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Why work and workers matter in the environmental debate

By Caleb Goods - Green Agenda, March 19, 2016

It is not hard to imagine that the world of work is a place of deep ecological impact that will be fundamentally changed by endeavours to green the economy. The implications of climate change for all workers and employers are enormous: the International Labour Organisation (ILO) suggests that 80 per cent of Europe’s CO2 emissions come from industrial production. Thus, the world of work is a critical site of ecological harm and therefore needs to be a site of deep environmentally focused transformation. The interconnection between work and climate change has lead Professor Lipsig-Mumme to conclude, ‘[g]lobal warming is likely to be the most important force transforming work and restructuring jobs in the first half of the twenty-first century’.1 The reality is all work and industries must fundamentally change, and will be changed by the climate we are creating as we enter a new geological epoch – the Anthropocene2 Climate change is challenging the future of work in highly polluting industries, such as coal, and climate change related events are already impacting workers. For example, a 2015 heat wave in India resulted in taxi unions in Kolkata urging drivers to avoid working between 11am and 4pm to reduce the risk of heat exhaustion.

The question of how work-related environmental impacts could be reduced is urgent. It is clear that all jobs and all workplaces will need to be significantly greener to preserve a liveable planet. I am not suggesting that jobs in highly polluting fossil fuel industries can be greened, greening work will require industry restructuring and transformation, but it will demand the closing down of some industries in the medium to longer term. Thus, the transition I am referring to here, the “greening” of our economy, is a societal transformation whereby economic, social and political processes are shifted away from an economic growth imperative to an ecological feasibility focus that demands work, and all that this encompasses, is both environmentally and socially defensible.

Unfortunately, the complexity around transitioning the Australian economy and work to a greener future is currently skirted over in political discussions, and tends to be presented as a straightforward transition via environmental efficiency, greener consumer lifestyles and technologies, or overlaying broad environmental aims onto existing industries and jobs. More particularly, the challenges for workers in this transition are rarely dealt with adequately. In what follows I argue that continuing to leave workers’ concerns aside is an unacceptable option for workers, the environment, the environment movement and government.

A Climate Plan that Works for Workers

By James Hutt - Our Times, Summer 2016

For the first time in over a decade, Canada has a government that is not ideologically opposed to even talking about climate change. Instead of criminalizing environmentalists, muzzling scientists and actively lobbying on behalf of the oil industry, Trudeau has promised a new age of cooperation.

Before the election, he committed to developing a national climate strategy by the end of 2016. Last March, all 13 provincial and territorial leaders met in Vancouver to develop that framework.

As the next step, Trudeau has promised to hold countrywide consultations to give people input into the development of the strategy. This is the perfect moment for the labour movement to lead the fight for a solution that tackles unemployment and catastrophic climate change.

By tackling inequity and creating good, unionized jobs, a climate strategy could represent a giant leap forward for the labour movement — but only if we force politicians to act.

Toronto Teach-In Poses Climate Justice Alternative

By John Riddell - East End Against Line 9, June 6, 2016

The People's Climate Plan Teach-in, held in Toronto June 4,[1] took great strides forward in presenting a forceful alternative to the inadequate and deceptive climate action proposals of Canada's federal government. In the opening session, five leading climate activists presented a coherent, unified climate justice strategy, proposing effective action to save the world from climate disaster interlocked with practical measures to assist working people and the poor who are the first victims of global warming. Displayed in the meeting, held in the University of Toronto, were the banners: “Pipelines = Climate Change”; “Stop Line 9”; and (in French) “Leave Fossil Fuels in the Ground.”

After lunch, the more than 100 participants split up into training groups of half a dozen to develop skills for effective intervention in the “public consultation” meetings the Trudeau government proposes to hold over the coming three months.

People's Climate Plan

The proposed framework for this intervention is the People's Climate Plan (PCP),[2] a simple structure of three principles (or “pillars”) to guide those taking part in such gatherings.

