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jobs versus environment

Restoring the Heartland and Rustbelt through Clean Energy Democracy: an Organizing Proposal

By Steve Ongerth - IWW Environmental Unionism Caucus, April 29, 2017

The world faces a crises of enormous proportions. Global warming, caused by the continued burning of fossil fuels, threatens life on Earth as we know it, and yet, those most responsible for causing the crisis, the fossil fuel wing of the capitalist class, seems hell bent on doubling down on business as usual. In the United States of America, whose corporate overlords are among the worst offenders, they are led by the recently elected Donald Trump, whose cabinet is bursting at the seams with climate change denialists and fossil fuel capitalist industry representatives. Instead of transitioning to a clean energy economy and decarbonizing society as quickly as possible, as climate scientists overwhelmingly recommend, Trump and his inner circle would seemingly rather not just maintain the status quo; they’ve signaled that they intend to make the worst choices imaginable, putting all of the US’s energy eggs into the oil, natural gas, and coal basket.

Worse still, Trump claims to enjoy a good deal of support for such moves from the Voters who elected him, which includes a good portion of the "White working class" who have traditionally supported the Democratic Party, whose policies are just barely more favorable to addressing the problems of global warming (which is to say, still woefully inadequate). Meanwhile, the leadership of the AFL-CIO, pushed principally by the Building Trades unions, have doubled down on their efforts to continue to serve as capital’s junior partners, even as the latter continues to liquidate them in their ongoing campaign of systemic union busting.  Just recently, science teachers across the country began to find packets in their school mailboxes, containing a booklet entitled "Why Scientists Disagree About Global Warming", a DVD, and a cover letter urging them to "read this remarkable book and view the video, and then use them in your classroom," courtesy of the climate change denialist Heartland Institute.

One might think, given all of these situations, that…well, to put it mildly…we’re doomed. However, nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, in spite of the bleakness of these circumstances, a deeper look behind them reveals that fossil fuel capitalism is in terminal decline, that their hold over our lives hangs by a thread, so much that we the people, the workers and peasants of the world, have the ability to transform the human existence to one based not on plundering the Earth and exploiting the masses for the profit of a few, but one based on true grassroots democracy, free of suffering and want, and one that exists in harmony with the Earth. The key to making this transformation lies with clean energy, and the people who can make this transformation are the very people who helped elect Donald Trump themselves. One may justifiably ask, how is this even remotely possible?

This new organizing proposal, Restoring the Heartland and Rustbelt through Clean Energy Democracy, offers a potential solution and practical steps to achieve it which can not only break the reactionary tide, perhaps once and for all, but also can greatly accelerate the very necessary process of abolishing capitalism and building a new, ecological sustainable world in the shell of the ecocidal old by building an intersectional movement championing "Clean Energy Democracy". Such a movement has the potential to unite workers, rural and rustbelt communities, climate justice activists, environmentalists, indigenous peoples, and farmers of all backgrounds and revitalize a vibrant and grassroots democratic anti-capitalist left, and it offers goals that help address the intertwining crises of global warming, decadent capitalism, failing economies, and demoralized communities plagued by economic depression, racism, and reactionary nationalism.

While the burgeoning "resistance", loosely led by a coalition of groups and movements with a smorgasbord of goals and demands, many of which are reformist and defensive (though not undesirable if seen as steps along the way to more revolutionary and transformative demands) has so far successfully held back much of the worst intentions of Trump and the forces he represents, making the latter fight tooth and nail for every single inch (as well they should), such resistance still lacks the positive vision needed to truly meet the needs of most people, including especially the most oppressed and downtrodden. By contrast, Restoring the Heartland and Rustbelt through Clean Energy Democracy offers one piece of a revolutionary and transformative vision that can truly help build a new world within the shell of the old, thus putting an end to capitalist economic oppression as well as the ongoing systematic destruction of the Earth's ability to sustain life.

Download the Proposal (PDF File).

