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Just Transition

From the Valleys to the Beaches, New Coal Mines Bring Fear not Hope

By Mat Hope - DeSmog UK, November 29, 2017

In 2015, the UK government promised to phase out coal power. In April this year, the country had its first coal power-free day since the industrial revolution. Last month, climate minister Claire Perry stood with 20 of her international counterparts and promised to “power past coal”.

The British coal industry is dead, isn’t it?

In the UK, there is the impression that the streams of miners leaving the pits like grubby-faced lords of the underworld are a thing of the past. That the pickets, police, projectiles and — ultimately — poverty, are the stuff of history textbooks. And that the trucks, noise, dust, and heaps of blackened spoil exist only in isolated pockets of the isle… and not for much longer.

Yet, in two communites hundreds of miles apart, residents are confronted with a very different picture.

In Wales’ lush green valleys, there is electrician Eddy Blanche, telling me how he’s given his all in a fight to save his granddaughter’s future. There is hometown oldboy Roy Thomas, carefully photographing all the rubble, mudslides, and other miscallaneous fallout from the huge open hole next to his home. And there is Isobel Tarr and her campaigner colleagues, offering a helping hand, trying to think of new ways to make this industry stop. Now.

Then, a six-hour drive to the North East on a beautiful stretch of Northumbrian coast, there is craft worker Lynne Tate, walking her dogs on the beach every day, before pouring over the details of a traffic survey back home. There is Rob Noyes, recently graduated and working full-time now as an environmental coordinator, still raging from his student days at the hypocrisy of companies stuck in the past. And Andrew Stark, up for Uni, wondering why the concerns of his generation continue to be ignored.

The two groups have never met, but they have one thing binding them: opencast coal mining. As far as they are concerned, coal is alive and kicking — hard.

Remake Puerto Rico’s power grid and create a universal basic income

By Elsie Bryant  - Climate Change News, December 6, 2017

Hurricane Maria, which made landfall at the end of September, left the island of Puerto Rico without energy, as more than three-quarters of its energy infrastructure was lost to the storm.

As Puerto Ricans sought help in restoring power to the people, for green energy enthusiasts, the destruction of Hurricane Maria was an opportunity to rethink – not just rebuild – Puerto Rico’s energy infrastructure by going off-grid with solar energy.

Puerto Rico has a once in a lifetime opportunity to rethink how it gets electricity”, wrote Earther journalist, Brian Kahn; “Solar industry wants to build Puerto Rico’s grid of the future” was the Bloomberg headline. Even the energy and environment minister for the Maldives, Thoriq Ibrahim, weighed in: “Puerto Rico hurricane shows islands must have renewable energy,” he wrote. Elon Musk has been one of the more prominent players in the space, with his company Tesla offering solar systems and batteries.

While any move away from fossil fuels is welcome, we need to think bigger about what resilience could mean for Puerto Rico. There’s an even larger opportunity here to transform Puerto Rico, where before the natural disaster happened, an economic and social crisis has been playing out for nearly a decade.

Puerto Rico’s economy has been in recession for over 10 years, the population is in drastic decline and the household income is less than half of what it is in the poorest US state. All the while, the island’s debt burden continues to grow, making private firms very rich. A resilient Puerto Rico needs not just a new grid but a new economic system, one that is localised and community driven, with Puerto Ricans owning and managing those resources.

This is not a vision that Puerto Ricans are waiting for the wider world to bring to them. Ángel Figueroa Jaramillo, head of Utier, the electrical workers’ union in Puerto Rico, told reporters “solar power and wind power in Puerto Rico is really the key to the future of the island’s energy independence”, adding that “all the alternatives have to be owned by the community”.

The benefits of community ownership are clear when the evidence shows that some of the most resilient communities following the hurricane were cooperatives such as the Cooperativa de Vivienda Ciudad Universitaria. The co-op is a community of over 1000 people, who as the Orlando Sentinel reported, “learned to formalise the neighbour-to-neighbour mentality so well that in situations of crisis – such as this one – they don’t have to wait for the government to show up or feel the need to flee”.

