustion engine vehicles, and nature-based solutions versus fossil fuels.

Green investments can create quality jobs, but this is not guaranteed. In developing countries, green jobs can provide avenues out of poverty, but too many are informal and temporary, limiting access to work security, safety, or social protections. In developed countries, new green jobs may have wages and benefits that aren’t as high as those in traditional sectors where, in many cases, workers have been able to fight for job quality through decades of collective action.

Government investment should come with conditions that ensure fair wages and benefits, work security, safe working conditions, opportunities for training and advancement, the right to organize, and accessibility to all.

Read the text (PDF).

Unions and Climate Activists Find Common Cause in Opposing Airport Expansion

By Dayton Martindale - Truthout, September 27, 2021

Airport employees and community allies protest a proposed expansion of Los Angeles International Airport on September 14, 2021; image by author.

“Are you scared you’re going to lose all your jobs ’cause there will be no planes?”

The audience chuckled at MSNBC host Chris Hayes’s first question for Sara Nelson, international president of the Association of Flight Attendants, at a March 2019 special on the Green New Deal. Nelson, an ardent climate advocate, dismissed the notion out of hand: “We still have to get around.” The real threat to flights, she insisted, is an increase in extreme weather events. It is climate inaction, then, that could keep planes from flying, rather than climate action.

Across the Atlantic, the messaging is notably different. Environmentalists across the U.K. and France have campaigned against airport expansions, and the Swedish language now has a word (flygskam) for the climate shame felt by those who fly. In August 2019, Swedish climate change activist Greta Thunberg chose to ride a boat to New York to reduce emissions and draw attention to the crisis.

So, will we have to keep any airplanes on the ground? The answer is complicated, depending on how quickly certain technologies become widespread, how willing we are to tolerate financial and environmental costs of jet fuel alternatives, and whether we aim to eliminate greenhouse gas emissions entirely or merely reach “net-zero” emissions (in which scenario we would continue to emit, but attempt to offset the climate impact through carbon capture and storage).

But there is a growing consensus that even in technologically optimistic scenarios, some constraints on demand will be necessary to curtail the expected growth in flights over the decades to come. Many climate activists argue that because these technologies are uncertain, we should start reducing flights as soon as possible. And some early indications — such as an ongoing union-led fight against an airport expansion in Los Angeles — suggests that the climate movement’s most powerful ally against rampant growth in air travel may be labor.

Few demonstrators at the Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) during a September 14 rally held greenhouse gas emission foremost in their minds as they decried the proposed expansion. The 50 or so protesters — most wearing the shirt of either SEIU United Service Workers West (SEIU-USWW) or Unite Here Local 11 — were more vocal about issues such as health care, wages, and the impact of air pollution and traffic congestion at their jobs and in their neighborhoods. The two unions, representing thousands of food, custodial and passenger service employees at the airport, were joined by Sunrise LA and other community and environmental groups outside a meeting of the Los Angeles Board of Airport Commissioners (BOAC).

An SEIU-USSW press release argues that the current plans to expand LAX “ignore the needs of workers at the airport as well as those who are most impacted by it: nearby neighborhood residents,” but they do not oppose the expansion outright. Instead, the labor groups want to see a community benefits agreement — an enforceable contract between the airport and community groups that allows workers and residents to provide substantive input, ensuring any airport development respects economic and environmental justice. If this demand is not met, SEIU-USWW President David Huerta tells Truthout, the union “could transition into direct opposition.”

Any solution must ensure worker voices are heard, says Sunrise LA spokesperson Josiah Edwards. Airport employees kept LAX running through the pandemic for inadequate pay, and already bear a heavy environmental burden. That they are not invited to the BOAC’s closed-door meetings is “a clear instance of environmental injustice,” Edwards says.

U.S. Labour unions divided on carbon capture

By Elizabeth Perry - Work and Climate Change Report, September 8, 2021

A new Labor Network for Sustainability background paper asks Can Carbon Capture Save Our Climate – and Our Jobs?. Author Jeremy Brecher treads carefully around this issue, acknowledging that it has been a divisive one within the labour movement for years. The report presents the history of carbon capture efforts; their objectives; their current effectiveness; and alternatives to CCS. It states: “LNS believe that the use of carbon capture should be determined by scientific evaluation of its effectiveness in meeting the targets and timetables necessary to protect the climate and of its full costs and benefits for workers and society. Those include health, safety, environmental, employment, waste disposal, and other social costs and benefits.”

Applying those principles to carbon capture, the paper takes a position:

“Priority for investment should go to methods of GHG reduction that can be implemented rapidly over the next decade” – for example, renewables and energy efficiency. … “Carbon capture technologies have little chance of making major reductions in GHG emissions over the next decade and the market cost and social cost of carbon capture is likely to be far higher. Therefore, the priority for climate protection investment should be for conversion to fossil-free renewable energy and energy efficiency, not for carbon capture.”

“Priority for research and development should go to those technological pathways that offer the best chance of reducing GHGs with the most social benefit and the least social cost. Based on the current low GHG-reduction effectiveness and high market cost of carbon capture, its high health, safety, environmental, waste disposal, and other social costs, and the uncertainty of future improvements, carbon capture is unlikely to receive high evaluation relative to renewable energy and energy efficiency. Research on carbon capture should only be funded if scientific evaluation shows that it provides a better pathway to climate safety than renewable energy and energy efficiency.”

