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A Green New Deal for Transportation: Establishing New Federal Investment Priorities to Build Just and Sustainable Communities

By Yonah Freemark, Billy Fleming, Caitlin McCoy, Rennie Meyers, Thea Riofrancos, Xan Lillehei, and Daniel Aldana Cohen - Climate and Community Project, February 2022

The transportation system is the connective tissue that transforms pockets of communities into a networked society. It links home, school, work, and play. It drives economic growth, social mobility, and employment opportunities. 

The transportation sector currently emits more carbon pollution than any other sector in the US economy. The automobiles we drive, the trucks, trains, and ships that deliver our goods, the airline flights we take, and other transportation activities account for about 28 percent of US greenhouse gas emissions. The passage of President Biden’s Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act is replete with new funding for state and local highway expansion, and seems likely to further exacerbate the sector’s emissions. More than 120 years after electric vehicles briefly achieved popularity in the 1900s, petroleum products still power over 91 percent of today’s transportation system. Americans collectively drive more than three trillion vehicle miles per year, most of those as a single driver in an automobile. Life in the United States is organized around personal automobiles powered by petroleum. For a Green New Deal in transportation to be possible, that has to change. A climate-safe future requires a swift and just decarbonization of the transportation sector, a major expansion of public and active transportation, and the parallel decarbonization of the electricity sector.

Transportation often exacerbates social inequity and racial injustice within and between communities. Its infrastructure speeds the movement of those who are better off, to the detriment of those who are most in need. In far too many communities, governments, planners, and engineers prioritize vehicles over people and efficiency in travel time at the cost of quality of life. Choices made by elected officials and transportation agencies about how funds are allocated at the federal, state, and local levels have played a major role in reinforcing these outcomes over the past century.

In 2021, Congress passed the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act – the centerpiece of President Biden’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Framework. It provides substantial new funds for intra-city public transit, intercity passenger rail, and new electric vehicle charging infrastructure. It also includes $7.5 billion in new discretionary funding for innovative transit projects in the RAISE program (formerly BUILD and TIGER), along with new incentives for roadway repair and maintenance. However, the bill also allocates $350 billion towards new road and highway projects that will be administered by state and local departments of transportation. Much of this funding is likely to be spent on highway expansion projects. In short, the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act is poised to invest in a small number of innovative, low-carbon public transit projects alongside a massive new investment in roads and highways – locking in higher emissions for the sector than those that predated the bill. In other words, the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act could invest dramatically more on highway expansion than on innovative, low-carbon public transit projects. That dynamic has to change.

In this report, we propose a series of critical opportunities for new transportation-related policies to improve equal access, mobility, and opportunity in our transportation system, reduce emissions, support global climate cooperation, and develop long-lasting infrastructure and workforce development strategies on a changing planet. We argue for a move away from past policies that encouraged the release of greenhouse gases and other air pollutants while furthering social inequity. Crucially, this report aims to shift the conversation surrounding the transportation sector and decarbonization from focusing exclusively on electric vehicles and high-speed rail to addressing the many disparate parts of America’s transportation system. This includes a focus on intra- and intercity rail in addition to high-speed rail; an approach to electric vehicles that pairs supply-side policies (e.g. manufacturing tax credits) with a more progressive demand-side approach that benefits low and middle-income households with few public transit options instead of wealthy, coastal city residents who tend to purchase high-end luxury electric vehicles (e.g. Tesla).

Instead, the transportation system should be viewed as a strategic lever for investing in good-paying low-carbon jobs, justice, and a decarbonized economy. We build on the important progress Congress members have made through their introduction of bills such as the Moving Forward Act to identify a series of policies that would further that ambition.

Read the text (PDF).

Labor Unions, Environmentalists, and Indigenous People Unite to Defeat Mining Interests in Argentina

By Marisela Trevin - Left Voice, December 27, 2021

A zoning law would have opened up the southern Argentinian province of Chubut to large-scale mining by multinational corporations. But the law was defeated in just five days by an alliance of environmentalists, workers, youth, and indigenous people. Their fight points the way forward for other movements around the world.

The people of the southern Argentinian province of Chubut are celebrating more than just the holidays this December. After a fierce struggle against a recently enacted zoning law that would have opened the province up to large-scale silver, copper, and lead mining by multinational corporations like Canadian Pan American Silver, the governor was ultimately forced to backtrack. The law in question, which was approved on December 15, was repealed last Tuesday, just five days later.

