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Hurricane Capitalism

By Eric Fretz - Marx 21, September 3, 2021

Again and Again under capitalism, we have seen poorer people disproportionately hit by the deadly effects of events like cyclones and earthquakes, as natural disasters highlight existing unnatural inequalities. It is now obvious that not just the effects, but the causes of extreme weather are stemming from capitalism.

The recent IPCC report proved that higher air and sea temperatures caused by global warming have already led to more hurricanes, and will continue to do so. “In the past seventy years,” Bill McKibben noted, “the United States has averaged three land-falling storms a year; Ida is the seventeenth in the past two years.” 

But warming also leads to a “rapid intensification” of storms. Ida turned into a hurricane in just six hours.

When Ida hit the Louisiana coast Sunday as a Category 4 hurricane with winds up to 150 mph, it was the second most powerful storm to hit the state in its recorded history.

Devastation 

Over 1 million homes and businesses in Louisiana and Mississippi are without power, including the entire city of New Orleans, parts of which may remain without electricity for weeks. 

Sewage pumping stations in New Orleans, which have no backup power, stopped working, leaving 441,000 people in 17 parishes with no clean drinking water, and no water to flush toilets. Another 329,000 people were under boil water advisories. However, it may be hard for many to boil water without electricity.

Added to this misery was a heat advisory which combined with humidity to reach real feel temperatures of over a hundred degrees

Tens of thousands of residents were left to themselves in figuring out how to evacuate, and even those with cars were at a standstill on choked highways. 

In a chilling reminder of the horrors of Katrina, the New Orleans Police Department announced that “anti-looting patrols” would be set up. The mayor then used the resulting arrests to justify a curfew and calling in the National Guard—not to rescue people or rebuild, but to patrol the streets. 

As in Katrina, it is poor and black people who are most at risk of losing their homes—and their lives.

Ida came one year after Hurricane Laura, which brought widespread destruction to the mostly Black industrial area around Mossville, causing chemical fires and turning Lake Charles into a toxic soup. The displacement and continued housing shortage caused by Laura worsened the spread of Covid in the area. 

The displacement caused by Ida in New Orleans could be even worse. Hospitals in Louisiana are already filled with over 2,400 patients with coronavirus. There were not enough empty beds in the state to evacuate patients from New Orleans hospitals. Staff in one hospital reported having to manually pump air into the lungs of intubated Covid patients as they moved them to a floor with a working generator.

No Hope for Earth without Indigenous Liberation: ‘The Red Deal: Indigenous Action to Save Our Earth’

By Simon Butler - Climate and Capitalism, August 24, 2021

As heat and severe weather records are broken again and again, it should be clear by now that there is no limit for capital. There will be no scientific warning or dire catastrophe that leads to a political breakthrough. No huge wildfire, terrible drought or great flood will make governments and corporations change course. To carry on as they are means extinction. And yet they still carry on: more fossil fuels and fewer trees, more pollution and fewer species.

Recognition that there is no way out of this crisis without far-reaching, social upheaval animates the proposals put forward in The Red Deal: Indigenous Action to Save Our Earth. The short book was authored by activists from The Red Nation, a coalition devoted to Indigenous liberation and made up of Native and non-native revolutionaries based mainly in North America.

The authors make clear that they believe the campaign to halt climate change and repair ecological destruction is bound up with the fate of the world’s Indigenous peoples. They say bluntly that “there is no hope for restoring the planet’s fragile and dying ecosystems without Indigenous liberation” and that “it’s decolonization or extinction.”

A Just Transition Now or Climate Disaster is Inevitable

Where We Mine: Resource Politics in Latin America

Thea Riofrancos interviewed by Annabelle Dawson - Green European Journal, August 12, 2021

As the drive to expand renewable energy capacity speeds up, there is a rush for lithium and other materials around the world. What will the expansion of rare earth mining in Latin America mean for the indigenous communities and workers who have historically borne the harms of extractivism? Thea Riofrancos, author of Resource Radicals (Duke University Press, 2020), explains how the energy transition in the Global North risks being anything but just without structural changes to supply chains and the governance of extractive industries.

Annabelle Dawson: Your work explores the politics of resource extraction in Latin America, from oil in Ecuador to lithium in Chile. How do you define resource politics or extractivism?

Thea Riofrancos: Resource politics refers to any social or political activity – whether conflict, collaboration, political economy or social mobilisation – that’s attributed to the extraction of resources, and in some cases to stop resource extraction. Scholarship tends to see resource politics as primarily related to elites like state officials and corporate actors. This is pivotal, for example, to the concept of the resource curse, which holds that dependency on resource rents leads to authoritarianism. However, this focus overlooks a range of resource politics such as social movements that oppose extractive projects or demand better regulation and indigenous rights.

