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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.

Industrial Consumption: A largely invisible yet decisive underlying cause of the crisis

By Justiça Ambiental! and WoMIN - World Rainforest Movement, July 9, 2021

Industrial consumption is an intrinsic aspect of capitalist’s logic of increasing accumulation. It is also an underlying cause of the current crisis, which is being reinforced by initiatives promoting a ‘green’ label for the same production chains. This article highlights the voices of Justiça Ambiental! in Mozambique and the African ecofeminist alliance WoMIN.

This article highlights the voices of two organizations: Justiça Ambiental! (JA!) in Mozambique, which is accompanying the struggles in Cabo Delgado against the extraction of offshore and inland gas deposits; and WoMIN, an African ecofeminist alliance that works with movements of women and communities impacted by mining activities.

The world is in the midst of a serious and manifold crisis, one that brings together concerns over environmental devastation, climate chaos, loss of biological diversity, large-scale deforestation, social inequality, food insecurity, increasing poverty levels, and the concentration of power and land into fewer hands. And the list could go on and on. Industrial consumption is a vital aspect of what is driving this crisis, that is, an underlying cause. These are causes that operate on a global scale and consist of economic, political and social components that influence each other.

It is important to remark that the term industrial consumption should be understood not as the individual act of consuming, but rather as a consequence of the systemic logic of the capitalist economy of ever increasing accumulation. That means that each company, in order to make more profits, needs to grow and, in many cases, produce more and promote bigger and new markets for expansion; but to produce more, a company also needs to consume more resources (particularly energy, land and water).

Massive amounts of energy, from different sources, are distributed to industries to feed their production chains. Thousands of hectares of fertile land are turned into cash crops for industrial purposes. Mines and industrial plantations around the world siphon off and pollute enormous amounts of already scarce water sources. (1) Land is increasingly under the control of fewer individuals. Each day, enormous quantities of herbicides, insecticides, fungicides and fertilizers are produced and used by tree plantation companies and other agribusiness sectors. Minerals and fossil fuels continue to be extracted and transported across the globe via long and frequently militarized corridors of pipelines, waterways and roads. Ports, airports, highways and storage units are constantly being built and expanded to facilitate faster and cheaper connections between industries and markets. And so on. This systemic logic of ever-increasing production and consumption reinforces, at the same time, models of structural oppression, racism and patriarchy.

Industrial consumption, by and large, is now being reinforced by official and corporate initiatives trying to promote a new ‘green’ label for the same economic model. The targets set by companies and governments to reduce pollution, deforestation and biodiversity loss are mostly presented next to economic packages endorsing economic growth, free trade and globalized capitalism. And what does this mean? Basically, more industrial consumption and production. Likewise, the so-called ‘green’ or ‘low carbon’ economy is being promoted alongside market-based policies that pretend to offset the pollution and destruction that is intrinsic to such an economic model. In a nutshell, the so-called ‘transition’ aims to maintain and allow the same economic model that is actually driving the crisis to continue uninterrupted.

Renewable energies and ‘green hydrogen’: Renewing destruction?

By Joanna Cabello - World Rainforest Movement, July 9, 2021

Industrial-scale renewable energy infrastructure has seen a revival in the agenda of the ‘energy transition’ and as part of the economic recovery plans in front of the pandemic. Besides, the production of so-called ‘green hydrogen’ from these projects adds another layer of injustices. The energy matrix and over consumption remain untouched.

In a 2020 statement from the International Hydropower Association, the world’s largest hydropower corporations are calling on governments for “fast-track planning approvals” to ensure new large dams construction can commence as soon as possible. (1) The hydro energy industry is also lobbying to make sure large dams are seen as essential to the economic recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic and to “the transition to net-zero carbon economies” (2), casting devastating projects as both ‘clean’ and central to a ‘green energy transition’.

Industrial-scale renewable energy, including hydro, wind and solar, is positioned as a solution to our ever-increasing energy consumption. On top of this, the production of the so-called ‘green hydrogen,’ adds another layer of injustices related to this mega infrastructure. Yet, the replacement of the energy source by no means addresses the real problem posed by the excessive levels of energy consumption, which are driven by accumulative economic growth. This also leaves unchallenged the violence intrinsic to the societies that such energy powers. (3)

