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Farmworkers and Firefighters Are on the Front Lines of Climate-Fueled Catastrophe

By Lin Nelson - Labor Notes, February 14, 2022

Despite the short flurry of support (it seems so long ago) for workers on the front lines, many of the folks who help hold our health and the economy together feel abandoned and used up. The Covid calamity and the escalating climate crisis are creating worker sacrifice zones.

In December, more than 700 workers and allies from across the country made their way (online) to the 10th annual Council on Occupational Safety and Health conference, where they shared stories about the conditions that make going to work a risky affair.

Heat and climate were major threads. We might be in the chill-blast of winter now, but we remember the summer’s heat, from fires in British Columbia to evacuated towns in Oregon to the blistering heat in Washington farmlands.

Outdoor workers were at the center of risk this year. Many were sent into floods and fires—to harvest food, to fight the infernos in the West, or to do dangerous storm cleanup throughout the South and Midwest.

These workers grappled with urgent but often inaccessible health alerts about temperature, air quality, signs of heat stress and fire risk. Many didn’t have the benefit of unions, protective legislation, or functioning public agencies, and faced reprimand or firing if they spoke up about their concerns.

Food-service workers are suffering from extreme heat; Few rules exist to protect them

By Matthew Sedacca - The Counter, September 6, 2021

With record-breaking temperatures blanketing the country and no federal heat standard in place, workers find they have no choice but to walk out.

As a heat dome blanketed Portland, Oregon in late June, workers at Voodoo Doughnut’s Old Town location found themselves crumbling in their store. Even with air-conditioning in the shop, ambient thermometers brought in by staff recorded interior temperatures upward of 96 degrees. Workers were breaking out in heat hives and doubling over from nausea. The company’s iconic Bacon Maple Bar doughnuts, with their frosting unable to set due to the heat, literally melted into soggy brown mush.

The high-90 temperatures in the Old Town location were already a drastic surge from the more routine ambient summer heat, which was estimated to be around 80 degrees in the store, even with the fryers running all day. But on June 27, when temperature highs in Portland would eventually reach a record-breaking 112 degrees, it reached more than 100 degrees inside Voodoo Doughnut. Workers went to management and suggested that they close the shop early for their safety. After their demand was waved off, a group of employees walked out and went on strike through Monday, when the city’s temperatures soared even further to 115 degrees

“We would rather walk out on strike than to see a coworker collapse and hurt themselves or suffer heat stroke or worst case scenario, you collapse while you’re over a fryer,” said Samantha Bryce, a Voodoo Doughnut employee in Portland, who participated in a strike with her colleagues over workplace safety in June. “We don’t want someone to get hurt before the company takes action.”

A Just Transition Now or Climate Disaster is Inevitable

Billionaires Can Have the Cosmos—We Only Want the Earth

By Luis Feliz Leon - Labor Notes, July 15, 2021

Fleeing is what the rich do best. Republican Sen. Ted Cruz fled Texas last winter, abandoning millions to freezing temperatures. But some have tired of the Earth altogether.

Billionaires Jeff Bezos, Elon Musk, and Richard Branson are fleeing to space on rockets with stratospheric price tags.

Branson was the first to venture forth July 11, in a gambit to launch a commercial space tourism industry—as if we didn’t have enough trouble with the carbon emissions from excess tourism.

That’s what it means to be ultra-rich—to squander oodles of untaxed cash and rake in public subsidies on boyhood fantasies of “space hotels, amusement parks, yachts, and colonies,” as Bezos put it in high school.

But the billionaires playing space cowboys aren’t like the rest of us. They’re on the other side of the fault line of an accelerating climate catastrophe caused by greenhouse emissions.

Workers who plow fields, erect scaffolding, haul garbage, lay track, and stuff mail are not going to escape onboard a winged rocket. We are going to have to fight to survive on Earth.

For Farmworkers, Heat Too Often Means Needless Death

By Liza Gross - Inside Climate News, July 9, 2021

Advocates say the case of an undocumented Oregon worker during the record-breaking Pacific Northwest heatwave exposes the deadly toll of failed U.S. immigration law.

People around the Pacific Northwest piled into emergency cooling centers late last month to escape the region’s life-threatening heat wave. Sebastián Francisco Perez, an undocumented farmworker in Oregon who had arrived from Guatemala just two months ago, did not have that luxury. 

