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A Material Transition: Exploring supply and demand solutions for renewable energy minerals

By Andy Whitmore - War on Want, March 2021

There is an urgent need to deal with the potential widespread destruction and human rights abuses that could be unleashed by the extraction of transition minerals: the materials needed at high volumes for the production of renewable energy technologies. Although it is crucial to tackle the climate crisis, and rapidly transition away from fossil fuels, this transition cannot be achieved by expanding our reliance on other materials. The voices arguing for ‘digging our way out of the climate crisis’, particularly those that make up the global mining industry, are powerful but self-serving and must be rejected. We need carefully planned, lowcarbon and non-resource-intensive solutions for people and planet.

Academics, communities and organisations have labelled this new mining frontier, ‘green extractivism’: the idea that human rights and ecosystems can be sacrificed to mining in the name of “solving” climate change, while at the same time mining companies profit from an unjust, arbitrary and volatile transition. There are multiple environmental, social, governance and human rights concerns associated with this expansion, and threats to communities on the frontlines of conflicts arising from mining for transition minerals are set to increase in the future. However, these threats are happening now. From the deserts of Argentina to the forests of West Papua, impacted communities are resisting the rise of ‘green extractivism’ everywhere it is occurring. They embody the many ways we need to transform our energy-intense societies to ones based on democratic and fair access to the essential elements for a dignified life. We must act in solidarity with impacted communities across the globe.

This report includes in-depth studies written by frontline organisations in Indonesia and Philippines directly resisting nickel mining in both countries respectively. These exclusive case studies highlight the threats, potential impacts and worrying trends associated with nickel mining and illustrate, in detail, the landscape for mining expansion in the region.

Read the text (PDF).

How to “Build Back Better”

By staff - Labor Network for Sustainability, March 2021

Anyone interested in how to address the concerns of both labor and environmentalists in upcoming legislation should take a look at the new Sierra Club report “How to Build Back Better: A 10-year Plan for Economic Renewal.” Although the Sierra Club is an environmental organization – in fact, the country’s largest–this “blueprint for economic renewal” has been designed with the needs of workers and discriminated-against groups front and center.

The plan is based on the THRIVE Agenda, which has been endorsed by the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA, American Federation of Teachers, American Postal Workers Union, Amalgamated Transit Union, Communications Workers of America, United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers of America and Service Employees International Union.

  • By investing $1 trillion per year, an economic renewal plan based on the THRIVE Agenda would create over 15 million good jobs–enough to end the unemployment crisis–while countering systemic racism, supporting public health, and cutting climate pollution nearly in half by 2030.
  • These investments must come with ironclad labor and equity standards to curb racial, economic, and gender inequity instead of reinforcing the unjust status quo.

Silicon Valley Bus Drivers Restored Community Rides for Free—By Taking Matters into Their Own Hands

By Richard Marcantonio - Labor Notes, February 17, 2021

With Covid cases surging in their ranks, bus drivers in Santa Clara, California, demanded to resume rear-door boarding, which is proven to reduce the risk of infection.

Management of the Valley Transportation Authority (VTA) balked, even blaming the workers for getting sick. Pressure mounted from the leadership of Transit (ATU) Local 265, and from rider and community groups.

But it was rank-and-file bus drivers who forced management’s hand when they started planning to stop boarding at the front door whether the agency agreed or not.

Bosses prefer anything to allowing workers to run the company. On February 3, the agency announced that it would resume rear-door boarding.

COVID SURGE AT VTA

Santa Clara County, in the heart of Silicon Valley, is where Covid claimed what was believed to be its first U.S. victim on March 6, 2020. (In fact, several February deaths in the county were later determined to be Covid-related.) By March 19, VTA had stopped collecting fares to reduce contact between bus drivers and passengers at the front door.

Rear-door boarding is a no-brainer during a pandemic. Bus drivers reported story after story of passengers fumbling to get their bills into the farebox or taking off their masks to chat. Boarding at the rear door created a safe distance between riders and the driver, protecting both.

