You are here

climate change

The Earth and us: ways of seeing

By Gabriel Levy - People and Nature, February 13, 2018

Review of: Christophe Bonneuil and Jean-Baptiste Fressoz, The Shock of the Anthropocene: the Earth, history and us (London: Verso, 2017)

Think again, and differently, about the relationship between human society and the natural world. That is the challenge offered by Christophe Bonneuil and Jean-Baptiste Fressoz.

They question accepted ideas about “environmental crisis” and “sustainable development”, and urge us to subvert the “unifying grand narrative of the errant human species and its redemption by science alone”.

But this is not an iconoclastic rant. It is a scholarly discussion of the science behind the Anthropocene concept, and its implications for history, for the study of society, and for our ideas about the world in the broadest sense.

A central theme is the reflection of the terrifying accumulation of damage to the natural world by human activity over the past two centuries in the history of ideas. The dominant trends, to divide natural history from human history and to push the natural world out of economics, have been resisted.

The fact of the Anthropocene, Bonneuil and Fressoz argue, requires a new synthesis of forms of knowledge. They avoid offering any simplistic, pat “solution” to the disastrous rift between human society and the natural world. Instead, they point to new ways of looking at it that, collectively, may help us to change it.

This review summarises the authors’ explanation of the Anthropocene concept; considers their points about the history of ideas; comments on the sketches they have drawn for studying Anthropocene history; and asks what socialists, specifically, might take from this book.

Aviation expansion: the global cost of the carbon jet set

By staff - Reel News, February 9, 2018

Film Length: 21:46 A new global network has been launched to combat and coordinate action against the frightening expansion plans of the aviation industry. The plans are driven by the super rich flying increasingly frequently to their tax havens – and if they go ahead there is no chance of stopping runaway climate change. Fortunately there is growing resistance everywhere from a coalition of local residents, environmentalists and trade unionists, determined to stop the plans while protecting the futures of the workers who work in the industry – from hunger strikes in South Korea to the stunning victory in Notre-Dame-Des-Landes, Nantes.

How Canadian universities can confront climate change: moving from greenwashing to action

By Elizabeth Perry - Work and Climate Change Report, February 6, 2018

Confronting Climate Change on Campus  is a newly-released guide by the Canadian Association of University Teachers (CAUT/ACPPU), in response to growing awareness and concern amongst the professors and researchers who are members. It presents a three-step plan of practical action to be followed by academic staff associations and researchers across Canada:  To reduce the carbon footprint of campuses by improving building energy conservation and promoting low-carbon transportation;  to expand course offerings dedicated to climate change, and to encourage climate change research through grants and awards; and to advocate for the creation of association or institutional environment committees, or work with established committees, such as collective bargaining or workplace joint health and safety committees, to push climate change concerns.  The French version of the guide is here .

The growing awareness and concern amongst academics can be partly explained by the research efforts of the Sustainability and Education Policy Network (SEPN) at the University of Saskatchewan, which CAUT has highlighted, most recently  in  “The Politics of Climate Change” in the CAUT  Bulletin (June 2017).  The article summarizes results of a survey of Canadian colleges and universities by researchers at SEPN, and calls for exactly the kinds of actions addressed in the new CAUT guide.  The scholarly article on which the CAUT Bulletin article is based is “Climate Change and the Canadian Higher Education System: An Institutional Policy Analysis” , which  appeared in the Canadian Journal of Higher Education in June  2017.  The key findings are: “less than half (44 per cent) have climate change-specific policies in place; those policies focus most often upon the built-campus environment with “underdeveloped secondary responses” to research, curriculum, community outreach and governance policies; and the “overwhelming” response of modifying infrastructure and curbing energy consumption and pollution, while important, risks masking deeper social and cultural dynamics which require addressing.”   A 2-page summary is here ; an infographic is here.

Other relevant SEPN publications include “The State of Fossil Fuel Divestment in Canadian Post-secondary Institutions” (2016) ; “50 Shades of Green: An Examination of Sustainability Policy on Canadian Campuses” (2015) , and the related Research Brief Greenwashing in Education: How Neoliberalism and Policy Mobility May Undermine Environmental Sustainability  (2014),  and “Greening the Ivory Tower: A Review of Educational Research on Sustainability in Post-secondary Education” , which appeared in the journal  Sustainability in 2013.

