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(Working Paper #6) Carbon Markets After Paris: Trading in Trouble

By Sean Sweeney - Trade Unions for Energy Democracy, March 11, 2016

The 2015 Paris Climate Agreement enshrines emissions trading schemes (ETSs) as a key mechanism for reducing emissions. But are ETSs effective?

Since the early 1990s, “putting a price on carbon” has been, perhaps, the primary policy proposal for fighting climate change by reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Whether through carbon taxes or “cap-and-trade” ETSs, proponents of carbon pricing see it as a way to guide investment toward green solutions without the need for more decisive government interventions. ETSs, in particular, have been favored by businesses and neoliberal policy makers seeking to limit emissions without disrupting business-as-usual.

It has been a decade since the European Union established the world’s largest ETS. In the long aftermath of the 2008-9 financial crisis, the price on carbon has been too low to incentivize investors to move away from fossil fuels.

Union Approaches

The European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC)—a supporter of the EU ETS—has called for policies that would raise the price on carbon while also expressing concern about “carbon leakage” —where companies move polluting activities (and associated jobs) to jurisdictions without price constraints on pollution. Such a position threads the needle of trade union debates around the EU ETS without resolving the underlying tensions—nor, it should be noted, shifting EU policy in any appreciable way. With the Paris Agreement giving an even more prominent role to carbon pricing, unions around the world are likely to face similar debates.

In the TUED Working Paper Carbon Markets After Paris, TUED Coordinator  Sean Sweeney argues that it is time for unions to reevaluate their stance on emissions trading. Market-based solutions may be appealing to business interests and their political allies, but it’s going to take direct governmental action to guide a transition to a just, democratic, and sustainable energy system and a low-carbon economy.  The now battered neoliberal consensus finds public and democratic ownership and control of a key economic sector to be anathema, but it is precisely what is needed if we are serious about combating climate change.

TUED Disclaimer: This paper represents the views of its author.  The opinions expressed here may or may not be consistent with the policies and positions of unions participating in TUED. The paper is offered for discussion and debate.

Is Greenhouse Warming a Good Pretext for Selling Driverless Cars?

By Stan Cox - Resilience, November 6, 2017

The automakers and IT giants are predicting that autonomous vehicles (AVs or “driverless cars”) will play a big role in reducing America’s currently extravagant emissions of greenhouse gases. In this claim (as in the assertion that flying cars will be more energy efficient than helicopters), climate mitigation is serving not as a goal but as a selling point for a lucrative new technology that society doesn’t need.

Most of the academic discussion of autonomous vehicles assumes the gradual introduction of both personal and shared electric AVs into the market. During that lengthy transition, AVs presumably will ply the streets and highways alongside human-driven electric and internal-combustion vehicles. How this is going to take us toward deep reductions in greenhouse emissions is not clear; the expectation appears to be that market forces and government incentives will somehow push the system toward fully autonomous, electrified transportation powered exclusively by renewable sources.

But the 100-percent renewable dream is a mirage, and AV cars will not bring it to life. That’s not due to any shortcomings of AVs; on the contrary, the technology’s failure to resolve the climate problem will be a result of the many attractive features that a successful AV-based system would offer—all of which will have the effect of increasing greenhouse emissions.

In a commentary on autonomous vehicles, Shelie Miller and Brent Heard of the University of Michigan wrote, “From an environmental point of view, the intrinsic technical attributes of AVs appear to be largely favorable.” However, they continued, it is “travel behavior patterns” that may have the greater influence, and that influence will be more negative.

The logic is simple: a better riding experience will encourage more riding. According to AV developers, the new vehicles will elevate the experience by offering more efficient operation and lower operating expense; improving safety; reducing driver stress and fewer road-rage incidents; freeing up hands, eyes, and attention for more useful tasks or more pleasant activities; reducing traffic congestion; putting an end to parking hassles; and offering greater mobility for young people, the elderly, and the disabled.

