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Defending Tomorrow: The climate crisis and threats against land and environmental defenders

By staff - Global Witness, July 2020

For years, land and environmental defenders have been the first line of defence against climate breakdown. Yet despite clearer evidence than ever of the crucial role they play, far too many businesses, financiers and governments fail to safeguard their vital and peaceful work. 

The climate crisis is arguably the greatest global and existential threat we face. As it escalates, it serves to exacerbate many of the other serious problems in our world today – from economic inequality to racial injustice and the spread of zoonotic diseases.

For years, land and environmental defenders have been the first line of defence against the causes and impacts of climate breakdown. Time after time, they have challenged those companies operating recklessly, rampaging unhampered through forests, skies, wetlands, oceans and biodiversity hotspots.

Yet despite clearer evidence than ever of the crucial role they play and the dangers they increasingly face, far too many businesses, financiers and governments fail to safeguard their vital and peaceful work. 

Our annual report into the killings of land and environmental defenders in 2019 shows the highest number yet have been murdered in a single year. 212 land and environmental defenders were killed in 2019 – an average of more than four people a week.

Read the text (PDF).

Pipe Dreams: Why Canada’s proposed pipelines don’t fit in a low carbon world

By Axel Dalman and Andrew Grant - Carbon Tracker - July 2020

Carbon Tracker’s modelling shows no new oil sands are needed in a low carbon world.

Prospective pipeline projects represent a significant expansion of capacity, with taxpayer support. However, new pipelines are surplus to requirements under Paris Agreement demand levels.

Canadian authorities face the challenge of trying to reconcile their natural resources development plans with their positioning on climate. Canada has previously having shown leadership on climate change issues, but its government support for pipelines – which are reliant on the failure of the Paris Agreement – risks damaging its credibility.

Key Findings:

Our research has previously shown that no new oil sands projects are needed in a low carbon world. All unsanctioned oil sands projects are uncompetitive under both the International Energy Agency’s 1.7-1.8°C Sustainable Development Scenario (SDS) and c.1.6°C Beyond 2 Degrees Scenario (B2DS).

All proposed new pipelines from Western Canada, in particular Keystone XL and Trans Mountain expansion, are surplus to requirements in a Paris-compliant world. Pipeline capacity may have proved a constraint in recent years, but under SDS, all future oil supplies from Western Canada can be accommodated by upgrades and replacements to existing pipelines, local refining and limited rail freight.

Even if discounts for Canadian crude narrow, new oil sands projects remain uneconomic. Western Canadian heavy oil trades at a steep discount to international benchmarks due to quality and transport challenges, averaging $25 below Brent over the last decade. Even if greater pipeline capacity reduces this to $10 in the future, in line with levels seen during previous periods of unconstrained supply, new projects still remain uneconomic under the SDS. Indeed, even if Canadian heavy oil were to trade at parity with Brent, which is extremely unlikely due to its lower quality, there would still be no new oil sands production under the B2DS and just 120,000 bbl/d would enter the market in the SDS – a level which would be covered by existing rail capacity.

Investors in oil sands face depressed cash flows in a low carbon world of falling oil demand and weak pricing, but will be forced to produce or pay the price due to inflexible “take-or-pay” transport fees for excess new pipeline capacity.

While take-or-pay contracts spread the impacts, pipeline investors still face financial risks as upstream production weakens. Uncontracted capacity will probably remain unused by producers, and contracts may cannibalise tariffs from other pipelines. Even take-or-pay commitments are subject to counterparty risk in a falling oil market.

The Canadian government’s stakes in Keystone XL and Trans Mountain could well prove to be a drain on the public purse. Under the SDS, government tax revenues and the value of the assets are unlikely to reach the levels anticipated at the time of sanction.

Canada’s leadership position on climate change may be undermined by its support for projects reliant on the failure of the Paris Agreement.

Read the report (Link).

The Pandemic May Be a Preview of Our Climate Future

By staff - Labor Network for Sustainabaility - July 1, 2020

Todd E. Vachon, faculty coordinator of the Labor Education Action Research Network (LEARN) in the School of Management and Labor Relations at Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey and an active trade unionist and member of the Labor Network for Sustainability, recently wrote an article in the New Jersey Star-Ledger. Warning that “The Pandemic May Be a Preview of Our Climate Future.”

Todd says,

Vital government agencies have been defunded, understaffed or put under the charge of industry hacks who do not believe in the missions of the agencies they are tasked with running. The production of vital healthcare equipment has been outsourced in pursuit of cheaper labor and lax environmental regulations. And perhaps worst of all, the Trump administration has refused to use all the tools at its disposal to protect American lives. These ideologically driven actions have left the federal government incapable of marshaling the health and safety equipment needed to help critically ill Americans and protect the courageous first responders and healthcare workers trying to save them.

