You are here

green jobs

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: 

The Wrong Way to Debunk Trump’s Pipeline Jobs Claims

By Kate Aronoff - In These Times, March 29, 2017

There’s a right and a wrong way to debunk the right-wing myth about jobs and the environment. As a refresher, here are the basics of that myth: Jobs in the extractive industry are an invaluable engine of job creation and a key driver of economic growth. People concerned about the environment want to kill projects, like the Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipelines, that would provide jobs and help stimulate the economy.

If you’re reading this, you probably already know that argument is wrong. Jobs in the U.S. clean energy industry—itself a very small sector—outnumber jobs in the fossil fuel industry 5 to 1, according to a recent report from the Department of Energy. What’s more, renewable energy has the potential to create millions of jobs in the future, which would make that type of employment dwarf even the bloated jobs figures the White House cites in defense of fossil fuels.

But here’s how not to dispel fossil fuel industry talking points: noting the disparity between part-time and full-time construction jobs. Since the Keystone XL’s permit was approved by the State Department last Friday, a number of outlets—including those with a specifically environmentalist bent—re-upped a statistic that made the rounds before the project was squashed back in 2015, stating that the project will create just 35 permanent jobs. The State Department estimates that the Keystone XL pipeline will create some 42,000 direct and indirect jobs, 50 of which will be permanent. Fifteen of the 50 jobs are temporary contracts, leaving just 35 people with ongoing jobs maintaining the pipeline. This line of argument contends the fact that so few of these positions are permanent means that Trump’s jobs argument is an elaborate rouse.

Here’s the problem: All construction jobs are temporary. When you construct something, it is eventually built. Workers in the building trades might work on several projects in a given year, and part of what building trades unions do is set up the people they represent with projects.

Talking points about permanent versus temporary jobs aren’t just bad because they stand to make the people spouting them sound grossly out of touch with working people. Jobs building wind turbines and sea walls and installing solar panels are also often temporary jobs. And that’s okay!

Making sure they’re good ones is another matter. Because of long-standing and union-negotiated norms in the building trades, the unionized workers who build pipelines tend to bring home good money and benefits, sometimes making as much as six figures in a year. Building trades and their workers, then, aren’t being somehow duped by Trump about these figures. The pipeline will create new jobs for their members, who, by and large, will be happy to work them.

But as Bryce Covert points out in The Nation, mining, manufacturing and construction jobs together account for less than 13 percent of jobs in the United States. More than 80 percent of workers are housed in the service sector. The clean energy sector is creating jobs at a remarkable rate, and there’s plenty of other work that is just as low carbon—and happens to be in some of the fastest growing parts of the economy. Teachers and nurses don’t emit massive amounts of carbon into the atmosphere. Their professions are (relatively) heavily unionized, but wages in other, non-unionized parts of the service sector remain pitifully low—an industry standard being fought tooth and nail by the Fight for $15 campaign.

So don’t fact-check the Keystone jobs line on the basis that the jobs aren’t permanent. Ask why Trump isn’t fueling high-paying, union job growth in the sectors where most Americans work and that are already creating jobs.

Green Jobs and Intergenerational Justice: Trump’s Climate Order Undermines Both

By Dana Drugmand - Common Dreams, March 30, 2017

With the stroke of a pen, President Trump has written off both the biggest economic development opportunity of the twenty-first century, and the security of today’s young people, future generations and the other species inhabiting this planet. Or so it seems.

The White House’s “Energy Independence Executive Order” is clearly a blow to the progress made under the Obama Administration to fight climate change and transition from fossil fuels to a clean energy economy. The new Order aims to rescind the Clean Power Plan, lift a moratorium on coal mining on federal land and roll back regulations on methane emissions from oil and gas fields. It comes on the heels of Trump’s official approval of the controversial Keystone XL pipeline. These actions are supposedly meant to boost jobs, but the only thing they actually boost is the already enormous share of fossil fuel profits.

A review of the numbers indicates that this is indeed not about jobs. Keystone XL, for example, would result in only 35 long-term jobs post-construction, according to State Department analysis. By contrast, the wind power industry employed 88,000 Americans at the start of 2016, and wind power technician is now the fastest growing profession in the nation. In electric power generation, solar provides more jobs than coal, oil and natural gas combined. According to an Environmental Defense Fund report, both solar and wind jobs are growing at a rate 12 times faster than the rest of the U.S. economy. In almost every state, there are now more jobs in the clean energy sector than in fossil fuels. For a president that claims to be so intent on creating jobs, ignoring renewables and energy efficiency in favor of fossil fuel exploitation is simply irrational.

