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Pipeline fighters resist climate catastrophe

By Carl Sack - Socialist Action, July 8, 2016

Humanity is faced with a worsening climate catastrophe. In June, levels of heat-trapping carbon dioxide in the Earth’s atmosphere topped 400 parts per million at the South Pole, a concentration not seen on this planet in the last four million years. Scientists at the Mauna Loa Observatory in Hawaii, which is registering 407 ppm carbon dioxide as of this writing, say that the concentration there is now probably permanently above 400.

The significance of this milestone is massive. NASA scientist Dr. James Hansen has written that 350 parts per million is the upper limit of Earth’s carbon dioxide concentration, “if humanity wishes to preserve a planet similar to that on which civilization developed and to which life on Earth is adapted.” Carbon dioxide concentrations were last at 350 ppm around 1985.

Human-induced climate change is already wreaking havoc. May 2016 marked the 13th consecutive hottest month on record in global average temperature, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The permanent drought and major wildfires in the western U.S., the huge Horse River Fire that destroyed parts of Fort McMurray in far northern Alberta, Canada (ironically the epicenter of Canada’s tar sands oil boom), the bleaching of the Great Barrier Reef off the coast of Australia, the killer heat wave in India, and many more unfolding disasters are all attributable to a warming world.

Yet, the world’s capitalist rulers are actively pouring gasoline onto the climate fire. U.S. politicians from President Barack Obama on down have cheered on the expansion of fracking for oil and natural gas, which has only slowed slightly in the face of a historic fossil fuel glut. Fracking continues to be exempted from most federal environmental regulations, despite its routinely poisoning of local air and water supplies, causing earthquakes, and releasing huge amounts of methane, a greenhouse gas over 80 times as powerful as carbon dioxide over a 20-year time span.

Last December, with the support of both Republicans and Democrats, Congress quietly lifted the country’s 40-year-old ban on crude oil exports, allowing fracking for oil in the Bakken fields of North Dakota and Montana to go full speed ahead even when domestic demand can’t keep up. In June, the Democratic Party’s Platform Committee reiterated that party’s support for fracking, rejecting a proposal to call for a national moratorium on it.

In Canada, the federal government continues to actively promote the development of tar sands. Tar sands oil is the dirtiest energy source on the planet. Mixed in with soil, it takes huge amounts of energy to extract and refine, and has resulted in massive deforestation and pollution in the boreal forest region of Alberta. James Hansen has called the full development of the tar sands “game over for the climate.”

Laws limiting fossil-fuel production at the source are necessary to combat climate change, yet the agenda of Democrats and Republicans, Conservatives and Liberals alike seems to be just the opposite. In their calculus, short-term profits for U.S. and Canadian fossil fuel companies trump the future livability of the planet. Likewise, the representatives of the global capitalist class utterly failed to implement meaningful limits on greenhouse gas emissions through the most recent international climate accord, the Paris Agreement, signed last December.

In a June 30 article in the journal Nature, several climate scientists warn that all of the non-binding pledges for greenhouse gas reductions made by countries as part of the agreement, if fully implemented, would result in a disastrous global temperature increase of 2.6-3.1 degrees Celsius by 2100. The agreement aspires to hold global temperatures to “well below 2 degrees Celsius,” a number which would still mean famine and displacement for millions.

There is hope in the climate justice movement, which continues to build its power to stop fossil fuels even in the face of long odds. Activists are fighting back against the expansion of pipelines used to carry oil and gas from the point of production to refineries and export terminals—and in some cases they are winning.

Although plenty of oil and gas are getting to market, pipelines represent a choke point for future production. The 2016 Crude Oil Forecast from the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, which represents Canada’s tar sands industry, concludes that “Canada’s oil supply will soon greatly exceed its current pipeline capacity.” Denying the fossil fuel industry this capacity is a symbolic blow against the industry and shows that it is vulnerable to movement pressure.