All of those benefits are already provided by public transportation. But most Americans’ goal is to be able to travel seamlessly door to door, and to do so without having to share space with  people they don’t know. Those desires, often sharpened by class bias, are a chief reason that most people who can afford to buy and operate a car (or can pay to be driven in a car) elect to stay off the train, bus, or subway.

Personal AVs offer to eliminate both the inconvenience of public transit and the hassles of driving, creating a system that appears at first glance to be the best of both worlds. As a result, incentives to travel even more miles per day will be intense. (Conversely, if Murphy’s Law remains in force and AVs don’t manage to deliver many of the promised personal benefits, miles traveled will not increase as much.)

Until AVs go into large-scale production, all projections of how America’s transportation systems will evolve are highly speculative. Nevertheless, a number of studies have attempted to model that evolution, their assumptions being based on what we know about how humans use transportation today.

The models show that under most scenarios, personal AVs will tend to increase the total vehicle miles traveled. When commuting time becomes less of a burden, people will be less inclined to live close to their workplaces. Suburban sprawl and attendant commuting distances are expected to increase. Parents will be able to send children off to school in their own car instead of having to drive a carpool or ask the kids to walk or ride the school bus. Commuters arriving at work be able to send their vehicles, empty, back out to the suburbs for cheaper or free parking, or to be plugged in. Cars could even be sent on solo errands, whether necessary or frivolous—maybe even to pick up a lunch box forgotten in one’s morning rush out the door.

Personal AVs would also make long-distance travel more appealing. One article speculates about “the use of AVs as mobile dwellings or luxury overnight sleeping compartments in lieu of higher density long-distance modes of travel.” In an AV world, use of all types of non-car public transportation is certain to decrease, and some fear that with reduced ridership, transit systems will go into a downward spiral—a disaster for those who can’t afford to buy or operate personal vehicles or ride-sharing services. Whether it’s in big cities or in regions with widely dispersed, smaller cities and limited public transportation (think Iowa or central Pennsylvania), per capita annual miles traveled will increase significantly once AVs are widely adopted.

The self-driving feature also comes at a high cost in energy efficiency. According to Bloomberg, the control systems for AVs “consume two to four kilowatts of electricity — the equivalent of having 50 to 100 laptops continuously running in the trunk.”

(The argument has been made that an increase in travel miles won’t matter if cars are powered by renewable electricity. But it will matter very much. Through much of the coming decades-long struggle to eliminate all fossil-fueled power generation, large portions of the national power supply will remain dirty. Meanwhile, every additional kilowatt-hour of wind or solar generation that goes to power a growing fleet of electric vehicles will be unavailable for traditional uses of electricity like lighting homes, refrigerating food, and reading online articles about self-driving cars. That will push even farther into the future the day when fossil-fueled electricity is eliminated. If we want ever to see that happy day, we will have to structure society in ways that will consume much less electricity, not more.)

Big Oil in the Rocky Mountain State: the Overwhelming Tawdriness of Government in Colorado

By Phillip Doe - CounterPunch, June 22, 2017

After five months of doing nothing of value, although spending millions in the furtherance thereof, the Colorado legislature closed up shop last month.  The people should demand a refund for nonperformance, but instead they will have to ante up more money to pay legislators and other top state and county officials.  The wages of nothingness are great.  In 2019 the legislature will award itself a 41 percent pay increase; the governor a 39 percent increase.

Pay increases for top-of-the-pyramid public servants had already been realized in Weld County, the epicenter for the fracking wars in Colorado.  There, the county commissioners received a 37 percent increase in pay to $120,000, plus retirement and health benefits.  Later, as antidote to the red-faced disease, the salary was scaled back to $105,000, only a blushing increase of 17 percent.

The average salary of teachers in Weld is $37,000.

The generosity of Weld County taxpayers lavished on their commissioners was somewhat muted by an IRS audit to determine if the cash allowance the commissioners receive for driving to work each day should be considered taxable income.  An estimated $500,000 has been paid out to commissioners in untaxed driving benefits over the years.  Recently, the big winner in the driving-the-old-jalopy-to-work sweepstakes was Barbara Kirkmeyer, having received $22,000 in driving dividends over the past two years.  She, once an aide to former Republican governor and Texas oilman Bill Owens, is the Dragon Lady of fracking in northern Colorado.  An early defender of fracking in neighborhoods, she has long claimed the state regs are adequate for public safety.  After all, she lectures knowingly, fracking is good for business and government budgets. 