He calls for a Green Stimulus and an Emergency Green New Deal (EGND) “to not only get our economy back up and running after the COVID-19 crisis but also to reduce the risk of climate-related disasters and to increase our general preparedness for all disasters.” He says “such an effort would strengthen the social safety net, decouple health insurance from employment, and create millions of family-sustaining green jobs while accelerating a just transition away from fossil fuels and toward renewable energy.”

Read Todd’s entire piece »

Exposing a Ticking Time Bomb: How fossil fuel industry fraud is setting us up for a financial implosion, and what whistleblowers can do about it

By John Kostyack, Karen Torrent, Laura Peterson, and Carly Fabian - National Whistleblower Center - July 2020

In the past several years, U.S. states, cities, counties and individuals concerned about climate change have filed important lawsuits against fossil fuel companies, asserting that the companies are responsible for climaterelated damage due to their carbon pollution. These cases confront “what might be the greatest scam in history,” in the words of historian Naomi Oreskes: the massive disinformation campaign designed to stall action on climate change by persuading decision makers and the public that it is not a problem to be taken seriously.

In this report, the National Whistleblower Center focuses on a related deception that, with a small handful of notable exceptions, is unaddressed in the climate change lawsuits filed to date: the dramatic understatement of risks posed by climate change to fossil fuel companies’ own financial condition and to the economy at large. We describe an important pathway to ensuring proper disclosures of climate risks: collaborative work by whistleblowers, prosecutors and regulators to enforce anti-fraud laws.

This report is a call to action for executives of fossil fuel companies and others with knowledge of improper accounting and disclosure practices, such as external auditors, to take the steps needed to obtain protected whistleblower status and work with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), other regulators and law enforcement officials to help expose and prosecute fraud. For the first time, legal strategies are provided for whistleblowers and others to expose and prosecute climate risk fraud in the fossil fuel industry. This is also the first report to use the methods of professional fraud investigators to identify fossil fuel industry financial disclosure practices that are likely to be fraudulent.

Climate risks—comprised of “transition risks,” the financial risks to some companies due to the world’s shift away from fossil fuels, and “physical risks,” those associated with climate change- related damage to property— uniquely threaten the finances of fossil fuel companies. Fossil fuel companies, fearful of losing access to investment capital and loans, are therefore highly motivated to conceal their exposure to these risks.

Concealment of climate risks is a matter of great public interest because when it is successful, it harms investors, the environment and the economy. Investors who provide capital to these companies suffer because they invest based on a false sense of the companies’ readiness for the transition to a low-carbon economy and for the physical shocks of climate change. This deception undercuts efforts to address climate change because it slows the shift of investments to businesses developing and deploying low-carbon technologies. It harms the economy by leaving financial institutions such as banks and insurers less prepared for the stresses of rapid asset deflation.

Read the report (PDF).

It’s Time to Nationalize the Fossil Fuel Industry

Robert Pollin interviewed by C.J. Polychroniou - Truthout, June 26, 2020

The COVID-19 pandemic’s impact on the economy provides a golden opportunity for creating a fairer, more just and sustainable world as it shatters long-held assumptions about the economic and political order. Its impact on the energy industry in particular can boost support for tackling the existential threat of global warming by raising the prospect of nationalizing and eventually dismantling fossil fuel producing companies, a position argued passionately by one of the world’s leading progressive economists, Robert Pollin, distinguished professor of economics and co-director of the Political Economy Research Institute at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst.

C.J. Polychroniou: It has been argued by many that the coronavirus pandemic is a game changer for numerous industries, and could change the way we work and the way we use energy. We could also see the possible return of the social state and thus the end of austerity. First of all, are there any comparisons to be made between the current health and economic crises and what took place during the Great Depression?

Robert Pollin: There is one big similarity between the economic collapse today and the 1930s Great Depression. That is the severity of the downturns in both cases. The official U.S. unemployment rate coming from the Labor Department as of May 2020 was 13.3 percent. But a more accurate measure of the collapsing job market is the number of workers who have applied for unemployment insurance since the lockdown began in mid-March. That figure is 44 million people, equal to about 27 percent of everyone in the current U.S. labor market, employed or unemployed. By contrast, during the Great Recession of 2007-09, official unemployment peaked, and for one month only, at 10.0 percent.

Can a Just Transition Change Appalachia’s Balance of Power?

By Morgan Hickory and Lydia Patton - Science for the People, Summer 2020

From Volume 23, number 2, People’s Green New Deal

Encuentre una traducción de este artículo en español en nuestro sitio web.

Mining and Nurses

“Biggest thing we got around here is that everything is based off coal. I’m not down on coal, like I said, I’m grateful for it, I love it, and whoever else still wants to do it, more power to you. I’ll back you 100 percent. But we have to find something else around here to support our economy. Mining and nurses the only two things you got. If you don’t put some other type of industrial occupation around here, something that’s not based on coal, then our economy is going to be destroyed. There’s literally nothing left for you to do. Like I said, it’s fast food, making minimum wage, mining, or nursing.”