Much of the growing pipeline resistance has also been driven by more local concerns. If a line bursts, it can devastate farmland, ecosystems, and waterways. This nightmare visited Michigan in 2010, when an Enbridge Energy pipeline ruptured and spilled 1.1 million gallons of heavy tar sands crude into the Kalamazoo River, the largest inland oil spill in the U.S. to date. Tar sands oil is heavy and thick and pumped at high pressure, putting a large amount of stress on the pipes. Along natural gas pipelines, compressor stations release large amounts of methane, along with toxins such as benzene, toluene, sulfuric oxide, and formaldehyde.

The most famous pipeline battle to date was over the Keystone XL line, which would have cut across the central U.S., bringing 800,000 barrels per day of tar sands oil from northern Alberta, Canada to the Gulf Coast. In the face of a national groundswell of opposition, the Obama administration denied the pipeline’s permit to cross the Canadian border, killing the project. Now activists are fighting to keep Keystone’s successors at bay.

Why work and workers matter in the environmental debate

By Caleb Goods - Green Agenda, March 19, 2016

It is not hard to imagine that the world of work is a place of deep ecological impact that will be fundamentally changed by endeavours to green the economy. The implications of climate change for all workers and employers are enormous: the International Labour Organisation (ILO) suggests that 80 per cent of Europe’s CO2 emissions come from industrial production. Thus, the world of work is a critical site of ecological harm and therefore needs to be a site of deep environmentally focused transformation. The interconnection between work and climate change has lead Professor Lipsig-Mumme to conclude, ‘[g]lobal warming is likely to be the most important force transforming work and restructuring jobs in the first half of the twenty-first century’.1 The reality is all work and industries must fundamentally change, and will be changed by the climate we are creating as we enter a new geological epoch – the Anthropocene2 Climate change is challenging the future of work in highly polluting industries, such as coal, and climate change related events are already impacting workers. For example, a 2015 heat wave in India resulted in taxi unions in Kolkata urging drivers to avoid working between 11am and 4pm to reduce the risk of heat exhaustion.

The question of how work-related environmental impacts could be reduced is urgent. It is clear that all jobs and all workplaces will need to be significantly greener to preserve a liveable planet. I am not suggesting that jobs in highly polluting fossil fuel industries can be greened, greening work will require industry restructuring and transformation, but it will demand the closing down of some industries in the medium to longer term. Thus, the transition I am referring to here, the “greening” of our economy, is a societal transformation whereby economic, social and political processes are shifted away from an economic growth imperative to an ecological feasibility focus that demands work, and all that this encompasses, is both environmentally and socially defensible.

Unfortunately, the complexity around transitioning the Australian economy and work to a greener future is currently skirted over in political discussions, and tends to be presented as a straightforward transition via environmental efficiency, greener consumer lifestyles and technologies, or overlaying broad environmental aims onto existing industries and jobs. More particularly, the challenges for workers in this transition are rarely dealt with adequately. In what follows I argue that continuing to leave workers’ concerns aside is an unacceptable option for workers, the environment, the environment movement and government.

Union Members Don’t Oppose Environmental Protections: They’re Actually More Likely To Support Them

By Jeremy Brecher and Todd Vachon - In The Times, May 23, 2016

Union workers attacking environmentalists—it has become a trope of our time. But what do union members actually think about the environment?

In a study soon to be published in Labor Studies Journal, we report our findings on workers attitudes and behaviors regarding a variety of environmental issues. In particular, we examine the attitudes and behaviors of unionized workers to see how they may differ from the non-union respondents. The results might surprise those whose images of worker attitudes come only from the mainstream media.

Looking at data from national surveys, we find that union members are on average more likely than the general population to display pro-environmental attitudes and behaviors.

For example, in the General Social Survey (GSS), people were asked to agree or disagree with the statement “We worry too much about the future of the environment and not enough about prices and jobs today.” Forty-three percent of nonunion respondents disagreed—but 48 percent of the unionized respondents disagreed.

People were asked if they had signed a petition about an environmental issue in the past five years. Twenty-five percent of the general population said yes—but 32 percent of union members said yes.

Eight percent of the population belonged to a group whose main aim is “to preserve or protect the environment.” But 12 percent of union members belonged to an environmental organization.

