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The energy crises revealed by COVID: Intersections of Indigeneity, inequity, and health

By Kathleen Brosemer, et. al. - various, Spring 2020

The global COVID-19 pandemic is a health crisis, an economic crisis, and a justice crisis. It also brings to light multiple ongoing, underlying social crises. The COVID-19 crisis is actively revealing crises of energy sovereignty in at least four ways:

  • First, there are many whose access to basic health services is compromised because of the lack of energy services necessary to provide these services.
  • Second, some people are more vulnerable to COVID-19 because of exposure to environmental pollution associated with energy production.
  • Third, energy services are vital to human well-being, yet access to energy services is largely organized as a consumer good. The loss of stable income precipitated by COVID-19 may therefore mean that many lose reliable access to essential energy services.
  • Fourth, the COVID-19 crisis has created a window of opportunity for corporate interests to engage in aggressive pursuit of energy agendas that perpetuate carbon intensive and corporate controlled energy systems, which illuminates the ongoing procedural injustices of energy decision making.

These four related crises demonstrate why energy sovereignty is essential for a just energy future. Energy sovereignty is defined as the right for communities, rather than corporate interests, to control access to and decision making regarding the sources, scales, and forms of ownership characterizing access to energy services. Energy sovereignty is a critical component in the design of a post-COVID-19 energy system that is capable of being resilient to future shocks without exacerbating injustices that are killing the most vulnerable among us.

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An Emergency Jobs Program for an Emergency Green New Deal

By Jeremy Brecher - Labor Network for Sustainability, March 2020

This is the second of a series of commentaries proposing an Emergency Green New Deal. The first, “As Workers Fight Coronavirus, They Are Laying the Basis for an Emergency Green New Deal,” describes the need for emergency employment to meet the coronavirus crisis and the economic devastation it is bringing to American workers; tells how worker action on the job, in the community, and in the political arena is already addressing that need; and explains how their action can be the start of an Emergency Green New Deal. This commentary lays out a practical plan for a Green New Deal Work Program that can start right now addressing the emergency needs of the coronavirus era and can develop into a program to provide jobs for all who want them helping fix the damage done by the coronavirus and creating a just transition to a climate-safe economy.

On March 19, New York activist and student Erik Forman wrote, “I spent some of today doing deliveries with a volunteer crew of unemployed Uber drivers, mostly to elderly people living in public housing developments.” He asked for a small amount of funds to continue this work and scale it up, and “build momentum for emergency funds to pay for home delivery of meals as a public utility in the crisis.”[1]

That is a microcosm of what we as a society need to do in the face of the coronavirus pandemic – and the economic pandemic that is following hard on its heels. We need to apply the central premise of the Green New Deal – put people to work doing the things we as a society need. It is time to start an emergency jobs program based on that principle. Such a program is necessary to protect against the coronavirus. It is necessary to meet the wave of layoffs that has already begun. And it is necessary to solve the deep crises of climate change and inequality that will still face us when the coronavirus wave eventually subsides.

The coronavirus layoffs have started. According to an NPR/Marist poll, 18% of households have already reported someone being laid off or having hours reduced because of the epidemic. It was 25 percent for those earning less than $50,000.[2] In New Jersey, 15,000 people applied for unemployment benefits on a single day, a twelvefold increase over normal levels; in Rhode Island applications went from 10 one week to 6,282 the next. The U.S. Travel Association projects 4.6 million jobs lost this year in the travel industry alone.[3] Secretary of Treasury Steven Mnuchin warned Republican Senators behind closed doors that without emergency government action the unemployment rate could reach 20% — more like the Great Depression of the 1930s than anything we’ve known since.[4]

In less than a week our government has allocate ed $1.5 trillion to save Wall Street and is proposing another trillion or more for a bailout that will leave most people with nothing except possibly a week’s wages ($1000 per family in Trump’s current proposal) in their pockets. So far the big bucks – trillions of them – are going to protect Wall Street. Programs for fossil fuel and airline industries appear to be on the way. While coronavirus legislation is pending, its main provision to help regular people – sick leave – turns out to exclude 80 percent of workers. Proposals are being made for extended unemployment compensation, healthcare for all, and sending checks to all American families. So far, however, there have been few proposals to deal with the mass joblessness that will follow the pandemic.

When the coronavirus is finally defeated we will face economic devastation that is likely to take years to repair. And we will still face the unrepaired damage of decades of climate crisis, growing inequality, and racial injustice.

In Coronavirus Fight, Workers Are Forging an Emergency Green New Deal

By Jeremy Brecher - Labor Network for Sustainability, March 2020

This is the first of a series of commentaries on the Green New Deal. It argues that in the face of government and employer failure, workers and communities must take the lead to protect ourselves and each other from the coronavirus and its economic and social impacts. It proposes an emergency program to do just that. Funny – it looks a whole lot like a do-it-yourself Green New Deal.

The coronavirus pandemic threatens all of us. People are scared, and rightly so. But when we look to our government officials and employers, whose responsibility it is to provide protection in an emergency, what do we find? In the words of the National Nurses United – a union whose members are risking their lives every day on the frontlines of the coronavirus pandemic — “Federal, state, local, and employer efforts to fight the coronavirus” are “outrageous” and “ineffective.”

At least until those in authority get their act together, we need to start protecting ourselves and each other – not only as individuals, but collectively. Call it a “do-it-yourself Green New Deal.”

The core idea of the Green New Deal is to put people to work meeting our needs. So far the GND has been aimed primarily at challenging climate destruction and inequality. But our most urgent need right now is to protect against COVID-19 and the devastating impacts it will have on our communities and our jobs. The government isn’t doing it. Our employers aren’t doing it. So, if it is going to be done the people have to do it ourselves. We can take the core idea of the GND and start applying it right now. That means an “Emergency People’s Green New Deal.”

Let’s start by looking at the emergency needs that have to be met. Then we can look at the human resources we have to meet them. Finally, we’ll look at the social and political process we need to make it happen.


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