And elsewhere in the world:  According to The Guardian, on February 5, the University of Edinburgh , which divested from coal and tar sands investments in 2015, announced that it will sell its final £6.3m of fossil fuel holdings.  Edinburgh has a  £1bn endowment fund,  (exceeded in the U.K. only by Cambridge and Oxford). Signalling the change to a more climate-friendly investment strategy, Edinburgh has invested £150m in low carbon technology, climate-related research,  and businesses that directly benefit the environment.

We can’t rely on corporations to save us from climate change

By Christopher Wright and Daniel Nyberg - London School of Economics, January 30, 2018

Climate change is now the ever-present reality of human experience. Late last year we witnessed a procession of huge hurricanes batter the US and Caribbean, the largest wildfires on record burn through California, and in Australia, despite the death of up to half of the Great Barrier Reef in back-to-back coral bleaching events, political support for new mega-coal mines and coal-fired power stations. While there is now a clear scientific consensus that the world is on track for global temperature increases of 4 degrees Celsius by century’s end (threatening the very viability of human civilization), our political and economic masters continue to double down on the fossil fuel bet, transforming perhaps the greatest threat to life on this planet into ‘business as usual’.

One response to the failure of government has been a belief that markets and corporate innovation will provide the solution to the climate crisis. As business tycoon Richard Branson has proclaimed ‘our only option to stop climate change is for industry to make money from it.’ Thus while business corporations are major contributors to escalating GHG emissions, they are also often presented as offering innovative ways to decarbonise our economies. But how much faith can we place in corporations to save us from climate change?

In a recently published paper, we explore how major business corporations translate the grand challenge of climate change into strategies, policies and practices over an extended period of time. Our research involved a detailed cross-case analysis of five major corporations operating in Australia over ten years, from 2005 to 2015. During this period, climate change became a central issue in political and economic debate, leading to a range of regulatory, market, and physical risks and opportunities, and each of these five companies were leaders in publicly promoting their engagement with this issue.

Leaked Trump Infrastructure Plan is a Blueprint for Corporate Subsidies

By  - CounterPunch, January 29, 2018

The Trump administration’s plans to rebuild infrastructure in the United States have been leaked, and it appears to be as bad as feared. At least three-quarters of intended funding will go toward corporate subsidies, not actual projects. It is possible that no funding will go directly toward projects.

There’s no real surprise here, given that President Donald Trump’s election promise to inject $1 trillion into infrastructure spending was a macabre joke. What is actually happening is that the Trump administration intends to push for more “public-private partnerships.” What these so-called partnerships actually are vehicles to shovel public money into private pockets. These have proven disastrous wherever they have been implemented, almost invariably making public services more expensive. Often, far more expensive. They are nothing more than a variation on straightforward schemes to sell off public assets below cost, with working people having to pay more for reduced quality of service.

That is no surprise, as corporations are only going to provide services or operate facilities if they can make a profit. And since public-private partnerships promise guaranteed big profits, at the expense of taxpayers, these are quite popular in corporate boardrooms. And when those promises don’t come true, it taxpayers who are on the hook for the failed privatization.

The collapse earlier this month of Carillion PLC in Britain put 50,000 jobs at risk, both those directly employed and others working for subcontractors. The holder of a vast array of government contracts for construction, services and managing the operations of railways, hospitals, schools and much else, Carillion received contracts worth £5.7 billion just since 2011. Overall, an astonishing £120 billion was spent on outsourcing in Britain in 2015.

What did British taxpayers get for this corporate largesse? It certainly not was the promised savings. Parliament’s spending watchdog agency, the National Audit Office, found that privately financing public projects costs as much as 40 percent more than projects relying solely on government money. The office estimates that existing outsourcing contracts will cost taxpayers almost £200 billion for the next 25 years. (This report was issued before Carillion’s collapse.) In response, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said, “These corporations need to be shown the door. We need our public services provided by public employees with a public service ethos and a strong public oversight,” The Guardian reported.

