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The End of Oil Is Near: the pandemic may send the petroleum industry to the grave

By Antonia Juhasz - Sierra, August 24, 2020

This past spring, coastlines around the globe took on the feel of an enemy invasion as hundreds of massive oil tankers overwhelmed seaports from South Africa to Singapore. Locals and industry analysts alike used the word armada—typically applied to fleets of warships—to describe scenes such as when a group of tankers left Saudi Arabia en masse and another descended on China. One distressed news article proclaimed that a “floating hoard” of oil sat in tankers anchored across the North Sea, “everywhere from the UK to France and the Netherlands.” In April, the US Coast Guard shared an alarming video that showed dozens of tankers spread out for miles along California’s coast.

On May 12, Greenpeace activists sailed into San Francisco Bay to issue a challenge to the public. In front of the giant Amazon Falcon oil tanker—which had been docked in the bay for weeks, loaded up with Chevron oil—they unfurled a banner reading, “Oil Is Over! The Future Is Up to You.”

The oil industry has turned the oceans into aquatic parking lots—floating storage facilities holding, at their highest levels in early May, some 390 million barrels of crude oil and refined products like gasoline. Between March and May, the amount of oil “stored” at sea nearly tripled, and it has yet to abate in many parts of the world.

This tanker invasion is only one piece of a dangerous buildup in oil supply that is the result of an unprecedented global glut. The coronavirus pandemic has gutted demand, resulting in the current surplus, but it merely exacerbated a problem that’s been plaguing the oil industry for years: the incessant overproduction of a product that the world is desperately trying to wean itself from, with growing success.

Today, the global oil industry is in a tailspin. Demand has cratered, prices have collapsed, and profits are shrinking. The oil majors (giant global corporations including BP, Chevron, and Shell) are taking billions of dollars in losses while cutting tens of thousands of jobs. Smaller companies are declaring bankruptcy, and investors are looking elsewhere for returns. Significant changes to when, where, and how much oil will be produced, and by whom, are already underway. It is clear that the oil industry will not recover from COVID-19 and return to its former self. What form it ultimately takes, or whether it will even survive, is now very much an open question.

Under President Donald Trump, the United States has joined other petroleum superpowers in efforts to maintain oil’s dominance. While government bailout programs and subsidies could provide the lifeline the industry needs to stay afloat, such policies will likely throw good money after bad. As Sarah Bloom Raskin, a former Federal Reserve governor and former deputy secretary of the Treasury, has written, “Even in the short term, fossil fuels are a terrible investment. . . . It also forestalls the inevitable decline of an industry that can no longer sustain itself.”

In contrast to an agenda that doubles down on dirty fuels, a wealth of green recovery programs aim to keep fossil fuels in the ground as part of a just transition to a sustainable and equitable economy. If these policies prevail, the industry will rapidly shrink to a fraction of its former stature. Thus, as at no other time since the industry’s inception, the actions taken now by the public and by policymakers will determine oil’s fate.

The Greenpeace activists are right. Whether the pandemic marks the end of oil “is up to you.”

Runaway Equality and COVID-19

By Les Leopold - Runaway Equality, August 2, 2020

Les Leopold looks at the runaway inequality roots of the pandemic response and police brutality.

What could be wrong about planting trees?: The new push for more industrial tree plantations in the Global South

By Winfridus Overbeek - World Rainforest Movement, February 2020

What could be wrong about planting trees? Haven’t communities around the world been planting a diversity of trees since the dawn of human civilization?

Yes they have. But in more recent times, companies have also been planting trees, especially in Africa, Asia and Latin America, and the way they do so is very different from that of communities. They cover huge areas with trees from one single species, creating vast industrial or monoculture plantations devoid of biodiversity.

Today, these same companies plan to start a new round of massive expansion. Exploiting growing public awareness and concern about climate change, they argue that monoculture plantations are an excellent option to help solve some of the world’s most urgent problems: loss of forests, global heating and dependence on fossil fuels (oil, coal and gas).

The corporate argument is that plantations will encourage “forest restoration”, can serve as a natural “solution” to the climate emergency, or help foster a “bio-economy”.

The simple truth, however, is that the industries involved want more plantations simply to increase their profit margins. And other industries and polluters are also using such deceptive arguments, in order to hide their contributions to an ever-worsening social and environmental planetary crisis.

