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Jobs for Climate and Justice: A Worker Alternative to the Trump Agenda

By Staff - Labor Network for Sustainability, April 24, 2017

We are in a critical political moment. The impacts of climatechange are increasingly severe, taking a toll on our health, environment and our economies. In the midst of this growing crisis, the United States now has a President and Congressional leadership that simultaneously attack climateclimate science and aim to comprehensively roll back climate protection measures and the rights of workers to organize.

Jobs for Climate and Justice exposes and challenges the Trump agenda and proposes the kind of economic program we must fight for. It also offers examples of the great organizing efforts around the country – led by working people – that provide the foundation for the a transition to a just and climate-safe economy. It is organized based on 4 elements:

  1. Create good jobs fixing the climate
  2. Protect threatened workers and communities
  3. Remedy inequality and injustice
  4. Lay the basis for a New Economy

The full working paper can be found [Here]

Climate, Jobs, and Justice: A plan for a just transition to a climate-safe economy

By Jeremy Brecher - Labor Network for Sustainability, May 12, 2016

Can we radically reduce the climate-destroying greenhouse gases (GHGs) we put into the atmosphere, yet also increase jobs for American workers, protect those whose jobs may be threatened by climate policies, and reduce America’s inequality and injustice? A series of reports from The Labor Network for Sustainability and Synapse Energy Economics shows we can.

The plans to create jobs and build a more just society by putting people to work protecting the climate are laid out in the LNS Climate, Jobs and Justice Project. They project an effective, workable program for a just transition to a climate-safe economy. They include a broad national jobs program and detailed studies of local, state, and regional plans that provide opportunities for organizing around and creating economic alternatives while developing examples that can inspire further changes at a national level.

The Clean Energy Future

The Climate, Jobs, and Justice project begins with a report titled “The Clean Energy Future: Protecting the Climate, Creating Jobs and Saving Money,” prepared for the Labor Network for Sustainability [1] (LNS) and 350.org, [2] with research conducted by a team led by economist Frank Ackerman of Synapse Energy Economics. [3] It shows that the United States can reduce GHG emissions 80 percent by 2050 — while adding half-a-million jobs annually and saving Americans billions of dollars on their electrical, heating, and transportation costs. While protecting the climate has often been portrayed as a threat to American workers’ jobs and the U.S. economy, this report shows that a clean energy future will produce more jobs than “business as usual” with fossil fuels and will save money to boot.

“The Clean Energy Future: Protecting the Climate, Creating Jobs and Saving Money” lays out an aggressive strategy for energy efficiency and renewable energy that will:

  • Transform the electric system, cutting coal-fired power in half by 2030 and eliminating it by 2050; building no new nuclear plants; and reducing the use of natural gas far below business-as-usual levels.
  • Reduce greenhouse gas emissions 85 percent below 1990 levels by 2050, in the sectors analyzed (which account for three-quarters of US GHG emissions).
  • Save money – the cost of electricity, heating, and transportation under this plan is $78 billion less than current projections from now through 2050.
  • Create new jobs – more than 500,000 per year over business as usual projections through 2050.

“The Clean Energy Future” presents a practical, realistic way for the United States to stop aggravating global warming. It does not depend on international agreements, science-fiction technologies, or sacrifice of Americans’ well being. Indeed, it provides financial, health, and job benefits for American workers and consumers that include much more than climate protection.

Why is this possible? The “Clean Energy Future” does not depend on any new technical breakthroughs to realize these gains, only a continuation of current trends in energy efficiency and renewable energy costs – but the cost of renewables is falling so fast that they are already cheaper than fossil fuel energy in some places and soon will be in most. And reducing our energy use through energy efficiency is already far cheaper than burning more fossil fuels. “The Clean Energy Future” shows in detail how we can use these new energy realities to meet our climate goals.

Most of the additional jobs will be in manufacturing and construction. Such jobs tend to have higher wages and better benefits than average, providing new opportunities for American workers. Manufacturing and construction also provide a high proportion of the better jobs held by people of color. Expanding these sectors will help counter the growing inequality within the American labor market. The report advocates deliberate policies to create new opportunities and job pipelines for those groups who have been most excluded from good jobs.

