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Leeds trades unionists: zero-carbon homes can help tackle climate change

By Gabriel Levy - People and Nature, September 2, 2020

Leeds Trades Union Council has issued a call for large-scale investment to insulate homes and install electric heat pumps, to cut carbon emissions and help tackle global warming.

Such a drive to retrofit and electrify homes would be an alternative to a multi-billion-pound scheme, supported by oil and gas companies, to turn the gas network over to hydrogen.

That scheme, Northern Gas Networks’ H21 project, could tie up billions of pounds of

government money in risky carbon capture and storage technology, which is not proven to work at the scale required – but would help to prolong the oil and gas industry’s life by decades.

This is a test for social and labour movements all over the UK.

The demand for retrofitting and electrification should be taken up, and fossil-fuel-linked technofixes rejected. Otherwise, talk of “climate and ecological emergency” is empty words.

“Our most important and urgent action is to halt the flow of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere”, says a draft document that the Leeds TUC published last week. “This means radical changes to the way we use energy for work, travel and to heat our homes.”

In setting out a plan for Leeds, the TUC there hopes to “offer a model that will be taken up by other towns, cities and regions”, where it can form the basis for collaboration between local authorities, and a focus for trade unions and community campaigners.

Canada’s banks continue to finance oil and gas

By Elizabeth Perry - Work and Climate Change Report, May 19, 2021

A report released at the end of April examines the performance and the links between Canada’s oil companies and the big banks which form Canada’s “comfortable oligopoly”: Royal Bank (RBC), Toronto-Dominion Bank, Bank of Nova Scotia, Bank of Montreal, Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce, and the National Bank of Canada. Fossilized Finance: How Canada’s banks enable oil and gas production is written by Donald Gutstein and published by by the B.C. Office of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives as part of its Corporate Mapping Project. The report outlines the bank presence in the Canadian energy sector since the collapse of oil prices in 2014 – lending, underwriting, advising and investing. It also examines interlocking directorates, executive transfer, industry conference sponsorships and industry association memberships.This reveals different details than the international report, Banking on Climate Chaos, published by BankTrack in late March.

While acknowledging that the banks have begun to invest in some renewable energy projects, Fossilized Finance shows that this leopard has not changed its spots:

“In contrast to the need to reduce financing of fossil fuels, banks actually increased their lending and commitments to the industry by more than 50 per cent—to $137 billion—between 2014 and 2020. Toronto-Dominion, in particular, upped its lending by 160 per cent over the seven-year period, to nearly $33 billion in 2020. As well, banks have invested tens of billions of dollars in fossil fuel and pipeline company shares. Here, Royal Bank leads the pack with nearly $21 billion invested in the top 15 fossil fuel and pipeline companies as of November 2019. Banks continue to underwrite fossil fuel company stock and bond issues, and they continue to provide key advice on mergers, acquisitions and other corporate moves.”

Many of the researchers involved in the CCPA/Corporate Mapping Project have written chapters in Regime of Obstruction: How Corporate Power blocks Energy Democracy, a book edited by William Carroll and published by Athabasca University Press. Readers of the WCR may be particularly interested in Chapter 15, “From Clean Growth to Climate Justice” by Marc Lee, but all the excellent chapters are available for free download here. The publisher’s summary states: “Anchored in sociological and political theory, this comprehensive volume provides hard data and empirical research that traces the power and influence of the fossil fuel industry through economics, politics, media, and higher education. Contributors demonstrate how corporations secure popular consent, and coopt, disorganize, or marginalize dissenting perspectives to position the fossil fuel industry as a national public good. They also investigate the difficult position of Indigenous communities who, while suffering the worst environmental and health impacts from carbon extraction, must fight for their land or participate in fossil capitalism to secure income and jobs. The volume concludes with a look at emergent forms of activism and resistance, spurred by the fact that a just energy transition is still feasible. This book provides essential context to the climate crisis and will transform discussions of energy democracy.”

If you are outraged by what these researchers reveal, a personal option to switch banks is now made easier through the Bank Green website, launched in April in association with BankTrack. So far, Bank Green covers more than 300 banks globally, including only two “ethical banks” in Canada: Vancity, and Duca Credit Union. The website provides information for customers and encourages them to switch banks and divest from fossil fuels.

Green Energy, Green Mining, Green New Deal?

Corporate net zero goals: solution or deception?