Many corporate and state actors are pushing for increasing their capacity to produce and use hydrogen as part of the ‘green’ recovery plans from the economic crisis caused by the pandemic. It is becoming central in the ‘green transition’ debates. The German government has announced plans to spend 9 billion euros (UD10.7 billion dollars) supporting its domestic hydrogen industry. (4) Likewise, the European Commission has started to promote hydrogen as a way of cutting carbon emissions and reaching its Green Deal climate targets. The EU plans to scale up ‘renewable hydrogen’ projects and invest a cumulative amount of 470 billion euros (US740 billion dollars) by 2050. (5) Moreover, US Energy Secretary, Jennifer Granholm, said that hydrogen “will help decarbonize high-polluting heavy-duty and industrial sectors [in the United States] (…) and realizing a net-zero economy by 2050.” (6)

Striking Alabama Miners Are Done Playing Nice

By Jacob Morrison - In These Times, July 9, 2021

BROOKWOOD, ALA. — ​“You ain’t working tonight!”

That was one of the picket line chants heard June 15 as several hundred members of the United Mine Workers of America (UMWA) and their allies attempted to block strikebreakers from entering the Warrior Met Coal mine.

With tank tops that read ​“scab bullies,” supporters stood shoulder to shoulder with the miners while police pleaded for protesters to move their trucks. No one would claim the vehicles.

“Who is in charge?” one of the officers asked.

“Everyone,” answered Haeden Wright, president of a local UMWA women’s auxiliary unit, a close-knit group of union members’ wives and supporters. ​“We are the UMWA.”

Police eventually towed the vehicles, but the standoff would last for hours. One miner offered a simple explanation: ​“This playing nice shit ain’t cutting it.”

The picket line had grown contentious before. In May, about two months after the strike began, Tuscaloosa police arrested 11 leaders of the UMWA and the Alabama AFL-CIO for blocking one of the mine’s 12 entrances. They all spent the night in jail and, according to the union, were given a warning: If they’re arrested again, they will be held until trial.

Along with threats from police, striking miners have faced other attacks — including three separate vehicular assaults in June, in which drivers plowed into UMWA picketers.

“Warrior Met personnel, either management or nonunion workers, have repeatedly struck our members, who were engaging in legal picket line activities, with their vehicles,” UMWA International President Cecil E. Roberts said in a June 7 statement. ​“We have members in casts, we have members in the hospital, we have members who are concerned about their families and potential of violence against them if they come to the picket line.”

The work stoppage, which follows the months-long campaign to unionize Amazon warehouse workers in nearby Bessemer, is one of the country’s most significant mining strikes in decades. On April 1, upward of 1,100 workers walked off the job as their contract with Warrior Met expired. The union reached a tentative agreement with management a week later, but rank-and-file members rejected it, claiming it failed to address demands for better hours and wages. The miners remained on strike.

When the UMWA signed its most recent contract in 2016, it agreed to significant concessions to save the jobs of workers laid off by the mine’s previous owners, Jim Walter Resources, with the understanding that new management would eventually reward workers for their sacrifice. Those concessions included an average wage cut of $6 (from $28 to $22), mandatory seven-day workweeks, loss of overtime pay and, perhaps most crucially, an end to full healthcare coverage.

Volvo truck workers on strike

By Lee Wengraf - Tempest, June 29, 2021

At Volvo Trucks North America in Dublin, Virginia, picket lines stretch along Cougar Trail Road at the entrances to the 300-acre New River Valley assembly plant. Around 2,900 members of United Auto Workers (UAW) Local 2069 have been on strike since June 7 in this small town in the southwestern corner of the state near the West Virginia border. It’s their second strike this year. Just two months ago in April, workers walked out for two weeks after voting down a tentative agreement by a whopping 91 percent. The union went back to the table and again the membership turned down the deal, this time by a 90 percent margin, a resounding rejection.

At stake in the agreement are critical issues around the two-tier wage structure, work schedule and overtime, health and safety, and employee and retiree healthcare benefits, among others. The company claims they’ve offered “significant economic improvements for all UAW-represented workers,” but in reality the proposed 12 percent raise over six years falls well below the current rate of inflation. The latest agreement also calls for higher copays and out-of-pocket expenses from employees, including a doubling of the out-of-pocket maximum over the life of the contract. The last contract amounted to hundreds of dollars of added costs for retirees per month, according to a striker family member. The company hasn’t tried to sugarcoat these givebacks, stating bluntly on their website, “The hard truth is that there’s likely not a company left in the United States that can guarantee its people – hourly or salaried – that they won’t have to worry about retiree health care costs, even after 30 or more years of work.”