It is also completely irresponsible and immoral. Intergenerational equity tends to be overlooked in the climate change conversation, yet it is an important dimension of the issue. Decision-makers have spent decades expanding the fossil fuel economy and running up a huge carbon debt – and their children and grandchildren will be forced to foot the bill. According to a 2016 report by Demos and NextGen Climate, failing to make steep cuts in emissions will cost the Millennial generation nearly $8.8 trillion in lost lifetime income. Beyond this financial implication, exacerbating climate change threatens the very survival of future generations and most other life on Earth. According to famed climate scientist Dr. James Hansen, the climate crisis implies “young people and future generations inheriting a situation in which grave consequences are assured,” and it “requires urgent change to our energy and carbon pathway to avoid dangerous consequences for young people and other life on Earth.” But instead of changing course, the Trump Administration’s fossil fuel frenzy in effect mortgages the future of my generation and those to follow.

Of course this all-out assault on clean air, clean water, and a stable climate will not go unchallenged. Citizens and activists are already gearing up to fight back in the streets and in the courts. One lawsuit in particular pits the federal government and fossil fuel industry against a group of youth plaintiffs, with a trial expected later this year that observers are billing as “the trial of the century.” And following in the spirit and scope of the Women’s March, tens of thousands of people will gather in Washington DC and other cities on April 29th to take part in the People’s Climate March.

State and local governments are also taking action to move forward on addressing the climate crisis. Maryland lawmakers just passed a bill to ban fracking, which the state’s Republican governor is slated to sign. A handful of states in the northeast and on the West Coast currently have pending legislation to implement a fee on carbon pollution. Hawaii has a mandate for 100 percent clean energy electricity by 2045. Municipalities all across the country are taking steps to slash carbon and transition quickly to entirely renewable energy. These and other initiatives become ever more important in this alarming age of science skepticism and “alternative facts.”

What this all comes down to is a power struggle between the ruling elite class of billionaires and the greater populace. Ultimately the authority to govern is derived from the people. We can and must use our collective people power to counter the greed of the fossil fuel industry and the big money polluting our politics. Most importantly, we must continue to fight and refuse to give up.

The rise of the bad jobs economy

By Neil Loehlein - Socialist Worker, February 27, 2017

DONALD TRUMP'S presidency is sure to bring intensified attacks on U.S. workers. He has promised massive tax handouts to corporations, rollbacks of labor and environmental regulations, cuts in social services, attacks on abortion providers, and incarceration and deportation for undocumented workers.

Yet, in a grim twist of irony, anxiety and insecurity about the dismal conditions of U.S. workers, felt by many people, was a critical factor in Trump's "victory" last November.

One major component driving the sense of insecurity is the increase in jobs considered contingent or nonstandard over the past 10 years. Irregular hours, variable earnings, temporary or on-call employment, and a lack of job security are some of the aspects associated with this type of work.

This isn't a phenomenon of small businesses, either. In a majority of cases, these work arrangements involve large companies employing outsourced labor instead of directly hiring their workforce.

In an economically uncertain climate, bitterness at working a contingent job--or fear of falling into this type of work--was likely a factor in convincing some number of working place people to vote for Trump out of desperation at the economic conditions they face.

The shift, insofar as it took place, was neither universal, nor the result of the positive appeal of Trump's right-wing program. Most important of all, as Charlie Post explained in International Socialist Review, Hillary Clinton failed to mobilize traditional Democratic voters.

Faced with a choice between a corporate Democratic candidate with little to offer but more of the same and a populist demagogue who promised to bring back jobs to the U.S., a small section of workers--particularly older, white workers in a couple Rust Belt states that have experienced significant job losses in manufacturing over the years--chose the latter.

They will be tragically disappointed. Trump may have promised to "bring jobs back" to the U.S. during his campaign, but he has been ambiguous about the types of jobs he would create and how he plans to create them.

Trump claims he will revive manufacturing jobs lost to other countries through trade deals like NAFTA. But that facts say something different: Only a minority of U.S. manufacturing jobs were lost to "offshoring" to countries like China or Mexico. Studies show other factors, like automation, played a bigger role.