By Elizabeth Perry - Work and Climate Change Report, March 16, 2021

Climate change superstar Mark Carney set off a media flurry in a video interview with Bloomberg Live on February 10, in which he claimed that Brookfield Asset Management is a “net zero” company because its renewables investments offset emissions from its other holdings. Carney reflects a new trend of corporate aspirational statements, for example: Jeff Bezos’ corporate network The Climate Pledge claimed in February that 53 companies across 18 industries have committed to working toward net-zero carbon in their worldwide businesses, most by 2050. Recent high profile examples include Royal Dutch Shell , Canada’s TD Bank  and Bank of Montreal, and FedEx , which on March 5 announced its goal to be carbon-neutral by 2040 as well as an initial investment of $2 billion to start electrifying its delivery fleet and $100 million to fund a new research centre for carbon capture at Yale University.

Will these corporate goals help to reach the Paris Agreement target? Many recent articles are skeptical, labelling them “sham”, “greenwash”, and “deception” which seeks to protect the status quo. Some examples:

The climate crisis can’t be solved by carbon accounting tricks” (The Guardian, March 3) which offers a concise explanation of why “Disaster looms if big finance is allowed to game the carbon offsetting markets to achieve ‘net zero’ emissions.”

Global oil companies have committed to ‘net zero’ emissions. It’s a sham” by Tzeporah Berman and Nathan Taft (The Guardian, March 3) – which instead advocates for an international Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty.

Call the Fossil Fuel Industry’s Net-Zero Bluff” by Kate Aronoff in New Republic. She writes: “This isn’t the old denialism oil companies funded decades ago. … Instead of casting doubt on whether the climate is changing, this new messaging strategy casts doubt on the obvious answer to what should be done about it: i.e., rapidly scaling down production….. For now, it’s one part creative accounting and many parts a P.R. strategy of waving around shiny objects like biofuels, hydrogen, and carbon capture and storage.”

Can the market save the planet? FedEx is the latest brand-name firm to say it’s trying” in the Washington Post , which quotes Yale Professor Paul Sabin, warning that “carbon capture research also should not become an excuse for doubling down on fossil fuel consumption, or delaying urgently needed policies to move away from fossil fuel consumption, including the electrification of transportation.”

Only 18% of global Recovery spending in 2020 was green

By Elizabeth Perry - Work and Climate Change Report, March 10, 2021

The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) released Are We Building Back Better? Evidence from 2020 and Pathways for Inclusive Green Recovery Spending, on March 10. It estimates that in 2020, the world’s fifty largest economies announced USD14.6tn in fiscal measures to address the pandemic economic crisis, and states: …. “Excluding currently uncertain packages from the European Commission, 18.0% of recovery spending, and only 2.5% of total spending, is expected to enhance sustainability. The vast majority of green spending has come from a small set of high-income nations” with France, Germany and South Korea highlighted for their relatively high percentage of green recovery spending. Canada’s spending is small, with only brief references which state that we have focused on “cleaning dirty energy assets”, and have made fossil fuel investment. (no details or examples given). It is notable that the report covers 2020, so that U.S. spending is also low, though hope is expressed for the Biden/Harris administration. Notably, the report looks to the future: “….. the largest window for green spending is only now opening, as nations shift attention from short-term rescue measures to recovery. Using examples from 2020 spending, we highlight five major green investment opportunities to be prioritised in 2021: green energy, green transport, green building upgrades & energy efficiency, natural capital, and green research and development.”

Each of those topics is analyzed, with some exemplary policies highlighted. Some overarching issues: “Of particular note, despite continuing high global unemployment and widespread damage to human capital, spending on worker retraining in 2020 was small and almost exclusively non-green. Nations transitioning to a low-carbon economy must invest in human capital to enable and match future growth priorities. Structural changes in major sectors, including energy, agriculture, transport, and construction, require shifts in the structure and capabilities of the domestic labour force.”

Also, regarding “green strings”: “Although some dirty rescue-type expenditure may have been necessary to ensure that lives and livelihoods were saved, many of the largest of these policies could have included positive green attributes. For instance, airline bailouts in nations all over the world, including South Africa, South Korea, the United Kingdom, and the United States could have included green conditions. Green conditions tied to liquidity support, like requirements to reach net-zero emissions by 2050 or mandates to increase sustainable fuel use, can ensure short term relief while also promoting investment in long-term technological development and acting as a strong guide in national efforts to meet climate targets.”

