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Victory for climate activists in the Dutch Courts and in Exxon and Chevron boardrooms

By Elizabeth Perry - Work and Climate Change Report, May 27, 2021

May 26 will go down in history as a very bad day for the fossil fuel industry for three reasons: in the Netherlands, the courts issued a landmark decision that requires Royal Dutch Shell to cut its carbon emissions – including Scope 3 emissions – by 45% by 2030. Also on May 26, activist shareholders won separate victories at the corporate annual meetings of ExxonMobil and Chevron. Bill McKibben reflects on all three events in “Big Oil’s Bad Bad Day” in The New Yorker , and Jamie Henn wrote “A Landmark Day in the fight against fossil fuels” in Fossil Free Media.

The case of Royal Dutch Shell is summarized by Friends of the Earth Canada in their press release , which also links to an English-language version of the Court’s decision.

“On May 26, as a result of legal action brought by Friends of the Earth Netherlands (Milieudefensie) together with 17,000 co-plaintiffs and six other organisations the court in The Hague ruled that Shell must reduce its CO2 emissions by 45% within 10 years.

…..“This is a turning point in history. This case is unique because it is the first time a judge has ordered a large polluting company to comply with the Paris Climate Agreement. This ruling may also have major consequences for other big polluters,” says Roger Cox, lawyer for Friends of the Earth Netherlands.

The verdict requires Royal Dutch Shell to reduce its emissions by 45% by the end of 2030. Shell is also responsible for emission from customers and suppliers. There is a threat of human rights violations to the “right to life” and “undisturbed family life”.

German news organization Deutsche Welle offers an excellent, more thorough discussion in “Shell ordered to reduce CO2 emissions in watershed ruling”, which points out that the case was argued on human rights grounds – much like the precedent-setting Urgenda case and the recent German constitutional case. In those cases however, governments were called upon to defend the human right to a future safe from the dangers of climate change. The Shell case is the first time such an argument has been tried against a corporation – and is seen as a harbinger of future legal action.

Response to Greg Butler's critique of the Green New Deal and the Rank-and-File Strategy

By x344543 - IWW Environmental Union Caucus, February 7, 2021

As stated in our standard disclaimer (at the end of this editorial), the opinions expressed in this text are those of the author alone and do not represent the official position of the IWW or the IWW Environmental Union Caucus. This piece includes very strongly worded opinions, therefore the author deemed it best to emphasize that point.

There are certainly plenty of constructive, comradely criticisms of the Green New Deal, Democratic Socialists of America (DSA), Kim Moody's "Rank-and-File Strategy", The North American Building Trades Unions, and Jacobin (none of which are either mutually inclusive nor mutually exclusive). Unfortunately, Greg Butler's The Green New Deal and the "Rank-and-File Strategy", published on December 17, 2020, by Organizing Work, is not a good example. In fact, Butler's piece is little more than a sectarian swipe at a number of targets which are only indirectly related to each other, and worse still, it's full of inaccuracies and unfounded claims that have no evidence to support them.

New York State Divests Pension Funds from Fossil Fuels

By Staff - Labor Network for Sustainability, January 2021

New York State Comptroller Tom DiNapoli has announced that New York State’s Common Retirement Fund, valued at over $226 billion, will decarbonize by 2040. The plan includes interim trajectory goals, rigorous reporting, staff hiring, and transparency.

New York State is the largest pension fund in the world to take this kind of bold and comprehensive climate action. The announcement follows an eight-year campaign by #DivestNY, a coalition of more than 40 different groups.

Nancy Romer, chair of the environmental justice working group of Professional Staff Congress-City University of New York(CUNY)/American Federation of Teachers 2334, representing 30,000 faculty and professional staff at CUNY, says, “As state workers, we stand in solidarity with other state workers who can rest assured that their hard-earned pension funds will be protected from the failing fossil fuel sector of our economy and from the destructive effects it has on our planet’s climate.” Doug Bullock, a state pensioner and Albany County Central Federation of Labor first Vice President, says:

I urge the members and leadership of my union the Public Employees Federation and CSEA (Civil Service Employees Association) and NYSUT (New York State United Teachers) to support “decarbonize the NYS Pension Fund” which includes divesting from fossil fuel corporations and is a major step forward by Comptroller DiNapoli. This divestment will be converted to investing in renewable and sustainable energy sources, making our fund more fiscally responsible and valuable during the climate change crisis. The Albany County Central Federation of Labor passed a resolution supporting divestment in fossil fuels as did the Troy Area Labor Council (TALC). As First Vice President of ACCFL and Delegate to TALC, I urge the entire labor movement to decarbonize pension funds.”