In this booklet, WRM aims to alert community groups and activists about the corporate push for a new round of industrial tree plantation expansion. It also reveals why planting trees on such a large scale can be extremely detrimental, in spite of seductive marketing campaigns claiming that these plantations will or could be a “solution” to the climate crisis.

Read the report (PDF).

Resisting RCEP from the ground up: Indian movements show the way

By staff - GRAIN & ICCFM, January 2020

In the history of people’s resistance against free trade agreements, 4 November 2019 is a day to remember. On this day, bowing to immense pressure from peasants, trade unions and rural communities, India’s central government decided to pull the plug on its participation in the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), intended to become the largest free trade area in the world. The announcement, made at the ASEAN summit in Bangkok, has implications for free trade negotiations in the entire region and puts a fork in the wheels of unifying the Asian market – a project clearly favouring the interests of agribusiness and transnational corporations.

While countries such as Japan, New Zealand and Australia are making every effort to convince India to come back to the negotiating table, whether they will succeed is not clear. For now, Delhi’s decision has provided immense relief to millions of small-scale food producers and rural workers in India.

So how did a government that is overtly neoliberal, capitalist and with visible authoritarian traits end up bowing to the pressure of farmers and workers? To understand that, we need to understand the decade that just went past us.

Read the report (PDF).

A US green investment bank for all: Democratized finance for a just transition

By Thomas Marois and Ali Rıza Güngen - Next System Project, September 20, 2019

In ways unimaginable just a few years ago, public banking and its potential for catalyzing a transition to a green and just future have been catapulted to the center of political and economic debate. The reason: The greed-driven excesses of Wall Street and global finance that gave rise to the 2008-09 global financial crisis are now continuing to drive today’s global crisis of climate finance.

The financial sector today offers seemingly limitless access to debt for financing planet-damaging consumption but does not carry its weight in financing solutions to the climate crisis. Of the $454 billion in climate finance invested in 2016, the private investment sector, which controls 80 percent of all banking assets, contributed $230 billion, while the public sector contributed $224 billion. That is, with only 20 percent of total assets, public banks invest nearly as much as all private banks combined. The short-term, return-maximizing horizons of private finance have failed, utterly, to drive anything like a green transition. The future of climate finance must look to the public sphere, not the private.

We must also ensure that the green transition is just. The costs of the global finance and climate crises have fallen disproportionately onto workers, women, racialized communities, and the most marginalized in society. In the financial crisis, failing corporations got direct bailouts; their low-wage workers and the unemployed got imposed austerity as public support systems were axed. The challenges the climate crisis will impose on both the natural and built environment will also necessarily be faced unequally and unjustly. The most marginalized will bear the brunt of transition by virtue of existing structural barriers and in-built systems of oppression.

What is urgently required is strategy and action on a green and just transition for all. Democratized finance will be key. Low-carbon infrastructure needs constructing, local jobs protecting, fossil fuels need to remain in the ground, the planet needs cooling, and social equity needs action. Yet there is no hope of this type of green and just transition without financial institutions that can be democratically commanded to function in the public interest.

It is for this reason that we propose the creation of a democratized US Green Investment Bank (GIB). A democratized GIB has the potential to catalyze a transition to a socially just and environmentally sustainable future that is otherwise impossible under the short-term, high-return regime of private financiers (regardless of the extent of their financial resources). The GIB’s potential is, of course, only realizable within a grander strategy of socioeconomic transformation, such as is envisioned within the Green New Deal. The proposed design of a new GIB is meant to fit strategically within this evolving framework. Its potential depends on the GIB catalyzing structural change in the public interest.

Read the report (PDF).

Truck Driver Misclassification: Climate, Labor and Environmental Justice Impacts

By Sam Appel and Carol Zabin - New Economics Foundation, August 2019

The next great challenge for California climate policy lies in the transportation sector. Vehicles account for fully 40% of all greenhouse gas emissions in California, the most of any economic sector in our state, and consistent and significant reductions in vehicle emissions remain elusive.

In the transportation sector, commercial trucking is a critical focus area for climate policy. Heavy-duty vehicles emit a fifth of all transportation-related greenhouse gases. They also produce toxic air pollutants that significantly increase risk of cancer and other severe health challenges for California residents, particularly in low-income communities of color.