From the night of the approval until the afternoon of December 21, the movement against the law spread rapidly throughout the province. In a context of growing austerity, unemployment, and poverty, thousands took to the streets to make their voices heard. Dozens of protesters were injured and arrested in the brutal repression, and 16 government buildings were set on fire or otherwise destroyed, including the provincial house of government. Protesters were not only demanding the repeal of the law but also Governor Mariano Arcioni’s resignation.

The governor, whose party, Chubut Somos Todos, is politically aligned with the national government, had won the elections in 2017 campaigning against multinational mining in Chubut. Since he took office, however, he has seized every opportunity to relax mining regulations against the people’s will, with the support of the national government, local business associations, and union bureaucracies.

The so-called Law on Sustainable Metal Mining and Industrial Development for the Province of Chubut had been unexpectedly approved in an expedited procedure the day before a mass protest was to be held against the bill. Among the 14 legislators who voted for it were several who, like the governor himself, had been voted in after opposing multinational mining. This group also included legislator Sebastián López, who was expelled from his party last year for having been caught on camera requesting a large sum of money to vote in favor of large-scale mining in Chubut. One of the main proponents of the bill was Carlos Eliceche, the president of the Committee for Economic Development, Environment and Natural Resources and a legislator for Frente de Todos, the national ruling party, who emphasized that the initiative was put forward “at the request of President Alberto Fernández, to develop mining and attract investments.”

Beyond a Just Transition

Beyond "Just Transition"

By Dr Eurig Scandrett - The Jimmy Reid Foundation, December 3, 2021

Introduction

It is no use simply saying to South Wales miners that all around them is an ecological disaster. They already know. They live in it. They have lived in it for generations. They carry it in their lungs… you cannot just say to people who have committed their lives and their communities to certain kinds of production that this has all got to be changed… Everything will have to be done by negotiation, by equitable negotiation, and it will have to be taken steadily along the way. Otherwise, you will find … that there is a middle-class environmental group protesting against the damage and there’s a trade-union group supporting the coming of the work. Now for socialists this is a terrible conflict to get into. Because if each group does not really listen to what the other is saying, there will be a sterile conflict which will postpone any real solutions at a time when it is already a matter for argument whether there is still time for the solutions. Raymond Williams (1982/1989)

The idea of ‘Just Transition’ (JT) has gained traction in recent years. With its roots in the union movement at the end of the twentieth century, it has developed into a concept with diverse and contested meanings. This engagement with JT has created spaces within the urgent policy areas of climate change mitigation to address potential job losses and the disproportionate impact up on the poorest communities, and more positively, to work for the generation of good quality, unionised jobs and greater social equality in a green economy. This is a fast-moving and often technical area of policy development. In Scotland, the Just Transition Commission (2021) reported in May 2021 after meeting over a period of two years, and relevant technical and policy reports are published with increasing frequency.

This paper is not a detailed contribution to these debates, on which others are more competent to comment, although it will inevitably touch on these. The paper aims to take a somewhat longer-term and more abstracted view of JT. It asks what do we mean by ‘Just’ and to what are we expecting to ‘Transition’ to? It argues that, in the discussions over the meanings of JT, the collective interests of workers, low-income communities and the environment are central, and require mechanisms to facilitate challenging dialogues between these interests.

There is an inevitable tendency, in developing positions on JT, to seek common ground between the two principal social movements that have driven JT debates: unions and environmental NGOs; or else between different unions or different industrial sectors. This process of seeking common ground can lead to a dilution of principle on all sides, a common denominator that all can live with, but with which none is entirely satisfied. While the process of negotiating common ground is a necessary and useful process for practical purposes, and a process at which the union movement is particularly adept, this paper argues that JT also provides the opportunity for a deeper dialogue in which all key stakeholders – the environment and working-class people who are either dependent on or excluded from the current unsustainable economy – can seek to incorporate the principles of the others. There are areas where the union movement and the environmental movement disagree. These areas of disagreement could be seen as potentially fertile grounds for deep dialogue in order to seek meaningful and lasting resolution.

This paper is, therefore, not intended to reflect the policy of any union or environmental group, but rather constitute a contribution to a debate within these movements and outwith them as well. It is, in places, designed to challenge. Indeed, it makes the case that the union and environmental movements can best learn from one another by being willing to be challenged by each other. All social movements reflect the interests of their participants, members, opinion formers and supporters and are contingent upon the social and political conditions in which they are acting. This is a strength, but also leads to ‘blind spots’ which are best addressed through collective self-reflection and challenges in solidarity from comrades in the struggle.

It is argued here that JT provides an opportunity to explore, for example, the tension well known in unions between representing the immediate interests of members and the long-term interests of the working-class; and in the environmental movement between the disproportionately educated, white, professional middle-class membership of the NGOs and the communities most directly affected by environmental devastation.