Overall, we analyzed 19 survey items pertaining to the environment. On 13 of them, union members expressed more pro-environment sentiments than non-union members at a statistically significant level. On the remaining six items, there were no statistically significant differences between union members and the rest of the population.

This finding runs against the mainstream media mantra of “jobs versus the environment,” a frame which portrays unionized workers as self-interested and materialistic, putting their own personal gains above all else, including the environment. A more informed historical analysis would reveal a long record of environmental concern among unionized workers and their organizations that overlaps and intermingles with the sporadic “news event” conflicts that occasionally flare up between workers and environmentalists.

Getting Serious About Keeping Fossil Fuels in the Ground Means Getting Serious About a Just Transition

By Patrick Young - Counterpunch, April 21, 2016

As the climate crisis continues to deepen and as it becomes less and less plausible that current efforts to curb global warming will even come close to preventing our earth from crossing the 2 degree Celsius ‘red line,’ the climate movement has shifted towards a bolder vision for climate action. Virtually every pole of the climate movement has evolved towards a set of bolder, more urgent demands and the mantra ‘keep it in the ground’ has begun to dominate the discussion about fossil fuel extraction and use.

While this bold position certainly reflects the urgency of the threat of climate change, the immediacy of the demand presents a new set of challenges for the climate movement.  What happens to the millions of working families who are currently depending on incomes from jobs in and related to the fossil fuel industry? And what happens to communities whose economies rely on income from the fossil fuel industry and the low income workers as revenue dries up and energy costs rise?

According recent data from the BLS, 761,000 workers are employed in the extraction and mining sector and 116,700 workers are employed in the refining and processing sector in the United States alone. Each one of those direct fossil fuel industry jobs supports as many as 7 related jobs—from delivery drivers, equipment manufacturers, to the clerks at the mini-mart across the street from the power plant that workers stop into on their way to work.  In total, it is fair to say that more than 6 million workers rely on the fossil fuel industry for their livelihoods in the US alone.

If we are going to keep fossil fuels in the ground, what happens to those 6 million working families?

Why I Choose Optimism Over Despair: An Interview With Noam Chomsky (excerpt)

Noam Chomsky interviewed by C.J. Polychroniou - Truthout, February 14, 2016

...You have defined your political philosophy as libertarian socialism/anarchism, but refuse to accept the view that anarchism as a vision of social order flows naturally from your views on language. Is the link then purely coincidental?

It's more than coincidental, but much less than deductive. At a sufficient level of abstraction, there is a common element - which was sometimes recognized, or at least glimpsed, in the Enlightenment and Romantic eras. In both domains, we can perceive, or at least hope, that at the core of human nature is what [Russian anarchist Mikhail] Bakunin called "an instinct for freedom," which reveals itself both in the creative aspect of normal language use and in the recognition that no form of domination, authority, hierarchy is self-justifying: Each must justify itself, and if it cannot, which is usually the case, then it should be dismantled in favor of greater freedom and justice. That seems to me the core idea of anarchism, deriving from its classical liberal roots and deeper perceptions - or beliefs, or hopes - about essential human nature. Libertarian socialism moves further to bring in ideas about sympathy, solidarity, mutual aid, also with Enlightenment roots and conceptions of human nature.

Both the anarchist and the Marxist vision have failed to gain ground in our own time, and in fact it could be argued that the prospects for the historical overcoming of capitalism appear to have been brighter in the past than they do today. If you do agree with this assessment, what factors can explain the frustrating setback for the realization of an alternative social order, i.e., one beyond capitalism and exploitation?

Prevailing systems are particular forms of state capitalism. In the past generation, these have been distorted by neoliberal doctrines into an assault on human dignity and even the "animal needs" of ordinary human life. More ominously, unless reversed, implementation of these doctrines will destroy the possibility of decent human existence, and not in the distant future. But there is no reason to suppose that these dangerous tendencies are graven in stone. They are the product of particular circumstances and specific human decisions that have been well studied elsewhere and that I cannot review here. These can be reversed, and there is ample evidence of resistance to them, which can grow, and indeed must grow to a powerful force if there is to be hope for our species and the world that it largely rules.