“We've been to three of these consultations, and we know how they're organized,” PCP activists explained. “Government facilitators divide participants into small groups and then give each group a topic designed to force discussion into a channel favourable to government policy. “For example, they ask ‘How can we combine economic growth with emissions reductions?’ – implying that tar sands expansion is part of the bargain. If you accept the question on their terms, you've already lost the argument.”

If environmentalists argue at cross purposes or try to make too many different points, their voices can be sidelined and ignored. Those speaking for climate justice need to unite around a common focus and strategy. The PCP proposes three principles to assure this focus:

  • Science: keep fossil fuel reserves in the ground.
  • Economics: a rapid transition to a clean energy economy.
  • Justice: for Indigenous peoples, workers affected by the transition, and victims of climate change.

When government facilitators pose inappropriate themes, the PCP spokespersons suggested that we use an “ABC” approach:

  • A: Acknowledge the question posed by the organizers.
  • B: Bridge over to the question you wish to address, which should be aligned with one of the three PCP principles.
  • C: Provide Context to sustain your view, preferably with a personal anecdote or insight that illustrates why you care so much about the issue.

Achieving this degree of focus may seem a tall order for environmental and social activists. Often we use discussion periods to express a broad and seemingly chaotic range of personal viewpoints. We rightly prize our diversity. Yet when entering a discussion structured by a government with quite alien goals, PCP activists suggested, we must harmonize and unify our approaches.

EcoUnionist News #108

Compiled by x344543 - IWW Environmental Unionism Caucus, June 14, 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:


EcoUnionist News #107

Compiled by x344543 - IWW Environmental Unionism Caucus, June 7, 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 #106

Compiled by x344543 - IWW Environmental Unionism Caucus, May 31, 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:

Jobs and Just Transition Links

Jobs & Just Transition

Energy Democracy: Inside Californians' Game-Changing Plan for Community-Owned Power

Al Weinrub - Yes! Magazine, November 12, 2015

On September 21, Pa Dwe, a 16-year-old student at Oakland’s Street Academy, spoke out against the export of coal through the Port of Oakland to City Council members: “I’m opposed to this coal export because it will make my community in West Oakland sick. I support jobs, but not the kind of jobs that make us sick. There are clean job alternatives, like Community Choice energy, and this will be good for the health of my community. This is my generation; I want to have a healthy life.” 

Pa’s comments exemplify a growing awareness that the people of California can only successfully address climate change by breaking with fossil fuels and the state’s investor-owned utility companies.

These utilities, Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E), Southern California Edison (SCE), and San Diego Gas and Electric (SDG&E), control about 75 percent of the electricity market in California, with the other 25 percent being supplied by public (municipal) utilities.

By creating slick, misleading ad campaigns about how green they are, the monopoly utilities have done their best to fight renewable energy programs. This often happens behind the scenes, and with the willing assistance of the scandal-ridden California Public Utilities Commission—the agency that is supposed to regulate these behemoth energy enterprises.

Back in 2002, in the wake of the Enron-induced crash of California's electricity system—which to this day has left rate-payers bailing out the utility companies— California passed AB 117, the Community Choice Aggregation law. This law allows a city, county, or any grouping of cities and counties, to “aggregate” electricity customers in their jurisdictions for the purpose of procuring electricity on their behalf. Under this arrangement, a public agency—the newly formed Community Choice program—decides where electricity will come from, while the incumbent utility delivers the electricity, maintains the electric lines, and bills customers.

The new program is a hybrid between a public agency and a private utility. The utility owns the distribution infrastructure, but the public is in the driver’s seat regarding energy decisions.

“It puts our community in control of the most important part of our electricity system,” explains Woody Hastings of the Center for Climate Protection in Sonoma County, one of the jurisdictions that has opted for a Community Choice energy program. “That means we can purchase more renewable and greenhouse-gas-free energy on the market than PG&E offered us. But more importantly, we can build renewable energy assets right here in the County. We not only get the benefits of low carbon electricity, but we get the economic benefits—the business opportunities and clean energy jobs—that come from investing in our own community.”

