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Oilpatch workers have a plan, but Ottawa needs to act: Four-point plan would get tradespeople retrained and back to work in clean energy

By Lyndsey Easton - Iron and Earth, Novemver 1, 2016

EDMONTON — A group of oil-and-gas workers has a plan to create job opportunities and retrain workers for clean energy projects, and they are calling on the federal government to step up.

The Workers’ Climate Plan was released today by Iron & Earth after four months of consultations with workers and industry. The tangible four-point plan stands in contrast to recent publicity stunts involving “roughneck” workers on Parliament Hill.

“This isn’t about taking jobs away from people, this is about opening up sustainable opportunities for skilled workers so their families can thrive,” said Lliam Hildebrand, executive director of Iron & Earth. “We’re giving a voice to real oil and gas workers who deserve a say in these issues and who want a better future.”

“Workers deserve something sustainable, so we don’t find ourselves in this boom-and-bust mess ever again,” said Kerry Oxford, mechanical engineering technologist and member of Iron & Earth. “That’s why we’re taking time out of our lives to work on this problem together. That’s why we spent four months talking with colleagues, coming up with a plan that works for the long term.”

Iron & Earth released the plan at a solar panel installation training facility in Edmonton — the kind of place where tradespeople and skilled labourers could find new opportunities in the energy transition. Making the switch is possible: of the energy workers surveyed for the Workers’ Climate Plan, the overwhelming majority say they could switch to renewable energy projects with minimal retraining, or sometimes no retraining at all.

The Workers’ Climate Plan identifies the four most important needs the government must address:

  1. Upskilling for the energy sector workforce
  2. More manufacturing capacity for renewable energy in Canada
  3. Support for contractors and unions that want to transition to renewables
  4. Integrating renewable technologies into existing energy projects

A draft of the plan was sent to the federal government during its climate change consultations in September. They’re asking the government to address their four-point plan in the federal climate strategy to be released in early December.

Iron & Earth has also submitted the Solar Skills proposal  to upskill 1,000 tradespeople for renewable energy jobs. The initiative would give them the skills to work on solar, energy efficiency and electrical vehicle installation projects. As these industries grow, out-of-work tradespeople are looking for help to make a transition.

A Just Transition for Fossil Fuels Workers is Possible

Robert Pollin interviewed by Sharmini Peries - The Real News Network, October 24, 2016

Jobs in Scotland’s New Economy

By Jonathan Neale - Global Climate Jobs, October 16, 2016

Mika Minio Paluello has written a very useful and detailed report for the Scottish Green Party. It begins:

The North Sea oil industry says jobs are threatened by falling oil prices. But a better future for Scotland is possible. More and better jobs. A safer and more stable economy. Stronger communities. A long-term future as an energy exporter. Moving from energy colonialism to energy democracy.

This better future won’t come with tax cuts for oil corporations and trying to extract every last barrel. It means changing direction – towards a rapid transition away from fossil fuels. This will require a wholescale change of UK economic policy away from austerity and toward investment in the new economy.

This report shows that sustainable sectors in the new economy can employ significantly more people than currently work in fossil fuel industries. Scotland can create stable jobs for those who need them, wipe out fuel poverty, do its bit to stem climate change and re-localise economies.

We researched and analysed existing and potential employment in offshore wind and marine energy, forestry and sustainable biomass, retrofitting buildings, decommissioning the North Sea, synthetic gas, and training and research. Projections were built on conservative estimates of the jobs required for a rapid and ambitious energy transition.

We didn’t include new jobs in public transport, solar, waste, renewing the electricity grid, energy storage or climate adaptation.

Our calculations show that there are 156,000 workers employed in fossil fuel extraction in Scotland, of which one third are export-oriented jobs. The new economy could in comparison employ more than 200,000 in 2035.