Unions and the Climate Justice Movement

By Steve Ongerth - IWW Environmental Unionism Caucus, October 7, 2015

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

Where does the union movement stand on the issue of climate justice? The answer to that question is not entirely simple. First of all, it's important to understand the differences between revolutionary unions (most of which are syndicalist--such as the CNT, FAI, SAC--or Marxist--such as NUMSA--in their orientation, or some hybrid inclusive of both and more--such as the IWW) and mainstream reformist unions, such as the AFL-CIO.  For most revolutionary unions, climate justice is an inherent part of the struggle to overthrow capitalism, abolish wage slavery, and create a new society within the shell of the old. For example, the IWW has organized an environmental unionism caucus that dedicates itself to climate justice and other ecological issues. The South African union, NUMSA, is a supporter of Trade Unions for Energy Democracy (TUED)1 and has issued a statement calling for the end to the "Mineral Industrial Complex" (even though they represent mine workers) in favor of renewable energy.

Where the reformist unions (sometimes called "business unions" or "class collaborationist" unions by their detractors) stand varies widely, and to be accurate, some of these "reformist" unions have more (or less) "revolutionary" orientation within the spectrum of the mainstream labor movement. While many still believe that capitalism can be reformed, the evolving realities of capitalism--which is becoming extremely repressive as it imposes increasingly crushing austerity upon the working class--the ever heightening urgency of addressing capitalist induced global warming, and the increasingly impossible-to-ignore realities of police violence, movements like Black Lives Matter, and other social issues are driving many unions to question their adherence to it, beyond the mere rank and file militants within each of them.

One would expect the Building Trades and most heavy industry based unions in the United States, many of which are still largely dominated by white male workers, to be least supportive of climate justice (or even likely to swallow the rhetoric of climate denialism) and conversely expect the service unions, many of which are predominantly composed of women and People of Color to be most supportive of it, and in some cases that's true, but not always! The actual "geography" of where unions stand on climate justice is actually quite complex2, inconsistent, and in some instances contradictory.  Sorting it out completely is well beyond the scope of this article, but it is illustrative to cover some general ground and cite a few interesting examples.

Sean Sweeney of Trade Unions for Energy Democracy presentation to NZ ECO conference 2016

By Sean Sweeney - Trade Unions for Energy Democracy (YouTube), August 20, 2016

Sean Sweeney's introduces the work of Trade Unions for Energy Democracy to ECO conference 2016:

Contested Futures: U.S. Labor after Keystone XL

By Sean Sweeney - Trade Unions for Energy Democracy, May 12, 2016

Originally published in New Labor Forum. Download PDF

Nova Scotia’s Dirty Secret: The Tale of a Toxic Mill and The Book Its Owners Don't Want You to Read

By Jimmy Thomson - DeSmog.Ca, February 9, 2017

Lighthouse Beach, a white sand crescent on the north coast of Nova Scotia, was once considered the jewel of the region. People would flock there from New Glasgow and Pictou on summer weekends, visiting the lobster bar and swimming in the clear waters of the Northumberland Strait.

There had been plans for a twice-daily train that would carry visitors between the seaside, a hotel and a local yacht club. Dreams began of a destination national park. But all of these plans were choked off by the introduction of a giant pulp and paper mill in 1967 that literally transformed a large part of Pictou Landing into a toxic dump.

You can smell it usually before you can see it: clouds of sulphur belching from the Abercrombie Point Pulp and Paper Mill smokestacks. For decades, the plant pumped contaminated water into the strait, using Boat Harbour, once an idyllic tidal lagoon used for fishing and clam digging, as a settling pond for highly toxic effluent.

It was also once my family’s home.

My family settled over 200 years ago in this piece of Mi’kmaq First Nation territory, eventually transferring their own property into government care for — as they were told — protection for future generations.

Waves now roll in on Lighthouse Beach dark brown and foamy, the colour of Guinness, where I — like so many other kids in the area — learned to swim and sail.

