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labor and environment

Just Transition for the coal industry is expensive – but cheaper than failure to address the needs

By Elizabeth Perry - Work and Climate Change Report, September 5, 2017

July 2017 saw the release of  Lessons from Previous Coal Transitions:  High-level Summary for Decision-makers , a synthesis report of case studies of past coal mining transitions in Spain, U.K., the Netherlands, Poland, U.S., and the Czech Republic – some as far back as the 1970’s.  Some key take-aways from the report:  “Because of the large scale and complexity of the challenges to be addressed, the earlier that actors (i.e. workers, companies and regions) anticipated, accepted and began to implement steps to prepare and cushion the shock of the transition, the better the results”; “the aggregate social costs to the state of a failure to invest in the transition of workers and regions are often much higher that the costs of not investing from an overall societal perspective.” While the level of cost details varies in the case studies, it is clear that costs are significant.  For example, the case study of Limburg, Netherlands states that the national government spent approximately 11.6 billion Euros (in today’s prices) on national subsidies to support coal prices and regional reconversion, in addition to  several 100 million per year in EU funds. “One estimate also suggested that in the Dutch case, all told, regional reinvestment in new economic activities also cost about 300 to 400 000€/per long-term job created.”  Limburg is also cited as “remarkable for the relatively consensual nature of the transition between unions, company and government.”  (see page 10).

The Synthesis report and individual case study reports of the six countries are available here . These are the work of the Research and Dialogue on Coal Transitions project, a large-scale research project led by Climate Strategies and the Institute for Sustainable Development and International Relations (IDDRI) , which also sponsors the Deep Decarbonization Pathways Project.  Future reports scheduled for 2018: a Global report, and a Round Table on the Future of Coal.

Coal Miners Are Good People

By Nick Mullins - The Thoughtful Coal Miner, September 1, 2017

People ask me “Why do Appalachians vote against their own best interests?” Some are friends who are honestly trying to understand the situation from a point of concern. I know that they seek the cause for the discrepancy, rather than assume coal mining families are incapable of making intelligent political decisions.

The question still stings however,  and whether meant or not, it brings up the age old stereotypes of Appalachian people as being backward and ignorant. Often I can separate those who mean well, from those who are just out to place the blame on someone for our nations current political troubles. The latter tend to follow up their question with another statement— “They are bringing it on themselves.”

Such outright condescension pisses me off and explains much of why people back home vote exactly the way they do.

In his book Miners, Millhands, and Mountaineers (1982), Ron D. Eller stated that our nation seeks to attribute Appalachia’s social problems to a “pathological culture” rather than the “economic and political realities in the area as they evolved over time.” In 2017, nothing has changed. Case in pointHillbilly Elegy.  The realities Eller speaks of, however, are linked wholesale to the trillions of dollars of natural resources our ancestors inadvertently settled upon 200 years ago, resources that supply our nation’s insatiable low-cost desires for all things comfortable and convenient. Suffice to say, this crucial information is willfully overlooked in most media representations of Appalachia and becomes just one of many other issues backlogged within our nation’s cognitive dissonance.

As with most materialism in our country, people don’t want to know about the origins of their lifestyles: the deplorable third world sweatshops filled with children sewing together our latest fashions; the slave labor used to extract precious metals in Africa for our electronics; industrial farming complete with pesticides, antibiotics, and hormones; and the exploitation and destruction of Appalachian communities to supply electrical power and provide other raw materials. As our nation continues its frivolous pillaging, people continually find it easier to ignore and dehumanize those who suffer from it rather than to acknowledge the true costs of their urban wonderlands.

I refuse to let this happen, especially with the people I know and grew up respecting.

Struggling to Stay in Appalachia After Coal Layoffs

By Reid Frazier - Alleghany Front, September 1, 2017

Dave Hathaway is a coal miner in Greene County, in the very southwestern corner of Pennsylvania. Apart from a brief stint living in Colorado as a child, he’s lived his whole life there, and he’s never really thought much about leaving.

So when he was laid off in late 2015, he figured he had to find a way to stay there.

The question of what will happen with coal miners and the communities that depend on them has become pointed in recent years, as thousands of mining jobs have been lost in Appalachia and around the country.

The case of Dave Hathaway shows how difficult it can be for miners to find work that can approximate the kind of earning power and stability coal brought them, while fulfilling one important requirement: being able to stay in the place you call home.