While economic inequality, lack of growth and new jobs, and declining standards of living have become key features of contemporary advanced societies, the climate change challenge appears to pose a real threat to the planet on the whole. Are you optimistic that we can find the right formula to address economic problems while averting an environmental catastrophe?

There are two grim shadows that loom over everything that we consider: environmental catastrophe and nuclear war, the latter threat much underestimated, in my view. In the case of nuclear weapons, we at least know the answer: get rid of them, like smallpox, with adequate measures, which are technically feasible, to ensure that this curse does not arise again. In the case of environmental catastrophe, there still appears to be time to avert the worst consequences, but that will require measures well beyond those being undertaken now, and there are serious impediments to overcome, not least in the most powerful state in the world, the one power with a claim to be hegemonic.

In the extensive reporting of the recent Paris conference on the climate, the most important sentences were those pointing out that the binding treaty that negotiators hoped to achieve was off the agenda, because it would be "dead on arrival" when it reached the Republican-controlled US Congress. It is a shocking fact that every Republican presidential contender is either an outright climate denier or a skeptic who opposes government action. Congress celebrated the Paris conference by cutting back [President] Obama's limited efforts to avert disaster.

The Republican majority (with a minority of the popular vote) proudly announced funding cuts for the Environmental Protection Agency - one of the few brakes on destruction - in order to rein in what House Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers called an "unnecessary, job-killing regulatory agenda" - or in plain English, one of the few brakes on destruction. It should be borne in mind that in contemporary newspeak, the word "jobs" is a euphemism for the unpronounceable seven-letter word "pr---ts."...

Read the rest of the interview, here.

A Response to Nick Mullins’s December 2015 blog post “The Problem with Environmentalism in Appalachia.”

By Lou Martin - RAMPS, January 14, 2016

RAMPS web editor's note: Our friend and ally Lou Martin wrote this (in response to Nick Mullins’s blog post “The Problem with Environmentalism in Appalachia“) and asked us to post it. Although this isn’t an official communique from RAMPS, we’re posting it in the spirit of fostering dialogue so that our movement can be stronger and more effective…

I wish more people knew the environmental movement in central Appalachia the way I have gotten to know it in the last four years.

I have been a longtime fan of Nick Mullins’s blog The Thoughtful Coal Miner, and I hope Nick knows that I appreciate and respect him and his family for their work—work of all kinds—to end mountaintop removal.  And I appreciate this recent blog post because it is grappling with a difficult subject and because, to be effective, we need to take a hard look at ourselves and our strategies.

As I understand the post, the main problem with environmentalism in Appalachia is that environmental organizations have not won over coal mining families.  Nick writes, “Coal mining families are not very receptive to environmentalists—and that’s putting it lightly. Why should they be? In what way have environmentalists approached coal mining families over the past two decades? In what way have environmentalists presented themselves to the public?”

Throughout the blog post he talks about “environmentalists” and “coal mining families” as being two different groups, opposed to each other.  In another place he writes, “At the end of the day, I had to realize that perhaps many environmental organizations are just as ‘out of touch’ as Appalachian people think them to be.”  Here, environmental organizations and Appalachian people as if they are almost mutually exclusive.

When I think back to why I got involved fighting mountaintop removal, I think of the people who inspired me, and almost every one of them came from a coal mining family or were former coal miners—and all those people belonged to environmental organizations.

But Nick is talking about a general perception of “the environmental movement” that someone in the region might get if they only watch the occasional news report or witness a demonstration.  Those people, I suppose, might not really be able to differentiate between a small organization based in the region and a national organization like the Sierra Club.  Between an organization that advocates civil disobedience and those that do not.

The Farce of Democratic Party Climate Change Policy

By Andrew Stewart - CounterPunch, January 1, 2016

As the Aliso Canyon natural gas leak continues to spew into the air, Rhode Island’s small hamlet of Burrillvillle is now facing the chance to be the future site of such a catastrophe. With the help of a key Democratic Party endorsement and accession from labor union bosses who should know better, Rhode Island may soon host a fracked natural gas plant rather than the saner move of a sustainable electric plant.