--David Lee Brett, Jr., former coal miner in Harlan County, KY

A new generation of progressive thinkers, from slightly left-of-center Democrats to committed socialists, is proposing federal legislation for a sweeping economic transition away from fossil fuels. Termed the Green New Deal (GND), this proposal promises to phase fossil fuel industries out of existence and introduce well-paid alternatives for workers in these industries. Any federal project that begins as a policy idea, even if it is enacted by Congress, will encounter challenges on the ground. This is especially true in places like Appalachia, where highly localized systems of power, in place for decades or even centuries, funnel resources into channels controlled by the existing ruling class. Federal injections of money are a periodic occurrence in Central Appalachia, whether distributed through New Deal job creation and infrastructure programs in the 1930s or through humanitarian aid efforts initiated by the War on Poverty in the 1960s.1 Local apex families and entrenched government systems have adapted to take advantage of and benefit from extractive industries such coal. As such, the GND risks floundering in Appalachia if robust local knowledge about its people and politics is not built into the conception and execution of a People’s Green New Deal (PGND).

National Economic Transition Platform: A Visionary Proposal for an Equitable Future

By staff - Just Transition Fund, Summer 2020

Workers and families affected by the changing coal economy are facing a profound crisis complicated by unique difficulties. Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic and economic decline, coal facility closures, layoffs, and cuts to vital services were devastating to people and places dependent on the coal economy—many of whom are still struggling following earlier economic declines, the loss of manufacturing jobs, or inequality and widespread poverty.

For low-income communities and communities of color already disproportionately left behind by the status quo, the need for equitable and inclusive economic growth is vital. But, now, with COVID-19, these unique challenges are exacerbated. The closure of even more coal facilities is accelerated, giving communities little time to plan for the disappearance of their largest employer and the erosion of the tax base, which provides critical funding for public services, local education, and health care systems.

Read the text (PDF).

On The Front Lines: Climate Change Threatens the Health of America's Workers

When Flood Waters Run Dry: Hurricane Harvey, Climate Change & Social Reproduction

By Camilo Torres - contracted social reproduction. With hurricane season just ending, this essay will reflect upon and analyze why Harvey had such a deep impact on Houston, how contracted reproduction is being executed, identify the strengths and weaknesses of relief efforts and/or mutual aid organizing, and lay out ideas to advance future struggles around climate disaster.

Contracted Social Reproduction

For the purpose of this piece a brief explanation of contracted social reproduction is necessary. The lived experience of contracted social reproduction is a common one in many core capitalist countries of the west. Roughly, since the early 1970s, in order to stay afloat, realize value, counter working-class revolt and stave off crisis, the capitalist class has implemented austerity, broken up the production process, dismantled unions, and cut real wages.

The breaking up of the production process was a necessary move by capitalists for a number of reasons. For one, in the US, this helped to disrupt and undermine unionization efforts and workplace organizing by physically relocating the means of production to Latin America, East Asia and other parts of the world. Furthermore, capitalists were able to cut costs by finding cheaper proletarians and reducing or eliminating benefits offered to workers. This last point is significant because it prompted the lowering of the total social wage for proletarians globally. The non-reproduction of the class has plunged more proletarians into poverty and forced previously stable workers into precarious and deskilled work. This has resulted in increased exploitation and has generalized immiseration for many working-class people.

This reality continues as proletarians are increasingly taken out of the production process due to advancements in the forces of production that require less living labor. Capital is able to produce immense amounts of commodities, but through competition capitalists outpace one another as newer and improved technologies emerge, resulting in cheaper commodities. Yet, in capitalist society living, human labor is the key source in actualizing value. The expulsion of human labor from the production process causes the rate of profit to fall and crisis to ensue. As the rate of profit falls, capitalists must drive down wages below their values and reduce the cost of reproducing the working class. In order to do this, capitalists have to loot existing private fixed capital (machinery, buildings, etc.) as well as the means to reproduce labor power, like education, housing, and healthcare. This also includes public capital, such as roads, water infrastructure, bridges, etc. Nature is also a free input that capitalists use up as a means to boost their diminishing revenue streams. Coupled with this crisis is the emergence of proletarians confronting capitalism in the form of mobilizations against degenerative living conditions. 

How contracted social reproduction unfolds globally is uneven and varies regionally. Still, this serves as a basic summation of its central elements. Contracted social reproduction isn’t a subjective choice made by greedy capitalists, but an objective reality of this current period of capitalism. Now, let us look at how contracted social reproduction changed concretely before and after Hurricane Harvey. 

Future Beyond Fossil Fuels: California’s Just Transition

By staff - Sunrise Movement, May 1, 2020

You may have heard the term ‘Just transition’ floating around, but what does it mean? This webinar will focus on what a just transition means for workers in California, and how the vision of a Green New Deal can guide the much-needed economic recovery from the COVID crisis.

This video features IWW Environmental Unionism Caucus cofounder, Steve Ongerth, speaking on workers, unions, and just transition in Northern California.

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