Sonoma County’s Community Choice customers get power that is 30 percent lower in greenhouse gases than PG&E. They also pay up to 9 percent less on average than PG&E customers. In addition, electricity net revenues go back into the community rather than into the pockets of PG&E shareholders and overpaid executives.

Fairbanks Rally Demands Climate Justice and Clean Energy

By Tristan Glowa and Enei Begaye Peter - Fairbanks Climate Action Coalition, March 15, 2016

Fairbanks, Alaska—On Tuesday, March 15, the Fairbanks Climate Action Coalition (FCAC) hosted a testimonial rally calling for a transition to a clean energy economy. Around 100 people convened in Constitution Park on the UAF Campus to hear a diverse array of speakers from Fairbanks and other parts of Alaska, who stood in front a banner proclaiming, “ALASKANS DEMAND CLIMATE JUSTICE AND CLEAN ENERGY.” The rally was held during the 2016 Arctic Science Summit Week (ASSW), an international gathering of Arctic scientists and policymakers, held at UAF, to coordinate and collaborate in all areas of Arctic science and policy. The rally, which was held at the center of the ASSW conference area, communicated the diversity of Alaskan voices appealing to citizens, political leaders, and researchers for action on climate change. Speakers specifically called on Alaska’selected leaders, both statewide and nationally, to transition Alaska to a clean energy economy.

According to organizers, the rally was catalyzed by the growing urgency of climate change impacts to Alaskan communities as the state warms at nearly twice the rate of the lower 48 states. “In Alaska and throughout the Arctic, we know that our communities are disproportionately on the front lines of climate change with worsening fires and permafrost melt,” said Tristan Glowa, an event organizer, UAF student and Fairbanks resident. “We have a stake in solving the climate crisis and we know that we can do our part by investing in a transition towards renewable energy and a sustainable economy.”

Esau Sinnok, a young man from Shishmaref, told the crowd about the impacts of climate­ driven coastal erosion threatening his home. “Our community’s voice needs to be heard so that we can move as a community instead of relocating individually,” he said, “because once we lose our land, we will lose our culture and we will lose our identity as Iñupiaq Eskimo people.”

Bessie Odom, Vice President of the NAACP Youth Council in Anchorage, emphasized the connection of all Alaskans with people and communities who are on the front lines of climate change: “What happens to one individual, one family, one community, happens to us all. Where one is suffering, it is only natural to be sympathetic but we must take this response much further and put action with it.”

Speakers Jan Bronson and Ritchie Musick cast climate change as a moral issue in addition to its social and ecological dimensions. “Faith communities in Alaska are coming together to protect the climate,” said Bronson. “We recognize the moral and spiritual imperative to stand with vulnerable communities and protect the great Earth systems which sustain us all. “Climate change is illuminating the injustices and the disparities that we face as indigenous people,” noted Princess Johnson, Netsaii Gwich’in and resident of Fairbanks. “We need to restore balance, and climate change is the catalyst that can bring us together.”

Throughout the rally, speakers and organizers pointed to the need for a transition to a clean energy economy as a solution to climate change. “A ‘Just Transition’ means shifting our state towards a clean energy economy through a fair and equitable plan for everyone, especially our workforce,” Johnson said. “As scientists, tribal members, as mothers and fathers, as citizens of the North, we have a responsibility to act on climate change now. We have an opportunity to lead the world in making a Just Transition.” Johnson underscored the importance of popular pressure in demanding that leaders rise to this occasion: “We need to challenge our elected leaders to push for the shift to clean energy. This is how we will move to diversify our economy and protect critical ecosystems.”