The report is supported by the United Nations UNEP, the International Monetary Fund and GIZ through the Green Fiscal Policy Network (GFPN). The data was collected by the Oxford University Economic Recovery Project and is now available through the Global Recovery Observatory, a new database which will be updated regularly (most recently at the end of February).

The report cites many other studies and reports, notably: “Will COVID-19 fiscal recovery packages accelerate or retard progress on climate change?” by Cameron Hepburn, Brian O’Callaghan, Nicholas Stern, Joseph Stiglitz, and Dimitri Zenghelis, which appeared in the Oxford Review of Economic Policy in May 2020.

Fracking boom brings job and income loss to Appalachian communities

By Elizabeth Perry - Work and Climate Change Report, February 23, 2021

A February study examined the economic changes in 22 counties the authors call “Frackalachia” – home to the Utica and Marcellus shale gas industry. The report, Appalachia’s Natural Gas Counties: Contributing more to the U.S. economy and Getting less in return examines the period from 2008 to 2019, a time when the area went from producing a negligible portion of U.S. natural gas to producing 40%. The report summarizes the job forecasts provided by oil and gas industry economic impact studies, (over 450,000 new jobs for Ohio, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia), and shows the actual economic data from the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis – a 1.6% increase in jobs – at a time when the number of jobs across the U.S. grew by 9.9%. Detailed statistics demonstrate the differences amongst counties and states – with Ohio faring the worst and Pennsylvania faring the best. The report’s analysis shows that in the entire area represented by the 22 counties, the share of the national personal income fell by 6.3 percent, the share of jobs fell by 7.5 percent, and the share of the national population fell by 9.7 percent , while 90% of the wealth generated from fracking left the local communities.

The report was produced and published on February 10 by the Ohio River Valley Institute, a non-profit think tank based in Pennsylvania, founded in 2020 with the vision of “moving beyond an extractive economy toward shared prosperity, lasting job growth, clean energy, and civic engagement.” This report has been widely reported, including in “Appalachia’s fracking boom has done little for local economies: Study”(Environmental Health News , Feb. 12), which summarizes the report and adds context concerning the health effects of fracking, and the failed attempts to expand production to petrochemicals and plastics using ethane, a by-product of the fracked natural gas.

Canadian university pension funds unite for low carbon goals, and public sector pension funds across the country act on sustainability

By Elizabeth Perry - Work and Climate Change Report, February 22, 2021

With the goal to leverage their collective financial clout, Canadian university endowment funds and pension plans launched the University Network for Investor Engagement (UNIE) on February 18. Working through SHARE, Canada’s leading not-for-profit in responsible investment services, “The UNIE initiative will focus on key sectors where advocacy can make the biggest difference, including finance, transportation, energy and utilities, and manufacturing, focusing both on reducing greenhouse gas emissions and accelerating the transition to a low carbon economy.” Initial participants include Carleton University, Concordia University, McGill University, McMaster University, Mount Alison University, Université de Montreal, University of St. Michael’s College, University of Toronto Asset Management, University of Victoria, and York University.

This development follows on a number of statements and initiatives by Canadian pension administrators – most of which reflect this general strategy to prefer engagement as shareholders over divestment from fossil fuel holdings. Some examples:

In November 2020, the CEOs of Canada’s eight major pension administrators, with approximately $1.6 trillion in assets under management, issued a press release announcing their joint position statement, Companies and investors must put sustainability and inclusive growth at the centre of economic recovery. The text calls on companies to provide consistent and complete environmental, social, and governance (ESG) information, and continues: “For our part, we continue to strengthen our own ESG disclosure and integration practices, and allocate capital to investments best placed to deliver long-term sustainable value creation.” The signatories included: AIMCo, BCI, Caisse de dépôt et placement du Québec, CPP Investments, HOOPP, OMERS, Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan, and PSP Investments.

Why are Ontario pensioners investing in future Alberta stranded assets?” (in Corporate Knights, December 16, 2020) describes investment by OP Trust (which holds the pension funds of Ontario civil servants, teachers and healthcare workers) in a natural gas electricity-generation plant in Alberta. The authors summarize the growing global realization that fossil fuel investments are financially risky and conclude, “The people at OPTrust have begun to recognize this. They’ve created multiple reports, with pretty graphs and rosy statements about supporting the Paris Agreement. But this statement rings out: “Emission reduction targets are not today’s objective.” Like many other organizations, they are unwilling to walk the talk.”