As for the state legislature, it did manage to do one thing of note.  It mortgaged public buildings to raise almost two billion for road repairs.  The governor says it isn’t enough, but an increase in gasoline taxes or any other use fee is verboten among Republican legislators, and the Democrats continue to blame all government failures on the citizen enacted Taxpayers Bill of Rights, TABOR, which requires a vote of the people to enact a tax increase.  Oddly, the Dems claim that it is TABOR that has made them impotent, that it is a threat to representative government where elected officials should be the tax deciders, not the people legislating directly via the initiative process.  One of the leaders in the misguided and failed endeavor to overturn TABOR, Andy Kerr, is now running to replace U.S. Congressman Ed Perlmutter.  The flawlessly undistinguished Perlmutter, relentlessly climbing the greasy pole, now wants to replace the term limited Hickenlooper.  He has plenty of undistinguished company.

Of course, the mortgages on public buildings for road repairs will have to be paid back with interest, further inhibiting state budgets.  Still, the mortgage razzle dazzle was regarded by the Denver Post, the state’s flagship daily, as a grand compromise, worthy of nodding recognition.

EcoUnionist News #86

Compiled by x344543 - IWW Environmental Unionism Caucus, January 12, 2016

The following news items feature issues, discussions, campaigns, or information potentially relevant to green unionists:

Lead Stories:

Ongoing Mobilizations:

The Thin Green Line:

Bread and Roses:

The Oregon Standoff

An Injury to One is an Injury to All:

EcoUnionist News #33

Compiled by x344543 - IWW Environmental Unionism Caucus, February 15, 2015

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

The following news items feature issues, discussions, campaigns, or information potentially relevant to green unionists:

Lead Stories:

USW Refinery Workers Strike News:

Carbon Bubble:

Green Jobs and Just Transition:

Global Anti-Capitalism:

Other News:

For more green news, please visit our news feeds section on ecology.iww.org; Twitter #IWWEUC

EcoUnionist News #21

Compiled by x344543 - IWW Environmental Unionism Caucus, January 13, 2015

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

The following news items feature issues, discussions, campaigns, or information potentially relevant to green unionists:

Lead Stories:

IWW Campaigns:

Other News of Interest:

For more green news, please visit our news feeds section on ecology.iww.org; Twitter #IWWEUC

My Whole Foods nightmare: How a full-time job there left me in poverty

By Nick Rahaim - Salon.com, December 8, 2014

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

Despite the corporate talk of "team" and "love," here's what working there was really like -- and why I had to quit

After years of organizing in secret, building bonds over beer and supporting co-workers when issues have arisen with management, team members at a Whole Foods Market in San Francisco disrupted the normal workday and demanded a $5 an hour pay increase last month. More than 20 employees beckoned store management to the floor and presented a petition signed by more than 50 of the store’s workers calling for more paid time off, better health and retirement benefits as well as steady, consistent schedules.

I worked at Whole Foods in the spring of 2012. As is the typical way of getting to know co-workers, I went out for drinks with a tight-knit group of employees. Conversations went quickly from the getting-to-know-you banter to politics, and it was at the time the Occupy Movement was running out of steam. We exchanged battle stories of political engagement and mused about how best to carry the momentum from Occupy in new directions. I asked about organizing at Whole Foods; a few of my co-workers smirked while others played dumb. A week later I was brought into the fold, and found people had been organizing for more than two years. I was feisty for action, but the others knew better; they were in it for the long haul.

Since workers came out after plotting in the shadows for nearly five years, store managers have reportedly attempted to kill them with kindness, while saying nothing of their demands. On the corporate side, Whole Foods Market announced a pay increase in its San Francisco stores effective Jan. 1, shortly after the Whole Foods Union went public. The $1.25 increase in the starting wage, from $11.50 to $12.75, sits 50 cents above San Francisco increase in minimum wage that will take effect in May of 2015. Outside of that, both the store and corporate management have refused to publicly address the situation. Workers organizing at Whole Foods claim the announced wage increase four months ahead of schedule was likely in response to their demands.