DivestNY and Local unions in NYSUT are now calling for fossil fuel divestment from the New York State Teachers Retirement System as a next step.

New York’s Building Trades Unions Are Showing the Way Forward on Green Jobs

By Paul Prescod - Jacobin, December 8, 2020

We can’t win and carry out a Green New Deal without winning building trades workers and unions to an environmentalist agenda that also benefits them. New York’s recently announced massive investment in offshore wind, high-speed rail, and more, backed by both labor and environmental groups, shows how it can be done.

The “jobs vs. environment” debate has raged on since the idea of a Green New Deal rose to national prominence in recent years. Despite being explicitly framed as a jobs program, the right wing continues to (sometimes successfully) wield the program as a weapon in the culture war, portraying it as kooky at best and anti-worker at worst.

New York state unions and environmentalists have ignored that framing, instead rolling up their sleeves and spending the last six years forging a strong alliance rooted in a concrete program for renewable energy job growth. This work is starting to yield results.

In 2019, New York governor Andrew Cuomo announced plans for investment in a massive offshore wind project with the Danish company Ørsted. The project is key for the state’s goal of obtaining 70 percent of its energy from renewable energy by 2030.

Last week, North America’s Building Trades Unions (NABTU), an alliance of fourteen national and international unions representing over three million construction workers, announced a landmark project labor agreement with Ørsted to complete the project. The agreement guarantees that the building of these offshore wind turbines will be done with union labor at prevailing wages. If built to its capacity, the project would support thirty gigawatts of offshore wind capacity that could supply millions of homes with clean energy, as well as create an estimated 83,000 quality union jobs.

“Today’s agreement expands career pathways of opportunities for our members to flourish in this transition,” said Sean McGarvey, president of NABTU. “Our highly trained men and women professionals have the best craft skills in the world, and now will gain new experience in deep-water ocean work.”

The skills of welders, pipe fitters, carpenters, utility workers, and many others will be needed to complete this project. The political implications of this initiative could reverberate well beyond New York, and should serve as a model for activists looking to build labor-environmental alliances across the country. The Ørsted project labor agreement is showing workers that green jobs are real, and green jobs are here to stay.

The Huntley Experiment

By Richard Lipsitz and Rebecca Newberry, Labor Network for Sustainability, May 9, 2017

As the Huntley coal-fired power plant in Tonawanda, NY, a working class suburb of Buffalo, NY, began cutting back on its production, the company began cutting back on its payments to the town; as a result, three schools were closed and 135 school employees lost their jobs. The workforce at the plant was slashed from 125 to 75. In response to the likely closing of the plant, the Kenmore-Tonawanda Teachers Association, the IBEW, the Western New York Area Labor Federation, and the Clean Air Coalition formed the Huntley Alliance.

They won funding from the new state Fossil Fuel Plant Closure Fund to offset lost tax revenue. And they are continuing to campaign for jobs and/or retraining for those employed at the plant and reuse of the plant for activities that will enhance the economic and cultural life of the community. Richard Lipsitz, President of the Western New York Labor Federation, and Rebecca Newberry, Executive Director of the Clean Air Coalition of Western New York, tell the inside story of this successful effort in “Huntley, a Case Study: Building Strategic Alliances for Real Change.”

[Full Text] of the case study

The subways should be free

By Christopher Baum - Socialist Worker, February 1, 2019

But socialists should also use this opportunity to ask why anyone in New York — or anywhere else — should have to pay a fare to use the subways.

It’s time to claim public transportation as a basic right — a service that should be available to all people, and fully funded not through fares, but through progressive taxation of the city’s wealthy businesses and individuals.


AFTER ALL, while it is primarily working people who ride public transportation every day, it’s our bosses who reap the benefits from our daily commutes.

As Vincent Michael wrote in SW, “[V]iable transit systems are vital to the larger capitalist economy, connecting workers to employers and consumers to products, and enabling urban development, from which the real estate, construction and financial industries profit.”

Whether you’re a local on your way to work or a tourist headed into the city to see a show or do some shopping, capitalists need you to be able to get where you’re going. Disrupt the flow of workers or consumers by removing mass transit, and the whole system threatens to break down.

As gentrification pushes us further and further away from the central areas where many of us work, our commutes get longer, we spend increasingly more time in buses and our crumbling subway system, and our quality of life suffers accordingly — especially for those who work more than one job.

Meanwhile, those who can’t afford to pay are left with a choice of geographic isolation or risking criminal punishment. New York City has reduced arrests for turnstile jumping, but over 5,000 people were still arrested last year for not being able to afford a Metrocard, while another 53,000 were issued summonses.