Extractivism is a little thornier to define. My research has explored how in Latin America social movements, activists and even some bureaucrats in the case of Ecuador began to use this term to diagnose the problems that they associated with resource extraction. This happened in the context of the 2000 to 2014 commodity boom – a period of intense investment in resource sectors driven by the industrialisation of emerging economies like China – and the Left’s return to power across Latin America during the “Pink Tide”. Activists, left-wing intellectuals and some government officials began to see extractivism as an interlocking system of social and environmental harm, political repression, and corporate and foreign capital domination. So, the concept originates from political activity rather than scholarship [read more about extractivism in Latin America].

We tend to associate resource extraction with notoriously dirty commodities like coal, oil, and certain metals. How are green technologies implicated in all of this?

The transition to renewable energies is often thought of as switching one energy source for another: fossil fuels for renewables. That’s part of it, but this transition fits into a much bigger energy and socio-economic system. You can’t just swap energy sources without rebuilding the infrastructures and technologies required to harness, generate, and transmit that energy. All this has a large material footprint and requires materials such as lithium, cobalt, nickel and rare earth metals [read more about the central role and impact of these rare metals]. More traditional extractive sectors like copper are also very important for decarbonisation.

One very bad outcome would be if the harms related to fossil fuel capitalism were reproduced in new renewable energy systems, subjecting particular communities to the harms of resource extraction in the name of fighting climate change. We need a new energy system quickly – especially in the Global North given the historic emissions of the US and Europe. But in this rush, there’s a real risk of reproducing inequalities and environmental damage. This is especially so with some mining sectors where a boom in the raw materials for green technologies like wind turbines, electric vehicles and solar panels is predicted.

Striking Alabama Coal Miners Want Their $1.1 Billion Back

By Luis Feliz Leon - Labor Notes, August 10, 2021

History repeated itself as hundreds of miners spilled out of buses in June and July to leaflet the Manhattan offices of asset manager BlackRock, the largest shareholder in the mining company Warrior Met Coal.

Some had traveled from the pine woods of Brookwood, Alabama, where 1,100 coal miners have been on strike against Warrior Met since April 1. Others came in solidarity from the rolling hills of western Pennsylvania and the hollows of West Virginia and Ohio.


Ninety-year-old retired Ohio miner Jay Kolenc was retracing his own steps from 1974, when Kentucky miners came to fight Wall Street in the strike behind the film Harlan County USA. “Coal miners have always had to fight for everything they’ve ever had,” Kolenc said. Photo: Luis Feliz Leon.

Among them was 90-year-old retired Ohio miner Jay Kolenc, in a wheelchair at the picket line—retracing his own steps from five decades ago. It was 1974 when Kentucky miners and their supporters came to fight Wall Street in the strike behind the film Harlan County USA.

“Coal miners have always had to fight for everything they’ve ever had,” Kolenc said. “Since 1890, when we first started, nobody’s ever handed us anything. So we’re not about to lay our tools down now.”

The longest that miners ever went on strike was for 10 months in 1989 against the Pittston Coal Company in West Virginia, defending hard-won health care benefits and pension rights. Some 3,000 miners got arrested in that strike. AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka, who passed away on August 5, was president of the Mine Workers (UMWA) at the time.

In Manhattan, mixed in the sea of camouflage T-shirts outside BlackRock was a smattering of red and blue shirts—retail, grocery, stage, and telecom workers. The miners and supporters circled the inner perimeter of four police barricades, chanting “Warrior Met Coal ain’t got no soul!” and whooping it up.

Postal and sanitation trucks honked in solidarity. “You’re in New York City,” Mine Workers President Cecil Roberts told the crowd. “When somebody comes by driving a trash truck, they’re in a union. Chances are, somebody comes along with a broom in their hand, they’re in a union.”

It states that every corner of the planet is already being affected and it could get far worse if the remaining slim chance to stop heating over 1.5C is not immediately grasped.

As well as making clear the damage that climate change is doing and will do to the planet, the report makes it clear that the climate crisis is unequivocally caused by human activities.

The 42 page summary of the report has been agreed, line-by-line, by every government on the planet.