The transition proposed is ambitious and would involve major hiring programmes and a drastic reduction in Scottish unemployment. This paper lays out the necessary policy proposals to maximise job creation and a just transition. These jobs in the new economy should be better jobs for the workers and for all of us: jobs in an industry which is growing not declining, which create a safer, rather than a more dangerous world. For workers employed in North Sea oil or part of the supply chain, concerns about job losses are legitimate. Hence we have analysed and compared not only job totals between fossil fuels and the new economy, but also the skills components and likely locations.

The transformation we are proposing involves reducing dependency on distant multinationals, and centring the public sector, workers and energy-users co-operatives as well as small and medium Scottish companies. Building a non-extractive future in every sense: the pollution stays in the ground, and the money and skills stay in the community.

Unions and shopfloor workers need to be at the centre of this transition, redesigning supply chains and guiding the transformation. Energy workers laid the foundations of parliamentary democracy in the UK, played a central role in the formation of unions and won crucial struggles over workplace rights. Today’s energy workers in Scotland will play a crucial role in building the new Scotland, both as individuals with essential skills and collective groups. We can’t afford to squander the creativity, knowledge and abilities of engineers, skilled trades and production workers.

Managed Decline: A Just Clean Energy Transition and Lessons from Canada’s Cod Fishing Industry

By Adam Scott and Matt Maiorana - Oil Change International, September 12, 2016

There’s a clear logic to the global challenge of addressing climate change: when you’re in a hole, stop digging. If we’re serious about tackling the global climate crisis, we need to stop exploring for, developing, and ultimately producing and consuming fossil fuels. This inevitably leads to the decline of the oil, gas, and coal industries.

This leaves us with two clear options. Either we carefully manage the decline of the fossil fuel industry to ensure a smooth and just transition, or we let the chips fall where they may and risk decimating communities that are reliant on the fossil fuel economy. The path we choose will make all the difference to those communities as the decline of fossil fuels becomes inevitable.

A textbook example of how NOT to manage the decline can be found in the painful history of the Newfoundland cod fishery.

One of eastern Canada’s premier industries, the cod fishery defined the economy and the culture of coastline communities for centuries. Commercial fishing off the Grand Banks of Newfoundland dates back as far as 1500, but it wasn’t until factory trawlers were introduced around 1950 that catches became increasingly unsustainable. At its peak in 1968, the catch of northern cod in the Atlantic reached 1.9 million tons. However, the impact of overfishing soon became apparent.

In the 1980s, Canada’s Department of Fisheries and Oceans received increasingly dire warnings about the rapidly diminishing fish stock from fishermen and scientists, but these were largely ignored. Much like climate science models today, these marine science models were often ignored when setting quotas and planning for future catches. These plans weren’t set by the scientific models, but instead by politicians. Despite mounting evidence, the Department of Fisheries and Oceans continued to boost catch quotas without regard to the impacts of their actions. A 1992 Canadian Department of Fisheries and Oceans audit found that the science regarding the health and management of cod stocks “was gruesomely mangled and corrupted to meet political ends.” As a result, fish stocks continued to plummet.

Trade unions and the climate change fight

By Julie Douglas and Peter McGhee - Briefing Papers, July 5, 2016

We [unions] have to stop running away from the climate crisis, stop leaving it to the environmentalist, and look at it. Let ourselves absorb the fact that the industrial revolution that led to our society’s prosperity is now destabilizing the natural systems on which all of life dependsNaomi Klein

Climate change is perhaps the greatest existential threat humanity has ever faced. Indeed, this year is predicted to be the hottest on record since pre-industrial levels. The signing of the Paris COP21 agreement in March in 2016 behoves all countries to take urgent action to reduce carbon emissions. New Zealand is a signatory to the agreement, which clearly accepts that climate action is not the responsibility of governments alone and that all affected parties have a role in developing a response to climate change. Aside from environmental impacts from climate change there will be significant social, economic and political impacts as well. Work and workplaces, at the centre of the economy and social life, are important sites for responding to climate change. Employment is core to providing a livelihood and prospects on an individual level, and contributing to society as a whole.