Rear-door boarding also has a secondary benefit. Because the only farebox in a VTA bus is located at the front door, it meant the public would ride for free. At a time when many were calling for free public transportation, and some transit agencies in the U.S. and abroad had already eliminated fares, this additional shared interest attracted more community support for the union’s demands.

On August 1, however, claiming “We have done our part to protect our customers,” VTA resumed collecting fares at the front door. Little had changed to justify the move, other than the installation of what one bus driver described as a “janky plastic barrier” that did little to keep airborne microbes from finding their way from boarding passengers to the driver or vice versa.

VTA’s decision had serious consequences for transit workers. Only 15 had fallen ill with Covid before August, while riders boarded at the rear; 72 cases were confirmed from August through Christmas. One bus driver, Audrey Lopez, lost her life to Covid. The new year started off even worse, with more than 60 positive tests in January alone.

Zero Waste and Economic Recovery: The Job Creation Potential of Zero Waste Solutions

By John Ribeiro-Broomhead and Neil Tangri - Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives, February 16, 2021

Employment opportunities are important in any economy, and especially in times of economic downturn. As governments and the private sector invest in economic recovery strategies, particularly “green” or climateneutral approaches, it is important to evaluate their employment potential. C40 estimates that the waste management sector has the potential to create 2.9 million jobs in its 97 member cities alone. Zero waste—a comprehensive approach to waste management that prioritizes waste prevention, re-use, composting, and recycling—is a widely-adopted strategy proven to minimize environmental impacts and contribute to a just society. In this study, we evaluate its job generation potential.

The data for this study came from a wide range of sources spanning 16 countries. Despite the diversity in geographic and economic conditions, the results are clear: zero waste approaches create orders of magnitude more jobs than disposal-based systems that primarily burn or bury waste. Indeed, waste interventions can be ranked according to their job generation potential, and this ranking exactly matches the traditional waste hierarchy based on environmental impacts (Figure 1). These results demonstrate the compatibility of environmental and economic goals and position zero waste as an opportune social infrastructure in which investments can strengthen local and global economic resilience.

This study also finds evidence for good job quality in zero waste systems. Multiple studies of zero waste systems cite higher wages and better working conditions than in comparable fields, and opportunities to develop and use varied skills, from equipment repair to public outreach.

Read the text (Link).

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.

Impacts of the Reimagine Appalachia & Clean Energy Transition Programs for West Virginia

By Robert Pollin, Jeannette Wicks-Lim, Shouvik Chakraborty, and Gregor Semieniuk - Political Economy Research Institute, February 2021

The COVID-19 pandemic has generated severe public health and economic impacts in West Virginia, as with most everywhere else in the United States. This study develops a recovery program for West Virginia that is also capable of building a durable foundation for an economically viable and ecologically sustainable longer-term transition.

In our proposed clean energy investment project, West Virginia can achieve climate stabilization goals which are in alignment with those set out by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in 2018—that is, to reduce CO2 emissions by 45 percent as of 2030 and to achieve net zero emissions by 2050. We show how these two goals can be accomplished in West Virginia through large-scale investments to dramatically raise energy efficiency standards in the state and to equally dramatically expand the supply of clean renewable energy, including solar, geothermal, small-scale hydro, wind, and low-emissions bioenergy power. We also show how this climate stabilization program for West Virginia can serve as a major new engine of job creation and economic well-being throughout the state. Scaled at about $3.6 billion per year in both private and public investments, the program will generate about 25,000 jobs per year in West Virginia. We also present investment programs for West Virginia in the areas of public infrastructure, manufacturing, land restoration and agriculture. We scaled this overall set of investments at $1.6 billion per year over 2021 – 2030, equal to about 2 percent of West Virginia’s 2019 GDP. We estimate that the full program would generate about 16,000 jobs per year in the state. Overall, the combination of investments in clean energy, manufacturing/infrastructure, and land restoration/agriculture will therefore create about 41,000 jobs in West Virginia, equal to roughly 5 percent of West Virginia’s current workforce.

The study also develops a just transition program for workers and communities that are currently dependent on West Virginia’s fossil fuel-based industries. It estimates that about 1,400 workers per year will be displaced in these industries between 2021 – 2030 while another roughly 650 will voluntarily retire each year. It is critical that all of these workers receive pension guarantees, re-employment guarantees, wage insurance, and retraining support, as needed. We estimate that generous levels of transition support for all workers will cost an average of about $140 million per year.