Hathaway spent a year looking for work. He put in hundreds of online applications, and tried unsuccessfully to join a union.

He only had one iron-clad rule in his job hunt: he wouldn’t leave Greene County. His family and his wife Ashley’s family are in the area; his son Grant, 11, lives there, too. 

Grant lives with his mother nearby, but he has a room at his dad’s house in Waynesburg. It’s crowded with toys, video game paraphernalia, and Grant’s collection of 2,000 football cards, including the boy’s most prized possession–a Marcus Mariota rookie card.

Living in Greene County means Hathaway can take Grant turkey hunting, play cards with Grant, and go to his son’s wrestling meets, where Hathaway, a former wrestler, could call out holds and maneuvers from the side of the mat.

Why Union Workers and Environmentalists Need to Work Together with Smart Protests

By Les Leopold - Alternet, June 21, 2017

As Trump slashes and burns his way through environmental regulations, including the Paris Accord, he continues to bet that political polarization will work in his favor. Not only are his anti-scientific, anti-environmentalist positions firing up some within his base, but those positions are driving a deep wedge within organized labor.  And unbeknownst to many environmental activists, they are being counted on to help drive that wedge even deeper.

Trump already has in his pocket most of the construction trades union leaders whose members are likely to benefit from infrastructure projects – whether fossil fuel pipelines or new airports or ...... paving over the Atlantic. His ballyhooed support of coal extraction  has considerable support from miners and many utility workers as well.

But the real coup will come if Trump can tear apart alliances between the more progressive unions and the environmental community. Trump hopes to neutralize the larger Democratic-leaning unions, including those representing oil refinery workers and other industrial workers.  That includes the United Steelworkers, a union that has supported environmental policies like the federal Clean Air Act and California’s Global Warming Solutions Act, and has a long history of fighting with the oil industry – not just over wages and benefits but also over health, safety and the environment.  

To get from here to there, Trump is hoping that environmental activists will play their part -- that they will become so frustrated by his Neanderthal policies, that activists will stage more and more protests at fossil fuel-related facilities, demanding that they be shut down in order to halt global climate crisis.  

Oil refineries present a target-rich arena for protest. On the West Coast they are near progressive enclaves and big media markets in California and Washington.  Yet many who live in fence line communities would like the refineries gone, fearing for their own health and safety. Most importantly, they are gigantic symbols of the oil plutocracy that has profiteered at the expense of people all over the world.

But from Trump's point of view, nothing could be finer than for thousands of environmentalists to clash at the plant gates with highly paid refinery workers. Such demonstrations, even if peaceful and respectful, set a dangerous trap for environmental progress. Here's why: 

A Change of Heart—Revolutionary Ecology in a World of Climate Change

By Rob DiPerna - Wild California, June 22, 2017

“The earth is not dying, it is being killed, and the people responsible have names and addresses.”

— U. Utah Phillips

Combating global climate change and destabilization, and arresting the human-related causes of these are the greatest challenge of our time, perhaps the greatest challenge in human history. Global climate change and destabilization also bring home the fundamental conflicts between our industrial capitalist way of life and world view and the realities of ecological processes and the limits of the natural world.

As 2017 marks the 40-year anniversary of the inception of the Environmental Protection Information Center, we continue to see examples of how the basic underpinning of the world created by humans is in direct conflict with the world that created us, and how this conflict is leading us toward our own demise as a species as we continue to compromise the life support systems of our planet. Of course, none of this is new and the advent of global and bioregional climate change and destabilization once again has us searching for the root causes of what ails us as people and a societies.

May 24, 2017 marked the 27-year anniversary of the car-bombing of Earth First activists Judi Bari and Daryl Cherney on their road tour to promote Redwood Summer. This upcoming November 3, 2017, EPIC will posthumously award Judi Bari with the Semperviren’s Lifetime Achievement Award for her career of work for environmental and social justice.

Climate change is more than a tech problem, so we need more than a tech solution

By Martin J Boucher and Philip Loring - Ensia, March 20, 2017

At the COP 21 climate change convention in Paris at the end of 2015, leaders from 194 nations agreed to pursue actions that will cut greenhouse gas emissions enough to keep global warming within 1.5 °C (2.7 °F) above pre-industrial conditions. Meeting this goal will avoid continued and increasing harm to people and ecosystems around the world caused by a changing climate, and it is also a great opportunity to turn the world into a place that embodies our collective and pluralistic values for the future. Nevertheless, there remains a notable gap between current trajectories of global GHG emissions and the reductions necessary to see COP 21’s goals realized.