The study covers the entire electric system, light vehicle transportation (cars and light trucks), space heating and water heating, and waste management. It assumes conversion of all gasoline-powered light vehicles and most space heating and water heating to 100 percent renewable electricity. This strategy achieves three-fourths of the total emission reduction needed to reach the 80 percent by 2050 target. The report also cites other studies suggesting that sufficient GHG reduction can be achieved in the remaining sectors – freight and transit, industrial process emissions, and non-energy GHG emissions in agriculture – to meet the 80% by 2050 GHG reduction target. Indeed, that target requires only moderate reductions in these other sectors; accelerated reduction in these other

sectors would make possible even faster and larger national progress, doing better than 80 percent by 2050.

The plan will put the US on a trajectory to contribute its share of GHG emission reduction sufficient to reach the minimum target established by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change of an 80% reduction in GHG emissions by 2050.

Other studies have, at times, projected even larger job creation from a climate protection agenda. Frequently this is based on assuming much greater spending, accelerating the transition to clean energy. And indeed, in order to stabilize the climate and avoid worst-case risks of damage from climate change it may be necessary to go faster.

“The Clean Energy Future” is designed to show how much can be done with no increase in costs. It provides a floor, not a ceiling, for what can be accomplished. It shows how we can meet basic climate goals with no net cost, and that doing so will create more jobs. But we can, and indeed should, do more. By accelerating implementation of the plan and expanding efforts to other sectors we can approach zero net GHG emissions before 2050. That will take more up-front investment – but it will also create more jobs.

Climate protection strategy can be designed to provide the maximum number of good, secure, permanent jobs with education, training, and advancement that provide maximum possible improvement in our job shortage. Because some jobs will be lost in the clean energy future (about one job lost for every five new jobs created), we need a vigorous program to provide new, high-quality jobs and/or dignified retirement for workers displaced from the old energy industries.

“The Clean Energy Future” will help bring together environmental and labor advocates around their common interest in putting Americans to work saving the earth’s climate. Climate protection has caused significant friction as labor unions and environmentalists have disagreed about whether it is more important to create jobs or address climate change. The report demonstrates that this is a false choice. Climate protection is also a great jobs program. We can create many more jobs by protecting the environment than by expanding the fossil fuel infrastructure.

In the states

What does the Clean Energy Future mean at a state level? The Climate, Jobs, and Justice Project includes case studies on Connecticut, Maryland, Illinois, and Eastern Kentucky, as well as forthcoming studies on North Carolina and the Pacific Northwest. Each reveals a different dimension of the transition to the clean energy future.

“The Connecticut Clean Energy Future: Climate goals and employment benefits” shows how a largely non-industrial state with extreme economic inequality can create a rapidly growing climate protection sector that creates stable jobs for unionized workers, effective job ladders for those previously excluded from good jobs, and expansion of energy efficiency, renewable energy, and other sectors.

“Maryland’s Clean Energy Future: Climate Goals and Employment Benefits” presents a Clean Energy Future plan to reduces Maryland’s net emissions of greenhouse gases (GHGs) 80 percent below the 2006 level by 2050 – while adding more than ten thousand jobs per year. The report also indicates that Maryland can use the burgeoning state and national demand for clean energy to create good, stable jobs in a growing climate protection sector: manufacturing jobs, jobs for those who have been marginalized in the current labor market, and jobs for skilled union workers in the construction trades. It argues that Maryland needs a robust job creation and clean industry development strategy to realize that potential.

“Illinois Jobs and Clean Energy: Protecting the Climate and the State Economy” report lays out a climate protection strategy that will produce more than 28,000 net new jobs per year over business as usual projections through 2050. That represents almost 0.5 percent of total employment in the state, so it should reduce the unemployment rate by one-half percent. Three-quarters of the jobs created will be in the high-wage construction and manufacturing sectors.

While the country as a whole will benefit from the transition to a clean energy future, workers and communities in the fossil fuel industries are likely to face adverse effects. The coal mining area of Eastern Kentucky is a case in point. “Employment after coal: Creating new jobs in Eastern Kentucky,” lays out a practical approach to creating a new economy for Appalachian Kentucky. It analyzes the potential for job growth in six sectors: energy efficiency; local food production; healthcare; forest products; tourism; and environmental remediation. It presents a plan that will produce nearly 25,000 new jobs by 2030– enough to replace half of today’s coal jobs and to bring the unemployment rate down to the national average.