The story of Pictou Landing is one of desperation, of corruption and incompetence. So perhaps it’s no surprise that when Canadian journalist and anthropologist Joan Baxter tried to tell it, old forces of power moved in to silence her. The mill’s owners tried to banish Baxter and her book The Mill: Fifty Years of Pulp and Protest from local bookstores.

Of course, that backfired in spectacular fashion: The Mill sold out two printings and became the best-selling book in Nova Scotia Chapters and Coles book stores the month it was released.

I reached Baxter at her home in Nova Scotia to talk about The Mill, the stories that were told to hide industry’s impacts from locals and the fight against years of environmental racism and degradation still plaguing the region to this day.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Site C Dam Decision Causes Friction Within NDP Ranks Ahead of Provincial Council Meeting

By Sarah Cox - DeSmog Canada, February 2, 2018

When B.C. cabinet members arrive at the NDP’s provincial council meeting tomorrow in New Westminster, they will face a group of “very concerned” delegates and party members who are urging the government to reconsider its decision to proceed with the Site C dam.

We’re not going to let this rest,” said Jef Keighley, vice-president of the Surrey South NDP constituency association. “The NDP campaigned on the whole concept of transparency so let’s be transparent.”

Keighley is one of 400 people — the majority of them NDP members and supporters — who attended a Site C Summit in Victoria last weekend aimed at making the government accountable for its decision to continue with Site C and outlining an action plan to stop the $10.7 billion project on the Peace River.

We believe the NDP cabinet was misled in its ill-considered decision to proceed with Site C,” states a letter from summit participants to NDP provincial council delegates and observers, a copy of which was provided to DeSmog Canada.

A reconsideration and reversal of that decision, sooner rather than later, is critical to the long-term interest of the people of B.C.”

The letter says it is “imperative” that the provincial council agenda be amended to include a discussion on Site C. The main items on the agenda are currently the upcoming provincial budget and proportional representation.  

The council, which meets four times a year, is the governing body of the NDP between conventions, with input on issues from cabinet and the NDP’s provincial office. Constituency associations around the province elect voting delegates to the council.

When Companies Deny Climate Science, Their Workers Pay

By Carla Santos Skandier - Common Dreams, December 28, 2017

After decades spreading misinformation about greenhouse gas emissions’ role as a driver of climate change, the deceptive tactics of the fossil fuel industry are slowly beginning to backfire.

In December, for instance, General Electric announced major cuts to its fossil-fuel-heavy power department — and the pain of this unplanned transition is already being felt by the people least responsible for the company’s decisions: its workers.

In the last two years, many stories have surfaced on the knowledge major fossil fuel companies like Exxon-Mobil had about the climate impacts of their activities, and the many tactics these same companies employed to deceive the public about these impacts. But they may have also managed to deceive themselves.

Cheered on by a president who’s gone above and beyond to prop up the fossil fuel industry — from announcing his intent to withdraw the U.S. from the Paris climate agreement to pushing for approval of the Keystone XL Pipeline — dirty energy companies are deluding themselves that business as usual is a possible path forward.

This self-delusion may be beginning to reach its limits. The latest sign arrived on December 7 at General Electric — a global player in electricity for the past 125 years — with the announcement of an 18 percent cut to the power department, the biggest and one of the oldest departments of the company.

CEO Russell Stokes pulled no punches explaining the cuts: The decision aims to right-size the business amid a decline in fossil fuel usage — particularly coal and natural gas. The announcement came a mere two years after GE’s decision to double its fleet of large coal turbines — a clear misjudgment.

This would be good news if it not for one detail: jobs. GE’s decision alone will cost 12,000 jobs worldwide.

If companies continue to resist transitioning from fossil fuels to renewables, these massive jobs losses will be just the beginning.

