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Richmond Progressive Alliance Listening Project, Episode 8: Union Proud

Negawatts–From Below

By Jeremy Brecher - Labor Network for Sustainability, March 2022

Tired of waiting for the Green New Deal? Thousands of individuals and communities, cities, and states are taking climate protection into their own hands by creating their own “Green New Deal from Below.” This commentary portrays how people are using energy efficiency and conservation locally to realize the climate, jobs, and justice goals of the Green New Deal.

Every time you replace an incandescent light bulb with a florescent or LED one, every time you caulk a window to stop heat from escaping, you save energy. Every time a skyscraper installs new heating and cooling equipment, it saves a significant and measurable number of watts. Indeed, the energy that is saved by these and other energy efficiency and energy conservation measures has come to be known as “negawatts.”

Energy efficiency and conservation are essential elements of the Green New Deal. It includes “upgrading every residential and industrial building for state-of-the-art energy efficiency, comfort and safety” and “decarbonizing” manufacturing, agriculture, transportation, and other infrastructure.[1] Spelling out the role of energy efficiency, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) in April, 2021, introduced the Green New Deal for Public Housing Act which aims to strengthen public housing communities, improve living conditions for residents, and create jobs by addressing the housing and climate crises through the retrofitting, rehabilitating, and decarbonizing of the nation’s entire public housing stock.[2]

Meanwhile, at community, local, and state levels people are already producing “negawatts” through the “Green New Deal from Below.” Using more efficient home appliances, building houses and workplaces close to public transportation, and insulating buildings are a few examples. Homes, workplaces, stores, and other buildings are among the highest producers of greenhouse gases, and in this commentary we will focus on examples of energy efficiency and conservation that reduce the use of energy in buildings.

Nationalizing Fossil Fuel Industry Is a Practical Solution to Rising Inflation

By C.J. Polychroniou and Robert Pollin - Truthout, February 24, 2022

Since mid-2020, inflation has been rising, with the level of average prices going up at a faster rate than it has since the early 1980s. In January 2022, prices had increased by 7.5 percent compared to prices in January 2021, and it now looks like the U.S. may be stuck with higher inflation in 2022 and even beyond.

Why are prices rising so dramatically? Are we heading toward double-digit inflation? Can anything be done to curb inflation? How does inflation impact growth and unemployment? Renowned progressive economist Robert Pollin provides comprehensive responses to these questions in the exclusive interview for Truthout that follows. Pollin is distinguished professor of economics and co-director of the Political Economy Research Institute at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst.

C.J. Polychroniou: Back in the 1970s, inflation was the word that was on everybody’s lips. It was the longest stretch of inflation that the United States had experienced and seems to have been caused by a surge in oil prices. Since then, we’ve had a couple of other brief inflationary episodes, one in the late 1980s and another one in mid-2008, both of which were also caused by skyrocketing gas prices. Inflation returned with a vengeance in 2021, causing a lot of anxiety, and it’s quite possible that we could be stuck with it throughout 2022. What’s causing this inflation surge, and how likely is it that we could see a return to 1970s levels of inflation?

Robert Pollin: For the 12-month period ending this past January, inflation in the U.S economy was at 7.5 percent. This is the highest U.S. rate since 1981, when inflation was at 10.3 percent. Over the 30-year period from 1991 to 2020, U.S. inflation averaged 2.2 percent. The inflation rate for 2020 itself was 1.2 percent. Obviously, some new forces have come into play over the past year as the U.S. economy has been emerging out of the COVID-induced recession.

To understand these new forces, let’s first be clear on what exactly we mean by the term “inflation.” The 7.5 percent increase in inflation is measuring the average rise in prices for a broad basket of goods and services that a typical household will purchase over the course of a year. At least in principle, this includes everything — food, rent, medical expenses, child care, auto purchases and upkeep, gasoline, home heating fuel, phone services, internet connections and Netflix subscriptions.

In fact, prices for the individual items within this overall basket of goods and services have not all been rising at this average 7.5 percent rate. Rather, the 7.5 percent average figure includes big differences in price movements among individual components in the overall basket.

The biggest single factor driving up overall inflation rate is energy prices. Energy prices rose by 27 percent over the past year, and within the overall energy category, gasoline rose by 40 percent and heating oil by 46 percent. This spike in gasoline and heating oil prices, in turn, has fed into the total operating costs faced by nearly all businesses, since these businesses need gasoline and heating oil to function. Businesses therefore try to cover their increased gasoline and heating oil costs by raising their prices.