To meet these challenges, California has passed and continues to develop new policies designed to accelerate the adoption of low- and zero-emissions vehicles in the commercial trucking subsector. These policies set increasingly stringent emissions standards for commercial trucks over time and provide incentives to buy down the cost of new vehicles and retrofits in advance of these mandates.

This report analyzes a major barrier to successful implementation of new clean truck standards: the common trucking industry practice of classifying (and often misclassifying) truck drivers as independent contractors rather than employees.

Contracting out truck driving shifts the costs of truck ownership and operation from trucking companies to individual truck drivers. Contract truck drivers, particularly misclassified contractors, earn low incomes and face high capital costs. While regulatory compliance costs for large trucking firms represent a small percent of total revenue, contract truck drivers face compliance expenses far in excess of their yearly income. Under the contractor business model, truck drivers least equipped financially to buy and maintain clean vehicles bear the financial burden of attaining the state’s climate goals in this sector.

This report describes the fundamental misalignment of the contractor business model in trucking with California’s climate goals. The report proceeds by discussing:

  • California’s policies to reduce heavy-duty truck emissions.
  • The environmental, public health, and environmental justice impacts of non-compliance with emissions standards.
  • The nature of the contractor business model, evidence of the widespread misclassification of independent contractors, and the consequent low incomes of truck drivers.
  • The direct link between low road industry practices and the failure to meet emissions standards.
  • Policy principles that can address the climate, economic justice, and environmental justice challenges in the commercial trucking industry.

Currently, the low road labor practice of misclassifying workers in the trucking industry undermines climate action by shifting the costs of emission reductions to the most economically vulnerable actors in the industry: contract truck drivers. Because drivers are unequipped to meet emissions standards, communities impacted by truck pollution continue to suffer the effects. With the correct policy levers in place, California policymakers have an opportunity to support a trucking industry that complies with climate policy and that upholds employment and labor laws for California workers.

Read the report (PDF).

Internationalising the Green New Deal: Strategies for Pan-European Coordination

By Daniel Aldana Cohen, Kate Aronoff, Alyssa Battistoni, and Thea Riofrancos - Common Wealth, 2019

Climate politics are today bursting to life like never before. For four decades, market fundamentalists in the United States and United Kingdom have blocked ambitious efforts to deal with the climate crisis. But now, the neoliberal hegemony is crumbling, while popular climate mobilisations grow stronger every month. There has never been a better moment to transform politics and attack the climate emergency.

When the climate crisis first emerged into public consciousness in the 1980s, Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan were consolidating a neoliberal doctrine that banished the most powerful tools to confront global heating— public investment and collective action.

Instead, neoliberals sought to free markets from democratically imposed constraints and the power of mass mobilisation. Thatcher insisted that there was no alternative to letting corporations run roughshod over people and planet alike in the name of profit. Soon, New Democrats and New Labour agreed. While the leaders of the third way spoke often of climate change, their actual policies let fossil capital keep drilling and burning. Afraid to intervene aggressively in markets, they did far too little to build a clean energy alternative.

Then the financial crisis of 2008 and the left revival that exploded in its wake laid bare the failures of the neoliberal project. An alternative political economic project is now emerging—and not a moment too soon. As the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change put it, keeping global warming below catastrophic levels will require “rapid, far-reaching and unprecedented changes in all aspects of society.” In other words: public investment and collective action.

Fortunately, movements on both sides of the Atlantic have been building strength to mount this kind of alternative to market fundamentalism. On the heels of Occupy Wall Street and Black Lives Matter, Bernie Sanders’s 2016 Democratic primary campaign breathed new life into the American left and its electoral prospects. Jeremy Corbyn’s election as leader of the Labour Party, spurred by a vibrant grassroots mobilisation, gives those of us in the U.S. hope: if New Labour could give way to Corbynism, surely Clintonism can give way to the left wing of the Democratic party. In the U.K., drawing on tactics from the Sanders campaign, Momentum has developed a new model of mass mobilisation to transform a fossilised political party. It’s restoring the dream that formal politics can be a means for genuinely democratic political organising. In turn, U.S. leftists are learning from Momentum’s innovations.