All in all, not only do capitalists rely upon public transportation to maintain the flow of workers, and therefore the goods and consumers on which their profits depend, they also play a decisive role in setting the terms under which the transit system is accessed.

So why shouldn’t they pay for it?

Labor Network for Sustainability Calls for “Climate Solidarity” on Anniversary of Superstorm Sandy

By staff - Labor Network for Sustainability, Octber 24, 2017

On this fifth anniversary of Superstorm Sandy, it is time to recognize that climate change is a dagger pointing at the jobs and well-being of American workers.

Since Sandy we have seen storm after storm, wildfire after wildfire, flood after flood, all demonstrating the greater intensity that climate scientists have warned us will result from climate change. In the aftermath of Hurricanes Harvey and Irma, the Labor Department said 1.5 million workers were not at their jobs because of weather. And the experience of Sandy, Katrina, and other climate-intensified storms shows that the devastation to workers and unions continues for years after the immediate impact.

There is no escape from climate devastation except a planned transition from a fossil fueled economy to a fossil free economy. That will require change in every industry from manufacturing to construction to agriculture. And that will require millions of jobs. Climate protection is our best jobs program.

The transition to a climate-safe economy must be a just transition. We need to use that transition to reverse the growing inequality and injustice of our society. And we need to make sure that poor and working people are protected against any unintended side effects of climate protection.

The labor movement’s most essential value is solidarity. Summed up in the hallowed adage “An injury to one is an injury to all,” it is the recognition that “looking out for number one” doesn’t work, that we will survive and prosper only if we look out for one another. Climate protection is the new solidarity: protecting our brothers and sisters as well as ourselves from destruction.

NYC Public Pension Funds Fossil Fuels Divestment Campaign

By Nancy Romer - Labor Network for Sustainability, November 22, 2017

New York City Public Worker Pension Funds are on the cusp of selling off or divesting from their fossil fuel stocks.  How and why are NYC workers and climate activists so intent on achieving this?  What will it mean if they win this?  First some background.

Pension Funds are the Capital of US Workers

American workers too often feel overwhelmed by the power of capitalism in general and financial corporations in particular.  We may feel we have few economic resources with which to exert our opinions and defend our needs in a system based on money.  We may want to challenge “fossil fuel capitalism” that threatens the future for our grandchildren, but how?

Most American workers do own capital in the form of their own homes and, especially, in their pension funds.  Often the pension funds are managed with the support and participation of their unions or, more specifically, their union leaders. What if union members were to look closely at our pension funds and see how we could use them to create the kind of world we want:  investments in renewable energy, public transportation, affordable housing, public education, regenerative agriculture?

As a sector, pension funds are the single largest institutional investor followed by banks, investment firms, and insurance companies (Global Pension Statistics Project, GPS).  Approximately $40 trillion was invested by pension funds in financial markets in 2015 and that gives workers much more financial punch than we realize or use.

Pensions represent deferred compensation to workers and are negotiated through contracts on behalf of union members.  The intention is to provide income during retirement years. Workers have the potential financial power through collectively using their pension funds to both protect us through financially insecure times such as these and to have an impact on the world we want to see, the world we want to leave to our children and future generations.  Too often the second part of this formula—having an impact on the world we want to see—is totally ignored.

A growing number of American workers are questioning the wisdom of keeping their hard-earned deferred income in fossil fuel holdings.   Some unions, particularly public service unions, are joining the other financial entities, like universities, faith organizations, and foundations, which have divested their funds from fossil fuel holdings. Pension funds committed to divestment comprised 12% of all divestment commitments. Globally, a full $5.2 trillion in assets has been pledged to divest from fossil fuels. [Arabella Global Divestment Report, 2016]  That’s a huge start!  We are denying funds from the fossil fuel industry, devaluing their stocks, stopping to “feed the beast”, making fossil fuel corporations pariahs, like we did with tobacco companies that caused cancer.

What kind of system would let them freeze?

By Ellie Hamrick - Socialist Worker, January 11, 2018

IMAGINE LIVING in a place where temperatures drop into the negatives--and not having any heat in your home.

That's exactly what some New Yorkers experienced last week when the "bomb cyclone" storm hit the East Coast. As temperatures dipped to dangerous levels during and afterward, residents of at least 18 New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) complexes went without heat--and in some cases without hot water--across the city's five boroughs.

At the Woodside Houses in Queens, 3,000 residents in 20 buildings had no heat for at least three days, including the day the storm hit on Thursday.

"I've got every blanket I own, plus two sweatshirts and two t-shirts, and I'm still not warm," resident Juan Melendez told the New York Post. "It's fucking arctic in here...I can't feel my fingers and toes."