Appalachia's Natural Gas Counties: Contributing more to the U.S. economy and getting less in return

By Sean O'Leary - Ohio River Valley Institute, February 12, 2021

Economists debate whether there is such a thing as a “resource curse”.

Between 2008 and 2019, twenty-two old industrial and rural counties in Ohio, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia, which make up the Appalachian natural gas region, increased their contribution to US gross domestic product (GDP) by more than one-third. In 2008, the 22 counties were responsible for $2.46 of every $1,000 of national output. By 2019, the figure had climbed to $3.33. Their rate of GDP growth more than tripled that of the nation. However, during the same period, measures of local economic prosperity—the economic impacts of that growth—not only failed to keep pace with the increased share of output, they actually declined.

  • The 22 counties’ share of the nation’s personal income fell by 6.3%, from $2.62 for every $1,000 to just $2.46.
  • Their share of jobs fell by 7.6%, from 2.62 in every 1,000 to 2.46.
  • Their share of the nation’s population fell by 10.9%, from 3.26 for every 1,000 Americans to 2.9 for every thousand.

It is a case of economic growth without prosperity, the defining characteristic of the resource curse.

Most of the GDP increase in this group of counties was due to the Appalachian natural gas production boom, which was facilitated by the advent of a drilling technique called hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking” for short.

Read the text (PDF).

Appalachian Fracking Boom Was a Jobs Bust, Finds New Report

By Nick Cunningham - DeSmog, February 11, 2021

The decade-long fracking boom in Appalachia has not led to significant job growth, and despite the region’s extraordinary levels of natural gas production, the industry’s promise of prosperity has “turned into almost nothing,” according to a new report. 

The fracking boom has received broad support from politicians across the aisle in Appalachia due to dreams of enormous job creation, but a report released on February 10 from Pennsylvania-based economic and sustainability think tank, the Ohio River Valley Institute (ORVI), sheds new light on the reality of this hype.

The report looked at how 22 counties across West Virginia, Pennsylvania, and Ohio — accounting for 90 percent of the region’s natural gas production — fared during the fracking boom. It found that counties that saw the most drilling ended up with weaker job growth and declining populations compared to other parts of Appalachia and the nation as a whole.

Shale gas production from Appalachia exploded from minimal levels a little over a decade ago, to more than 32 billion cubic feet per day (Bcf/d) in 2019, or roughly 40 percent of the nation’s total output. During this time, between 2008 and 2019, GDP across these 22 counties grew three times faster than that of the nation as a whole. However, based on a variety of metrics for actual economic prosperity — such as job growth, population growth, and the region’s share of national income — the region fell further behind than the rest of the country. 

Between 2008 and 2019, the number of jobs across the U.S. expanded by 10 percent, according to the ORVI report, but in Ohio, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia, job growth only grew by 4 percent. More glaringly, the 22 gas-producing counties in those three states — ground-zero for the drilling boom — only experienced 1.7 percent job growth.

“What’s really disturbing is that these disappointing results came about at a time when the region’s natural gas industry was operating at full capacity. So it’s hard to imagine a scenario in which the results would be better,” said Sean O’Leary, the report’s author.

The report cited Belmont County, Ohio, as a particularly shocking case. Belmont County has received more than a third of all natural gas investment in the state, and accounts for more than a third of the state’s gas production. The industry also accounts for about 60 percent of the county’s economy. Because of the boom, the county’s GDP grew five times faster than the national rate. And yet, the county saw a 7 percent decline in jobs and a 2 percent decline in population over the past decade.

“This report documents that many Marcellus and Utica region fracking gas counties typically have lost both population and jobs from 2008 to 2019,” said John Hanger, former Pennsylvania secretary of Environmental Protection, commenting on the report. “This report explodes in a fireball of numbers the claims that the gas industry would bring prosperity to Pennsylvania, Ohio, or West Virginia. These are stubborn facts that indicate gas drilling has done the opposite in most of the top drilling counties.”

A Boom Without Job Growth

This lack of job growth was not what the industry promised. A 2010 study from the American Petroleum Institute predicted that Pennsylvania would see more than 211,000 jobs created by 2020 due to the fracking boom, while West Virginia would see an additional 43,000 jobs. Studies like these were widely cited by politicians as proof that the fracking boom was an economic imperative and must be supported.

