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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).

Just Transition, System Change, and Revolutionary Green Transformation

By Steve Ongerth - Environmental Unionism Caucus, April 21, 2016

The term “Just Transition” is becoming increasingly prevalent in discussions involving workers, climate change, and post carbon energy economics.

Wikipedia describes Just Transition as, “a framework that has been developed by the trade union movement to encompass a range of social interventions needed to secure workers’ jobs and livelihoods when economies are shifting to sustainable production, including avoiding climate change, protecting biodiversity, among other challenges.”

This is particularly timely given the fact that humanity faces a deepening crises due to global warming, brought on by capitalist economic activity centered on a fossil-fuel based economy. In order to prevent the absolute worst case scenarios of what will almost undoubtedly a warming world, at least 80% of the known fossil fuel reserves will need to remain unextracted, and humanity will need to transition to a renewable energy based post-carbon economy. Such a shift will inevitably require a massive transformation of the means of production, likely affecting much of the working class.

Already we’re witnessing the beginnings of major upheaval simply due to the innate characteristics of chaotic capitalist market activity, as 100,000s of workers jobs are imperiled by collapsing coal, oil, and commodities markets worldwide, combined with just the beginnings of a major shift as disruptive technologies such as wind and solar achieve greater and greater share of the mix of energy sources now available.

Furthermore, climate justice and/or environmental activists know—at least intuitively—that the fossil fuel based economy, including all parts of its supply chain must be shut down as rapidly as possible and replaced by ecologically sustainable alternatives, and all attempts at expansion of the fossil fuel based activity must be opposed, by any means necessary, including (but limited to) direct action. 

In this context, the issue of jobs and just transition has become a major topic. Obviously, shutting down any project cold (even if possible) would result in the loss of jobs performed by the workers, who’re not responsible for the activities of their employers (and quite likely do not entirely agree with their employers’ motives). Even limiting such projects can potentially negatively affect the workers’ livelihoods. Given such a threat, it’s understandable that these workers would oppose efforts by climate justice and environmental activists to disrupt fossil fuel supply chains.

It’s not a new concept...

(Read the entire document here in PDF Form)

Green Jobs for Tomorrow

By staff - Canadian Labour Congress, July 28, 2016

The Economics of Just Transition: A Framework for Supporting Fossil Fuel-Dependent Workers and Communities in the United States

By Robert Pollin & Brian Callaci - Political Economy Research Institute, October 2016

ABSTRACT: We develop a Just Transition framework for U.S. workers and communities that are currently dependent on domestic fossil fuel production. Our rough high-end estimate for such a program is a relatively modest $ 600 million per year. This level of funding would pay for

Jobs, Justice, and the Clean-Energy Future

By Jeremy Brecher - Dollars and Sense, September & October, 2016

Today, there are 400 parts per million (PPM) of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, far above the 350 ppm climate scientists regard as the safe upper limit. Even in the unlikely event that all nations fulfill the greenhouse gas (GHG) reduction pledges they made at the Paris climate summit at the end of 2015, carbon in the atmosphere is predicted to increase to 670 ppm by the end of this century. The global temperature will rise an estimated 3.5 degrees Celsius (6.3 degrees Fahrenheit) above pre-industrial levels. For comparison, a one-degree increase was enough to cause all the effects of climate change we have seen so far, from Arctic melting to intensified hurricanes to desertification.

Limiting climate catastrophe will require drastic cuts in the burning of the fossil fuels that cause climate change. But many workers and their unions fear that such cuts will lead to drastic loss in jobs and economic well-being for working people—aggravating the shortage of good jobs and the burgeoning inequality we already face. Is there a way to escape the apparent lose-lose choice between saving the climate and saving jobs?

The EPA’s Clean Power Plan: How Unions and Allies Can Protect Affected Workers

By Joe Uehlein, et. al. - Labor Network for Sustainability, August 5, 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.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has just issued the final text of the Clean Power Plan (CPP), a regulation whose purpose is to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs) that climate scientists say are causing global warming. EPA and independent studies indicate that the CPP will create far more jobs than it eliminates. However, some jobs will be lost as a result of the plan, almost entirely concentrated in coal mining and electrical utilities. Affected workers and their communities should not have to bear the burden of environmental protection that benefits all. Public policy can and should provide a “just transition” that protects their wellbeing.