Thinking even more radically, the gains of a commons-based solar network, could be extended by advocating that dividends from any energy sold back to the grid could be redistributed to every Puerto Rican as a basic income.

In Poland’s coal heartland, miners defend their jobs but imagine a greener future

By staff - Climate Change News, December 5, 2017

Marek Wystyrk, 44, began mining at 18 and worked underground for nine years. He got a degree and worked his way up Kompania Węglowa, Poland’s largest coal mining company, to become a transport coordinator.

Coming from the Upper Silesian town of Rydułtowy, he believes Poland should keep exploiting its coal reserves, which could last for decades. Wystyrk has seen the deprivation left by mines closing nearby.

At the same time, he is preparing his three children for life after coal. “I asked my son to study environmental protection,” says Wystyrk about the eldest, who is at a vocational school. “But I don’t know what will come out of that, because he loves theatre. My own father told me not to become a miner, but I did it anyway.”

Wystyrk’s ambivalence is common in Upper Silesia, Poland’s hard coal heartland. The people are proud of their industrial heritage but increasingly aware of its polluting legacy; torn between defending the jobs they know and creating a greener future.

It is a tension that will come under the spotlight in December 2018, when regional centre Katowice hosts the annual UN climate change summit.

The Polish government has committed to keeping the coal industry alive.

“The Polish mining and power industry have good prospects,’ said prime minister Beata Szydło – herself the daughter of a Silesian miner – in August at a mining event in Katowice. “We want to build the Polish power industry and economy based on a safe energy mix where hard coal and lignite will have a prominent place.”

Her Law and Justice Party (PiS) positions itself as a champion of the country’s coal miners, which numbered nearly 100,000 in 2015, according to industry group Euracoal. The domestically produced fuel is seen as key to Poland’s energy security.

But state support comes at a cost: financial, environmental and political.

Polish hard coal is expensive. It costs $76 a tonne to dig out, according to the World Bank, compared to an international price of around $50. Mining companies are making unsustainable losses.

Last year, in a reform meant to alleviate the debt accrued, PiS transferred Kompania Węglowa’s 11 mines in Upper Silesia to a newly created company, Polska Grupa Górnicza (PGG), and had state utilities cover some of the financial losses. The least profitable mines were transferred to a restructuring company, with a view to closure.

A toxic smog settles on the region every winter. While locals tend to blame traffic, much of the air pollution comes from burning low-quality coal in household stoves for heating. Coal power stations add to the problem, causing 5,800 premature deaths a year across Poland, according to research by ClientEarth.

And coal burning drives climate change. That may seem an abstract problem to Poles, but it is a major source of tension with Brussels. Warsaw frequently lobbies for carve-outs from EU climate policy to benefit its coal industry – and other member states push back.

Back in Upper Silesia, miners watching the government’s restructuring plan are hoping for the best but waiting for the other shoe to drop.

“We were told we will keep our jobs even if some mines close, but we are anyway worried that we could be fired in the future,” says Eugeniusz Gruchel, head of the ZZG trade union at Chwałowice mine.

“People keep saying that miners make good money, but the reality is different: young miners coming to work here leave after one or two paychecks because they can make more elsewhere or abroad,” Gruchel adds. “We should keep the young here, to work for us and for Poland.”

EPA Holds Lone Hearing on Clean Power Plan Repeal

By Kevin Ridder - Appalachian Voices, December 1, 2017

Scott Pruitt has been trying to get rid of the Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan even before he was head of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. And in October, he unveiled his proposed repeal, telling a crowd of eastern Kentucky coal miners that the Clean Power Plan “was not about regulating to make things regular. It was about regulating to pick winners and losers.”

But by repealing the plan and his management of the EPA in general, what is Pruitt doing if not favoring fossil fuels over renewables?

For the proposed repeal, it seems a cornerstone of his strategy is to make sure the public has as little voice as possible in the process. While the Obama administration held 11 public listening sessions and four public hearings nationwide before finalizing the Clean Power Plan in 2015, Pruitt has scheduled only one public hearing for its proposed repeal.