The study shows how all of these proposed measures can be fully financed within the framework of the Build Back Better infrastructure and clean energy investment program proposed by President Biden during his presidential campaign.

Read the text (PDF).

How to Build Back Better: A 10-Year Plan for Economic Renewal

By Ben Beachy, et. al. - Sierra Club, February 2021

Over 10 million people are out of work, another six million people are underemployed, and yet another seven million people who want a job have given up trying to find one. Unemployment among low-income households is hovering around Great Depression levels. Job losses have been particularly acute for women, and the unemployment rate for Black and Latinx workers remains more than 50 percent higher than for white workers. Due to economic hardship, more than one in three families with children cannot afford adequate food, one in five households could not pay last month’s rent, and over half of all households are having difficulty covering expenses.

To tackle this economic crisis, we cannot simply reopen the economy and hope things return to “normal.” “Normal” was fundamentally unjust, unhealthy, and unstable. Thanks to decades of “normal” conditions, millions of people — particularly in Black and Latinx communities — breathe in air pollution that increases the risks of COVID-19, earn as much in one year as Jeff Bezos makes in 20 seconds, and are forced to grapple with increasing climate-related storms, droughts, and fires.
We have to do better than “normal.”

We need to put millions of people back to work building a healthier, more equitable, clean energy economy that leaves no one behind. The THRIVE Agenda outlines a plan to do just that. Backed by over 100 members of Congress and hundreds of union, racial justice, climate, and other grassroots groups, the THRIVE Agenda offers Congress an eight-pillar blueprint for economy-wide investments. To “build back better” instead of reverting to the unjust status quo, Congress needs to pass a THRIVE-aligned economic renewal plan that is as comprehensive as the crises we face.

Read the text (PDF).

What would a just transition look like for the Navajo Nation?

By staff - Grist, February 1, 2021

Two decades ago, Nicole Horseherder, a member of the Navajo Nation, coordinated a community meeting. Beneath the shade of Juniper trees at her late grandmother’s house, several dozen people gathered to find a way to protect their pristine water. The springs and wells along Black Mesa, a semi-arid, rocky mesa that overlies the Navajo Aquifer, were increasingly drying up, as tens of billions of gallons of potable water were used to extract, clean, and transport coal mined in the region.

This meeting was the start of a long struggle to safeguard the community from coal projects, which threatened the drinking water supply of both the Navajo and Hopi people. “The mining was using so much of our groundwater and making these really adverse, tremendous impacts on the water table, water quality, and pressure of the aquifers,” says Horseherder.

In 2001, Horseherder formed Tó Nizhóní Ání, a nonprofit dedicated to bringing awareness to the environmental degradation and exploitation caused by coal mining. This has involved direct action, passing tribal resolutions, and negotiating higher rates for the water and coal procured from their land. “So, that’s where we ended up as water protectors—going after the entity that was using our only potable source of water,” Horseherder says.

After decades of activism to protect the water, along with changing economic conditions in the fossil fuel industry, several key coal projects have closed. In 2005, Peabody Energy’s Black Mesa Mine was shut down, a project that drew up to 4,400 acre-feet of water per year to feed a slurry coal pipeline to a coal-fired generating station in Nevada. In 2019, the Salt River Project’s Navajo Generating Station and Peabody Energy’s Kayenta Mine, which supplied coal to the power plant, were also closed.

These projects leave behind a complex legacy: They represent both a major loss of jobs yet also an opportunity to build a new, more sustainable economy and rectify long-standing environmental injustices.

Essential Workers and Renewable Energy: Key Themes During Community Hearing on Transit Equity

By Judy Asman - Labor Network for Sustainability, February 2021

Right: Placards created by Charleston, South Carolina-based transit riders advocacy group Best Friends of Low Country Transit that were displayed on bus seats to honor Rosa Parks on her Birthday, Transit Equity Day. To see full media coverage of actions like these, click here.

