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Coal Miners and the Green Agenda

By Robert Pollin - New Labor Forum, Winter 2014

From 2014...

In June 2012, President Obama announced his “Climate Action Plan.” This is his administration’s major second-term initiative to re-energize its agenda around fighting climate change and supporting major new investments in clean energy.

The primary focus of the Action Plan is the administration’s program to dramatically reduce carbon emissions from the country’s electricity utility plants. These emissions result primarily from burning coal, but also natural gas, to produce electricity. Carbon emissions from electricity generation represent about one-third of all greenhouse gas emissions produced by all sources within the U.S. economy today. It is evident that these emissions need to be cut dramatically if we are going to stop playing Russian roulette with the environment.

New Regulations and Technologies Are Not Enough

The administration’s strategy for achieving these emissions cuts is to begin strictly enforc-ing the existing air pollution regulations estab-lished as part of the 1990 Clean Air Act.

The administration is taking this approach because it allows them to avoid asking Congress to either spend more money or pass new regulations.The administration expects that the utility companies can achieve the needed emissions reductions through a technological fix: the introduction of carbon capture and sequestra-tion (CCS) processes, through which, they believe, coal and natural gas could burn cleanly. This is how the phrase “clean coal” has begun to emerge on billboards and TV commercials. CCS encompasses several specific technolo-gies that aim to capture carbon emissions from power plants and other industrial facilities. The captured carbon is then transported, usually through pipelines, to locations where it is then stored permanently—that is, for all time—in subsurface geological formations.

Opponents of the administration’s Action Plan claim that CCS remains unproven and, even if it becomes technically feasible, would impose heavy new costs on utilities.

In this instance, the administration’s critics have the weight of evidence on their side. As such, the Action Plan faces two fundamental problems. First, as there is no proven technol-ogy for delivering clean coal—or, for that mat- ter, clean oil or natural gas—the only viable path for dramatically reducing carbon emis-sions is to sharply reduce fossil fuel consump-tion. This, in turn, means that workers and communities dependent on the fossil fuel indus-tries will face job losses and retrenchment. It is therefore no surprise that even Democratic pol-iticians representing the affected communities are actively opposing Obama’s initiative.

Read the report (PDF).

One Million Climate Jobs: Tackling the Environmental and Economic Crises

By Jonathan Neale, et. al. - Campaign against Climate Change, 2014

This booklet is about hope in the face of crisis. The economy is not working. Mass unemployment has lasted for years, and will last for many more. And at some point gradual climate change is going to turn into swift catastrophe. Dangerous climate change is a consequence of the work of the hands and brains of many men and women. It will take the hands and brains of many men and women to undo the damage. So many climate activists, and several trade unions, have decided to fight to make the government create one million climate jobs. This report sets out our case. To halt climate change we need drastic cuts in the amount of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases we put into the air. That means leaving most of the existing reserves of high carbon fuels – coal, oil and gas – in the ground. There are thousands of things we need to do to make that a reality. But three of them will make most of the difference.

We need workers to build enough wind power, solar power, wave power and tidal power to meet all our energy needs. We need workers to insulate and retrofit all our existing homes and buildings in order to conserve energy. And we need workers to run a massive public transport system powered by renewable electricity. We have people who need jobs, and jobs that must be done. So we want the government to hire a million people to do new climate jobs now in an integrated National Climate Service.Our estimate is that those workers could cut our CO2 emissions by 86% in twenty years. We can also create another half a million jobs in the supply line. And we can guarantee a new job to anyone who loses their job because of these changes.

This booklet explains how we can do all of this, and why we must. ‘Climate jobs’ are not the same as ‘green jobs’. Some green jobs help the climate, but ‘green jobs’ can mean anything – park rangers, bird wardens, pollution control, or refuse workers. All these jobs are necessary, but they do not stop climate change. Climate jobs are jobs that lead directly to cuts in emissions of greenhouse gases, and so slow down climate change. For instance, workers who build wind farms replace power stations that burn coal or oil. Workers who insulate buildings reduce the oil and gas we burn. Bus drivers reduce the amount of oil we burn in cars. We want a million new jobs. We don’t want to add up existing jobs and new jobs and say that now we have a million climate jobs. We don’t mean jobs that will be ‘created’ by some mysterious market process by 2030. We want the government to hire 90,000 new workers each month to do new climate jobs. In a year we will have a million new jobs.

Read the report (PDF).