The EPA has released a “regulatory impact analysis” of job and other effects of the CPP. Dr. Josh Bivens of the Economic Policy Institute (EPI) conducted a further analysis to evaluate and extend the EPA findings and has produced the recently-released study “A Comprehensive Analysis of the Employment Impacts of the EPA’s Clean Power Plan.”

Between now and 2020, the CPP will require large investments in renewable energy and energy efficiency. It will also reduce jobs in power plants and mining. The new “direct” jobs created by 2020 will outnumber the jobs lost by 96,000 jobs.

Just Transition: Just What Is It?

A Joint Report by Labor Network for Sustainability and Strategic Practice - July 2016

We are now one-sixth of the way through the twenty-first century and well into the greatest economic transition ever experienced — one that will dwarf all that came before this one. This transition includes energy, creating a carbon-neutral economy, communications, manufacturing, transportation, health care, waste management, and more.

This transition has already produced road-kill with many thousands of workers thrown on the scrap heap and disintegrating communities — with no help in the offing for them. So many individuals and groups are now asking how we organize society, our economy, and our politics in such a way that our institutions serve the people, rather than capital.

The “just transition” frame is being used by an increasing number of organizing networks, grassroots organizations, groups affiliated with organized labor, and environmental organizations. This report aims to assess the notion of just transition, how it is being used, what kinds of ideas and approaches are surfacing for short and long-term strategies, and what kinds of relationships groups are developing in pursuit of a just transition. Its purpose is to open a broad and respectful discussion about the varied ways the “just transition” frame is being used, and whether they can contribute to a shared vision of how to make the transition we face a just transition.

This report is based on 17 interviews conducted between October, 2015 and March, 2016 by Christina Roessler, accompanied at times by Joe Uehlein and Richard Healey. Interviewees were offered the opportunity to revise their quotations and their revisions are included in this draft. This report represents a preliminary effort based on a limited number of interviews and a small amount of additional research. Leaders were interviewed from the following groups:

Organizing Networks

  • Climate Justice Alliance
  • GreenWave
  • National People’s Action
  • New Economy Coalition

Grassroots organizing

  • ALIGN: The Alliance for Greater New York
  • Asian Pacific Environmental Network
  • Buffalo PUSH
  • Kentuckians For The Commonwealth
  • Movement Generation

Labor

  • AFL-CIO
  • BlueGreen Alliance
  • Labor Network for Sustainability
  • Oregon AFL-CIO

Environmental

  • North Carolina League of Conservation Voters
  • Sierra Club

Why Trade Unionists Should March for a Clean Energy Revolution

By Joe Uehlein - March for a Clean Energy Revolution, June 14, 2016

Labor Network for Sustainability is calling on trade unionists to go to Philadelphia to march for a  Clean Energy Revolution on Sunday, July 24. Why?

We face the reality of climate change around the world as we digest shocking new data gathered by climate scientists in just the past six months. Climate chaos is upon us and it’s far worse than anyone ever thought.

It is not evident that we, as a society, will meet this challenge.  It’s even less clear that the labor movement will rise to this challenge.  However, the transition is still happeningthe clean energy train left the station a decade ago and many are working to keep it moving.

It is time for those of us in the labor movement to rise to the challenge and become a central player in the movement to build a sustainable future for the planet and its people – not only for the survival and well-being of all but also for organized labor’s own self-interest.

Workers need jobs.  The Labor Network for Sustainability’s (LNS) report “The Clean Energy Future: Protecting the Climate, Creating Jobs, Saving Money” outlines a path to 80% greenhouse gas (GHG) reductions by 2050 while creating a lot of high quality jobs in construction and manufacturing at no new costs. It is part of our new  Climate, Jobs, and Justice Project. We consider the Clean Energy Future plan a baseline.  If we are willing to spend more money, we can achieve a lot more.

In fact, organized labor needs to develop its own, worker-friendly plan to protect the climate. Ron Blackwell, former Chief Economist at the AFL-CIO joined with Jeremy Brecher and myself to outline such a plan:  If Not Now, When? A Labor Movement Plan to Address Climate Change. It calls for a massive national program- on the scale of economic mobilization for World War II- to address income inequality and climate change.

Of course, naysayers are fond of repeating that jobs dedicated to fixing the climate aren’t “real jobs,” or good jobs with security, family-supporting wages and benefits. They also like to point out that if these jobs are real, they are mostly non-union. And this is true. We — the labor movement — really need to get busy with strategies to make climate-fixing jobs unionized and part of that is working hard to make them real.

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