There needs to be a tripartite approach to climate action in the workplace. Of the key direct stakeholders (state, employers and unions), unions represent around 18.6 percent of all workers (359,782 members) in New Zealand and therefore also constitutes our largest democratic body. A body of this size which has the structure in place to educate and organise through both the peak union body, the New Zealand Council of Trade Unions (NZCTU), and individual unions, must logically become an important partner in strategic discussions at both a government, industry and firm level.

The union movement in New Zealand has a long history of leading debate and resistance around issues of social justice, from taking a stand against Spain’s fascist Franco to refusing to assist in the loading of ships carrying New Zealand police officers to Samoa in 1929 who went on to kill many Samoans in the Mau movement. With this pedigree of social conscience and history of taking action it should follow that the union movement and its members would again rise and offer leadership to the latest challenge to social order and justice, and indeed potential catastrophic change to the planet.

Not only will jobs, occupations and industries disappear or change but the health and safety of workers will be threatened and more broadly, food and water security compromised. The initial challenge to unions then, is to see these threats as core to union work and why action is imperative to ensure their unions are ready to respond, educate members, and also to work with firms to develop strategies which allow for a just transition to a more sustainable workplace and world.  Unfortunately, such transformation does not appear to be forthcoming.

A recent study we conducted interviewed leaders from eleven of the affiliated unions to the NZCTU (representing 75 percent of all members in affiliated unions). These interviews sought information on what actions, if any, the unions had put in place to respond to climate change, and also the role they saw unions having in climate action and just transition. All of the interviewees articulated a strong personal position of concern about impending climate change and need for action. They all saw the union movement and the NZCTU as important stakeholders and leaders in the action required. However, when looking at the unions themselves the results were sobering. None were in a well-prepared position to face the future regarding climate change. Two had begun to develop some basic policies and plans but did not consider themselves in anyway ready; seven respondents indicated that they personally saw the issue as important but that their unions had done nothing in this area yet and that there were no conversations within the formal structure of their organisation about this issue; and the remaining two union respondents clearly articulated that climate change was not on their union’s radar and there was no indication this was likely to change. Across these unions only two respondents indicated that there had been interest raised by their membership.

This is a fairly bleak outlook for society especially if it places its hope of action on the largest democratic body in the country. Why are unions so unprepared? There are some identifiable reasons, but not excuses, for this. Firstly, we must look at the current socio-political environment unions operate under in New Zealand. As a result of the neo liberal paradigm shift in the 1980s and consequent legislation changes (such as the Employment Contracts Act 1991), union membership dramatically fell, and since 2008 unions have sustained a consistent undermining of rights such as workplace access. The role that unions play in the lives of workers – including their members – has narrowed as a result.

Secondly, unions’ core work is the preservation and enhancement of workers’ wages and conditions. It is for this reason that workers join unions and many of the union leaders we interviewed indicated they were concerned that a shift towards long-term social issues such as climate change could affect membership numbers. The irony being that the continued focus on the short gains of wages and conditions will be pointless if in the middle to long term members’ jobs ceased to exist. That said though, research from the US indicated that union members were more likely to be concerned with environment issues and therefore may well embrace their union engaging with climate change strategies[1]. Despite this finding, it is perhaps unsurprising that none of the unions interviewed had actively surveyed or begun widespread conversations about climate change within their unions and therefore were unaware of their members’ position or wishes on the issue. While it was true that some unions had improved sustainability measures in specific firms and, in one instance, got an organisation to divest in fossil fuel investment, this still stopped well short of a unified approach.

System justification theory postulates that human’s tend to view the wider systems on which they depend in a favourable light. As Johnson notes, upholding the status quo encourages feelings of security, purpose and relatedness through a shared reality. Unions, and their members are no different. They advocate for improved employment outcomes within a capitalist system that rewards self-interest and promotes economic growth as central to human well-being (usually at the expense of the environment). Unfortunately, climate change is a consequence of that same system. Perhaps this explains unions’ reluctance to engage in any meaningful way. To embrace climate change shifts the focus from short-term economic benefits for workers to that of uniting ‘all labouring men and women for a truly different order of things’.[2] Such a move could help unions become truly social democratic movements contributing to the flourishing of all.