Numerous technological and economic strategies for bridging that gap are currently being discussed, including transitions to renewable energy and/or nuclear power, carbon capture and storage, and cap and trade. However, many overlook the fundamental social issues that drive climate change: overconsumption, poverty, industrial agriculture and population growth. As such, even if these strategies succeed in mitigating CO2 emissions — renewable energies, for instance, seem to have achieved irreversible momentum — they leave unaddressed a second gap, a sustainability gap, in that they allow issues of ecological overshoot and social injustice to persist. We argue that there is an opportunity to reverse climate change by attending to these sustainability issues, but it requires that we reject the convenience of technological optimism and put aside our fears of the world’s “big” social problems.

In 2004, Stephen Pacala and Robert Socolow wrote in Science that it is possible to address climate change by breaking the larger problem of CO2 emissions down into a series of more manageable “wedges.” They offer 15 different solutions based on existing technology, including nuclear energy, coal carbon capture and storage, energy efficiency, and increased adoption of conservation tillage, for mitigating climate change one wedge at a time. Their pragmatic approach to the problem has been popularly received, as evidenced by the thousands of citations that the paper has received. However, their approach can also be critiqued for glossing over the immense costs involved and for its piecemeal and top-down nature. In other words, they assume that this complex global environmental problem can be fixed with a handful of standardized solutions.

Climate change is just one of many related sustainability problems that the world faces. In addition to rising atmospheric CO2, we are approaching or have already exceeded multiple other planetary boundaries — such as fresh water, nitrogen, phosphorus and biodiversity loss — that CO2-mitigating technologies cannot solve. Solving climate change on its own would require immense investments but leave too many other problems unaddressed. That is not to say that these technological innovations are irrelevant; Pacala and Socolow’s desire to break down the challenge into manageable pieces is both valid and appreciable. What’s missing from their assessment is the fact that the world is a complex system, and systemic problems require systemic solutions.

The Wrong Way to Debunk Trump’s Pipeline Jobs Claims

By Kate Aronoff - In These Times, March 29, 2017

There’s a right and a wrong way to debunk the right-wing myth about jobs and the environment. As a refresher, here are the basics of that myth: Jobs in the extractive industry are an invaluable engine of job creation and a key driver of economic growth. People concerned about the environment want to kill projects, like the Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipelines, that would provide jobs and help stimulate the economy.

If you’re reading this, you probably already know that argument is wrong. Jobs in the U.S. clean energy industry—itself a very small sector—outnumber jobs in the fossil fuel industry 5 to 1, according to a recent report from the Department of Energy. What’s more, renewable energy has the potential to create millions of jobs in the future, which would make that type of employment dwarf even the bloated jobs figures the White House cites in defense of fossil fuels.

But here’s how not to dispel fossil fuel industry talking points: noting the disparity between part-time and full-time construction jobs. Since the Keystone XL’s permit was approved by the State Department last Friday, a number of outlets—including those with a specifically environmentalist bent—re-upped a statistic that made the rounds before the project was squashed back in 2015, stating that the project will create just 35 permanent jobs. The State Department estimates that the Keystone XL pipeline will create some 42,000 direct and indirect jobs, 50 of which will be permanent. Fifteen of the 50 jobs are temporary contracts, leaving just 35 people with ongoing jobs maintaining the pipeline. This line of argument contends the fact that so few of these positions are permanent means that Trump’s jobs argument is an elaborate rouse.

Here’s the problem: All construction jobs are temporary. When you construct something, it is eventually built. Workers in the building trades might work on several projects in a given year, and part of what building trades unions do is set up the people they represent with projects.

Talking points about permanent versus temporary jobs aren’t just bad because they stand to make the people spouting them sound grossly out of touch with working people. Jobs building wind turbines and sea walls and installing solar panels are also often temporary jobs. And that’s okay!

Making sure they’re good ones is another matter. Because of long-standing and union-negotiated norms in the building trades, the unionized workers who build pipelines tend to bring home good money and benefits, sometimes making as much as six figures in a year. Building trades and their workers, then, aren’t being somehow duped by Trump about these figures. The pipeline will create new jobs for their members, who, by and large, will be happy to work them.

