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The Cost of Living Crisis is a Climate Crisis

Labour movement agendas in conflict over decarbonisation pathways

By Les Levidow - Greener Jobs Alliance, June 7, 2022

The Just Transition concept has sought to avoid socially unjust means and consequences of a low-carbon transition. Alternatives could provide the basis for a common agenda of the labour movement. Yet trade unions have had divergent perspectives on decarbonisation pathways, especially as regards the potential role of technological solutions. 

Such conflict has focused on Carbon Capture & Storage (CCS). This is favourably called ‘carbon abatement’ or pejoratively called a ‘technofix’. As one reason for US trade-unions supporting CCS and thus the fossil fuel industry, often they have achieved relatively greater job security and wages there; such gains may seem jeopardised by substituting renewable energy.

UK CCS agendas focus on the prospect to decarbonise natural gas into hydrogen. This agenda unites the UK ‘energy unions’ with their members’ employers, as a cross-class alliance for a CCS fix. From a critical perspective, this seeks to accumulate capital by perpetuating natural gas, while undermining or delaying its renewable competitors.

Trade-union divergences have arisen in many ways. For a Just Transition, ITUC has advocated phasing out ‘unabated coal’, implying that coal with CCS could continue indefinitely. In the name of climate justice, the TUC has advocated CCS as a means to continue fossil fuels within a ‘balanced energy’ policy. By contrast, according to the PCS, CCS ‘is not yet a proven technology at scale’, and we don’t have the luxury to wait; it counterposes a strategy of energy democracy.

Such political divergences within the labour movement have arisen around Just Transition proposals at TUC conferences, likewise around agendas for a Green New Deal. In 2019 these were promoted within the US Democratic Party and UK Labour Party. Both underwent internal conflicts over decarbonisation pathways, expressing conflicts within the labour movement. 

Decarbonizing energy intensive industries: what are the risks and opportunities for jobs?

For a Living Wage and a Habitable Planet, We Need Climate Jobs Programs

By Paul Prescod - Jacobin, June 2, 2022

Climate and labor activists are coming together to hammer out ambitious but realistic plans for massively expanding the clean-energy sector in a way that also creates good union jobs. For both paychecks and the planet, it’s the only path forward.

The stalling of President Joe Biden’s “Build Back Better” agenda raises serious concerns for those looking to the federal government for strong action on climate change. Much of the more ambitious climate-related aspects of the legislation have already been gutted — and the fact that it still can’t pass a Congress with a Democratic majority is a worrying sign for the future.

But despite the dysfunction at the federal level, there are encouraging developments occurring at the state level. Increasingly, climate and labor activists are coming together to hammer out ambitious but realistic plans for massively expanding the clean-energy sector in a way that creates family-sustaining union jobs.

These state-based efforts are often facilitated by the Climate Jobs National Resource Center. States like New York, Connecticut and Maine have managed to get real buy-in from the building trades on a vision that defies the false jobs versus environment dichotomy. Recently, the Illinois legislature passed landmark climate legislation that puts the state on a path to reaching 100 percent clean energy by 2050, all with the full support of the Illinois AFL-CIO.

Rhode Island has now joined the party. Earlier this year Climate Jobs Rhode Island, a broad labor-environmental coalition, released a report titled “Building a Just Transition for a Resilient Future: A Climate Jobs Program for Rhode Island.” The report, compiled in partnership with the Worker Institute at Cornell, takes a comprehensive approach to limiting carbon emissions — containing recommendations on retrofits, public transportation, renewable energy, and climate resilience.

The Rhode Island initiative is a good model for activists in other states to consider. In addition to meaningfully addressing climate change, there’s no doubt that this program would result in the creation of tens of thousands union jobs. It points the way forward for both the climate and labor movements, which must join together in order for the working class to have any hope of a sustainable future.

Advancing Policy Measures to Drive Development of the Domestic Offshore Wind Supply Chain

By Liz Burdock, Ross Gould and Sam Salustro - Labor Energy Partnership, June 2022

Accelerating the growth of the U.S. offshore wind supply chain is critical to achieving national and state-level energy goals and will require a national strategy to succeed. This paper, titled Advancing Policy Measures to Drive Development of the Domestic Offshore Wind Supply Chain, assesses how current policies impact potential supply chain businesses and what is needed to help them retool or gain the capabilities needed to build out the U.S. offshore wind industry and compete in the global market. Secondary market forces, such as federal leasing processes and transmission capacities, play an important role in efforts to accelerate supply chain development and are discussed. This paper is informed by specific and general conversations with Network members actively working to build out a sustainable and competitive offshore wind supply chain. These insights are augmented by research into current global and European policies impacting the United States market and into comparable renewable energy technologies and their successes or failures in growing a domestic supply chain.

Revitalizing U.S. Shipbuilding With U.S.-Built Offshore Wind Installation and Maintenance Vessels

By Will Foster and Riley Ohlson - Labor Energy Partnership, June 2022

This paper assesses the opportunities and challenges for developing a fleet of Jones Act-compliant vessels for installation, maintenance and service of offshore wind infrastructure in the U.S., in consultation with shipbuilding unions.

Stimulating commercial shipbuilding activity is critical to facilitating OSW deployment while demonstrating the potential for this deployment to support and grow good manufacturing jobs.

Arguably, the greatest challenge facing sustained OSW development is neither technical nor financial but political. Many American workers, particularly those in industries tied to fossil fuels, are deeply skeptical of the prospects of a just transition and the fundamental ability for renewable energy production to support middle-class jobs.