The union is fighting to abolish a two-tier wage system introduced in previous contracts. Although Volvo claims it will get rid of the tiers “over a reasonable time frame,” members 
with two years or fewer seniority still wouldn’t reach top pay over the life of the contract. The company is also pushing to change the work schedule to four 10-hour shifts, a move that would cut into overtime pay. Finally, the rejected agreement removed the union’s right to strike at the end of the proposed six-year deal in 2027.

Coal Miners Strike in Alabama: 'Warrior Met Coal Ain't Got No Soul!'

By Nora De La Cour - Common Dreams, June 28, 2021

On June 22, Alabama coal miners represented by the United Mine Workers of America picketed BlackRock, State Street Global Advisors, and Renaissance Technologies—the investment firms who finance and reap the profits from their employer, Warrior Met Coal.

Just as Amazon workers were concluding their disastrous union election in Bessemer, about 1,100 metallurgical coal miners were voting to strike Warrior Met Coal in nearby Brookwood, Alabama. The miners say Warrior Met and the New York hedge funds backing it have failed to follow through on their end of an agreement made five years ago.

Warrior Met Coal, Inc, was formed to purchase the assets of Walter Energy after that company was declared bankrupt in 2016. The sale terms stipulated that Walter Energy's remains would be purchased "free and clear," meaning Warrior Met was not obligated to employ Walter Energy's miners or recognize their union. Warrior Met agreed to retain the miners and honor their representation if they signed a subpar contract mandating excruciating sacrifices. These included hefty cuts to pay and benefits paired with inhumane scheduling and firing policies. "You could be scheduled 7, 10, 20 days straight," says Haeden Wright, president of the auxiliary for two striking UMWA locals.

Workers saw their hard-earned pensions swapped out for threadbare 401Ks. They lost much of their ability to earn overtime pay, all but three holidays off with their families, and 30 minutes of paid lunch time (lunch is eaten deep underground near dangerous methane gas and coal and silica dust). They could take three days off if a loved one died, but under Warrior Met's "four strike" policy a fourth day off would result in termination. Pay was slashed by between $6-$8 an hour, bringing it well below the industry standard for unionized miners. Health insurance was cut from 100% coverage to an 80/20 system with massive out-of-pocket costs—no small concern in one of the most physically hazardous professions, with high rates of life-altering injuries and 10% of workers suffering from black lung

Warrior Met assured the miners that if they accepted these losses, they would be taken care of in the next contract. So they endured the squeeze and delivered Warrior Met from its financial hardship, producing "ungodly amounts of coal" and billions in profit for the company and its investors. When contract negotiations began this spring, however, Warrior Met reneged on its promise, refusing to bargain in good faith. 

What Might an Ecosocialist Society Look Like?

By David Klein - System Change not Climate Change, June 27, 2021

Why can’t the problems that ecosocialism would solve also be remedied within the current global capitalist system?

Before describing possible features of a future ecosocialism, it is worthwhile to consider why such a system is even needed. Why can’t the problems that ecosocialism would solve also be remedied within the current global capitalist system? Part I of this essay addresses that question by summarizing recent scientific reports on the state of the climate and extent of the ecological crisis; reviewing available methods and technologies that could be used to address the climate and ecological crises; and briefly describing capitalism’s structural inability to provide solutions at the scale of the crises. Part II then takes up the subject of the title, ecosocialism, along with strategies to move in that direction. 

Part I: Context and Background

The threat to life on Earth posed by the climate and ecological crises can hardly be overstated. A 2019 Nature article warned that up to a million species of plants and animals are on the verge of extinction, and a United Nations study the same year identified global warming as a major driver of wildlife decline. Much of the devastation to date was catalogued in the 2020 WWF Living Planet report, which recorded a 68 percent decline in the population of vertebrates around the world, in just the past five decades. More succinctly, scientists report that Earth is experiencing a sixth mass extinction. (The previous mass extinction, 66 million years ago, ended the dinosaurs).

The scale of the environmental crisis is unprecedented in human history. At stake are human civilization and billions of lives. An article last year in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences predicted that for every additional 1̊C rise beyond the 2019 global average, a billion people will be forced to abandon their locations or endure insufferable heat. The paper warns that under a scenario of increasing emissions, areas now home to a third of the world’s population could experience the same temperatures as the hottest parts of the Sahara within 50 years. 