Is the California Coalition Fighting Subsidies For Rooftop Solar a Fake Grassroots Group?

By Anne Marshall-Chalmers and Dan Gearino - Inside Climate News, February 8, 2022

Over 70 member organizations in the coalition received charitable contributions in 2020 worth $1.67 million from big California utilities that see solar as the competition.

In the fight over California’s rooftop solar policy, a coalition that claims to represent low-income, senior and environmental leaders is running ads warning about a cost shift that forces consumers to subsidize solar for people who live in mansions.

This message, by Affordable Clean Energy for All, is trying to influence the debate as California regulators consider rules that would sharply reduce the financial benefits of owning rooftop systems.

But Affordable Clean Energy for All is not a grassroots movement. It is a public relations campaign sponsored by big utility companies that stand to benefit from policies that hurt rooftop solar. Many of the 100-plus groups that make up the coalition have received charitable donations or other financial support from the utilities. Few of them wanted to talk about the campaign when contacted by Inside Climate News.

The utilities’ campaign is using what watchdog groups say is a familiar playbook from across the country, with community groups providing a relatable face for advocacy messages that align with those of the utilities. If the result is a policy that hurts rooftop solar, that could be a big setback for California’s push to get to net-zero emissions, an effort that is counting on a continued expansion of solar and other customer-owned energy systems.

Climate-Safe Energy Production–From Below

By Jeremy Brecher - Labor Network for Sustainability, February 2022

Climate-safe energy is being produced locally all over the country in ways that also produce jobs and increase racial, social, and economic justice – fulfilling the basic principles of the Green New Deal.

Protecting the climate requires meeting the original Green New Deal proposal’s goal of 100% of national power generation from renewable sources within ten years.[1] That requires greatly expanding climate-safe sources of energy. It involves an unprecedented transformation of the energy system, and that requires national investment and planning. But much of the transformation will actually be composed of local building blocks – and those can begin right now. Indeed, hundreds of local initiatives around the country, ranging from community solar to municipal ownership to local microgrids, are already expanding renewable energy production.

Sunlight, Jobs, and Justice

Solar gardens are sprouting up all over Denver.

On November 3, 2020, Denver voters overwhelmingly approved Ballot Measure 2A, the Climate Protection Fund, to raise approximately $40 million per year dedicated to climate action. As stated in the ballot measure, the intent of this fund is to “fund programs to eliminate greenhouse gas emissions and air pollution and adapt to climate change. Funding should maximize investments in communities of color, under-resourced communities and communities most vulnerable to climate change.”[2]

Community solar gardens use photovoltaic (PV) panels to produce electricity from sunlight for an entire neighborhood. Now such solar gardens are dotting sites owned and financed by the City of Denver, including rooftops, parking lots, and vacant lands. The power generated from the solar gardens will be shared between city facilities, income-qualified residents, and publicly accessible electric vehicle charging stations.

In accord with the principles of the Green New Deal, Denver’s solar garden program has a strong justice dimension. Since Denver owns the project, it can set its own standards. Ten percent of the energy generated by the solar gardens is allocated to low-income housing through the Denver Housing Authority. An additional 10 percent will be allocated to low-income households through Energy Outreach Colorado, and will be exempt from subscription fees. A paid workforce training program available to Denver residents will provide 10 percent of the city and county’s solar workforce.

The solar gardens are designed to contribute to the goal of Denver’s “80 x 50 Climate Action Plan” to transition Denver to 100 percent renewable electricity for municipal buildings by 2025; achieve 100 percent community-wide renewable electricity by 2030; and reduce Denver’s greenhouse gas emissions 80 percent, as compared to a 2005 baseline, by 2050.[3]

High Equity Stakes in California’s Solar Fight

By Crystal Huang - Organizing Upgrade, February 1, 2022

A struggle is underway in California that might well determine if low-income communities across the country—especially frontline and BIPOC communities—will be able to reap the benefits of the clean energy revolution or if they will be further disempowered by it.

The California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC), which regulates the state’s three big private energy utilities, is poised to stifle rooftop solar development in California—the state with the largest solar investment in the country! The policy being considered by the CPUC, and pushed by the utilities, would eliminate the economic benefits of rooftop solar in California.