Capitalism Must Die (Stephanie McMillan)

By Stephanie McMillan - Open Source, November 16, 2013

The purpose of this project is to contribute to a collective process of analyzing our objective conditions and clarifying concepts in service to the struggle to defeat capitalism. It rests on, and elaborates, several basic premises. Premises:

  • The capitalist system is evil and omnicidal. It needs to stop.
  • It will not disappear or collapse by itself. If allowed to continue, it will devour all life on Earth.
  • Capitalism can only be eliminated by overthrowing it in a collective revolutionary process. It can not be reformed out of existence, escaped, or replaced from within.
  • Capitalism is a continuously expanding mode of production. Capital struggles for its own self-reproduction. Capitalists accumulate surplus value, which is converted into more capital, through the exploitation of workers as they convert the natural world into commodities.
  • The fundamental contradiction of capitalism is capital vs. labor. Its manifestation is the social relationship of domination of one class (workers) by another (capitalists). Its expression is class struggle.
  • The working class, or proletariat, is in an antagonistic and strategic position in relation to capital. In liberating itself, it liberates all the dominated classes.
  • The proletariat is the only class able to offer an alternative to capitalism. All other classes will tend to reproduce it or some other form of class society.
  • In the current crisis of global capitalism, objective conditions are ripening for revolution, but subjectivity (ideology, or consciousness) is lagging, weakening popular mass struggles.
  • In order to fulfill its historical mission, the proletariat must become class conscious and appropriate its own theory, which is the synthesized knowledge gained from its own struggles.
  • Theory is collectively constructed in the process of class struggle. It can’t develop separate from practice. In the dialectical relationship between theory and practice, practice is primary and determinate. Theory is for the purpose of practice, to transform social relations.

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Ecosocialism in a Nutshell

Arranged by Stan Rosenthal (Socialist Environment and Resources Association) - Writers and Reader Cooperative, 1980; (republished by Ian Angus - Climate and Capitalism, November 13, 2013

This booklet outlines in cartoon form perhaps one of the most significant developments in contemporary politics--the blending of the traditional concerns of the Labour Movement with those of the fast growing rcological lobby into a new concept: Eco-Socialism.

It has been compiled from the relevant parts of Nuclear Power for Beginners since this was considered to be the best material available for publicizing the new ideas in the most concise and effective manner.

Not only does the booklet trace the coming together of the Greens and the Reds, but it shows how you can help turn their vision into reality.

Read the report (PDF).

The Keystone Pipeline Debate: An Alternative Job Creation Strategy

By Kristen Sheeran, Noah Enelow, Jeremy Brecher, and Brendan Smith - Economics for Equity and the Environment and Labor Network for Sustainably, November 5, 2013

The Keystone XL pipeline has been touted as a means to address America's jobs crisis. But how does its job creation compare to other possible projects?

This study compares the jobs that would be created by the KXL pipeline to the jobs that could be created by water, sewer, and gas infrastructure projects in the five states the pipeline crosses.

It finds that meeting unmet water and gas infrastructure needs in the five relevant states along the KXL pipeline route will create:

  • More than 300,000 total jobs across all sectors;
  • Five times more jobs, and better jobs, than KXL;
  • 156% of the number of direct jobs created by Keystone XL per unit of investment.
  • President Barack Obama and others have criticized the KXL pipeline for its meager promise of 50 to 100 longer‐ term jobs. In contrast, water infrastructure operation and maintenance in the five relevant states alone will create 137 times as many direct long‐term jobs, and over 95 times more total long‐term jobs, than Keystone XL.

Proponents of KXL maintain it will be built by private investment without public subsidy. But the oil refineries that will use KXL oil, along with the rest of the oil industry, receive large government subsidies. All of the infrastructure work described in this study can be financed just by closing three Federal tax loopholes for fossil fuel companies. Indeed, taking just one tax subsidy now received by the refineries that would use KXL oil and using it instead for water infrastructure would create as many jobs as the KXL pipeline.

Download the complete report (PDF) here.

Fracking Capitalism: Action plans for the eco-social crisis

By staff - A World to Win, November 2013

The message has gone out to corporations everywhere: Britain is open for fracking. In response, campaign groups now exist the length and breadth of Britain in opposition to the plans to industrialise the countryside with tens of thousands of drilling sites. They are taking legal action, lobbying their representatives and protesting and occupying sites at considerable risk of police brutality.

But this grass roots movement is up against formidable adversaries. Corporations have the backing of the state and a public relations campaign led by the government is promoting the lie that fracking is safe and will lead to cheaper energy.

Yet public support for shale gas extraction continues to fall while backing for renewables grows. Government claims about jobs and lower gas prices are exposed for the grand deceptions they are. None of this will deter the Cameron government, however, which has thrown the weight of the state behind the frackers.

Read the report (Link).

Exaggerating the Employment Impacts of Shale Drilling: How and Why

By Frank Mauro, Michael Wood, Michele Mattingly, Mark Price, Stephen Herzenberg, and Sharon Ward - Multi-State Shale Research Collaborative, November 2013

Over the last five years, firms with an economic interest in the expansion of drilling in the Marcellus and Utica shale formations — and their allies, supporters, and trade associations — have used a variety of tools and techniques to exaggerate the employment impacts of shale drilling. These strategies have ranged from the use of inappropriate measures, such as data on new hires, to represent job growth to the misleading attribution of all jobs in “ancillary” industries to the shale industry.