No laws required Perez’s employer to provide water, shade or rest breaks—let alone a cooling station—to help workers cope with the punishing heat. On June 26, temperatures approached 105 degrees at the nursery where Perez worked, about 30 miles south of Portland. As the mercury climbed, Perez worked until he collapsed and died. He was 38. 

If Congress passed heat standards like those adopted by California in 2005, farmworker advocates say, Perez might still be alive.

The United Farm Workers and Oregon-based Pineros y Campesinos Unidos del Noroeste (PCUN) urged state officials to issue emergency rules to protect agricultural workers from unsafe conditions during heat waves.

And on Tuesday, Gov. Kate Brown directed Oregon Occupational Safety and Health officials to do just that, temporarily expanding requirements for employers to provide shade, rest periods and cool water during heat waves until permanent rules are put in place.

Over Fifty Organizations Release Green New Deal Plan for Pacific Northwest Forests

By Dylan Plummer - Cascadia Wildlands, June 9, 2021

Today, dozens of forest and climate justice organizations across northern California, Oregon, and Washington released a sweeping Green New Deal for Pacific Northwest Forests platform calling for the transformation of current forest practices on private, state, and federal land in the face of the climate crisis and ecological collapse. The platform emphasizes the critical role that the forests of the Pacific Northwest must play in efforts to mitigate climate change and to safeguard communities from climate impacts such as wildfire and drought. The six pillars of the Green New Deal for Pacific Northwest Forests address the intersecting issues of industrial logging, climate change, species collapse, economic injustice and the disempowerment of frontline communities.

Matt Stevenson, a high-schooler, and the leader of the Forest Team of Sunrise Movement PDX, a youth organization focused on climate justice, said:

As a high schooler, I have grown up without much hope for my future, and with the knowledge that my generation may inherit a broken and desolate earth. Industrial forestry practices and the timber industry is one of the largest causes of this hopelessness, one of the leading destructive forces of the Pacific Northwest, and the single largest carbon emitter in Oregon. If I, or my generation, wants any hope of a liveable future we must fundamentally transform the way we treat our forests.

Jobs and equitable transition: Bridging the chasm between rhetoric and action

By Sean O'Leary - Ohio River Valley Institute, May 26, 2021

There was a time when the sight of rows of office workers hammering away at their Friden adding machines would have sent me into paroxysms of delight because I, the Victor Comptometer salesman, had a new and better “programmable calculator” that could kick the Friden’s ass.

I was a young 1970s college graduate entering the workforce at the tail end of the era of mechanical business automation. Typewriters, adding machines, and mechanical cash registers were still the workhorses of stores and offices.

Behind all that machinery were companies – Burroughs, Monroe, Friden, Victor – whose names were as familiar then as Cisco, Oracle, and SAP are today. And those companies supported factories, sales offices, and repair facilities that provided living wage jobs to hundreds of thousands of workers and their families.

Then, within a little more than a decade, it was all gone. A year after I fizzled as a Victor salesman, I was playing at home with my new Radio Shack TRS-80 home computer and five years later, instead of an adding machine and typewriter on my desk at work, there sat an Apple II desktop computer, precursor to the Mac.

Gone too were those hundreds of thousands of jobs plunging not only workers and families, but entire communities, into financial crisis. One could argue that Dayton, Ohio, once home to National Cash Register and the business forms giant, Standard Register, never recovered.

The knock-out blow suffered by the office automation industry was as ferocious and sudden as the one that hit the American steel industry a few years earlier, the textile industry a few decades before that, and also as the one that possibly faces workers in the fossil fuel economy today.

So how did we as a society help displaced workers and communities manage the economic consequences of the transition from the mechanical workplace to a digital one? We didn’t. Thanks to the New Deal, we had unemployment insurance and Medicare and Medicaid were brand spanking new. But that was about it – a little help for individuals and families and none whatsoever for communities.

“What’s the alternative?”: Answering the hardest question asked by workers and communities that feel threatened by energy transition

By Sean O'Leary - Ohio River Valley Institute, May 18, 2021

At ORVI, we’ve documented the inability of the fossil fuel and petrochemical industries to serve as engines for job growth and prosperity in Appalachia. Although these findings may be greeted with doubt, disbelief, and sometimes anger, we find that, once the numbers sink in and people in the mining and fracking regions of Pennsylvania and the Ohio Valley look around at their communities — the struggling downtowns, declining populations, and the departures of their sons and daughters to places far away in search of opportunity — reality usually takes hold.