“…..People threatened with job loss as a result of reduction in fossil fuel burning should not expect carbon capture to help protect their jobs any time in the next 10-20 years. There are strong reasons to doubt that it will be either effective or cost competitive in the short run. Those adversely affected by reduction in fossil fuel burning can best protect themselves through managed rather than unmanaged decline in fossil fuel burning combined with vigorous just transition policies.”

This evaluation by LNS stands in contrast to the Carbon Capture Coalition, a coalition of U.S. businesses, environmental groups and labour unions. In August, the Coalition sent an Open Letter to Congressional Leaders, proposing a suite of supports for “carbon management technologies” – including tax incentives and “Robust funding for commercial scale demonstration of carbon capture, direct air capture and carbon utilization technologies.” Signatories to the Open Letter include the AFL-CIO, Boilermakers Local 11, International Brotherhood of Boilermakers, Laborers International Union, United Mine Workers of America, United Steelworkers, and Utility Workers Union of America. Although the BlueGreen Alliance was not one of the signatories, it did issue a September 2 press release which “applauds” the appointment of the Assistant Secretary for Fossil Energy and Carbon Management within the U.S. Department of Energy. The new appointee currently serves as the Vice President, Carbon Management for the Great Plains Institute – and The Great Plains Institute is the convenor of the Carbon Capture Coalition.

Indigenous Resistance Against Carbon

By Dallas Goldtooth, Alberto Saldamando, and Kyle Gracey, et. al. - Indigenous Environmental Network and Oil Change International, September 1, 2021

This report shows that Indigenous communities resisting the more than 20 fossil fuel projects analyzed have stopped or delayed greenhouse gas pollution equivalent to at least 25 percent of annual U.S. and Canadian emissions. Given the current climate crisis, Indigenous peoples are demonstrating that the assertion of Indigenous Rights not only upholds a higher moral standard, but provides a crucial path to confronting climate change head-on and reducing emissions. 

The recently released United Nations climate change report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) states that in order to properly mitigate the worst of the climate crisis, rapid and large-scale action must be taken, with a focus on immediate reduction of fossil fuel emissions. As the United Nations prepares for its upcoming COP 26 climate change conference in Glasgow, Scotland, countries are being asked to update their pledges to cut emissions — but as the IPCC report states, current pledges fall short of the changes needed to mitigate the climate chaos already millions of people around the world. 

While United Nations member countries continue to ignore the IPCC’s scientists and push false solutions and dangerous distractions like the carbon markets in Article 6 of the Paris Agreement, Indigenous peoples continue to put their bodies on the line for Mother Earth. False solutions do not address the climate emergency at its root, and instead have damaging impacts like continued land grabs from Indigenous Peoples in the Global South. Indigenous social movements across Turtle Island have been pivotal in the fight for climate justice.

Read the text (PDF).

Heat Is Killing Workers In The U.S.; And There Are No Federal Rules To Protect Them

By Julia Shipley, et. al. - NPR, August 17, 2021

As the temperature in Grand Island, Neb., soared to 91 degrees that July day in 2018, two dozen farmworkers tunneled for nine hours into a thicket of cornstalks, snapping off tassels while they crossed a sunbaked field that spanned 206 acres — the equivalent of 156 football fields.

When they emerged at the end of the day to board a bus that would transport them to a nearby motel to sleep, one of the workers, Cruz Urias Beltran, didn't make it back. Searchers found the 52-year-old farmworker's body 20 hours later amid the corn husks, "as if he'd simply collapsed," recalled a funeral home employee. An empty water bottle was stuffed in his jeans pocket. An autopsy report confirmed that Beltran died from heatstroke. It was his third day on the job.

Beltran is one of at least 384 workers who died from environmental heat exposure in the U.S. in the last decade, according to an investigation by NPR and Columbia Journalism Investigations, the investigative reporting unit of Columbia Journalism School. The count includes people toiling in essential yet often invisible jobs in 37 states across the country: farm laborers in California, construction and trash-collection workers in Texas and tree trimmers in North Carolina and Virginia. An analysis of federal data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows the three-year average of worker heat deaths has doubled since the early 1990s.

CJI and NPR reviewed hundreds of pages of documents, including workplace inspection reports, death investigation files, depositions, court records and police reports, and interviewed victims' families, former and current officials from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, workers, employers, workers' advocates, lawyers and experts.

CJI and NPR also analyzed two federal data sets on worker heat deaths: one from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, the other from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Both are divisions within the U.S. Labor Department.

How to Protect Workers While Protecting the Climate

Just Transition Strategies: Workers and the Green Revolution

Why Lawns Must Die

By staff - Our Changing Climate, June 18, 2021

The lawn began in Europe as an elite status symbol that was tended and mowed by peasants freshly forced into wage labor through the enclosure of the commons. The turfgrass lawn was then exported to colonial America where it was used as a tool to terraform indigenous land. And in the post-WWII suburban boom, the lawn soon became a symbol of white conformity. The turfgrass lawn though has a huge environmental impact. It's the biggest crop in the United States by area and requires a massive amount of fossil fuels, fertilizer, and chemicals to upkeep. Even if you don't want to tend to your lawn, some towns require you, with the threat of jail time to mow the grass. Ultimately, the grass lawn is a tool of capitalist settler colonialism that is exacerbating climate change and the climate crisis.

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