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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.”

On Green Socialism and Working Class Politics

By Staff - Pittsburgh Green Left, February 8, 2021

Green Socialism is inspired partly by traditional worker-oriented socialist views, but attempts to transcend class struggle by organizing popular struggle for true democracy, ecology, and freedom.

As we enter the second decade of the 21st century, ecological and social crisis exist simultaneously in multiple forms within the US and across the world. Global neoliberal capitalism has captured the world’s economic and political structures, and we feel the growing pressures of poverty and climate change under the threat of a pervasive police state.

These deteriorating conditions imply that historical socialist revolutionary movements have largely failed to produce the widespread change they described in their visions. There’s an increasing feeling, particularly by the youth, that the “old ways” are insufficient to confront 21st century capitalism and win — particularly with the climate change clock running out — and that a new form of social movement and politics is necessary to directly confront capitalism and broader ecological and social issues.

I believe the new model for the 21st century must be Green Politics, or what I will call “Green Socialism” here to distinguish from other tendencies that lay claim to the more broad term “eco-socialism”. Green Politics is today largely associated with the Green Party, however anyone can practice Green Politics in or outside of the Green Party.

A simplistic description of Green Politics might be to list the 4 pillars — grassroots democracy, peace, social justice, and ecological wisdom — and the 10 Key Values of the movement, but to create a deeper discussion of what Green Politics and Green Socialism really means, a good place to start might be to address some complaints and criticisms of the Green Party and Green Socialism that you have no doubt already heard, particularly from other socialists.

Left Voice for example ran an opinion piece by author Ezra Brain making “a socialist case against” the Green Party and Howie Hawkins, the party’s 2020 presidential candidate, which echoes a number of common leftist complaints against Green Politics. 

However these complaints often ring hollow, either as grave misunderstandings of the Green platform that betray a lack of deeper research and knowledge about the subject — ironically often appropriating bourgeois neoliberal talking points against Green Politics — or as legitimate complaints that have a feel of “stones thrown from glass houses” as those same complaints often apply to other socialist and leftist organizations in the US and simply illustrate the challenge of organizing against global neoliberal capitalism in the 21st century.

Pandemic Capitalism and Resistance

By Susan King - Green Left (Australia), February 7, 2021

Last year began with huge climate action rallies around Australia in response to the Black Summer bushfires — a climate-change-fuelled catastrophe that made international headlines.

However, by March, Australians, along with the rest of the world, were facing a new global threat — also connected to the climate crisis, agribusiness and habitat loss — COVID-19.

The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated existing global inequality, and exposed the results of four decades of neoliberalism, including the privatisation of healthcare, and the undermining of the welfare state in the advanced capitalist countries.

The pandemic death toll is still rising, countries have experienced second and third waves of infection, as governments sacrifice lives to reopen their economies. The media reports on health systems overwhelmed in Italy, Britain and the United States, but less about the crisis in the Global South, where people are literally dying in the streets, and where health systems are collapsing under the weight of the pandemic.

Tidal wave of climate litigation: cases and trends examined in new report

By Elizabeth Perry - Work and Climate Change Report, February 2, 2021

On January 26 the United Nations Environment Programme and the Sabin Center at Columbia University published Global Climate Litigation Report: 2020 Status Review , revealing a “growing tidal wave of climate cases” which show “how climate litigation is compelling governments and corporate actors to purse more ambitious climate change mitigation and adaptation goals.”

The report states that as of July 1, 2020, at least 1,550 climate change cases have been filed in 38 countries around the world – nearly double the number of cases in the previous report published in 2017, which had documented 884 cases brought in 24 countries. The report summarizes key trends in cases – “ ongoing and increasing numbers of cases relying on fundamental and human rights enshrined in international law and national constitutions to compel climate action; challenging domestic enforcement (and non-enforcement) of climate-related laws and policies; seeking to keep fossil fuels in the ground; claiming corporate liability and responsibility for climate harms; addressing failures to adapt and the impacts of adaptation; and advocating for greater climate disclosures and an end to corporate greenwashing on the subject of climate change and the energy transition.” The report also notes emerging issues in the next five years, including increased attention to attribution studies, and highlights significant and precedent-setting cases throughout.