With nearly eight hours of testimony by more than 50 essential workers and riders, both live and pre-recorded, the Community Hearing on Transit Equity, which took place on Feb. 3 and Feb. 4, provided an intentional space for those wanting to share their plights brought on by transit service cuts during the pandemic and with greater threats to transit funding.

The Hearing kicked off with an opening panel, welcoming movement leaders such as International Secretary-Treasurer Kenneth Kirk of the Amalgamated Transit Union—a founding union of Transit Equity Day, which takes place on Feb. 4, Rosa Parks’ birthday, each year. International Secretary-Treasurer Kirk lifted up Ms. Parks’ act of resistance, which taught us: “Each of us must choose, whether to move or not,” as he underscored transit equity as a civil right. He also talked about transit to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, with busses emitting “80% less carbon dioxide” than cars and that busses can also offset traffic congestion.

Kathi Zoern, a transit rider in Wasau, Wisconsin, who is visually impaired, called her bus pass her “car keys to independence.” Passionately emphasizing that transit and transit workers are “essential,” Zoern, stressed that those living in “outlying communities,” three miles from a bus stop, who are unable to drive or who cannot afford a car “cannot get to work, go to school, shopping, medical appointments or go to places to socialize.”

Jonathan Smith, President, New York Metro Area Postal Union Local 10, of the American Postal Workers Union, reminded viewers and listeners that postal workers help to “preserve democracy, and we are proud to do it.” He added, “Many of our members rely on the bus and the train to get to work and to their families, and their families also rely on these services as well. If it were not for the transit in our city, we would not be able to process your mail.”

The hearing also highlighted collaborations that have formed as a result of frustrations with transit authorities and extreme pressure on transit workers with limited funding. In San Francisco, disability rights activist and journalist Zach Karnazes and Roger Marenco, President of the Transport Workers Union of America Local 250A, teamed up to organize for fair access to transit by disabled riders, often challenged by tight schedules for bus operators.

Then there are the impacts on young people who depend on public transit to get to school. During the final hour of the hearing with the American Federation of Teachers–moderated by Jane English, Program Manager on the Environmental Climate Justice Program, NAACP–Carl Williams, President of Lawndale Federation of Classified Employees and Vice President of American Federation of Teachers, and Wayne Scott, President of Colorado Classified Employees Association, talked about the extreme consequences of students living in areas where there are service cuts in transportation–these include the need to shut down campuses that become unreachable to students and even higher risks of higher drop-out rates.

A riveting closing presentation by Randi Weingarten, President of the American Federation of Teachers, tied the social isolation of COVID to lack of transit and light rail, especially within rural areas. President Weingarten, whose union recently endorsed the Green New Deal and the THRIVE Agenda, talked about the need for revamping transit systems not just for mass accessibility but to support climate. “There is an opportunity here as well. It’s not just new jobs but it’s also revamping them in a way that we can reduce our carbon footprint,” President Weingarten said, recounting that AFT’s pension system was a foundational investor in the modernization of La Guardia Airport, an effort recognized for its transition to renewable energy “and the jobs that came about from building all of that.”

To watch both days of the Community Hearing on Transit Equity in English and Spanish, as well as all of the submitted pre-recorded testimonies, visit bit.ly/savetransit2021.

A Rapid and Just Transition of Aviation: Shifting towards climate-just mobility

By staff - Stay Grounded, February 2021

Covid-19 has grounded air traffic. The aviation industry itself expects to be operating at a lower capacity over the next few years. This Paper discusses how long-term security for workers and affected communities can be guaranteed, without returning to business as before. 

With the looming climate breakdown, automation, digitalisation and likely climate induced pandemics, we need to be realistic: aviation and tourism will change – and they will do so either by design or by disaster. They will transition either with or without taking into account workers’ interests.

This Discussion Paper, published by the Stay Grounded Network and the UK Trade Union PCS in February 2021, is a result of a collective writing process by people active in the climate justice movement, workers in the aviation sector, trade unionists, indigenous communities and academics from around the world. It aims to spark debates and encourage concrete transition plans by states, workers and companies.

Read the text (PDFs: EN | DA | DE | ES | FR | PT ).

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