1,100 Union Miners in Alabama Are Now in Their Fifth Month on Strike

By Nora De La Cour - Jacobin, August 6, 2021

Although coal-mining jobs comprise a rapidly shrinking share of the US economy, they became potent symbolic fodder during the 2016 and 2020 presidential campaigns. Candidates from both major parties devoted considerable airtime to the subject, with varying degrees of success. And yet, as 1,100 metallurgical coal miners in Brookwood, Alabama, entered their fifth month on strike earlier this week, the political establishment remained conspicuously silent.

The miners, represented by the United Mine Workers of America (UMWA), first hit the picket lines on April 1 after contract talks broke down with their employer, Warrior Met Coal. Last week they took their protest to Wall Street, where they gathered outside the headquarters of BlackRock, the world’s largest asset manager and Warrior Met’s most powerful shareholder.

The miners, who extract the coking coal used to make steel, contend that BlackRock is wresting profits from their community with little regard for workers’ well-being.

Warrior Met Coal, Inc., was formed to purchase the remains of Walter Energy after the company declared bankruptcy in 2016. Bankruptcy court proceedings, which tend to value company assets over workers’ well-being, established that Walter Energy’s holdings would be sold “free and clear,” meaning Warrior Met need not honor the commitments its predecessor had made to miners and their union. In a bid to keep the mines open and save the pensions and health coverage of retirees, UMWA members in Brookwood accepted a subpar contract mandating excruciating sacrifices.

Coal mining is one of the most physically hazardous professions in the United States, with high rates of life-altering injuries and diseases like silicosis and black lung. Unionized miners have fought hard for premium health insurance to alleviate the physical toll of their work. Under the contract with Warrior Met, miners saw their 100 percent coverage downgraded to an 80/20 system with massive out-of-pocket costs for members. Pay was slashed by between $6 and $8 dollars per hour, bringing it well below the industry standard for unionized miners. Hard-earned pensions were replaced with shabby 401Ks.

Warrior Met’s scheduling and firing practices became increasingly draconian even as workers’ ability to earn overtime pay was gutted. Miners were expected to work shifts as long as sixteen hours, for as many as seven days a week. “You could be scheduled seven, ten, twenty days straight,” says Haeden Wright, president of the auxiliary for two striking UMWA locals.

Read the entire article here.

Striking Alabama coal miners protest corporate greed at NYC BlackRock headquarters

By Jaisal Noor - The Real News Network, July 28, 2021

Striking Alabama coal miner Mike Wright says workers at Warrior Met Coal are taking their calls for fair pay and benefits to the NYC headquarters of their company's biggest investor: BlackRock.

DOE Quietly Backs Plan for Carbon Capture Network Larger Than Entire Oil Pipeline System

By Sharon Kelly - DeSmog, July 18, 2021

Obama Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz and major labor group AFL-CIO are behind the “blueprint” for a multi-billion dollar system to transport captured CO2 — and offer a lifeline to fossil fuel plants.

An organization run by former Obama-era Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz, with the backing of the AFL-CIO, a federation of 56 labor unions, has created a policy “blueprint” to build a nationwide pipeline network capable of carrying a gigaton of captured carbon dioxide (CO2).

The “Building to Net-Zero” blueprint appears to be quietly gaining momentum within the Energy Department, where a top official has discussed ways to put elements into action using the agency’s existing powers.

The pipeline network would be twice the size of the current U.S. oil pipeline network by volume, according to the blueprint, released by a recently formed group calling itself the Labor Energy Partnership. Backers say the proposed pipeline network — including CO2 “hubs” in the Gulf Coast, the Ohio River Valley, and Wyoming — would help reduce climate-changing pollution by transporting captured carbon dioxide to either the oil industry, which would undo some of the climate benefits by using the CO2 to revive aging oilfields, or to as-yet unbuilt facilities for underground storage.

The blueprint, however, leaves open many questions about how the carbon would be captured at the source — a process that so far has proved difficult and expensive — and where it would be sent, focusing instead on suggesting policies the federal government can adopt to boost CO2 pipeline construction. 

Climate advocates fear that building such a large CO2 pipeline network could backfire, causing more greenhouse gas pollution by enabling aging coal-fired power plants to remain in service longer, produce pipes that could wind up carrying fossil fuels if carbon capture efforts fall through, and represent an expensive waste of federal funds intended to encourage a meaningful energy transition.

In March, over 300 climate and environmental justice advocacy groups sent a letter to Congress, arguing that subsidizing carbon capture “could entrench the fossil economy for decades to come.”

The AFL-CIO and the Energy Futures Initiative, which jointly produced the blueprint, did not respond to questions about concerns over their proposals.