It can be a profoundly sad moment. But, for local leaders who may have invested years promoting these industries as economic saviors, the realization can be bitter and give rise to a question that is equal parts a challenge and a plea — What’s the alternative?

When you’re on the receiving end of that question, you feel its weight. And, if you don’t have an answer, you can feel that you’re stealing someone’s — maybe an entire community’s — hope and you’re leaving them with nothing.

Phasing Out Fossil Fuels Is Possible. These State-Level Plans Show How

By C.J. Polychroniou - Truthout, March 15, 2021

When it comes to climate change, state governments across the United States have been way ahead of the federal government in providing leadership toward reducing carbon pollution and building a clean energy economy. For example, when Trump announced in 2017 his intention to withdraw the U.S. from the Paris Agreement, the governors of California, Washington and New York pledged to support the international agreement, and by 2019, more than 20 other states ended up joining this alliance to combat global warming.

Robert Pollin, distinguished professor of Economics and co-director of the Political Economy Research Institute at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, has been a driving force behind several U.S. states’ efforts to curb carbon emissions and make a transition to a green economy. In this exclusive Truthout interview, Pollin talks about how states can take crucial, proactive steps to build a clean energy future.

C.J. Polychroniou: Bob, you are the lead author of commissioned studies, produced with some of your colleagues at the Political Economy Research Institute of the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, to fight climate change for scores of U.S. states, including Pennsylvania, Ohio, West Virginia, Maine, Colorado, Washington, New York and California. The purpose of those studies is to show the way for states to attain critical reductions in carbon emissions while also embarking on a path of economy recovery and a just transition toward an environmentally sustainable environment. In general terms, how is this to be done, and is there a common strategy that all states can follow?

Robert Pollin: The basic framework that we have developed is the same for all states. For all states, we develop a path through which the state can reduce its carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions by roughly half as of 2030 and to transform into a zero emissions economy by 2050. These are the emissions reduction targets set out by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (the IPCC) that are meant to apply to the entire global economy. The IPCC — which is a UN agency that serves as a clearinghouse for climate change research — has concluded that these CO2 emissions reduction targets have to be met in order for we, the human race, to have a reasonable chance to stabilize the global average temperature at no more than 1.5 degrees Celsius above the preindustrial level, [the level of] about the year 1800.

The IPCC has concluded that stabilizing the global average temperature at no more than 1.5 degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels provides the only realistic chance for avoiding the most severe destructive impacts of climate change in terms of heat extremes, heavy precipitation, droughts, floods, sea level rise, biodiversity losses, and the corresponding impacts on health, livelihoods, food security, water supply and human security. Given that these emissions reduction targets must be met on a global scale, it follows that they also must be met in every state of the United States, with no exceptions, just like they must be met in every other country or region of the world with no exceptions.

By far the most important source of CO2 emissions entering the atmosphere is fossil fuel consumption — i.e., burning oil, coal and natural gas to produce energy. As such, the program we develop in all of the U.S. states centers on the state’s economy phasing out its entire fossil fuel industry — i.e., anything to do with producing or consuming oil, coal or natural gas — at a rate that will enable the state to hit the two IPCC emissions reduction targets: the 50 percent reduction by 2030 and zero emissions within the state by 2050.

Of course, meeting these emissions reduction targets raises a massive question right away: How can you phase out fossil fuels and still enable people to heat, light and cool their homes and workplaces; for cars, buses, trains and planes to keep running; and for industrial machinery of all types to keep operating?

It turns out that, in its basics, the answer is simple and achievable, in all the states we have studied (and everywhere else for that matter): to build a whole new clean energy infrastructure that will supplant the existing fossil fuel dominant infrastructure in each state. So the next major feature of our approach is to develop investment programs to dramatically raise energy efficiency standards in buildings, transportation systems and industrial equipment, and equally dramatically expand the supply of clean renewable energy sources, i.e. primarily solar and wind energy, but also geothermal, small-scale hydro, as well as low-emissions bioenergy.

Phasing Out Fossil Fuels: A Just Transition in the Oil & Gas Drilling and Refining Sectors

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