Recently, Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, who is lovingly nicknamed ‘Wheldon Shitehouse’ by constituents in the know, has posed and postured around the Senate regarding climate change, browbeating and hectoring the Republican denialists with all the pomp and circumstance of the pontificating charlatan he is. One of Sen. Whitehouse’s claims to fame is going after the paint corporations in a lawsuit regarding lead poisoning in children, yet his recent behavior makes one wonder if he in fact consumed a fair share of paint chips in his youth.

What makes this such a joke is his adamant support of the construction of a Spectra Energy natural gas plant in Burriville. My colleague Steve Ahlquist at RIFuture.org, a better journalist and investigative reporter than I will ever be, has done a truly amazing amount of muckraking on this issue that shows the calamity in construction, reporting I would highly encourage CounterPunch readers to peruse at their leisure, including ones about whistleblowing regarding corporate pollution and protests by residents willing to go to jail. What I offer here is a mere summary.

#ClimateChange and the fight for #ClimateJobs

By the Admin - A Green Trade Unionist in Bristol, December 1, 2015

Author's Note: This is a talk I prepared for a NEON (the New Economy Organising Network) event to prepare for Bristol Climate March:

Climate change as we know is the most serious long-term challenge facing both our society, and our planet in general.  We are on the verge of reaching the point of no return, the tipping point beyond which catastrophic warming of the planet will be unavoidable, and the habitability of our world serverely undermined.

But as well as a challenge of almost unimaginable horror, climate change is also an opportunity.  As Naomi Klein has recently persuasively argued Climate Change can provide movements for social and environmental justice with a ‘collective lens’, a shared conceptual framework, sense of purpose and set of arguments for moving beyond the extreme Free-Market Capitalism (conventionally labelled NeoLiberalism) that is so impoverishing both our planet and our communities.

For decades the arguments of the alter-globalisation movement – that Free Market fundamentalism was causing spiralling inequality and social stratification – have fallen on death ears.  We now know those exact same policies have greatly exacerbated our excessive consumption of resources and our output of greenhouse gases, endangering life as we know it.

It also presents an opportunity in terms practice solutions it requires.  I don’t want to understand the scale of the problem and the response it needs.  To do our part in preventing catastrophic climate change the few decades we have left to actually do something about it, we need to rapidly transition to a zero-carbon economy.  Tinkering around the edges with carbon trading, taxes and offsetting just won’t cut it.

The amount of carbon already in the atmosphere means that even if we stopped polluting tomorrow we’ve still locked in considerable warming, we have to act now to prevent temperature rises above 2 degrees (which would have extreme consequences across the world).

We need to cut CO2 emissions by around 75-80%.
We can achieve this if we cut our energy usage by half (very achievable with an aggressive program of energy efficiency and home insulation – Britain has the worst insulated homes in Europe, which contribute to an estimated 20,000 death every winter, as well as huge amounts of wasted energy) and supply at least half of that energy from renewable sources.

This will mean the end of many jobs in polluting and fossil fuel dependent industries (an estimated 350,000).  But it will also require millions of new jobs in building new infrastructure, renewable energy, home insulation, public transport and energy efficiency.  The Campaign Against Climate Change, have created a rough blueprint laying out how this might happen.  They estimate that nationally we need to create 1 Million Climate Jobs to do all this work.

Tim Norgren: Letter to Labor

By Tim Norgren - Special to IWW Enviornmental Unionism Caucus, October 16, 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.

Fellow workers:  

In considering extreme-method fuel extraction and export: the danger of spills, water contamination, explosions, wild fires, the devastation of  fishing, farming, tourism, and manufacturing economies, and climate crises are troublingly relevant. Similarly the claims by project supporters that fuel passing through these terminals is for domestic use, or to “end our dependence on foreign oil”  is a disturbingly hollow lie; while it may yet be refined in America, the product is primarily bound for overseas markets.

Yet what most drives me to comment now is how the industry and even some of our own leadership continue to divide and manipulate the populace with mantras of “good jobs vs. the environment”. That supposed opposition is a fabrication. In fact “profits for the wealthy vs. the environment, public safety, AND workers” is far more accurate.