The Power of Offshore Wind

By Sarah Clements and Angie Kaufman - Labor Energy Partnership, June 2022

The U.S. offshore wind energy industry is on the rise. As a climate solution with opportunities to create and support good-paying jobs, the offshore wind industry demonstrates the symbiosis between labor and the energy transition. 

This fact sheet was developed by EFI and AFL-CIO under the Labor Energy Partnership. It will help you understand the basics: what offshore wind energy is, why the East Coast has more potential, what the Biden Administration has pledged, and how to build the industry sustainably and equitably. 

(TUED Working Paper #14) Beyond Disruption: How Reclaimed Utilities Can Help Cities Meet Their Climate Goals - Video Discussion

By Sean Sweeney, et. al. - Labor Network for Sustainability, May 31, 2022

Web Editor's Note: this webinar discussion focuses on TUED Working Paper #14. Some of the arguments made by the presenters seem to frame advocates of locally controlled, decentralized distributed energy as "unwittingly plaing into the hands of neoliberalism", which is a debatable position (and one that some of the other attendeees push back on). 

Building Our New Electric Fleet

By Harold Meyerson - Resistance Committee, May 31, 2022

Today on TAP: In a signal victory last week, an activist group prevailed on a major bus manufacturer to hire its workers from local, historically disadvantaged communities.

In 1997, after a campaign of several years’ duration, the Los Angeles City Council voted to establish the nation’s first living wage ordinance. Under its terms, businesses with which the city had contracted to do its work—for which the city’s taxpayers were footing the bill—were required to pay their employees a specified, decent wage, as well as offering them a modicum of benefits.

The ordinance, and the campaign that pressured the council to enact it, were the brainstorm of Madeline Janis, the attorney who’d founded and led the Los Angeles Alliance for a New Economy (LAANE). “Taxpayers should not be subsidizing poverty-wage jobs,” Janis argued.

At roughly the same time, in tandem with another progressive community organization, LAANE also persuaded a number of local developers to sign community benefits agreements (CBAs), which obligated those developers to hire local residents—in effect, disproportionately minorities and women—on major construction projects. Previously, such projects were built by a heavily white male workforce that lived nowhere near the city’s center, even as those projects uprooted the self-same minority communities who’d lived and worked there. With the coming of CBAs, minorities began to gain much greater entry to union construction jobs that offered pay and benefits that otherwise would have remained out of reach.

As Illinois Coal Jobs Disappear, Some Are Looking to the Sun

By Kari Lydersen - In These Times, May 26, 2022

While Illinois phases out coal, clean energy jobs hold promise—both for displaced coal workers, and those harmed by the fossil fuel economy.

Matt Reuscher was laid off a decade ago from Peabody Energy’s Gateway coal mine in Southern Illinois, in the midst of a drought that made the water needed to wash the coal too scarce and caused production to drop, as he remembers it.

Reuscher’s grandfather and two uncles had been miners, and his father — a machinist — did much work with the mines. Like many young men in Southern Illinois, it was a natural career choice for Reuscher. Still in his early 20s when he was laid off, Reuscher ​“spent that summer doing odds and ends, not really finding much of anything I enjoyed doing as much as being underground.”

By fall of 2012, he started working installing solar panels for StraightUp Solar, one of very few solar companies operating in the heart of Illinois coal country. He heard about the job through a family friend and figured he’d give it a try since he had a construction background. He immediately loved the work, and he’s become an evangelist for the clean energy shift happening nationwide, if more slowly in Southern Illinois. With colleagues, he fundraised to install solar panels in tiny villages on the Miskito Coast of Nicaragua, and he became a solar electrician and worked on StraightUp Solar installations powering the wastewater treatment center and civic center in Carbondale, Illinois — a town named for coal. 

Solar installation pays considerably less than coal mining, Reuscher acknowledges, but he feels it’s a safer and healthier way to support his family — including two young sons who love the outdoors as much as he does. 

“You work with people who are really conscious about the environment. That rubs off on me and then rubs off on them,” Reuscher notes, referring to his sons.

Illinois has more than a dozen coal mines and more than a dozen coal-fired power plants that are required to close or reach zero carbon emissions by 2030 (for privately-owned plants) or 2045 (for the state’s two publicly-owned plants), though most will close much sooner due to market forces. Reaching zero carbon emissions would entail complete carbon capture and sequestration, which has not been achieved at commercial scale anywhere in the United States. 

Coal mines also frequently lay off workers, as the industry is in financial duress, though Illinois coal is bolstered by a healthy export market. A ​“just transition” — which refers to providing jobs and opportunities for workers and communities impacted by the decline of fossil fuels — has been an increasing priority of environmental movements nation-wide, and was a major focus of Illinois’ 2021 Climate and Equitable Jobs Act (CEJA). The idea is that people long burdened by fossil fuel pollution and dependent on fossil fuel economies should benefit from the growth of clean energy. Reuscher’s story is a perfect example. 

But in Illinois, as nationally, his transition is a rarity. Solar and other clean energy jobs have more often proven not to be an attractive or accessible option for former coal workers. And advocates and civic leaders have prioritized a broader and also difficult goal: striving to provide clean energy opportunities for not only displaced fossil fuel workers, but for those who have been harmed by fossil fuels or left out of the economic opportunities fossil fuels provided.

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