Whenever there is opposition to a pipeline, power plant, oil well, or other fossil fuel project, it raises a legitimate question: Where are the people who would have built and operated them going to find jobs? The forthcoming report “The Economic Impact of Clean Energy Investments in the Pacific Northwest: Alternatives to Fossil Fuel Exports” examines job prospects for such an area, Grays Harbor County in western Washington state. It compares a recently-defeated coal export terminal to possible clean energy projects. It finds that the clean energy projects will create more jobs, but that public policies are needed to ensure that they are good jobs.

Additional reports are in the works and will be added to the Climate, Jobs, and Justice website as they are completed.

The world must go fossil-free – and fast. Americans have often been told that meeting climate targets is impossible without threatening jobs and costing a fortune. But the Climate, Jobs, and Justice Project shows that the opposite is true. The Clean Energy Future represents a pathway away from climate destruction that is far better for workers and consumers than our current economy based on fossil fuels. Should we let greed and inertia prevent us from taking the better path?

Notes

[1] The Labor Network for Sustainability was founded in 2009 based on an understanding that long-term sustainability cannot be achieved without environmental protection, economic fairness, and social justice. LNS believes we all need to be able to make a living on a living planet.

[2] Founded in 2008, 350.org is building a global climate movement with online campaigns, grassroots organizing, and mass public actions coordinated by a global network active in over 188 countries.

[3] Synapse Energy Economics is a research and consulting firm specializing in energy, economic, and environmental topics. Since its inception in 1996, Synapse has grown to become a leader in providing rigorous analysis of the electric power sector for public interest and governmental clients.

A Just Transition Towards a Sustainable World (of Work)

By María Marta Travieso, Maria Prieto, Moustapha Kamal Gueye - Green Union Journal, June 29, 2018

Climate and the future of work are two of the biggest challenges facing the world today and one cannot be tackled without the other. International institutions, in cooperation with governments, unions and employers, are pushing for a just transition that can shift the economy away from destructive forms of production while maintaining quality of life for all.

Gearing Towards a Green Future of Work

By Jean Lambert - Green European Journal, June 21, 2018

Why Union Workers and Environmentalists Need to Work Together with Smart Protests

By Les Leopold - Alternet, June 21, 2017

As Trump slashes and burns his way through environmental regulations, including the Paris Accord, he continues to bet that political polarization will work in his favor. Not only are his anti-scientific, anti-environmentalist positions firing up some within his base, but those positions are driving a deep wedge within organized labor.  And unbeknownst to many environmental activists, they are being counted on to help drive that wedge even deeper.

Trump already has in his pocket most of the construction trades union leaders whose members are likely to benefit from infrastructure projects – whether fossil fuel pipelines or new airports or ...... paving over the Atlantic. His ballyhooed support of coal extraction  has considerable support from miners and many utility workers as well.

But the real coup will come if Trump can tear apart alliances between the more progressive unions and the environmental community. Trump hopes to neutralize the larger Democratic-leaning unions, including those representing oil refinery workers and other industrial workers.  That includes the United Steelworkers, a union that has supported environmental policies like the federal Clean Air Act and California’s Global Warming Solutions Act, and has a long history of fighting with the oil industry – not just over wages and benefits but also over health, safety and the environment.  

To get from here to there, Trump is hoping that environmental activists will play their part -- that they will become so frustrated by his Neanderthal policies, that activists will stage more and more protests at fossil fuel-related facilities, demanding that they be shut down in order to halt global climate crisis.  

Oil refineries present a target-rich arena for protest. On the West Coast they are near progressive enclaves and big media markets in California and Washington.  Yet many who live in fence line communities would like the refineries gone, fearing for their own health and safety. Most importantly, they are gigantic symbols of the oil plutocracy that has profiteered at the expense of people all over the world.