The Department of Labor estimates that roughly 200,000 people are currently employed in the oil and gas extraction and coal mining sectors. But the number could be in the millions if supportive work, construction, and indirect services of fossil fuel dependent communities are also considered.

Fortunately, the renewable industry is booming. The Department of Energy recently reported that almost twice as many people were employed in solar energy last year than coal, gas, and oil electricity combined.

But matching displaced fossil fuel workers to new jobs won’t be simple. It matters where those jobs are being created, and someone will have to make sure fossil fuel workers get a chance to qualify for new positions.

As if this weren’t hard enough, companies’ continuous denial and misrepresentation makes things worse. Their decision to “right-size” usually comes as last minute massive lay-offs, without giving workers a chance to plan ahead.

In the last few weeks alone, major institutions like Johns Hopkins University, ING bank, and the French insurance giant AXA have pulled their investments from coal, and the World Bank has announced it will no longer invest in any fossil fuel projects. The writing is on the wall, and the decline of fossil fuel production is both necessary and increasingly inevitable.

This is all good news for the climate. But we also need a plan to support those employees on the front lines of the energy sector. We need to stop letting workers’ lives be collateral damage of misguided corporate decisions.

Would the Atlantic Coast Pipeline be the job creator its TV ads claim?

By Sue Sturgis - Facing South, December 15, 2017

Dominion and Duke Energy got more bad news about their controversial Atlantic Coast Pipeline project this month, with North Carolina regulators announcing they would not issue the necessary air quality permit for a planned compressor station in Northampton County by Dec. 15, as the utilities had hoped. The proposed 600-mile pipeline would carry fracked gas from West Virginia to North Carolina, with most of it used to generate electricity at gas-fired power plants.

On Dec. 4, the N.C. Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) — headed by the Environmental Defense Fund's former Southeastern regional director Michael Regan — asked for additional information about air pollution impacts, indefinitely extending the deadline for a response. This marks the fifth time that Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper's administration has asked the ACP developers for more information about the project, which has the necessary approvals from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission but still needs air, water and erosion permits in North Carolina. Last month the state requested additional details about economic benefits to communities along the pipeline's route.

Amid ongoing questions from state regulators about the ACP's impacts, its developers are running TV ads in North Carolina touting the project's job-creation potential. They're doing so through a group called the EnergySure Coalition, an alliance of pro-pipeline businesses and associations that's funded by Dominion and Duke as well as the other two minor ACP investors, Piedmont Natural Gas and Southern Company Gas.

One of the recent ads features Durwood Stephenson, a commercial and industrial construction contractor based in Johnston County, which lies along the ACP's route. He's also the executive director of the U.S. 70 Corridor Commission, a regional economic development group.

"We need the pipeline if we're going to bring in industries and jobs," Stephenson says.

But are those job claims accurate? Will the $5.5 billion pipeline that would be financed primarily by Dominion and Duke Energy ratepayers be an economic boon for Eastern North Carolina, a region that faces higher-than-average unemployment?

An analysis released last week concluded that the developers' jobs claims are overly optimistic. It was commissioned by the Natural Resources Defense Council and carried out by the Applied Economics Clinic (AEC), a nonprofit consulting group housed at Tufts University in Massachusetts that focuses on energy, environment and equity. The researchers looked at the overall economics of the ACP as well as specific claims about manufacturing jobs and found the developers' promises to be unsubstantiated.

"Recent data on states with new natural gas pipeline capacity does not support the claim that the addition of a new natural gas pipeline in a state is correlated with lower industrial electricity prices or an increase in the number of manufacturing jobs in that state," the report said.