This is not about fossil fuels versus renewables: the private utilities are fine with renewables as long as they control and profit from them. The revised CPUC policy would foreclose on the possibility of expanding rooftop solar into low-income communities. That includes the building of local, community-controlled “microgrids” to bolster energy security in communities most vulnerable to crisis-related power shutoffs. It’s a direct power grab, an attack on our communities’ ability to achieve self-determination in the face of climate disaster—and it’s being done in the name of “equity.”

“Communities like mine have been systematically shut out of the clean energy economy,” says Jessica Tovar, Energy Democracy Organizer at the Local Clean Energy Alliance. “And just as we are rising to demand clean energy, rooftop solar, microgrids, resilience hubs, and the benefits they bring, the private utilities and the CPUC slam us with attacks on local solar.”

What Germany’s Effort to Leave Coal Behind Can Teach the U.S.

By Alec MacGillis - ProPublica, January 31, 2022

In late September, just before the German parliamentary elections, the Alternative für Deutschland held a large campaign rally in Görlitz, a picturesque city of about 56,000 people across the Neisse River from Poland. I was making my way down a narrow street toward the rally when I entered a square that had been dressed up as Berlin circa 1930, complete with wooden carts, street urchins and a large poster of Hitler.

Görlitz, which was barely damaged in the Second World War, often stands in for prewar Europe in movies and TV shows. (“Babylon Berlin,” “Inglourious Basterds” and other productions have filmed scenes there.) It was a startling sight nonetheless, especially since, a few hundred yards away, a crowd was gathering for the AfD, the far-right party whose incendiary rhetoric about foreign migrants invading Germany has raised alarms in a country vigilant about the resurgence of the radical right.

In fact, at the rally, the rhetoric about foreigners from the AfD’s top national candidate, Tino Chrupalla, was relatively mild. Germany’s general success with handling the wave of more than a million refugees and migrants who arrived in the country starting in 2015 has helped undermine the party’s central platform. Chrupalla moved on from migrants to other topics: the threat of coronavirus-vaccination mandates for schoolchildren, the plight of small businesses and the country’s desire to stop burning coal, which provides more than a quarter of its electricity, a greater share even than in the United States.

Coal has particular resonance in the area around Görlitz, one of the country’s two large remaining mining regions. Germany’s coal-exit plan, which was passed in 2020, includes billions of euros in compensation for the coal regions, to help transform their economies, but there are reports that some of the money has been allocated to frivolous-sounding projects far from the towns most dependent on mining. Chrupalla, who is from the area, listed some of these in a mocking tone and told the crowd that the region was being betrayed by the government, just as it had been after German reuni­fication, when millions in the former East Germany lost their jobs, leading many to abandon home for the West. “We are being deceived again, like after 1990,” he said.

Such language was eerily familiar. For years, I had been reporting on American coal country, where the industry’s decadeslong decline has spurred economic hardship and political resentment. In West Virginia, fewer than 15,000 people now work in coal mining, down from more than a 100,000 in the 1950s. The state is the only one that has fewer residents than it did 70 years ago, when the U.S. had a population less than half its current size — a statistic that is unlikely to surprise anyone who has visited half-abandoned towns such as Logan, Oceana and Pine­ville. Accompanying the decline has been a dramatic political shift: A longtime Democratic stronghold, West Virginia was one of only 10 states to vote for Michael Dukakis in 1988; in 2020, it provided Donald Trump with his second-­largest margin of victory, after Wyoming, which also happens to be the country’s largest coal producer, ahead of West Virginia.

The Real Crisis Threatening Ukraine isn’t a Russian Invasion or US backed NATO Imperialism. It’s Capitalism

By Javier Sethness - The Commoner, January 27, 2022

published on The Commoner, 27 January 2022

This exclusive interview with Assembly, a magazine based in Ukraine, provides a fresh, on-the-ground perspective on the Russo-Ukrainian conflict. Writers from Assembly have published articles with The Commoner before, which you can find here. You may otherwise find their website here.

Comrades, thank you for agreeing to this interview. We very much enjoyed your recent article in The Commoner, ‘The Time Has Come?’, about ongoing socio-economic resistance in Ukraine.