As Lee Sustar wrote at SocialistWorker.org, Trump's broader plans for government spending cuts, deregulation and privatization will only lower living standards for workers overall. At best, his proposal for infrastructure investment may create some highly skilled jobs in construction, but nothing on the scale required to fix the dearth of decent-paying jobs.

Trump's current hiring freeze on federal workers may even lead to the loss of hundreds of well-paying jobs. Plus, deregulation of labor standards and the spread of right-to-work states under Trump's leadership could easily lead to a further proliferation of contingent employment.

The deteriorating conditions for workers that feed working class discontent will only get worse if Trump is allowed to get away with his reactionary program.

Even Trump Can’t Stop the Tide of Green Jobs

By Yana Kunichoff - In These Times, February 22, 2017

Donald Trump was elected in November on a platform that included both climate denial and the promise of jobs for Rust Belt communities still hurting from deindustrialization. In the months since, his strategy to create jobs has become increasingly clear: tax breaks and public shaming of companies planning to move their operations out of the country.

Take the case of Carrier, a manufacturing plant in Indianapolis that produces air conditioners. Trump first threatened to slap tariffs on Carrier’s imports after the company announced it would move a plant to Mexico. Then, he reportedly called Greg Hayes, CEO of the parent company United Technologies, who agreed to keep the plant in the United States in exchange for $7 million in tax breaks. (Carrier later admitted that only a portion of the plant’s jobs would remain in the country.)

The company’s decision to keep jobs in the United States was declared a victory for the Trump PR machine, but it’s unclear that it can create a major change in access to jobs in the long-term. Hayes, announcing that the tax breaks would allow additional investment into the plant, noted that the surge of money would go towards automation. And with automation, eventually, comes a loss of jobs.

“Automation means less people,” Hayes told CNN. “I think we’ll have a reduction of workforce at some point in time once they get all the automation in and up and running.”

Unlike traditional manufacturing jobs, green jobs in the clean energy industry have been on a steady upward swing. This past spring, for example, U.S. jobs in solar energy overtook those in oil and natural gas, and a Rockefeller Foundation-Deutsche Bank Climate Change Advisors study found that energy retrofitting buildings in the United States could create more than 3 million “job years” of employment.

That means green jobs remain one of the key hopes for revitalizing communities. But can they move forward under a climate-skeptic and coal-loving president?

US Labor Unions Push Back At Trump On Pipelines And Environmental Deregulation

By Seth Sandronsky - Mint News Press, February 17, 2017

President Donald Trump claims that his energy policy creates high-wage construction jobs. Some of organized labor in the United States agrees with him, including North America’s Building Trades Unions, which is affiliated with the AFL-CIO, the country’s largest federation of unions.

On Jan. 24, NABTU released a statement in support of Trump after the president issued an executive order for completion of the Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipelines to move fossil fuel around North America.

“We are grateful that President Trump understands that 32 percent of today’s construction industry workforce is employed on energy projects, amounting to over 2 million workers, and that projects such as the Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipelines are significant job creators that generate above-average wages and benefits for hard-working Americans,” said the statement prepared by the alliance of 14 national and international unions in the building and construction industry that represent over 3 million skilled craft professionals in the United States and Canada.

In April of 2015, well before Trump was elected to the Oval Office, Sean McGarvey, president of NABTU, addressed the union’s ties to the Koch energy titans, major funders of the GOP and its tea party wing. In an interview with Kent Hoover, Washington Bureau chief of The Business Journals, McGarvey explained:

“Even if you look at Koch Industries — they’re one of our biggest clients. You’ll never see us making public statements saying negative things about Koch Industries. They’re a huge client of ours. Do we agree with some of the things that they supposedly support? No. Do we understand why they do it? Yeah, Ok, because they’re looking for political advantage for a political point of view, and the Democrats don’t see it the way they see it. And other unions in the labor movement tend to be much more Democratic unions. And if you can hurt the labor movement, i.e. you hurt the Democratic Party. It’s just a system that we really don’t want to be engaged or involved in.”