Jessica Girard, FCAC Organizer and Program Director for the Northern Alaska Environmental Center, stressed the need to speak up against offshore drilling in Alaska’s Arctic in order to keep climate change in line with what science says is required for a habitable planet: “We need to leave fossil fuel energy in the past and invest in the future with renewable energies like wind and solar,” she said. Echoing Girard’s call, event emcees Enei Begaye and Cathy Walling led the crowd in chants of “Circumpolar Wind and Solar!”

The rally sounded these local calls for a Just Transition to the officials gathered for the conference. UA Regent and Borough Assembly member John Davies spoke at the rally and gave his support to the movement, describing a variety of tools Alaska can use to address the climate crisis. More than 10 UAF researchers and scientists signed an open letter urging ASSW leaders and policymakers enact policies reflecting what climate science says is necessary. “Scientists understand better than anyone that we must adjust our policies to the Earth­­atmospheric physics aren’t going to adjust to us humans,” said FCAC organizer Odin Miller, who coordinated and helped draft the letter. FCAC and its allies renewed their commitment to work for climate justice and a fair and equitable transition to a clean energy economy.

The Fairbanks Climate Action Coalition represents a broad constituency of local grassroots groups and concerned citizens. The group currently includes members from trade unions, Alaska Natives, conservationists, students, scientists, farmers, and multiple faith groups. The coalition formed out of the need to amplify voices throughout Fairbanks who demand a fair and equitable transition to a clean energy economy.

Teleseminar Transcript: "Just Transition" with Mateo Nube of Movement Generation

By Mateo Nube - Movement Generation, November 4, 2015

Marissa Mommaerts: I’m so happy this teleseminar is happening, because personally I believe that making social justice more explicit in our work is not only the right thing to do, it’s also the only way our movement is going to become powerful enough to rise to the challenges of our time. And I’m very excited to welcome a friend and mentor, someone I deeply respect and admire, Mateo Nube of Movement Generation, to lead today’s call.

Mateo is one of the co-founders of the Movement Generation Justice & Ecology Project. He was born and grew up in La Paz, Bolivia. Since moving to the San Francisco Bay Area, he has worked in the labor, environmental justice and international solidarity movements. Mateo has spent the last two decade integrating concepts of popular education into his movement work. He is also a member of the Latin rock band Los Nadies.

We’re grateful Mateo has agreed to lead today’s teleseminar, because we respect and appreciate the work of Movement Generation and the other organizations he will be talking about - and because we recognize the need for more conversations on the link between Transition and social justice.

Our team at Transition US has begun exploring the connections between race, class, and ecology, as have a number of local initiatives and regional hubs in the US and around the world. And in doing this work, we’ve learned that it can bring up a lot of assumptions. So I to get the most out of today’s call, I invite us all to participate with an open mind and heart, in the spirit of reflection and collaboration.

And with that, I will turn it over to Mateo:

Mateo Nube: Thank you Marissa and Carolyne. I’m excited and humbled and flattered to be having this conversation with folks from – if I gather correctly – not just the United States but also a few folks calling in from around the world. I have a lot of admiration for the work of the Transition Towns movement, and a special respect for both Marissa and Carolyne for the work of Transition US. And as has been expressed, what I will be talking about today is the concept of a “Just Transition.” I will both speak to it conceptually and give examples. As you may hear in the background, the garbage truck is passing by our office. It makes it real – I will be talking about zero waste among other concepts – it’s the Ecology Center truck from Berkeley, California where our office is located.*

I will start by stating what I think is obvious and will serve as a platform of sorts for the conversation we will be having today, which is that Transition is inevitable. It’s upon us, and it’s why those of us who are on this call are compelled to be doing the work we’re already doing: because we’re living at a highly pivotal moment in our planetary history, or human history as it relates to human impact on the planet.

So Transition is inevitable, but justice is not. And that’s what the conversation today is meant to really focus on: how is it that we ensure that the lens we’re bringing to the work we’re doing, that is so important and pivotal, is really centered around this concept of a Just Transition.