But from Trump's point of view, nothing could be finer than for thousands of environmentalists to clash at the plant gates with highly paid refinery workers. Such demonstrations, even if peaceful and respectful, set a dangerous trap for environmental progress. Here's why: 

Creating a Just Transition Webinar

By Jeremy Brecher, Labor Network for Sustainability - July 14, 2017

How can we organize to avoid letting our opponents pit "jobs," workers and unions against climate, water and community protection? How can we build "just transition" that includes a better future for workers who produce and use fossil fuels, construction workers who build fossil fuel infrastructure and communities that depend on them?

Labor Network for Sustainability Calls for “Climate Solidarity” on Anniversary of Superstorm Sandy

By staff - Labor Network for Sustainability, Octber 24, 2017

On this fifth anniversary of Superstorm Sandy, it is time to recognize that climate change is a dagger pointing at the jobs and well-being of American workers.

Since Sandy we have seen storm after storm, wildfire after wildfire, flood after flood, all demonstrating the greater intensity that climate scientists have warned us will result from climate change. In the aftermath of Hurricanes Harvey and Irma, the Labor Department said 1.5 million workers were not at their jobs because of weather. And the experience of Sandy, Katrina, and other climate-intensified storms shows that the devastation to workers and unions continues for years after the immediate impact.

There is no escape from climate devastation except a planned transition from a fossil fueled economy to a fossil free economy. That will require change in every industry from manufacturing to construction to agriculture. And that will require millions of jobs. Climate protection is our best jobs program.

The transition to a climate-safe economy must be a just transition. We need to use that transition to reverse the growing inequality and injustice of our society. And we need to make sure that poor and working people are protected against any unintended side effects of climate protection.

The labor movement’s most essential value is solidarity. Summed up in the hallowed adage “An injury to one is an injury to all,” it is the recognition that “looking out for number one” doesn’t work, that we will survive and prosper only if we look out for one another. Climate protection is the new solidarity: protecting our brothers and sisters as well as ourselves from destruction.

It’s Time for the Climate Movement to Embrace a Federal Jobs Guarantee

By Varshini Prakash and Sarah Meyerhoff - In These Times, May 24, 2018

With global temperatures rising and midterm elections approaching, 2018 is the year the climate movement must take bold action towards a fossil-free future.

Trump’s solar tariffs may impact solar jobs worldwide

By Elizabeth Perry - Work and Climate Change Report, February 4, 2018

Donald Trump’s decision to impose tariffs on solar panels and washing machines on January 23  was roundly criticized on many grounds – most frequently, the impact on jobs in the solar industry, as stated in the  New York Times Editorial on January 23 ,“Mr. Trump’s Tariffs will not bring back manufacturing jobs”.   The Times supported their opinion with several articles, including  “Trump’s Solar Tariffs are clouding the industry’s future” (Jan. 23) , which states: “Far more workers are employed in areas that underpin the use of solar technology, such as making steel racks that angle the panels toward the sun. And the bulk of workers in the solar industry install and maintain the projects, a process that is labor-intensive and hard to automate.” The Solar Energy Industries Association in the U.S. response is here, and their Fact Sheet (Feb. 2)  explains the terms and impact of the decision.  CleanTechnica summarized a  study by GTM Research, which forecasts that the utility-scale segment of the solar industry will be hardest hit, beginning in 2019.  For a thorough overview, see the Fact Checker article by the Washington Post,  “Trump says solar tariff will create ‘a lot of jobs.’ But it could wipe out many more” (Jan. 29).

For a deeper look at the possible implications for other countries, including Canada, consider the complexity of global trade:  From an excellent overview in  The Energy Mix: “Trump Solar Tariff may be opening salvo in trade war”: “Although China appeared to be Trump’s intended target, the tariff on solar cells and panels will mostly hit workers in other countries. Thanks to dispersed supply chains—and partly in response to previous U.S. tariffs—solar photovoltaic manufacturing is a global industry. Malaysia, South Korea, and Vietnam all hold a larger share of the U.S. market than China does directly. And all are entitled to seek remedies under various trade agreements.”   The Energy Mix item refers to “U.S. tariffs aimed at China and South Korea hit targets worldwide”    in the New York Times (Jan. 23), which adds:  “Suniva, one of the American solar companies that had sought the tariffs, filed for bankruptcy protection last year, citing the effects of Chinese imports. But the majority owner of Suniva is itself Chinese, and the company’s American bankruptcy trustee supported the trade litigation over the objections of the Chinese owners.” From Reuters,  “Why the US decision on solar panels could hit Europe and Asia hard”  states that Goldman Sachs estimated that the tariffs implied “a 3-7 percent cost increase for utility-scale and residential solar costs, respectively …. Two key exclusions with respect to technology and certain countries (Canada/Singapore, among others) were included as part of the (initial) recommendation.” Canadian Solar , founded in Canada but a multinational traded on NASDAQ,  is one the world’s biggest panel manufacturers.