But as Bryce Covert points out in The Nation, mining, manufacturing and construction jobs together account for less than 13 percent of jobs in the United States. More than 80 percent of workers are housed in the service sector. The clean energy sector is creating jobs at a remarkable rate, and there’s plenty of other work that is just as low carbon—and happens to be in some of the fastest growing parts of the economy. Teachers and nurses don’t emit massive amounts of carbon into the atmosphere. Their professions are (relatively) heavily unionized, but wages in other, non-unionized parts of the service sector remain pitifully low—an industry standard being fought tooth and nail by the Fight for $15 campaign.

So don’t fact-check the Keystone jobs line on the basis that the jobs aren’t permanent. Ask why Trump isn’t fueling high-paying, union job growth in the sectors where most Americans work and that are already creating jobs.

US Labor Unions Push Back At Trump On Pipelines And Environmental Deregulation

By Seth Sandronsky - Mint News Press, February 17, 2017

President Donald Trump claims that his energy policy creates high-wage construction jobs. Some of organized labor in the United States agrees with him, including North America’s Building Trades Unions, which is affiliated with the AFL-CIO, the country’s largest federation of unions.

On Jan. 24, NABTU released a statement in support of Trump after the president issued an executive order for completion of the Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipelines to move fossil fuel around North America.

“We are grateful that President Trump understands that 32 percent of today’s construction industry workforce is employed on energy projects, amounting to over 2 million workers, and that projects such as the Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipelines are significant job creators that generate above-average wages and benefits for hard-working Americans,” said the statement prepared by the alliance of 14 national and international unions in the building and construction industry that represent over 3 million skilled craft professionals in the United States and Canada.

In April of 2015, well before Trump was elected to the Oval Office, Sean McGarvey, president of NABTU, addressed the union’s ties to the Koch energy titans, major funders of the GOP and its tea party wing. In an interview with Kent Hoover, Washington Bureau chief of The Business Journals, McGarvey explained:

“Even if you look at Koch Industries — they’re one of our biggest clients. You’ll never see us making public statements saying negative things about Koch Industries. They’re a huge client of ours. Do we agree with some of the things that they supposedly support? No. Do we understand why they do it? Yeah, Ok, because they’re looking for political advantage for a political point of view, and the Democrats don’t see it the way they see it. And other unions in the labor movement tend to be much more Democratic unions. And if you can hurt the labor movement, i.e. you hurt the Democratic Party. It’s just a system that we really don’t want to be engaged or involved in.”

According to OpenSecrets, a project of the Center for Responsive Politics, Koch Industries spent $9.84 million on political lobbying in 2016. This followed years of a heavy spending from the Kansas-based multinational corporation, which had spent $10.83 million on lobbying in 2015 and $13.7 million in 2014. In the 2016 election cycle, Koch Industries donated more than $1.86 million to GOP Congressional candidates and just $23,000 to Democratic candidates, OpenSecrets reports. The top Republican recipients were the recently appointed CIA director, Mike Pompeo, a representative from Kansas who received $71,100 from Koch Industries; Sen. Roy Blunt of Missouri, who received $40,700; and Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, a representative from Wisconsin, who received $39,522.

Yet there are other views of the U.S. labor movement as the Trump administration wages a “shock and awe” campaign of rolling back climate and environment-related rules.

No jobs on a dead planet: Why South African unions should stop investing in fossil fuels and lobby for a just, planned transition to a green economy

By David Le Page - Fossil Free South Africa, February 2017

More jobs: Yes, the fossil fuel industry creates jobs, but it also creates climate change, air and water pollution, substantial corruption, wars, social instability, economic crises and fuel shortages, and destroys arable land — all of which destroy jobs and human wellbeing. A greener economy will create more, better, safer jobs. According to the International Labour Organisation (https://goo.gl/rSryng): “…most studies show that a transition to a low-carbon economy will lead to a net increase in employment”. The Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) has argued for “a planned closure of coal power stations – along with both a jobs and energy plan for the country”, saying it will “create a more prosperous and diversified economy”. (https://goo.gl/k4da08). Renewable energy is now capable of powering developing economies, indeed the whole world, without all the terrible costs of fossil fuels.

Threatened investments: Investments in fossil fuels are losing value in many markets. Even if they do not embrace the moral arguments for divestment, unions still have a fiduciary duty to the members whose funds they manage to understand, manage, and where appropriate, divest, to avoid the multiplying threats to investments in the fossil fuel industry. According to BlackRock, the world’s biggest asset manager: “Investors can no longer ignore climate change. Some may question the science behind it, but all are faced with a swelling tide of climate-related regulations and technological disruption.”