A review of statements by representatives of shale drilling firms and their allies makes the motivation for this exaggeration clear — to preclude, or at least to minimize, taxation, regulation, and even careful examination of shale drilling.

Read the report (PDF).

Dealing in Doubt: The Climate Denial Machine Vs Climate Science

By Greenpeace - September 2013

This report describes organized attacks on climate science, scientists and scientific institutions like the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (the IPCC), that have gone on for more than 20 years. It sets out some of the key moments in this campaign of climate denial started by the fossil fuel industry, and traces them to their sources.

The tobacco industry’s misinformation and PR campaign in the US against regulation reached a peak just as laws controling tobacco were about to be introduced. Similarly, the campaign against climate change science – and scientists – has intensified as global policy on climate change has become more likely. This time though there is a difference. The corporate PR campaign has gone viral, spawning a denial movement that is distributed, decentralized and largely immune to reasoned response.

Download a PDF Version to view the complete document.

Reduced Work Hours as a Means of Slowing Climate Change

By David Rosnick - Center for Economic and Policy Research, February 2013

As productivity grows in high-income, as well as developing countries, social choices will be made as to how much of the productivity gains will be taken in the form of higher consumption levels versus fewer work hours. In the last few decades, for example, western European countries have significantly reduced work hours (through shorter weekly hours and increased vacation time) while the United States has not. Western Europe had about the same hours worked per person as the U.S. in the early 1970s, but by 2005 they were about 50 percent less.

This choice between fewer work hours versus increased consumption has significant implications for the rate of climate change. A number of studies (e.g. Knight et al. 2012, Rosnick and Weisbrot 2006) have found that shorter work hours are associated with lower greenhouse gas emissions and therefore less global climate change. The relationship between these two variables is complex and not clearly understood, but it is understandable that lowering levels of consumption, holding everything else constant, would reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

This paper estimates the impact on climate change of reducing work hours over the rest of the century by an annual average of 0.5 percent. It finds that such a change in work hours would eliminate about one-quarter to one-half of the global warming that is not already locked in (i.e. warming that would be caused by 1990 levels of greenhouse gas concentrations already in the atmosphere).

It is worth noting that the pursuit of reduced work hours as a policy alternative would be much more difficult in an economy where inequality is high and/or growing. In the United States, for example, just under two-thirds of all income gains from 1973–2007 went to the top 1 percent of households. In this type of economy, the majority of workers would have to take an absolute reduction in their living standards in order to work less. The analysis in this paper assumes that the gains from productivity growth will be more broadly shared in the future, as they have been in the past.

The analysis uses four “illustrative scenarios” from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), and software from the Model for the Assessment of Greenhouse-gas Induced Climate Change to estimate the impact of a reduction in work hours. As would be expected, the amount of global warming that could be mitigated by reducing work hours depends on the baseline scenario, as well as the range of sensitivity of global temperatures to greenhouse gas emissions.

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Good Energy, Bad Energy

Friends of the Earth International, 2013 - copied according to Creative Commons License

The world’s current energy system – the way we produce, distribute and consume energy – is unsustainable, unjust and harms communities, workers, the environment and the climate. Friends of the Earth International's new report demonstrates why a just, sustainable, climate-safe energy system is more urgent than ever.

Key points

  • Our current energy system is unsustainable, unjust, and harming communities, workers, the environment and the climate.  This is fundamentally an issue of power: of corporate and elite power and interests outweighing the power of ordinary citizens and communities.
  • The destructive energy sources on which the world current relies are driving climate change and many social and environmental problems and conflicts, including land grabbing, pollution, deforestation and the destruction of ecosystems, human rights abuses, health problems and premature deaths, and unsafe, insecure jobs and the rupture and collapse of local economies.

Friends of the Earth International believes that it is possible to build a climate-safe, just and sustainable energy system which ensures the basic right to energy for everyone and respects the rights and different ways of life of communities around the world.  To get there we need to challenge corporate power and exert real democratic control over the energy decisions of our governments.

  • We urgently need to invest in locally-appropriate, climate-safe, affordable and low impact energy for all, and reduce energy dependence so that people don’t need much energy to meet their basic needs and live a good life.
  • We need to end new destructive energy projects and phase out existing destructive energy sources, all the while ensuring that the rights of affected communities and workers are respected and that their needs are provided for during the transition.
  • To make the transition happen we also need to tackle the trade and investment rules that prioritise corporations' needs over those of people and the environment.
  • Our vision is guided by an idea called energy sovereignty.  This is the right of people to have access to energy, and to choose sustainable energy sources and sustainable consumption patterns that will lead them towards sustainable societies.

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