For an overview of the current state of the U.S. renewable energy markets and labour force, including solar, see  In Demand: Clean Energy, Sustainability and the new American Workforce  (Jan. 2018) , co-authored by Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) and Meister Consultants Group.  Highlights:  there are  4 million clean energy jobs in the U.S., with wind and solar energy jobs outnumbering  coal and gas jobs in 30 states.  Quoting the IRENA Renewable Energy and Jobs Annual Review for 2017 ,  the In Demand report states that: “The solar industry grew 24.5 percent to employ 260,000 workers, adding jobs at nearly 17 times the rate of the overall economy in 2016.”  The coal industry employs 160,000 workers in the U.S.  In Demand  compiles statistics from the U.S. Department of Energy, International Energy Agency, International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) and many others, about current and projected clean energy markets and employment in the U.S.: renewable energy, energy efficiency, alternative vehicles, and energy storage and advanced grid sectors.

Appalachian solar jobs on the line in Trump’s Suniva decision

By Kyle Pennell - Appalachian Voices, January 19, 2018

Solar panel manufacturer Suniva was once one of the biggest players in the U.S. market. But back in April, the company declared bankruptcy. Foreign panel makers, Suniva argued, enjoyed government subsidies at a level that made it impossible for solar panel makers in the U.S. to compete. The company filed a petition with the U.S. International Trade Commission (ITC) calling for strong tariffs against foreign manufacturers. Another panel manufacturer, SolarWorld, joined the petition shortly thereafter.

In August, the companies presented their case to the ITC. They charged that foreign competition has cost the U.S. solar panel manufacturing industry 1,200 jobs and led to a 27 percent decline in wages since 2012.

But cheap, imported solar panels-along with reductions in installation costs and technological advances-have made possible the solar energy boom that has unfolded in recent decades. Back in 2006, only about 30,000 homes in the U.S. had solar panels; today, over 1.3 million American households have gone solar. Utility-scale solar electricity generation has increased by a factor of about 50 over the same period. Without access to cheap solar panels, efforts aimed at moving America toward energy sustainability would be undermined.

Moreover, many of the major players in the American solar industry have spoken out against tariffs. They argue that SolarWorld and Suniva’s petition figures are inflated, and that tariffs would significantly raise costs for solar installers, which employ far more people than panel manufacturers do. In a letter filed with the ITC, solar installer Sunnova suggested that “the imposition of tariffs on solar cells and panels will significantly harm the U.S. economy by destroying jobs.” The Solar Energy Industries Association agrees: in a recent analysis, it found that the industry would shed 88,000 jobs if tariffs are approved.

In early September, the ITC ruled in favor of Suniva and SolarWorld, agreeing that foreign solar panel imports have indeed hurt U.S. manufacturers. The ITC offered the Trump administration three recommendations: a 35 percent tariff on all imported solar panels, an 8.9-gigawatt import cap for 2018, and a tariff of about 30 percent on solar cells and panels. Under all three plans, the tariffs would mostly be phased out after four years.

But the plaintiffs criticized the ruling as insufficient, and have pushed for even harsher tariffs, including a minimum solar panel price of $0.74 per watt on all imported panels and an import cap of 5.7 gigawatts per year.

The decision as to which tariff scheme to adopt is now up to President Donald Trump. Adopting a high-tariff scheme could allow him to claim that he has encouraged domestic manufacturing and land a blow against China, both of which were major tenets of his campaign platform during last year’s presidential election.

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