But the Ohio River Valley Institute report reveals the disconnect between a drilling boom and rising GDP on the one hand, and worse local employment outcomes on the other. There are likely many reasons for this disconnect related to the long list of negative externalities associated with fracking: The boom-and-bust nature of extractive industries creates risks for other business sectors, such as extreme economic volatility, deterring new businesses or expansions of existing ones; meanwhile air, water, and noise pollution negatively impact the health and environment of residents living nearby.

“There can be no mistake that the closer people live to shale gas development, the higher their risk for poor health outcomes,” Alison Steele, Executive Director of the Southwest Pennsylvania Environmental Health Project, told DeSmog. “More than two dozen peer-reviewed epidemiological studies show a correlation between living near shale gas development and a host of health issues, such as worsening asthmas, heart failure hospitalizations, premature births, and babies born with low birth weights and birth defects.”

Moreover, oil and gas drilling is capital-intensive, not job-intensive. As the example of Belmont County shows, only about 12 percent of income generated by the gas industry can be attributable to wages and employment, while in other sectors, on average, more than half of income goes to workers.

In other words, it costs a lot of money to drill, but it doesn’t employ a lot of people, and much of the income is siphoned off to shareholders. To top it off, equipment and people are imported from outside the region — many of the jobs created went to workers brought in from places such as Texas and Oklahoma.

Despite the huge increase in shale gas production over the past decade, the vast majority of the 22 counties experiencing the drilling boom also experienced “economic stagnation or outright decline and depopulation,” the report said.

The American Petroleum Institute did not respond to a request for comment.

“[W]e could see long ago that the job numbers published and pushed out by the industry years ago were based in bluster, not our economic realities,” Veronica Coptis, Executive Director of Coalfield Justice, a non-profit based in southwest Pennsylvania, told DeSmog, commenting on the report. “At industry’s behest and encouragement, Pennsylvania promoted shale gas development aggressively in rural areas for more than a decade. And yet, the southwestern counties at the epicenter of fracking do not show any obvious improvement in well-being.”

Canada’s net zero future should include policies to support technology “wild cards”: report

By Elizabeth Perry - Work and Climate Change Report, February 10, 2021

Canada’s Net Zero Future: Finding our way in the global transition is a policy document released on February 8  by the Canadian Institute for Climate Choices, the national research network created by Environment and Climate Change Canada in 2020. The report provides a simple definition of net zero: “shifting toward technologies and energy systems that do not produce emissions, and offsetting any remaining emissions by removing GHGs from the atmosphere and storing them permanently.” Based on technical analysis by Navius Research which examined more than 60 modelling scenarios, the report is announced as “the first in-depth scenario report to explore how Canada can reach net zero emissions by 2050”. It concludes that the goal is doable, using two pathways: “safe bets” and “wild cards”.

Most impact will be made by “Safe bets—commercially available, cost-effective, existing technologies like electric vehicles, heat pumps, and smart grids” which they estimate can generate at least two-thirds of the emission reductions required. In the longer-term, to reach the 2050 target, the authors rely on results from unproven “wild cards”— “high-risk, high reward technologies like advanced biofuels, zero-emissions hydrogen, and some types of engineered negative emission technologies that are not yet commercially available”.   The conclusion: “To scale up safe bets, governments should continue to steadily increase the stringency of policies such as carbon pricing and flexible regulations. To advance wild cards, governments should spread their bets—supporting a portfolio of emerging technologies, without delaying progress on existing smart bet solutions over the next crucial decade.”

Of the four formal Recommendations, #4 is “Governments should work to ensure that the transition to net zero is fair and inclusive”.  ….. “It is vital that governments understand the full range of implications the transition will have on all of Canada’s regions, sectors, workers, communities, and income groups. This is necessary to ensure that policies successfully address adverse impacts and work to lift up groups who have historically been left behind, instead of exacerbating those inequalities. This will require direct engagement with all of those groups.”

The lead author of the report is Jason Dion, Mitigation Research Director at the Canadian Institute for Climate Choices, but the report is a “consensus document” involving many advisors who compose its Mitigation Expert Panel Working Group, as well as expert external reviewers.  Two accompanying blogs condense the message in “What puts the “net” in net zero?” (regarding three means of negative emissions) and “Net zero is compatible with economic growth if we do it right” (emphasizing the importance of likelihood of GDP growth through the recommended policies.) 

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