Global Climate Litigation Report: 2020 Status Review is current to July 1, 2020. Since then, at least three more important cases have been decided: 1. in December 2020, a U.K. coroner ruled that “Air pollution a cause in girl’s death, coroner rules in landmark case” (The Guardian, January 2021); 2. an Appeals court in France overturned an expulsion order against an asthmatic man because he would face “a worsening of his respiratory pathology due to air pollution” in Bangladesh, his home country (the significance described in The Guardian in “Air pollution will lead to mass migration, say experts after landmark ruling” , with more details here). And 3. on January 29, 2021, a Dutch Appeals court brought an end to a case begun in 2008, when it upheld a decision against Royal Dutch Shell petroleum, finding it responsible for multiple oil spills and leaks which poisoned farmland in the Niger Delta. A Reuters report  quotes Friends of the Earth, saying “the ruling exceeded all expectations and marked the first time a multinational had been instructed by a Dutch court to uphold a duty of care for foreign operations.” The case is also summarized in “After 13 years, Justice: Dutch court orders Shell to pay for harm done to Nigerian farmers and in Deutsche Welle in “Dutch Court rules Shell liable for Niger Delta oil spills.

And in the United States, a potentially landmark case of climate liability is underway as of January 2021. According to a summary at NPR the city of Baltimore is presenting its claim for the cost of climate-related damages against more than a dozen major oil and gas companies including BP, ExxonMobil and Shell. According to NPR: “The Supreme Court will announce its decision later this year on the narrow question of whether the Baltimore case should be considered in state or federal court. If the justices decide in favor of the companies and the case proceeds in federal court, it’s possible that the lawsuit will be eventually dismissed without a trial. However, if the justices decide in favor of Baltimore, it is likely that the case will proceed in Maryland state court, which could require the companies in the case to turn over vast troves of documents about their businesses and marketing practices over the decades.” A multitude of legal documents have been compiled since the case began in 2018, and are available at the Sabin Center for Climate Change Law here.

Impact of European policies on the Global South and possible alternatives

By staff - Recommons Europe, January 2021

The year 2020 was marked by two events that revealed, once again, the limits of the capitalist system. First, the Co- ViD-19 pandemic caused by the new coronavirus SARS-CoV-2, responsible for the deaths of several hundred thousand people and counting, highlighted the vulnerability of human societies in the absence of adequately funded public health services. It also served to highlight which activities are essential to the existence of human societies. Second, the pandemic precipitated the greatest economic crisis since the 1930s. By revealing the fragility of societies where exchanges are extremely rapid and production chains are internationalized, the pandemic also revealed the most irrational aspects of the economic system that governs and structures social relations in almost all parts of the world. Thus, capitalism appears to be incapable not only of providing for basic human needs but also of reproducing its own functioning. All governments that initially try to protect both the law of profit and their citizens’ lives inevitably find themselves tempted to defend the former against the latter.

The neoliberal structural adjustment policies which have been pursued for decades have played an important role in increasing inequality and, ultimately, in the way the epidemic has spread. Contrary to widespread belief, the epidemic does indeed differentiate between origins and social classes, affecting in particular those at the bottom of the social ladder. It has also particularly affected countries that, on the pretext of maintaining strict fiscal discipline, have given up – or have been prevented from – building an efficient and accessible health care system.

Read the Report (PDF).

Know your enemy: How to defeat capitalism

By Michael A. Lebowitz - Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal, 2021

“Anyone can succeed”

In a capitalist society, there is always a good explanation for your poverty, your meaningless job (if you have a job), your difficulties and your general unhappiness. You are to blame. It is your failure. After all, look at other people who do succeed. If only you had worked a little harder, studied a little more, made those sacrifices.

We are told that anybody who works hard can become a success. Anyone can save up and become your own boss, a boss with employees. And there is some truth to this. Often, any one person can do these things — but we can’t conclude from this that every person can. It is a basic fallacy to conclude that because one person can do something, therefore everyone can. One person can see better in the theater if he stands, but if everyone stands no one can see better. Anyone can get the last seat on the plane, but everyone can’t. Any country can cut its costs and become more competitive, but every country cannot become more competitive by cutting costs.

The lessons they want you to learn

So, what does this focus upon the individual tell you? It tells you that it’s your own fault, that you are your own worst enemy. But maybe you don’t accept that. Maybe what’s holding you back is those other people. The problem is those people of color, the immigrants, indeed everyone willing to work for less who is taking a job away from you. They are the enemy because they compete with you. They’re the ones who force you to take a job for much less than you deserve, if you are to get a job at all.

The prison

Think about what’s known as “The Prisoners’ Dilemma”. Two people have been arrested for a crime, and each is separately made an offer: if you confess and the other prisoner doesn’t, you will get a very short sentence. But if the other confesses and you don’t, you will be in jail for a long time. So, each separately decides to confess. That’s a lot like your situation. The Workers’ Dilemma is: do I take the low wage job with little security or do I stay unemployed? “If everything were left to isolated, individual bargaining,” argued the General Council of the International Workingman’s Association (in which Karl Marx was a central figure), competition would, if unchecked, “reduce the producers of all wealth to a starvation level.” Of course, if the prisoners were able to cooperate, they would be much better off. And so are workers.