COPPING OUT AT COP, Avoidance and possibility in a burning world

By Dave Bleakney - Global Justice Ecology Project, November 30, 2017

During the recent Bonn summit a taxi driver provided a clear summary. Asked what he thought of COP 23, he replied “the climate is in crisis, but here, this is about money”. He had provided what had been missing inside. As we race toward certain and expanding catastrophe, he underscored that profiteering off a destructive cycle production, consumption, shipping, the unnecessary transport of products over vast distances and continuous growth models form the basis from which these discussions are framed. It is as though the elephant in the room is never acknowledged, with few exceptions.

How does this appear? In North America you can try this experiment. Turn down the volume of your TV and watch the myriad of commercial advertisements where someone is unhappy until they possess a certain product and suddenly, presto! Everything is great and everyone is happy. The same rubric repeats, again and again. Buy and smile. Smile and buy. Crave to belong as if this will somehow connect us together and create momentary windows of happiness while the earth burns. A crude system of modern feudalism has engulfed the planet where a handful of men – eight, to be precise – own half the planet. In this obscene reality a man can be worth more than a nation. Political leaders and major institutions act as though by convincing a handful of rich sociopaths we can save life on the planet.

Yet power does not, and never has, surrendered anything without a fight or creation of something new. Our uncomfortable future demands that climate criminals should not be enabled with our caps in hand with appeals to do the right thing – certainly those outcomes have been far too modest to date. The rules of the game must change that would remove them from their pedestals of power and our addictions to things we really do not need (and often having them increases the cycle and need for more) while altering the current definitions of value including patriarchal approaches thousands of years old of competition and “winning” at the expense of another.

At COP we are like hamsters on a wheel, living off the ripples of colonialism and wealth accumulation while discussing the speed at which the wheel turns through a series of silos and frameworks. What is needed is to get off that wheel and reconnect with our essence, the earth, and one another.

In this madness, the darker your skin the more you pick up the slack now resulting in myriads of climate refugees fleeing a crisis created while a minority of the planet went shopping. Under current conditions this phenomenon will play out over and over. Hungry people intent on survival will be blamed and shamed, even attacked for doing the only thing left to them: escape to a better place. When people are hungry, what can you expect? Famine breeds war and conflict. The world’s greatest militarist, the United States, built on dispossession has essentially been at war with someone on a continuous basis for nearly two centuries of conquest, often aided by one ally or another. Since 2001, that nation alone has spent $7.6 trillion on the military and Homeland Security in an ongoing war economy.

Little was accomplished at COP, a few very modest breakthroughs (or diversion) lacking any enforcement mechanisms or meaningfully incorporating a gender or Indigenous analysis into the core of action. While climate talks are essential, they are rendered ineffective by living in this bubble. One former UNFCCC official told me that people know this but are locked into a series of “frameworks” and disconnected silo building that does not dare upset the apple cart, a centuries-long mercantilism built on exploitation, greed and accumulation at the expense of the other and all living systems. This same system that uses the atmosphere as a chemical sink for profit. The oil continues to flow and the coal dug.

No longer can it be business as usual where the new normal is unprecedented and frequent catastrophic weather conditions (which can only get worse) and will be normalized for new generations. A tweak here and there won’t cut it.

Indigenous peoples appear to have a better grasp of living with the earth rather than against it as their lands continue to be exploited for resource extraction and profits. Indigenous voices are tolerated, welcomed even, but rarely is this wisdom applied to our reality. In the Canadian context, this vision is met by a system where Indigenous colonized peoples are undermined by super mines, pipelines and general disrespect.

It does feel good to see any progress whatsoever and we hang our hat on that. Political cachet can be earned by playing to domestic audiences as part of this theatre. No better example exists than the myth of Canada as a progressive nation and its new proposed phase-out of coal policy. Through carbon offsets, which shall keep the coal burning until at least 2060 and exports continuing after that date (hardly a victory). While presented as progress it is ineffective, and a diversion which obscures the continuing plan to build pipelines and keep dirty Canadian oil flowing. The tyranny of oil extraction and the use of the atmosphere as a chemical sink for profit remains while the human and animal population subsidize this senseless tragedy.

Who will take on international transport, shipping and aviation? If these sectors were a country they would be the seventh largest polluter where products that could be produced locally at less environmental cost are shipped vast distances.