In an attempt to put teeth to their demands workers held pickets at the Whole Foods Northern California Regional distribution center in Richmond, California. The picket fell short of stopping the flow of goods to the Bay Area stores it had envisioned, in the spirit of the Black Friday actions taken in 2013 by retail workers. Although the Teamsters did agree that their drivers would not cross the picket line. To that Ruan, the shipping company contracted by Whole Foods, hired temporary workers — scabs — to cross.

Organizing with the radical-syndicalist union, the Industrial Workers of the World, Whole Foods employees are shunning traditional unions that represent the majority of workers at Safeway, Alberson’s and other national grocers. In doing so, they have given up access to the deep pockets of United Grocery Workers and the like, but have the added agility to stealthily maneuver. The IWW is also the only union to have successfully created union shops at Starbucks.

Wrong Again!

By Steve Ongerth - IWW Environmental Unionism Caucus, November 6, 2014

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

Our regular readers know that we tend to be quite critical of the business unions and the big green NGOs for their continued slavish alliance with capitalism, and knowing this, they should not be shocked that--once again--the increasingly ineffectual and coopted Blue Green Alliance is in our sights.

In case you didn't know, the Blue Green Alliance is a coalition of business unions and environmental organizations that ostensibly advocates for building bridges between the labor movement and the environmental movement, with a specific focus towards "green jobs" and "sustainable development". Each year, the alliance issues a "Right Stuff Award" to "business, government, environmental, labor, and community leaders who promote a sustainable economy and environment". This year, they say, their awards will honor "leaders for their work on building a 21st century energy infrastructure."

Based on their choice of Obama's Secretary of Energy, Ernest Moniz, one has to be wondering if the Blue Green Alliance knows what century they're in, or perhaps whether or not the Alliance has an oddball definition of what 21st century infrastructure is, exactly. You see, the last time I checked, Ernest Moniz has deep ties to the fossil fuel, fracking and nuclear industries. He has served on advisory boards for oil giant BP and General Electric, and was a trustee of the King Abdullah Petroleum Studies and Research Center, a Saudi Aramco-backed nonprofit organization. In 2011, Moniz was the chief author of an influential study for MIT on the future of natural gas. According to a new report by the Public Accountability Initiative, Moniz failed to disclose that he had taken a lucrative position at a pro-drilling firm called ICF International just days before a key natural gas "fracking" study was released.

This doesn't sound very green to me. If anything, it's more like a greenwash. Unfortunately, this is par for the course for the so-called Blue Green Alliance.

Can New York Create Affordable Housing That’s Also Environmentally Sustainable?

By Michelle Chen - The Nation, September 24, 2014

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

At the moment of silence during Sunday’s People’s Climate March, a deep hush washed over Sixth Avenue, symbolizing a growing, worldwide commitment to fighting climate change. Yet the moment also recalled the aftermath of the city’s most recent climate catastrophe, Superstorm Sandy, when Manhattan’s mighty skyline was for several days stunned into an eerie stillness by nature’s ire.

But on Sunday, the city put a more positive spin on the connection between the global environmental struggle and the local disaster of Sandy. Mayor Bill de Blasio tried to make good on his campaign vow to address the underlying climate-change problems Sandy exposed, starting with a retooling of the city’s buildings.

The “One City, Built to Last” plan aims to slash building-based greenhouse gas emissions and boost the economy simultaneously. Overall, the plan promises to bring “$8.5 billion in energy cost-savings over ten years.” The long-term goal is to cut total emissions by 80 percent by 2050. Buildings contribute a large majority of local carbon pollution, and the plan would “cut energy use across all building sectors on average by at least 60 percent from 2005 levels and switch to renewable fuel sources.”