Health and the right to life: Researchers at UCT’s Energy Research Centre estimate that 27,000 premature deaths across South Africa annually (7.4% of all deaths) are currently due to high levels of fine PM (microscopic particles), mostly from burning fossil fuels… and often in poorer communities. Even without climate change, we would still need to shut down the fossil fuel industry.

Human and worker rights: Climate change is a profound threat to Africa. Climate change is a human rights issue, already killing hundreds of thousands of African children every year through malnutrition and disease. Climate change threatens food security. It threatens economic growth and stability, and thereby threatens workers’ job and savings.

The fossil fuel industry is facing multiple, critical threats:

  • Renewable energy (especially wind & solar) is now the fastest growing energy industry in the world.
  • China is moving fast to phase out coal, and its coal use has already peaked.
  • By some predictions, electric cars will mostly replace petrol/diesel in 20 years’ time.
  • The 2015 Paris agreement on climate change saw most countries agree to phase out fossil fuels.
  • Even without these changes, in 50-100 years time at the most, all accessible fossil fuel reserves will be exhausted anyway.
  • Transition away from fossil fuels is inevitable, but a managed, just transition is preferable.

Solidarity and tradition: “An injury to one is an injury to all.” The global divestment movement is led by many people of colour and people of faith, constituencies which overlap strongly with the union movement. The union movement has a social and historical responsibility to stand up for social justice, human rights and good governance. The fossil fuel industry, on the other hand, is extremely corrupt, threatening good governance and worker’s rights as well as human health and the environment.

Clean energy: The challenge of achieving a ‘just transition’ for workers

By Sophie Yeo - Carbon Brief, January 4, 2017

Tackling climate change is good for the economy, good for business and good for people. This is the narrative often pushed out by campaigners, researchers and governments around the world.

But while measures to curb emissions and reduce the impacts of rising temperatures will be good for the many, the few who work in industries affected by climate policies risk losing their livelihoods as the economy leans increasingly upon renewable energy.

Around the world, there is a growing movement demanding a “just transition” for the workforce, so that workers are not left in the cold as fossil fuels become consigned to the past.

Peabody and the Navajo tribe

Arizona’s Navajo tribe is one example of a community already fighting for a just transition. This Native American group signed a lease in 1964 allowing Peabody Energy, America’s largest coal company, to mine for coal on reservation lands. Now, 50 years later, many are battling against the impacts of this deal.

When they signed the lease, the company agreed to “employ Navajo Indians when available in all positions for which…they are qualified”. Since then, Peabody has been a major employer of tribe members — 90% of the 430-person workforce of its Kayenta mine are native people.

Yet, while Peabody has provided jobs and money, poverty rates on the Navajo Nation Reservation are more than twice as high as the Arizona state average, and benefits have come at the expense of the local environment.

The Navajo tribe has seen their water sources dwindle as Peabody has used the reservation’s aquifer to turn coal into slurry and pump it down a pipeline. Coal plants surrounding the reservation have polluted the air, clouding the view of the nearby Grand Canyon and other national parks. It is also a source of CO2, the primary contributor of human-caused climate change.

Members of the Navajo tribe, alongside the Hopi tribe that also lives in the area, are calling for a “just transition” away from coal — one that will see old jobs tied to the polluting coal industry replaced with clean and profitable work.

One group, the Black Mesa Water Coalition, is trying to create economic opportunities that will help to release the community from its reliance on coal. For instance, they have tried to revive the traditional Navajo wool market, developing partnerships with wool buyers and organising an annual Wool Buy.

It has also started a solar project, which aims to install a series of 20MW to 200MW solar installations on abandoned coal mining land, transforming the reservation’s old role as an energy provider.

The idea has gone global. In Ghana, for instance, the government has developed a programme to plant more trees, simultaneously improving the landscape, providing jobs, and offering a diversified source of livelihoods for farmers. Peasant farmers and the rural unemployed were involved in planting species such as teak, eucalyptus, cassia and mahogany, generating 12,595 full-time jobs.

In Port Augusta, a town of 14,000 people in South Australia, there is a plan underway to install a solar thermal plant to replace the town’s coal industry. This became even more urgent after the Alinta power station announced that it would close, potentially putting 250 jobs at risk.

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