According to OpenSecrets, a project of the Center for Responsive Politics, Koch Industries spent $9.84 million on political lobbying in 2016. This followed years of a heavy spending from the Kansas-based multinational corporation, which had spent $10.83 million on lobbying in 2015 and $13.7 million in 2014. In the 2016 election cycle, Koch Industries donated more than $1.86 million to GOP Congressional candidates and just $23,000 to Democratic candidates, OpenSecrets reports. The top Republican recipients were the recently appointed CIA director, Mike Pompeo, a representative from Kansas who received $71,100 from Koch Industries; Sen. Roy Blunt of Missouri, who received $40,700; and Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, a representative from Wisconsin, who received $39,522.

Yet there are other views of the U.S. labor movement as the Trump administration wages a “shock and awe” campaign of rolling back climate and environment-related rules.

No jobs on a dead planet: Why South African unions should stop investing in fossil fuels and lobby for a just, planned transition to a green economy

By David Le Page - Fossil Free South Africa, February 2017

More jobs: Yes, the fossil fuel industry creates jobs, but it also creates climate change, air and water pollution, substantial corruption, wars, social instability, economic crises and fuel shortages, and destroys arable land — all of which destroy jobs and human wellbeing. A greener economy will create more, better, safer jobs. According to the International Labour Organisation (https://goo.gl/rSryng): “…most studies show that a transition to a low-carbon economy will lead to a net increase in employment”. The Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) has argued for “a planned closure of coal power stations – along with both a jobs and energy plan for the country”, saying it will “create a more prosperous and diversified economy”. (https://goo.gl/k4da08). Renewable energy is now capable of powering developing economies, indeed the whole world, without all the terrible costs of fossil fuels.

Threatened investments: Investments in fossil fuels are losing value in many markets. Even if they do not embrace the moral arguments for divestment, unions still have a fiduciary duty to the members whose funds they manage to understand, manage, and where appropriate, divest, to avoid the multiplying threats to investments in the fossil fuel industry. According to BlackRock, the world’s biggest asset manager: “Investors can no longer ignore climate change. Some may question the science behind it, but all are faced with a swelling tide of climate-related regulations and technological disruption.”

Health and the right to life: Researchers at UCT’s Energy Research Centre estimate that 27,000 premature deaths across South Africa annually (7.4% of all deaths) are currently due to high levels of fine PM (microscopic particles), mostly from burning fossil fuels… and often in poorer communities. Even without climate change, we would still need to shut down the fossil fuel industry.

Human and worker rights: Climate change is a profound threat to Africa. Climate change is a human rights issue, already killing hundreds of thousands of African children every year through malnutrition and disease. Climate change threatens food security. It threatens economic growth and stability, and thereby threatens workers’ job and savings.

The fossil fuel industry is facing multiple, critical threats:

  • Renewable energy (especially wind & solar) is now the fastest growing energy industry in the world.
  • China is moving fast to phase out coal, and its coal use has already peaked.
  • By some predictions, electric cars will mostly replace petrol/diesel in 20 years’ time.
  • The 2015 Paris agreement on climate change saw most countries agree to phase out fossil fuels.
  • Even without these changes, in 50-100 years time at the most, all accessible fossil fuel reserves will be exhausted anyway.
  • Transition away from fossil fuels is inevitable, but a managed, just transition is preferable.

Solidarity and tradition: “An injury to one is an injury to all.” The global divestment movement is led by many people of colour and people of faith, constituencies which overlap strongly with the union movement. The union movement has a social and historical responsibility to stand up for social justice, human rights and good governance. The fossil fuel industry, on the other hand, is extremely corrupt, threatening good governance and worker’s rights as well as human health and the environment.

Clean energy: The challenge of achieving a ‘just transition’ for workers

By Sophie Yeo - Carbon Brief, January 4, 2017

Tackling climate change is good for the economy, good for business and good for people. This is the narrative often pushed out by campaigners, researchers and governments around the world.

But while measures to curb emissions and reduce the impacts of rising temperatures will be good for the many, the few who work in industries affected by climate policies risk losing their livelihoods as the economy leans increasingly upon renewable energy.

Around the world, there is a growing movement demanding a “just transition” for the workforce, so that workers are not left in the cold as fossil fuels become consigned to the past.

Peabody and the Navajo tribe

Arizona’s Navajo tribe is one example of a community already fighting for a just transition. This Native American group signed a lease in 1964 allowing Peabody Energy, America’s largest coal company, to mine for coal on reservation lands. Now, 50 years later, many are battling against the impacts of this deal.