Summing up the findings of some 150 scientific studies, a 2021 paper authored by 17 scientists warned that the “scale of the threats to the biosphere and all its life forms –- including humanity –- is in fact so great that it is difficult to grasp even for well-informed experts.” Adding further urgency, 101 Nobel laureates released an open letter in April 2021 in which they wrote, “We are seized by the great moral issue of our time: the climate crisis and commensurate destruction of nature.” The laureates called for a worldwide fossil fuel non-proliferation treaty

Global heating is driven by greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, and yet emissions continue at high levels despite the chorus of promises by “climate leaders” in governments. In 2020 global emissions decreased by a meager 5.8 percent due to Covid-19 lockdowns, but they were already on the rebound by the end of the year. For the current year, 2021, the International Energy Agency (IEA) forecasts the second largest annual increase in history of greenhouse gas emissions, as global economies recover from the Covid-19 recession. In May 2021 a record-breaking monthly average concentration of 419 parts per million (ppm) of CO2 was measured in Mauna Loa, Hawaii, breaking the previous May 2020 record of 417 ppm. 

The drivers of ecocide, more generally, include not only climate change, but also habitat destruction, toxic dumping, plastic pollution in the oceans, radiation poisoning, and other customary byproducts of the global capitalist economy. All of this destruction continues unabated despite the flood of warnings from scientists, lobbying by environmental activists, and even warnings from institutions deeply rooted in the capitalist economy. 

Consider, for example, that in May 2021 the IEA released an unprecedented call to the world to rapidly reach zero emissions in its report, Net Zero by 2050: A Roadmap for the Global Energy Sector. Widespread news coverage and expressions of optimism followed. Yet from February to the end of April 2021, the Biden administration approved nearly 1200 drilling permits on federal lands, along with more than 200 offshore permits, and defended in court the ConocoPhillips Willow project in Alaska, which is expected to emit 260 million metric tons of CO2 during the next 30 years, the equivalent of 66 coal-fired plants. And Biden is far from alone among world leaders in his support of fossil fuel expansions.

The Red Deal: Indigenous Action to Save our Earth

By Susan Rosenthal - The Bullet, June 23, 2021

Indigenous people have been fighting to survive for centuries. Recently, their struggles have become more militant, more global, and less isolated, aligning with other anti-racist and anti-colonial movements, and leading the environmental movement.

The growing challenge that Indigenous people pose to capitalist rule can be measured by the increasing use of military force to suppress their rebellions and by the targeted murders of Indigenous activists.

In Canada, the portion of Indigenous people incarcerated in federal facilities rose from under 18 per cent in 2001 to over 30 per cent in 2020. Indigenous women are just 4 per cent of the Canadian population, yet form an astonishing 42 per cent of all female prisoners in federal custody.

Imprisoning an adult in Canada costs about $10,000 per month, a minuscule sum compared with the profits that flow from exploiting Indigenous lands. Speaking for all capitalists, the president of Brazil remarked, “Where there is Indigenous land, there is wealth underneath it.”

From Black Lung to BlackRock: Striking Alabama Coal Miners Protest Wall St. Financiers of Warrior Met

Kim Kelly interviewed by Amy Goodman and Juan González - Democracy Now, June 22, 2021

More than a thousand coal miners at Warrior Met Coal are now in the third month of their strike in the right-to-work state of Alabama. The miners walked off the job on April 1 after their union, the United Mine Workers of America, called the first strike to hit the state’s coal mining industry in four decades. Workers are fighting for improvements to wages and benefits after they agreed to drastic cutbacks in 2016, when Warrior Met Coal took control of the mines after the previous company went bankrupt. Today a group of striking mine workers traveled from Alabama to Wall Street to protest the investment firms backing Warrior Met. “These are the companies that fund Warrior Met and allow Warrior Met to pay their executives millions of dollars a year, while the miners, the workers themselves who are creating that value, are struggling to get by on sometimes as little as $22 an hour,” says labor journalist and organizer Kim Kelly.

Why Lawns Must Die

By staff - Our Changing Climate, June 18, 2021

The lawn began in Europe as an elite status symbol that was tended and mowed by peasants freshly forced into wage labor through the enclosure of the commons. The turfgrass lawn was then exported to colonial America where it was used as a tool to terraform indigenous land. And in the post-WWII suburban boom, the lawn soon became a symbol of white conformity. The turfgrass lawn though has a huge environmental impact. It's the biggest crop in the United States by area and requires a massive amount of fossil fuels, fertilizer, and chemicals to upkeep. Even if you don't want to tend to your lawn, some towns require you, with the threat of jail time to mow the grass. Ultimately, the grass lawn is a tool of capitalist settler colonialism that is exacerbating climate change and the climate crisis.

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