Without the heat that they are legally entitled to, many tenants turn to dangerous methods to warm up, such as using space heaters or turning on the oven and leaving the door open.

According to the National Fire Protection Association, space heaters are involved in 79 percent of deadly home fires. Leaving the oven on and the oven door open can cause fires or deadly carbon monoxide poisoning, and it also exposes residents--especially children and pets--to the risk of accidental burns.

Gonzalo Rivera, another resident of the Woodside Houses, said his family had to resort to leaving on the oven. "We don't like doing it, but it's the best we can do," he said.

In a city where landlords have virtually no obligation to maintain fire-safe buildings, the implications of buildings with no heat are especially terrifying.

Broken carbon monoxide and smoke detectors are disturbingly common in public housing projects, even though city workers are supposed to perform regular checks. NYCHA also has failed to perform lead safety checks, lying to the federal government and the public about it with New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio's knowledge.

Public housing buildings are old, flammable, deteriorating, and overcrowded, lacking even basic safety measures such as sprinkler systems.

This is simply a question of money. You can bet that Trump Tower residents stayed warm and cozy throughout the winter storm. But poor and working class New Yorkers are left to freeze, as landlords take their sweet time fixing old, broken heating systems.

Enormous cuts by Ben Carson's Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) will dramatically exacerbate problems for the resource-starved NYCHA.

HUD currently provides most of the funding for NYC's public housing. But the Trump administration has proposed cutting up to $370 million from NYCHA in 2018. Those cuts would mean a 68 percent reduction of NYCHA's capital budget and a 13 percent reduction of its operating budget--and, of course, there would be no possibility of devoting additional resources to implementing desperately needed improvements.

This means more people will go without heat and hot water in dangerously cold weather. This means no safety upgrades. This means poor people will die.

Prison Drinking Water and Wastewater Pollution Threaten Environmental Safety Nationwide

By John E. Dannenberg - Prison Legal News, November 15, 2017

Aging infrastructure concerns are not limited to America's highways, bridges and dams. Today, crumbling, overcrowded prisons and jails nationwide are bursting at the seams -- literally -- leaking environmentally dangerous effluents not just inside prisons, but also into local rivers, water tables and community water supplies. Because prisons are inherently detested and ignored institutions, the hidden menace of pollution from them has stayed below the radar. In this report, PLN exposes the magnitude and extent of the problem from data collected over the past several years from seventeen states.

Alabama

The Alabama Department of Corrections (ADOC) has been ignoring complaints of wastewater pollution from its prisons since 1991. Back then, the problem was limited to leaking sewage from the St. Clair prison. Although the Alabama Legislature promised to provide the $2.3 million needed to build a new wastewater treatment plant that would match St. Clair's vastly expanded population, no money has been appropriated.

Today, the problem has grown statewide and includes pollution from ADOC's Draper, Elmore, Fountain/Holman, Limestone prisons and the Farcquhar Cattle Ranch and Red Eagle Honor Farm. The problem has drawn the ire of the private watchdog group, Black Warrior Riverkeeper (BWR) and of the state Attorney General (AG), both of whom have filed lawsuits against ADOC. The AG's office claims ADOC is violating the Alabama Water Pollution Control Act (Act) by dumping raw sewage into Little Canoe Creek, from which it flows into the Coosa River. The AG has demanded that ADOC fix the problems and pay fines for the damage they have caused. All parties acknowledge that the problems stem from ADOC's doubling of its population to 28,000, while the wastewater treatment facilities were designed for less than half that number.

The environmental damage is huge. ADOC is pumping extremely high levels of toxic ammonia, fecal coliform, viruses, and parasites into local streams and rivers. When raw sewage hits clean water, it sucks up the available dissolved oxygen to aid decomposition. But in so doing, it asphyxiates aquatic plants and animals that depend on that oxygen.
Telltale disaster signs include rising water temperatures and the appearance of algae blooms. The pollution renders public waterways unfit for human recreation as well.

BWR notes in its suit that Donaldson State Prison has committed 1,060 violations of the Clean Water Act since 1999, dumping raw sewage into Big Branch and Valley creeks, and thence into the Black Warrior River. BWR seeks fines for the violations, which could range from $100 to $25,000 each. Peak overflows were documented at 808,000 gallons in just one day, which isn't surprising for a wastewater treatment plant designed to handle a maximum of 270,000 gallons per day. Donaldson, designed to hold only 990 prisoners, has 1,500 today.

One path to reformation was found in turning over wastewater treatment to privately-run local community water treatment districts. Donaldson came into compliance with its wastewater permit after contracting with Alabama Utility Services in 2005. Limestone and other ADOC prisons are now seeking privatization solutions.

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