When they signed the lease, the company agreed to “employ Navajo Indians when available in all positions for which…they are qualified”. Since then, Peabody has been a major employer of tribe members — 90% of the 430-person workforce of its Kayenta mine are native people.

Yet, while Peabody has provided jobs and money, poverty rates on the Navajo Nation Reservation are more than twice as high as the Arizona state average, and benefits have come at the expense of the local environment.

The Navajo tribe has seen their water sources dwindle as Peabody has used the reservation’s aquifer to turn coal into slurry and pump it down a pipeline. Coal plants surrounding the reservation have polluted the air, clouding the view of the nearby Grand Canyon and other national parks. It is also a source of CO2, the primary contributor of human-caused climate change.

Members of the Navajo tribe, alongside the Hopi tribe that also lives in the area, are calling for a “just transition” away from coal — one that will see old jobs tied to the polluting coal industry replaced with clean and profitable work.

One group, the Black Mesa Water Coalition, is trying to create economic opportunities that will help to release the community from its reliance on coal. For instance, they have tried to revive the traditional Navajo wool market, developing partnerships with wool buyers and organising an annual Wool Buy.

It has also started a solar project, which aims to install a series of 20MW to 200MW solar installations on abandoned coal mining land, transforming the reservation’s old role as an energy provider.

The idea has gone global. In Ghana, for instance, the government has developed a programme to plant more trees, simultaneously improving the landscape, providing jobs, and offering a diversified source of livelihoods for farmers. Peasant farmers and the rural unemployed were involved in planting species such as teak, eucalyptus, cassia and mahogany, generating 12,595 full-time jobs.

In Port Augusta, a town of 14,000 people in South Australia, there is a plan underway to install a solar thermal plant to replace the town’s coal industry. This became even more urgent after the Alinta power station announced that it would close, potentially putting 250 jobs at risk.

What if the workers were in control?

By Hillary Wainwright - Red Pepper, November 2016

Back in the 1970s, with unemployment rising and British industry contracting, workers at the arms company Lucas Aerospace came up with a pioneering plan to retain jobs by proposing alternative, socially-useful applications of the company’s technology and their own skills. The ‘Lucas Plan’ remains one of the most radical and forward thinking attempts ever made by workers to take the steering wheel and directly drive the direction of change.

Forty years later, we are facing a convergence of crises: militarism and nuclear weapons, climate chaos and the destruction of jobs by new technologies and automation. These crises mean we have to start thinking about technology as political, as the Lucas Aerospace workers did, and reopen the debate about industrial conversion and economic democracy.

‘What so inspires me about the Lucas Plan is the democratic egalitarianism which runs through its every part – the work processes, the products and even the very technology they propose.’

This egalitarian ethic inspired Laurence Hall to make the Lucas Plan the focus of a recent national gathering of Young Quakers in Lancaster, up the line from the Trident nuclear submarine yards in Barrow. Eurig Scandrett from the Scottish Green Party made it the theme for Green Party trade unionists because ‘it is the most inspiring example of workers on the shop floor who get self-organised and demand to make what humanity needs.’

The fact that the plan was defeated has not diluted its capacity to inspire. For Eurig Scandrett, its defeat demonstrated that ‘it is the vested interests of the military-industrial machine which is the problem, and that workers liberating their collective brain is where the solution lies.’

The broad outline of the Lucas Aerospace workers’ story was familiar enough in the mid-1970s. Workers faced redundancies, got organised, resisted and insisted that their skills and machinery were not redundant. But here they went further. They drew together alternative ideas with those of supportive academics and, with the encouragement of Tony Benn (then industry secretary in the Labour government), produced their ‘Alternative Corporate Plan for Socially Useful Production’, illustrated with prototypes. Management refused to negotiate. The government, under pressure from the CBI and the City, made gestures of a willingness to talk, but would not move against management. The plan was never implemented, or even seriously considered, although commercial companies elsewhere picked up some of the ideas.

So what are the lessons we can draw from this past experience of ‘ordinary’ people organising and sharing their practical knowledge and skills to illustrate in the present the changes of which we dream? Some of the main ones are discussed below.

The Lucas plan and the politics of technology

By David King - People and Nature, October 26, 2016

Pages