Naturally, there was one group that did quite well from this privatization: Carillion’s shareholders, who reaped £500 billion in dividends in the past seven years. But it is the government that will have to pick up the tab if the company’s employees are to continue to be paid. On top of that, the company’s pension shortfall reached £900 billion, according to Reuters.

By no means is Carillion’s collapse the only privatization disaster in Britain. A bailout of the corporate-run East Coast rail system is expected to cost hundreds of millions of pounds. There are numerous other examples that have proven windfalls for corporate executives but expensive mistakes for the public.

What kind of system would let them freeze?

By Ellie Hamrick - Socialist Worker, January 11, 2018

IMAGINE LIVING in a place where temperatures drop into the negatives--and not having any heat in your home.

That's exactly what some New Yorkers experienced last week when the "bomb cyclone" storm hit the East Coast. As temperatures dipped to dangerous levels during and afterward, residents of at least 18 New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) complexes went without heat--and in some cases without hot water--across the city's five boroughs.

At the Woodside Houses in Queens, 3,000 residents in 20 buildings had no heat for at least three days, including the day the storm hit on Thursday.

"I've got every blanket I own, plus two sweatshirts and two t-shirts, and I'm still not warm," resident Juan Melendez told the New York Post. "It's fucking arctic in here...I can't feel my fingers and toes."

Without the heat that they are legally entitled to, many tenants turn to dangerous methods to warm up, such as using space heaters or turning on the oven and leaving the door open.

According to the National Fire Protection Association, space heaters are involved in 79 percent of deadly home fires. Leaving the oven on and the oven door open can cause fires or deadly carbon monoxide poisoning, and it also exposes residents--especially children and pets--to the risk of accidental burns.

Gonzalo Rivera, another resident of the Woodside Houses, said his family had to resort to leaving on the oven. "We don't like doing it, but it's the best we can do," he said.

In a city where landlords have virtually no obligation to maintain fire-safe buildings, the implications of buildings with no heat are especially terrifying.

Broken carbon monoxide and smoke detectors are disturbingly common in public housing projects, even though city workers are supposed to perform regular checks. NYCHA also has failed to perform lead safety checks, lying to the federal government and the public about it with New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio's knowledge.

Public housing buildings are old, flammable, deteriorating, and overcrowded, lacking even basic safety measures such as sprinkler systems.

This is simply a question of money. You can bet that Trump Tower residents stayed warm and cozy throughout the winter storm. But poor and working class New Yorkers are left to freeze, as landlords take their sweet time fixing old, broken heating systems.

Enormous cuts by Ben Carson's Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) will dramatically exacerbate problems for the resource-starved NYCHA.

HUD currently provides most of the funding for NYC's public housing. But the Trump administration has proposed cutting up to $370 million from NYCHA in 2018. Those cuts would mean a 68 percent reduction of NYCHA's capital budget and a 13 percent reduction of its operating budget--and, of course, there would be no possibility of devoting additional resources to implementing desperately needed improvements.

This means more people will go without heat and hot water in dangerously cold weather. This means no safety upgrades. This means poor people will die.

What happens to workers when wildfires and natural disasters hit?

By Elizabeth Perry - Work and Climate Change Report, December 8, 2017

Sadly, we are becoming  used to seeing headlines about the costs of fighting climate change-related wildfires, hurricanes, and floods – most recently, the record wildfire season of 2017.   These news reports usually discuss loss  in terms of the value of  insurance  claims – for example, “Northern Alberta Wildfire Costliest Insured Natural Disaster in Canadian History – Estimate of insured losses: $3.58 billion”   from the Insurance Bureau of Canada, or in terms of the budgets of emergency service agencies – for example, “Cost of fighting U.S. wildfires topped $2 billion in 2017” from Reuters (Sept. 14), or in terms of health and mental health effects – for example, “Economic analysis of health effects from forest fires”  in the Canadian Journal of Forest Research (2006).  “The Science behind B.C.’s Forest Fires” (December 5) post by West Coast Environmental Law discusses the links to climate change, and concludes that the record wildfires of 2017 foreshadow growing economic and  human costs in the future.