[1] Vachon, T., & Brecher, J. (2016). Are union members more or less likely to be environmentalists? Labor Studies Journal. Doi:10.1177/0160449×16643323

[2] Leeson, R. (1971). United We Stand: British Trade Union Emblems (p. 32). London: Adams and Dart.

If it's jobs they want, Labour and the unions must back renewables, not Hinkley C!

By Ian Fairlie - The Ecologist, August 30, 2016

On July 28, the Prime Minister's Office announced a delay until the autumn to allow a review to take place re the nuclear power station at Hinkley Point C proposed by the previous Government.

Since then, press criticisms of the mooted Hinkley C have continued unabated led by flagship editorials from the FT and The Economist.

These echo widespread concerns by the National Audit Office (NAO) in its recent preliminary report - Nuclear Power in the UK.

A detailed reading reveals serious question marks about the proposed project. According to The Times of July 31, the NAO will publish another damning report on Hinkley as soon as the Government has made its decision.

It would be infinitely preferable for the NAO's considerations to be made available to the Government before legally binding decisions were taken on Hinkley C, rather than afterwards.

This is not a minor matter: the Government is understood to have ready a draft Investor Agreement - essentially an irrevocable contract for electricity from Hinkley C for 35 years at a cost of £29.7 billion to British energy consumers, as estimated in the above NAO report. This is a discounted sum: economists consider an undiscounted sum of about £37 billion should really be applied. Whichever figure is used, this is an unconscionable sum.

But it is not just the NAO which is concerned: other institutions including the Treasury's National Infrastructure Commission, chaired by Lord Adonis, and its Infrastructure and Projects Authority. Members of Energy UK are also worried.

And two years ago, as stated in the UK Government's report of October 8, 2014 to the European Commission on state aid for Hinkley, the then Infrastructure UK arm of the Treasury evaluated the Hinkley project as 'Speculative BB+'.

Even this junk rating would have depended on the proper functioning of the proposed EPR at Flamanville in France which is by no means assured. In 2016, two years later, it is likely Hinkley's investment rating will be even lower.

Transition to green economy could yield up to 60 million jobs, ILO says

International Labor Organization Press Release - May 31, 2012

GENEVA (ILO News) – The transformation to a greener economy could generate 15 to 60 million additional jobs globally over the next two decades and lift tens of millions of workers out of poverty, according to a new report led by the Green Jobs Initiative.

EcoUnionist News #117

Compiled by x344543 - IWW Environmental Unionism Caucus, August 17, 2016

The following news items feature issues, discussions, campaigns, or information potentially relevant to green unionists:

Lead Stories:

Ongoing Mobilizations:

The Thin Green Line:

Just Transition:

Bread and Roses:

EcoUnionist News #116

Compiled by x344543 - IWW Environmental Unionism Caucus, August 10, 2016

The following news items feature issues, discussions, campaigns, or information potentially relevant to green unionists:

Lead Stories:

Ongoing Mobilizations:

The Thin Green Line:

Just Transition:

Bread and Roses:

EcoUnionist News #115

Compiled by x344543 - IWW Environmental Unionism Caucus, August 2, 2016

The following news items feature issues, discussions, campaigns, or information potentially relevant to green unionists:

Lead Stories:

Ongoing Mobilizations:

The Thin Green Line:

Just Transition:

Bread and Roses:

An Injury to One is an Injury to All:

Whistleblowers:

Wobbles:

Other News:

For more green news, please visit our news feeds section on ecology.iww.org; Twitter #IWWEUC; Hashtags: #greenunionism #greensyndicalism #IWW. Please send suggested news items to include in this series to euc [at] iww.org.

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