Immigrants, people of color, people in other countries are not inherently enemies. The other prisoners are not the enemy. Something, though, wants you to see each other as enemies. That something is the prison — the structure in which we all exist. That is the enemy: capitalism.

Read the text (PDF).

Labour and Environmental Sustainability

By Juan Escribano Gutiérrez, in collaboration with Paolo Tomassetti - Adapt, December 2020

There is consensus that the separation between labour and the environment, as well as that between the legal disciplines that regulate both domains, is meaningless and outdated. Since business activities affect the health and the environment of workers and human beings, synergies between the two spheres have to be created. Yet there is still a long way to go in order to bring together labour and environmental regulation.

In all the selected countries (France, the Great Britain, Hungary, Italy, the Netherlands and Spain) the legal systems regulating salaried work, on the one hand, and the environment, on the other hand, remain disconnected, although no formal obstacles exist to their integration. With regard to the scope for collective bargaining to become a means to integrate both spheres, no legal restrictions apply in any of the framework considered, although explicit references to workers and employers (or their representatives) to bargain over environmental aspects are far less evident.

It is up to the social partners to promote environmental sustainability as a goal for collective bargaining or to continue with the traditional inertia that divides labour and environmental regulation. Despite research shows how the social partners, especially trade unions, are more and more willing to negotiate environmental aspects, the narrative on the trade-off between labour and the environment is still evident, especially in the Hungarian context. Collective agreements could take a leading role in driving the just transition towards a low-carbon economy, but in practice they do not regard this mission as a priority. Environmental clauses in collective agreements are still exceptional and lack momentum.

One explanation is that the legal mechanisms in place to limit the impact of business activity on the environment (i.e. environmental law) legitimize firms to consider environmental aspects as their own prerogative. For this reason, in some legal systems, employers tend to discuss environmental commitments outside collective bargaining, including them into corporate social responsibility (CSR) mechanisms. By doing so, the company avoids enforceability, limiting the effectiveness of the tools to regulate environmental issues.

Read the text (Link).

The Hydrogen Hype: Gas Industry Fairy Tale or Climate Horror Story?

By Belén Balanyá, Gaëtane Charlier, Frida Kieninger and Elena Gerebizza - Corporate Europe Observatory, December 2020

Industry’s hydrogen hype machine is in full swing. An analysis of over 200 documents obtained through freedom of information rules reveals an intense and concerted lobbying campaign by the gas industry in the EU. The first goal was convincing the EU to embrace hydrogen as the ‘clean’ fuel of the future. Doing so has secured political, financial, and regulatory support for a hydrogen-based economy. The second task was securing support for hydrogen derived from fossil fuels as well as hydrogen made from renewable electricity. Successful lobbying means the gas industry can look forward to a lucrative future, but this spells grave danger for the climate as well as the communities and ecosystems impacted by fossil fuel extractivism.

Exiting the False "Jobs Versus Environment" Dilemma

By Lorenzo Feltrin - ROAR Magazine, November 16, 2020

The workerist environmentalism of Italy’s Porto Marghera group connects the workplace and the community in the struggle against capitalist “noxiousness.”

Amidst the renewed rise of obscene inequalities, a wave of protests is sweeping through Italy, from south to north. On the one hand, the pandemic has engendered an upsurge in workplace disputes to defend health and in mobilizations to protect the income of workers affected by COVID-19-related restrictions. On the other hand, however, we have also witnessed successful interventions coordinated by the right and infused with a bewildering array of conspiracy theories in response to such measures.

Different from the slogan that emerged at a mass demonstration in Naples on October 23, 2020 — “If you lock us down, pay up!” — the right-wing discourse does not ask for more collective and egalitarian forms of prevention. It demands instead that “the economy” be allowed to run smoothly. Nonetheless, the right-wing side of dissent appears to attract a significant working-class presence, as many workers — rightly concerned about the impact of months-long lockdowns on their livelihoods — find an answer in negating the gravity of the pandemic and of the environmental crisis more generally.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, Marxist commentators have underlined how the health crisis cannot be separated from the economic system that shapes our lives. This does not just concern inadequate healthcare systems: the very spillover of the novel coronavirus from non-human animals to humans was caused by the capitalist imperative to appropriate natural “resources” to safeguard the profit margins that drive the economy forward.

In a way, the pandemic is a global manifestation of the “jobs versus environment dilemma” and the related “job blackmail,” a situation in which workers are faced with a choice between defending their health and environment or keeping their jobs. There is no easy way out of this dilemma. However, the reflections developed some 50 years ago by a workerist collective mainly composed of workers employed in the highly toxic industrial complex of Porto Marghera in Venice, Italy could still provide a source of inspiration.

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