When employment effects of disasters are reported, it is usually by statistical agencies interested in working days lost or unemployment effects,  for example,  “Wildfires in northern Alberta: Impact on hours worked, May and June, 2016”  from Statistics Canada, or “Hurricane Katrina’s effects on industry employment and wages ” from the Bureau of Labor Statistics ( 2006) . While all these are important, Hurricane Katrina taught that there are also other aspects, including those of environmental and economic justice.

In Poland’s coal heartland, miners defend their jobs but imagine a greener future

By staff - Climate Change News, December 5, 2017

Marek Wystyrk, 44, began mining at 18 and worked underground for nine years. He got a degree and worked his way up Kompania Węglowa, Poland’s largest coal mining company, to become a transport coordinator.

Coming from the Upper Silesian town of Rydułtowy, he believes Poland should keep exploiting its coal reserves, which could last for decades. Wystyrk has seen the deprivation left by mines closing nearby.

At the same time, he is preparing his three children for life after coal. “I asked my son to study environmental protection,” says Wystyrk about the eldest, who is at a vocational school. “But I don’t know what will come out of that, because he loves theatre. My own father told me not to become a miner, but I did it anyway.”

Wystyrk’s ambivalence is common in Upper Silesia, Poland’s hard coal heartland. The people are proud of their industrial heritage but increasingly aware of its polluting legacy; torn between defending the jobs they know and creating a greener future.

It is a tension that will come under the spotlight in December 2018, when regional centre Katowice hosts the annual UN climate change summit.

The Polish government has committed to keeping the coal industry alive.

“The Polish mining and power industry have good prospects,’ said prime minister Beata Szydło – herself the daughter of a Silesian miner – in August at a mining event in Katowice. “We want to build the Polish power industry and economy based on a safe energy mix where hard coal and lignite will have a prominent place.”

Her Law and Justice Party (PiS) positions itself as a champion of the country’s coal miners, which numbered nearly 100,000 in 2015, according to industry group Euracoal. The domestically produced fuel is seen as key to Poland’s energy security.

But state support comes at a cost: financial, environmental and political.

Polish hard coal is expensive. It costs $76 a tonne to dig out, according to the World Bank, compared to an international price of around $50. Mining companies are making unsustainable losses.

Last year, in a reform meant to alleviate the debt accrued, PiS transferred Kompania Węglowa’s 11 mines in Upper Silesia to a newly created company, Polska Grupa Górnicza (PGG), and had state utilities cover some of the financial losses. The least profitable mines were transferred to a restructuring company, with a view to closure.

A toxic smog settles on the region every winter. While locals tend to blame traffic, much of the air pollution comes from burning low-quality coal in household stoves for heating. Coal power stations add to the problem, causing 5,800 premature deaths a year across Poland, according to research by ClientEarth.

And coal burning drives climate change. That may seem an abstract problem to Poles, but it is a major source of tension with Brussels. Warsaw frequently lobbies for carve-outs from EU climate policy to benefit its coal industry – and other member states push back.

Back in Upper Silesia, miners watching the government’s restructuring plan are hoping for the best but waiting for the other shoe to drop.

“We were told we will keep our jobs even if some mines close, but we are anyway worried that we could be fired in the future,” says Eugeniusz Gruchel, head of the ZZG trade union at Chwałowice mine.

“People keep saying that miners make good money, but the reality is different: young miners coming to work here leave after one or two paychecks because they can make more elsewhere or abroad,” Gruchel adds. “We should keep the young here, to work for us and for Poland.”

Trump’s war on science

By Cliff Connor - Socialist Alternative, November 27, 2017

— Cliff Conner is currently writing a book entitled “The Tragedy of American Science.”

How loathsome is the Trump administration? Let me count the ways. On second thought, let me not—it would take too long. But one important threat it poses to the United States and the world is to the integrity of American science. Earlier this year, on Earth Day, April 22, hundreds of thousands of people responded to that danger by participating in the March for Science in Washington, D.C., and 600 other cities and towns across the country. How has American science fared since then?