As has been recognised in some of the debates about JT, the idea can be located in a radical working-class tradition which, in Britain includes defence diversification, the East Kilbride Rolls Royce boycott of Chilean engines, the Lucas Aerospace Alternative Plan, the Upper Clyde Shipbuilders work-in, amongst others. JT can be more than a mechanism to address climate change, for it can also be a process which can be applied to transitions of many kinds that the labour movement and the left more generally have long advocated: the transition to a more democratic economy, more equal society and socially beneficial system of production, distribution and exchange. The paper, therefore, argues that the union movement, along with environmental and anti-poverty movements would benefit from going ‘beyond’ just transition.

CLARA Statement on COP26 Outcomes

By staff - Climate Land Ambition and Rights Alliance, November 13, 2021

The science is clear: we are facing “Code Red for Humanity.” COP 26 started with soaring rhetoric promising to ‘keep 1.5 alive.’ Once again though, this COP has failed to listen to science and give credence to the peoples’ voices ringing outside the negotiating rooms of the COP and those taking to the streets calling for climate justice.

One bright spot, however, is the agreement on the Glasgow Committee on Non-Market Approaches and the forthcoming work program. CLARA is committed to seeing these approaches succeed in order to enable enhanced cooperation on mitigation and adaptation in order to provide communities with the support they need for climate action. But the market based mechanisms in the rest of Article 6 risk undermining real climate action with offsets that do nothing to enhance ambition to keep temperature rise below 1.5 (see more below).

Read the text (PDF).

COP26 Report Back: Climate Justice Activists Speak Out

Flooding in British Columbia is an unfolding, man-made climate disaster

By Elizabeth Perry - Work and Climate Change Report, November 17, 2021

After the disastrous summer heat wave which killed 595 people in British Columbia in June 2021, along comes the worst natural weather disaster in Canada’s history so far : torrential rains and flooding which began on November 15 in southern British Columbia, centred on Abbotsford and the agricultural Fraser River Valley, including First Nations lands. One person so far has been pronounced dead; mudslides, rockslides and water have destroyed roads, bridges and rail lines; motorists have been stranded, and supply chains from the port of Vancouver to the rest of Canada are disrupted. Thousands of people and animals have been evacuated and rescued from homes under water. The culprit? As reported by the National Observer, “Lethal mix of cascading climate impacts hammers B.C.” (Nov. 17). But human fingerprints are all over this climate catastrophe, as explained in “‘A tipping point’: how poor forestry fuels floods and fires in western Canada” (The Guardian, Nov. 16). The Guardian article cites a February 2021 report, Intact Forests: Safe Communities, in which author Peter Wood warned of the potential catastrophe around the corner unless the province’s forest management practices were changed.

Responding to over a year of intense pressure, the government of B.C. DID announce new plans in November, to defer logging on 2.6 million hectares of at-risk old growth forests for two years or so, pending the approval of First Nations – a compromise policy which satisfied no one. “BC Paused a Lot of Old-Growth Logging. Now What?” (The Tyee, Nov. 8 ) explains background to the decision and the opposition from the United Steelworkers, whose members work in the forestry sector . The USW press release accuses the government of selling out the workers. “Protecting some old growth isn’t enough. B.C. needs a Forest Revolution” and “Counting the Job Costs of halting old growth logging” expand on the economic arguments for the clearcutting of B.C.’s forests. (The Tyee, Nov. 10). B.C. now needs new research, to count the dollars required to re-build lives and infrastructure after this disaster.

Protecting Some Old Growth Isn’t Enough. BC Needs a Forest Revolution

By Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, Arnold Bercov, Torrance Coste and Ben Parfitt - The Tyee, November 12, 2021

Governments have mismanaged the sector for decades. Now communities and First Nations should lead.

No one should be surprised that the British Columbia government’s plan to consider deferring logging in 26,000 square kilometres of old-growth forest angered many and pleased few.

First Nations’ leaders were highly critical of the incredibly short 30-day period the government imposed on them to respond to the deferral proposals, the paltry funding provided by the province to offset consultation costs, and the economic implications for their members.

The Council of Forest Industries, representing the province’s biggest logging, lumber and pulp and paper operations, warned of an impending economic apocalypse in which 18,000 workers would lose their jobs, while skirting around the tens of thousands of industry jobs already lost.

And environmental leaders noted that many tracts of old growth remained unprotected and would likely be logged even more intensely as the government took the next couple of years to decide whether or not the proposed deferral areas would actually receive formal protection.