Today, the world looks on in horror as Russian President Vladimir Putin’s military is amassing over a hundred-thousand troops on Ukraine’s eastern border. These forces are reportedly composed of sixty battalion tactical groups (BTG’s), including Spetznatz special forces, hundreds of tanks, and dozens of ballistic-missile units—not to mention either the Black Sea Fleet or aerial forces. Although Ukraine gained formal independence from the collapsing Soviet Union in 1991, Putin has repeatedly expressed nostalgia for Tsarist and Soviet imperialism, while Maria Zakharova, spokesperson for the Russian Ministry for Foreign Affairs, has long belittled the idea of Ukrainian sovereignty.

Currently, the UK is selling light anti-tank weapons to Ukraine, while the US has supplied billions of dollars in military aid to the country since 2014, when the Russian military occupied and annexed Crimea. Some media sources suggest that Putin has not yet decided whether to order the invasion, which could spark the most destructive conflict in Europe since World War II, even if Ukraine is not a part of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO). Now, following a breakdown in negotiations, President Joe Biden is reportedly considering sending thousands of NATO troops to the Baltic countries.

Ecosocialism and Degrowth: a Reply

By Simon Butler - Climate and Capitalism, January 6, 2022

David Schwartzman makes some very good points about the ecological benefits of ending militarism. I was also pleased to read his arguments about the strong potential for 100% renewable energy to meet global energy needs, although I cannot judge if his specific calculations about global per-capita energy are correct.

I’m not a degrowther per se. I think the fundamental problem is capital accumulation, of which capitalist growth is a product, but there are some questionable aspects to Schwartzman’s critique.

First, there is a claim about political strategy: that degrowth will appeal only to “the professional class” (I suppose this means middle class/petty bourgeois/intellectuals etc) in the North and would alienate the “global working class.”

That’s a strange formulation because it seems obvious that it’s not the “global” working class that Schwartzman and similar critics are worried about convincing, but the working class in the North who, they fear, will be repelled by a message that emphasises sharing resources with people elsewhere. The degrowth answer to this is that living standards for working people in the North can still improve even if economic growth is halted, as long as there is significant wealth redistribution.

I suspect that hostility to degrowth ideas among some ecosocialists in the North is linked to glossing over the sharp inequalities that divide “the global working class.” Any worthwhile ecosocialist strategy must address the North’s unequal access to the South’s mineral resources & soil nutrients. We in the North cannot hope to form international alliances with mass movements in the South if we neglect to do this. It’s imperialism that so destructively distorts the economies (and political cultures) of the South and the North, producing glaring inequalities and reproducing the ecological rift on a global level.

A Critique of Degrowth: An ecosocialist perspective in the context of a global Green New Deal

By David Schwartzman - Climate and Capitalism, January 5, 2022

Ecosocialist responses to “degrowth” analysis and proposals have ranged from full support to total rejection. The author of the following critical commentary is an emeritus professor of biology at Howard University, and co-author of The Earth is Not for Sale (World Scientific, 2019). We encourage respectful responses in the comments, and hope to publish other views in future.

The positive contributions of the degrowth proponents should be recognized, in particular, their rethinking of economic growth under capitalism, critiquing its measure, the GNP/GDP, as well as pointing to capitalism’s unsustainable use of natural resources, in particular fossil fuels in its production of commodities for profit generation regardless of their impact on the health of people and the environment. Further, they wisely critique eco-modernists who claim that simply substituting the right technology into the present political economy of capitalism will be sufficient to meet human and nature’s needs.

But the degrowth solutions offered are highly flawed and their brand is not likely to be welcomed by the global working class, even as it attracts sections of the professional class.[1] Degrowth proponents commonly fail to unpack the qualitative aspects of economic growth, lumping all in one basket; i.e., sustainable/addressing essential needs of humans and nature versus unsustainable, leaving the majority of humanity in poverty or worse. Degrowthers point to the relatively privileged status of workers in the global North compared to those in the global South as a big part of the problem, instead of recognizing that the transnational working class will not only benefit from growth of sectors that meet its needs in both the global North and South but must be the leading force to defeat fossil capital.[1, 2, 3]

A common claim in the degrowth discourse is that “perpetual growth on a finite planet leads inexorably to environmental calamity.”[4] This assertion fails to deconstruct the qualitative aspects of growth, what is growing, what should degrow, under what energy regime? While of course there are obvious limits to the growth of the global physical infrastructure, why can’t knowledge and culture continue to grow for a long time into the future in a globally sustainable and just physical and political economy?

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