Proponents of carbon capture, usage, and sequestration (CCUS) often highlight ways that it could be used for sectors like steel and cement whose carbon pollution is generally considered “hard to abate.” Yet, the pipeline network envisioned by Moniz would be capable of carrying over 10 times as much carbon dioxide as the steel and cement industries emit in total nationwide, according to U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) data from 2019. In fact, it could transport more CO2 than the entire industrial sector emits in the U.S., leaving the rest of the pipeline network’s capacity available for carbon from fossil fuel-fired power plants or from “direct air capture” technologies that would remove ambient CO2 but don’t currently exist at a commercial level

“Even the advocates of direct air capture technology acknowledge that they don’t anticipate that it would be at a scale to make any meaningful reduction in atmospheric CO2 levels until 2060, 2070 and beyond,” said Carroll Muffett, president of the environmental law nonprofit Center for International Environmental Law. “When we’re dealing with a world where we need to cut emissions in the next decade, direct air capture just has no meaningful place in that conversation.”

Instead, the proposed CO2 pipeline network would be used to offer a lifeline to existing fossil fuel power plants. In Appalachia, for example, 90 percent of the carbon emissions the plan seeks to capture would come from existing coal-fired power plants in the Ohio River Valley. Those plants, none of which are currently outfitted with the costly upgrades needed for capture carbon, are already facing difficult questions about their ability to compete economically with wind and solar energy.

Nonetheless, momentum behind the project appears to have been gathering behind the scenes in Washington, D.C., particularly inside the Department of Energy (DOE).

“It’s a great pleasure to have our first kind of public interaction with our good friend, Dave Turk,” Moniz said of Biden’s Deputy Secretary of Energy at the blueprint’s online launch on July 1.

“It’s incredible the volume and quality of the thought-leadership that you all are behind,” Turk, who is second in command to Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm, told Moniz. “And I think the report that you all have put together is incredibly helpful to show that we need to do more from the DOE side, other agencies, and Congress,” he added, describing the blueprint as “actionable.”

Why Elon Musk Won't Save Us

Oil well clean-up can create jobs; but not the way Alberta spent Green Recovery funding

By Elizabeth Perry - Work and Climate Change Report, July 15, 2021

The Big Cleanup: How enforcing the Polluter Pay principle can unlock Alberta’s next great jobs boom was released in June by the Alberta Liabilities Disclosure Project . It makes thirteen recommendations, including the creation of an independent, non-profit Reclamation Trust to wind down end-of-life companies and use their remaining revenue to fund the cleanup of their wells. The report states that implementing all its recommendations will create 10,400 jobs and generate $750 million in wages, and contribute nearly $2 billion Alberta’s Gross Domestic Product annually for the next 25 years. The report also includes new calculations and analysis on the growing crisis of Alberta’s oil and gas well liabilities, stating that the average projected cost of cleaning up Alberta’s over 300,000 unreclaimed oil and gas wells is $55 billion dollars, with the top 20 Alberta municipalities alone facing $34 billion in cleanup liabilities in their boundaries.

In April 2020, the government of Canada announced its Covid-19 Economic Response Plan, including $1.72 billion directed toward the cleanup of inactive and abandoned oil and gas infrastructure across the western provinces. $1 billion of this funding was directed to Alberta. Dianne Saxe, the former Environmental Commissioner of Ontario, had been one of the early critics of this program, for example in “Canada’s murky bail-out deal for oil and gas will cost us all” ( National Observer, April 21). In early July, a further evaluation was published by Oxfam Canada, the Parkland Institute, and the Corporate Mapping Project : Not Well Spent: A review of $1-billion federal funding to clean up Alberta’s inactive oil and gas wells . The report finds some alarming failures on many fronts – including that the program is not tracking methane emissions, so it is impossible to determine the emissions reduction impact. Author Megan Egler also cautiously argues that the public funds were used to accomplish what industry should have been responsible for, according to a polluter pays principle.

One of the stated goals of Alberta’s $1 Billion Site Rehabilitation Program (SRP) was to create 5,300 jobs. However, Not Well Spent states: “ If this is met, funding of $1billion will create 5,300 jobs at $188,680 per job. This is $41,800 more per job than money injected into the industry through the Orphaned Well Association to do similar work in 2018. There has been no clear explanation from the Government of Alberta why the public dollars to create one job are higher in the SRP program.” The report also notes that 23% of the total amount of funds disbursed went to only five companies out of the 363; only 10% was allocated to clean-ups on Indigenous lands. The author makes recommendations for improvement in future funding, to ensure better accountability and transparency, which would be more consistent with a “polluter pays” objective.

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