Climate change policy in B.C. must deal with controversies – Kinder Morgan, Site C, and more

By Elizabeth Perry - Work and Climate Change Report, December 4, 2017

In his November 30 article, “Where is B.C. headed on climate action?”, Marc Lee of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives begins with a bit of history – November 2017 marks the 10 year anniversary of the passage of  B.C.’s  Greenhouse Gas Reduction Targets Act, followed by B.C.’s carbon tax, the first in North America, in 2008.  His overview then discusses climate change policy since the Liberal government and its Climate Leadership Team (CLT)  were replaced by the government of the New Democratic Party in Summer 2017.  Specific issues raised: the new government may still be considering the  development of Liquified Natural Gas (LNG) on the north coast; an inadequate annual increase to the carbon tax of just $5 per tonne per year (instead of the $10 per tonne recommended by the CLT); the need for a public inquiry into fracking  (as called for by the CCPA and 16 other organizations); and the need for leadership on more stringent regulation of methane emissions.  The author concludes:  “The BC government’s opposition to Kinder-Morgan’s TransMountain pipeline expansion is laudable. But there is much left to be done on climate action in BC… We need an action plan commensurate with the urgency posed by climate change and the aspirations of leadership claimed by BC politicians.”

Although Marc Lee has written about the controversial Site C Dam project previously, he doesn’t include it in this overview, although it is still very much a live issue.   Following the Report of the Independent Review of the B.C. Utilities Commission (BCUC)  on November 1, the government indicated it would decide by December 31 whether to proceed with the project or not.  On December 1, the B.C. Green Party, the government’s coalition partner, sent an Open Letter to the Premier, arguing for cancellation of Site C on the grounds that it is likely to continue to exceed budget, and that alternative sources of energy are now cheaper.  Questions about the job creation forecasts used to justify the original decision have also been raised – most relying on the latest analysis from the University of British Columbia Water Governance Institute. Their latest  full report  was released on November 23; a 2-page Briefing Note also released argues that terminating Site C and pursuing  the alternative scenario put forth by BCUC would create three times as many jobs as the construction and operation of Site C by 2054, albeit with short-term job losses.  The longer term scenario forecasts jobs in site remediation, energy conservation, and alternative energy projects, including in the Peace River region.  Commentary on the jobs debates has appeared in “Digging for The Truth on Site C Dam Job Numbers ” in DeSmog Canada (Nov. 16) and  in “ A BC without Site C best bet for taxpayers ” an Opinion piece in The Tyee written by  Jay Ritchlin of the David Suzuki Foundation, which labels the call for current construction jobs as “a red herring”.

Also in The Tyee:Construction Unions Pressing for Completion of Site C” (Nov. 24) , which takes a deep dive into a recent press conference of the Allied Hydro Council of BC, a bargaining agent for unions at previous large hydro projects, and an advocate of the Site C project. The detailed article, outlining ties between the Council and the NDP government, is by Sarah Cox, author of  Breaching the Peace: The Site C Dam and a Valley’s Stand Against Big Hydro (UBC Press, forthcoming Spring 2018).    The Allied Hydro Council submission to the BCUC Inquiry is here .

Alternatives to the Site C Dam Will Create Way More Jobs: UBC Analysis

By Judith Lavoie - DeSmog Canada, November 28, 2017

Alternatives to the $10 billion Site C dam would produce significantly more jobs than construction of the controversial hydroelectric dam, according to a new study led by the University of British Columbia.

The analysis by researchers from UBC’s Program on Water Governance found that if Site C is scrapped, there would be modest job losses in the short-term — 18 to 30 per cent until 2024 — but job gains of between 22 and 50 per cent through 2030.*

A recent three-month investigation conducted by the B.C. Utilities Commission found alternatives to Site C, including wind energy and conservation measures to reduce provincial electricity demand, could replace the dam at an equal or lower unit energy cost.

By 2054, the B.C. Utilities Commission alternative portfolio will have created three times as many jobs as Site C,” Karen Bakker, one of the authors of the report and co-director of the Program on Water Governance, told DeSmog Canada.

Site remediation, geothermal construction and energy conservation will create thousands of jobs each year,” she said.

Alternative energy, such as wind power, creates many more jobs for every dollar spent, Bakker told DeSmog Canada.

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