I began my construction union career building wind turbines. We also build and maintain solar farms, hydro dams, and public transportation networks. For a while we joined the Blue-Green Alliance, and even trained workers in weatherization of homes and buildings, a new business for us.

One potentially huge line of work is to build manufacturing design and production centers for consumer goods and technology. Intel’s recent expansion, for example, is now in its fourth year of renewed construction and has provided a multitude of jobs at any given time. As technology excels into the realm of sustainability there become many more opportunities in these “new” areas (energy storage, retrofits, production centers, etc.) for projects that will benefit all of us.  And of course electric cars can tear up roads and bridges like any other, so highway work remains a steady bet. This is all happening while dwindling supplies (leading to extreme extraction methods), popular resistance, and divestment leave the fossil industry with a dim future.

Yet recently our leaders decided to scrap new opportunities to pursue fossil export projects instead. In doing so we find ourselves aligning with such dubious entities as the Koch brothers, and the American Legislative Exchange Council. These powerful advocates for dirty fuels, fracking, climate denial, and OPPOSITION to renewable energy projects we work on are also the forces behind virulent attacks on unions such as “right to work” bills, and attempts to lower the minimum wage (www.alecexposed.org)

If this “jobs vs. the environment” rhetoric succeeds in dividing us, then we'll indeed have a few new projects, though they rarely stand up to their hype. Pipelines, for example, are divided into sections so as to be finished quickly, providing only 4-6 months of employment to a given set of local workers, while out-of-towners dominate about half of the work (as taught in the recent class for Laborer’s stewards preparing for the “Pacific Connector” proposal, should it go through). But when those jobs are over, the fuels will continue to be fracked and extracted, with taxpayer-funded subsidies and predominantly nonunion miners and roughnecks, often destroying indigenous and municipal water supplies, and run through our neighborhoods and forests in oft-leaky pipelines,  uncovered train cars and explosive tankers, further profiting the enemies of labor as they're shipped overseas to provide cheap fuel for death-trap factories where subsistence workers slave at jobs outsourced from safe, emission-regulated, living-wage employment in America and elsewhere!

Indeed as Industrial and other jobs are replaced with government-subsidized resource extraction, export, and privatization schemes, across the board from fossil fuels and lumber to such basic staples as water, education, the post office, and social services, we see in our mirror a third-world nation.

We can and must overcome that, and lead the way to a sustainable infrastructure and a sustainable economy. We need to offer a more solid resistance, to reign in globalization efforts like the TPP, which undermine our manufacturing base and the construction and maintenance that goes with it, and which allow companies to circumvent the rights and protections which the labor movement has sacrificed sweat, blood and LIVES to attain and defend for all of us. And we need to recognize these raw-material extraction-for-export and privatization projects as a symptom of that globalization. If we fight for these new jobs and to keep the industry of sustainability local, WE WILL GET THEM! Many want us to succeed and will back us up, including non-construction unions, railroaders, and many other activists.

What the Industry Doesn’t Want You to Know About Fracking

By Josh Fox and Lee Ziesche - EcoWatch, September 12, 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.

TRAILER FOR GASWORK THE FIGHT FOR CJ's Law A NEW SHORT FILM BY JOSH FOX from JFOX on Vimeo.

When we hear politicians and gas companies extoll the virtues of fracking, jobs created by drilling is usually high on their list of talking points. But the jobs created by fracking are not the kind of quality jobs American workers deserve.

They are not the kind of jobs American laborers have fought and died for throughout our country’s history.

They are extremely dangerous, exposing workers to chemicals whose long-term impacts on human health are yet unknown. In fact, the fatality rate of oil field jobs is seven times greater than the national average.

In our new short film, GASWORK: The Fight for C.J.’s Law, we conduct an investigation into worker safety and chemical risk. We follow Charlotte Bevins as she fights for CJ’s law—a bill to protect workers named for her brother CJ Bevins, who died at an unsafe drilling site.

We interview many workers who have been asked to clean drill sites, transport radioactive and carcinogenic chemicals, steam-clean the inside of condensate tanks which contain harmful volatile organic compounds, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons and other chemicals, and have been told to do so with no safety equipment.

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