Many of the changes outlined in the 110-page blueprint are basic. In contrast to the sexy tech-driven solutions like electric cars and flashy rooftop photovoltaics, the de Blasio administration and City Council members are focusing on nuts-and-bolts efficiency projects to expand “green collar” job sectors.

The plan would in the immediate term “generate approximately 3,500 new jobs in construction and energy services,” according to Amy Spitalnick, a spokesperson for the mayor’s office. Modest numbers, but the main goal is putting the city’s infrastructure on a greener and more equitable development path.

Matt Ryan, executive director of the advocacy group ALIGN-NY, tells The Nation that the plan reflects a “need to think about dealing with climate change in a way that not only addresses the root causes, such as carbon emissions, but also addresses jobs and economic issues that are related.”

Some of the proposed initiatives include a “retrofit accelerator” program for an estimated 20,000 private buildings, about 40 percent of them public housing or rent stabilized. Public school buildings, firehouses, hospitals, police stations and homeless shelters would get energy-saving retrofits and lighting upgrades, and fixed up with clean technologies. The city would install solar panels “on more than 300 city buildings, generating 100MW of energy over the next decade.” The plan would link green building projects to the broader agenda of controlling housing costs: less energy consumption means lower utility bills, which “will make it easier for people to afford to live in New York City” and “invest in other capital upgrades to improve the quality of our housing stock.”

But the plan doesn’t spell out exactly how the city will push the private sector to invest in efficiency and renewables. The report focuses on voluntary programs, and the administration has for now avoided proposing strict mandates for carbon reductions, relying instead on seeding environmental business incentives (though mandates may be “triggered” later if needed). The administration advocates, for example, providing “green grants” that tie affordable-housing goals with eco-friendly construction, “which would fund efficiency upgrades in exchange for regulatory agreements to preserve affordability.”

Nonetheless, progressive groups are wary of leaving too much of the plan to market forces. Though some landlords may respond to green incentives because it makes business sense, Ryan says, given the ambitious emissions targets, “There is no way we’re going to move fast enough through a voluntary system, to meet the urgency of the climate crisis.”

Some progressive labor advocates fear that the workforce initiatives may not be ambitious enough, either. The Center for an Urban Future (CUF), which has pushed the administration to expand jobs programs for disadvantaged youth, warns that although green jobs could benefit struggling young workers, they need more comprehensive job training and placement services.

Read the entire article: here

Corporations Are Not Going to Save Us From Climate Disruption

By Rachel Smolker; image by South Bend Voice - Truthout, September 29, 2014

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

This past week in New York saw some remarkable actions around climate change. The massive People's Climate March was perhaps the main media spectacle, but it was not the only, or necessarily the most important event. Another important one: the Climate Justice Summit, which featured the voices and testimonials of people all around the country and the globe who are on the frontlines, bearing the brunt of both ruthless extraction and destruction of their lands and livelihoods, and also experiencing most directly the impacts of climate change itself. Many were tearful as they described lives and lands laid to ruin by tar sands, fracking, coal, uranium mining and more. The brutal, relentless and rapacious greed of corporate profiteers in the fossil fuel industries, big agribusiness and forestry and financial sectors seems almost unfathomable.

Clearly, the United Nations is not going to do what is necessary to change the path we are on, but rather is mired in blame and conflict, relegated to endlessly reenacting and rehashing the history of colonialism, apparently utterly incapable of taking any steps that could be construed as challenging to the economic status quo much less calling out capitalism. Why? Because the UN itself is beholden to corporate puppet masters.

The UN insists on taking its cue from the very corporations who are responsible for degrading the planet, destroying lives and creating the crisis in the first place.

With apparent naïveté, the UN insists on taking its cue from the very corporations who are responsible for degrading the planet, destroying lives and creating the crisis in the first place. This is pervasive throughout institutions and governments across the globe, not only the UN. The reason is money. With a handful of corporations owning and controlling most of the world's wealth, little can be funded and executed on a large scale without the funding, involvement and decision making of the handful of ultra wealthy. Which means ceding control to those corporate interests and doing their bidding. Money is power - but not the only kind!

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