The vision of the Green New Deal that has taken shape in the United States in the past few months is in many ways a culmination of the U.S. left’s revival. The Green New Deal’s modest ambition is to do all that this moment requires: decarbonise the economy as quickly as humanly possible by investing massively to electrify everything, while bringing prodigious amounts of renewable power online; all this would be done in a way that dismantles inequalities of race, class and gender. The Green New Deal would transform the energy and food systems and the broader political economy of which they are a part.

Read the report (PDF).

Working Together for a Just Transition

By David Powell, Alfie Stirling and Sara Mahmoud - New Economics Foundation, November 2018

This short pamphlet has been produced to launch the New Economics Foundation’s new programme of work on the 'just transition'. Our interest is in the practicality of change: the policies, processes, narrative and investment needed to accelerate the UK’s progress on 'just transition', here and now. Over the coming months and years we will be working at local and national levels to explore what is needed to build common cause and provide the right mixture of incentives and critical challenge to all parties to help unlock a new momentum for a 'just transition' for the UK.

It has been produced in association with the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung’s London Office, part of the international network of FES. The London office was established in 1988 to promote better understanding of British- German relations. FES's work in the United Kingdom focuses in particular on the exchange of ideas and discussion on the following topics: common challenges facing Germany, the United Kingdom and the European Union; economic and social policy; experiences gained from differing regional and local policies and practices; and a continuing dialogue between politicians as well as between the trade unions in both countries.

Read the report (PDF).

Jobs vs the Environment?: Mainstream and Alternative Media Coverage of Pipeline Controversies

By Robert A Hackett and Philippa R Adams - Corporate Mapping Project, September 2018

Much of the argument advanced in support of expanding Canada’s fossil fuel production centres on job creation and economic benefits. Politicians, pundits and corporate spokespeople who support fossil fuel infrastructure projects—such as new oil and gas pipelines—often evoke this rhetoric when they appear in the media.

This study examines how the press—including corporate and alternative outlets—treats the relationship between jobs and the environment. Focusing on pipeline projects that connect Alberta’s oil sands to export markets, it also asks which voices are treated as authoritative and used as sources, whose views are sidelined, which arguments for and against pipelines are highlighted, and what similarities and differences exist between mainstream and alternative media coverage of pipeline controversies.

Read the report (PDF).

Envisioning a Leap Forward: How We Can Replace Neoliberalism With a Caring Economy

By Cliff Durand - Truthout, May 26, 2018

In her timely book No Is Not Enough: Resisting Trump’s Shock Politics and Winning the World We Need, Naomi Klein calls on us to resist President Trump and the turn to reactionary-right politics in the US. She also reminds us that, even if we succeed, we will still be left with the conditions that gave rise to Trumpism in the first place. We’ve got to do more than resist Trump. She calls us to change the neoliberal paradigm that has guided (or rather, misguided) public and private life for the last four decades in the United States and much of the rest of the world. This is no small challenge, but without a new way forward, life will become increasingly unlivable. 

As I have discussed previously, neoliberalism is a renewal of the 19th century liberalism of laissez faire, free market, unbridled capitalism of the robber baron era. The 20th century social liberalism we are more familiar with is the opposite of that. Born of the crisis of the Great Depression of the 1930s, it accepts the need for an active state to protect ordinary people from the depredations of the market while also regulating and guiding the economy to make capitalism work. That social liberalism, or “social democracy” as it is also called, was the dominant public ideology in the US up through the 1970s.

But then, with the presidency of Ronald Reagan in the US and Margaret Thatcher’s leadership in the United Kingdom, a new ideology began to eclipse “social democracy.” Rather than seeing the state as the instrument for democratic self-government, this ideology saw government as the source of our problems. In this view, government should just “get out of the way” and let the market direct society.

The dirty little secret that advocates of neoliberalism try to hide from us is that government is still needed to structure markets so they will work for capitalism. For example, unions must be curtailed since organized workers bargaining collectively distort a free market in labor. Individual workers are to be free to sell their labor as they choose. Powerless as individuals, the “right to work” in reality amounts to a right to work for less. At the same time, investors can organize collectively into corporations and operate freely in the market. In neoliberalism, grossly unequal power relation between individuals and corporations is ignored or even perpetuated. This means that neoliberalism favors the interests of corporate capitalism over working people, and that neoliberalism is a project for unbridled capitalism. It is the default position of capital when unrestrained by popular forces.

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