Many right-wing politicians and public intellectuals are torn between repugnance for Donald Trump’s truculent ignorance and exuberance at the prospect that he can help them accomplish their goal of “dismantling the administrative state.” Trump’s first year in office helped advance their strategy of destroying public faith in “big government” by discrediting it. Not only are the Trump administration’s various agencies and cabinet offices laughably incompetent and ethically compromised; the office of the presidency itself has forfeited all claim to the respect of intelligent citizens.

The offensive against “big government” is driven by billionaire donors who finance right-wing think tanks, political campaigns, and media outlets. Their single-minded goal is to reduce their taxes and roll back governmental regulation of their businesses, especially with regard to environmental and public health protection. Their crusade against federal regulatory powers entails going to battle against empirical reality, rationality, knowledge, and expertise—in short, they have declared war against science.

The deregulation of corporate activities that have compromised the credibility of American science did not begin with Trump. Nor was it exclusively a Republican political project; the Carter, Clinton, and Obama administrations all likewise furthered the deregulation agenda.

It should not be forgotten that many of the environmental rules and regulations Trump’s team has rescinded were only put in place by Obama in the closing days of his eight-year tenure as president. All they accomplished was to provide easy targets for Trump to knock over. The tawdry assemblage of antiscience policymakers appointed by Trump, however, amounts to a reductio ad absurdum of the whole process.

Workers’ rights are being abused as they rebuild in the wake of Hurricane Harvey

By Casey Quinlan - ThinkProgress, November 27, 2017

Day laborers, many of them undocumented, are reportedly being exploited as they rebuild after Hurricane Harvey, and their health and economic well-being are are stake.

According to a report from the National Day Laborer Organizing Network and University of Illinois Chicago that surveyed 360 workers, 26 percent of workers have experienced wage theft in their post-Harvey work and 85 percent did not receive health and safety training. Sixty-one percent of workers did not have the necessary respiratory equipment to protect them from mold and chemicals, 40 percent did not have protective eyewear, and 87 percent were not informed about the risks of working in these unsafe buildings.

Workers have been exposed to mold and contamination on a regular basis, and regardless of whether workers are undocumented, they often aren’t aware of their legal protections, according to the report. To make matters worse, Texas is the only state that lets employers opt out of workers’ compensation for work injuries.

Advocates for different labor groups focusing on undocumented laborers have been speaking out on the issue of exploitation and visiting work sites to survey workers and pass out flyers with information on labor rights. There is tension between these advocates in Houston and Texas Governor Greg Abbott (R) on how the federal funds for hurricane recovery should be distributed. According to the Guardian, worker groups would prefer the money be distributed through the office of Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner (D), since the mayor is seen as a progressive ally. They’re afraid that if the money is instead distributed through the general land office run by George P. Bush, as Abbott wants, immigrant and worker groups won’t receive the aid they need.

The Associated Press interviewed workers hired by individual homeowners, subcontractors working on residential and commercial buildings, and work crews from outside of Texas about the working conditions. Martin Mares, a native of Mexico who came to Houston in 1995, told the AP that the demand for labor attracted people who don’t usually do this kind of work and don’t know how to do it safely. He gave the example of a pregnant woman working without gloves in an apartment building that had flooded.

Jose Garza, executive director of the Workers Defense Project wrote in the Guardian, “One woman contacted us when she and her crew, after spending more than 90 hours clearing out a Holiday Inn, were turned away without pay.”

Advocates for undocumented workers in Houston are also concerned about Senate Bill 4 (SB4), a Texas law that lets local law enforcement ask people they detain or arrest about their immigration status and hits local government officials with jail time and large financial penalties if they refuse to comply with federal detainer requests. The law is currently being held up in the courts, but that hasn’t completely erased fears among immigrant communities in Texas.

In addition to being exposed to mold and chemicals as well as experiencing wage theft, undocumented workers have already suffered from the devastation of the storm in unique ways due to poverty, lack of insurance, and their undocumented status. There are some 600,000 undocumented immigrants in Houston. After the hurricane, many undocumented people were afraid to use local shelters because of their immigration status or didn’t want to leave homes because they were concerned about protecting property. Although local and federal officials have tried to persuade undocumented people that they are not there to enforce immigration laws, undocumented people are still worried about the risk of seeking help...

Pages