All of this was predictable, and all of it largely ignored the elephant in the room.

What the deferral decision underscored is the abominable point to which this government and governments before it have brought us.

Successive provincial governments actively encouraged the logging industry, which is dominated by a few very powerful companies, to cut down more and more forest without any coherent plan for how healthy, resilient ecosystems — which are the bedrock of healthy communities — were to be maintained.

Perpetuating logging rates that anyone with an iota of common sense knew could not go on was guaranteed to have brutal consequences, including old-growth forests so fragmented from logging that they are no longer capable of supporting caribou and vibrant songbird populations; community watersheds where once-clean drinking water has turned to mud; drastically reduced or eradicated salmon stocks; and 41,000 direct jobs lost in the forest industry in just 20 years.

Counting the Job Cost of Halting Old-Growth Logging

By Andrew MacLeod - The Tyee, November 10, 2021

The province says 4,500, industry says 18,000. Critics say government has left too many unanswered questions.

The BC Council of Forest Industries and the United Steelworkers union say protecting old-growth forests could cost four times as many jobs as the government is predicting.

But whatever the actual number, any decline in employment will be part of a long-term trend that has seen fewer people working in the sector even as the volume of trees logged each year remained steady.

Last week Katrine Conroy, the minister of forests, lands, natural resource operations and rural development, announced the B.C. government plans to defer logging 2.6 million hectares of the most at-risk old-growth forests in the province for two years while it discusses possible permanent protection with the Indigenous nations whose territories the forests are on.

Conroy said the ministry estimates up to 4,500 jobs could be affected and promised a suite of programs aimed at helping workers and their families transition to other work.

The Council of Forest Industries, however, believed the government’s estimate is far too low.

“Our initial analysis indicates that these deferrals would result in the closure of between 14 and 20 sawmills in B.C., along with two pulp mills and an undetermined number of value-added manufacturing facilities,” Susan Yurkovich, president and CEO of the council, said in a statement released Nov. 2.

That translates to about 18,000 “good, family-supporting jobs lost” and about a $400-million reduction in government revenue each year, she said.

A day later the United Steelworkers, the union representing about 12,000 of B.C.’s forestry workers, put out a statement backing COFI’s figures over the government’s.

“If even half of the 2.6 million hectares identified by the government are removed, jobs will be lost as multiple sawmills, value-added operations and pulp mills close permanently,” it quoted USW Wood Council Chair Jeff Bromley.

“In the past three years, eight operations with USW workers across B.C. closed and 1,000 good-paying, family-supporting jobs were lost,” he continued. “The impact from this process will almost certainly multiply across the province.”

For comparison, there were nearly 2.7 million people employed in all sectors in B.C. in October. B.C. added 10,400 jobs in October according to the Labour Force Survey numbers StatsCan released last week.

Trade Union Program for a Public, Low-Carbon Energy Future

By various unions - Trade Unions for Energy Democracy, November 9, 2021

The following “Trade Union Program for a Public, Low-Carbon, Energy Future” (“Program”) is the result of the work of a Trade Union Task Force consisting of more than 30 unions. Focusing mainly on the power sector, the Program is an attempt to rally the international trade union movement behind an ambitious political effort to bring about a fundamental shift in climate and energy policy. This shift is needed both to correct the failures of the market model and to ensure that the energy transition is socially just, economically viable, and effective in terms of reaching climate goals.

Recognising That:

  • Access to a healthy environment has been declared a human right by the UN Human Rights Council, in recognition of the interconnected human rights crises of environmental degradation and climate change.
  • Lack of adequate access to energy remains a major source of poverty, inequality and insecurity, in violation of human rights and contrary to the aims of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals.
  • Widespread electrification of many energy-dependent processes will be necessary to meet agreed, science-based decarbonisation targets.
  • Ensuring access to affordable, safe, secure, reliable, low-carbon electricity will therefore be essential to meeting most future energy needs.
  • All known methods of capturing, transforming, and distributing energy for use involve some degree of environmental disruption.
  • Neoliberal climate and energy policies – which are tied to privatisation and commodification – have failed to halt the rise of greenhouse gas emissions.
  • Privatisation, marketisation, and liberalisation of electrical power systems have led to price increases, falling levels of service quality, and inadequate investment.
  • The transition required to meet decarbonisation targets will entail substantial changes affecting workers, especially in many energy-related areas of employment, and many of these changes may be very disruptive if their impacts are not addressed.
  • Many countries in the global south continue to face a crippling legacy of colonialism and debt, constraining their ability to procure the technologies and resources needed to ensure universal access to electricity.

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