What does this mean for workers? As we say, don’t oppose, propose. The Union I represent, the Canadian Union of Postal Workers know that a just transition out of destructive practices requires better approaches that we all need to be a part of. We live in a society where some work too much and others have no possibility at all. Incorporation of other more holistic and sustainable values allows us to step outside the box and refocus. Our Delivering Community Power initiative, driving Canada Post to be an engine of the next economy including the use of renewable non-polluting energy, transforming and retro-fitting post offices to produce energy at the local source and eliminate carbon from delivery systems– the latter which has already happened in over 20 cities in Norway (and is growing). Putting more postal workers on the street and less cars also means more face to face contact and added community value by checking in on senior citizens who are isolated. Postal workers have put climate change on the bargaining table. By incorporating Indigenous and feminist values of nurture and care into our future we shift the nature of work and become meaningful actors in solutions. This approach was energized and inspired by the LEAP Manifesto which calls for a restructuring of the Canadian economy and an end to the use of fossil fuels. This is framed by respect for Indigenous rights, internationalism, human rights, diversity, and environmental stewardship. We cannot leave it to corporations and politicians. We are all part of this solution now and have the opportunity to claim the space to do it.

The indigenous Ojibwe have a saying about the seven generations. They say that for every move we make, it must always be done with a view on how it could impact people seven generations from now. The leaders of this planet would do well to listen to that advice.

We require a new kind of COP. There will be no shopping on a dead planet and reassembling the deck chairs of the Titanic will not help. Creativity and better value systems can.

NUMSA and United Front Joint Memorandum on the Eskom tariff increase

By Irvin Jim, Trevor Ngwane, and Lindiwe Malindi - NUMSA, December 1, 2017

The National Union of Metal Workers (NUMSA) and the UNITED FRONT (UF) are extremely dismayed by the opportunistic call made by the Eskom board and its management to increase the electricity tariff by 19.9%. We view this demand by Eskom as nothing more than a gross abuse of power, and an attempt by the State Owned Entity (SOE) to hold the entire country and the economy hostage. This is being done by an entity which has been moving from one scandal to another with absolutely no leadership. In fact, it is extremely shocking that in a period of just two years, Eskom has changed CEO’s three times, and its CFO, Anoj Singh, has been suspended under a cloud of corruption and mismanagement allegations. But the same company and its board have the audacity to make an outrageous demand for a 19.9% tariff increase. They have no regard for the catastrophic implications which will trigger a national crisis of plant closures of small, medium and large companies; as well as causing retrenchments in all big companies. It will in fact destroy all opportunities to stimulate real economic growth and jobs.

Socio-Economic Situation

NUMSA and the UF are of the view that the economy has been in a technical recession for several months which means the working class of this country are facing a job-loss blood bath across all sectors. Currently more than 36% of the working population is unemployed, and the numbers are increasing. More than 30.4 million of the population lives in abject poverty; the average worker supports at least 5 dependents on his/her meagre income, and at least 26 million South Africans go to bed hungry. Any change in the price of electricity will compound all these problems and increase the chances of a violent explosion in the country.

It is against this backdrop that NUMSA and the United Front reject Eskom’s outrageous demand for a 19.9% tariff increase. The Eskom board are clearly completely deaf and blind to the suffering of the working class because they decided to make this proposal in spite of the fact that there is glaring evidence that the working class majority simply cannot afford an increase in the electricity rate. The United Front and NUMSA have decided to hold this demonstration to express our anger with Eskom for wanting to increase the suffering of the working class, by requesting a tariff increase.

Hamilton transit in the Age of Austerity

By Blake McCall and Caitlin Craven - Rank and File, November 29, 2017

Editor’s introduction: This is the second half a two-part series on how austerity has damaged public transit. In this article Blake McCall, a Hamilton bus operator and ATU Local 107 member, and Caitlin Craven, a CUPW Local 548 and local Fight for $15 and Fairness organizer, examine how decades of underfunding has undermined Hamilton’s transit system, the HSR.

Like all transit systems in the province, the HSR was the victim of city budget cuts in the 1990s stemming from provincial cuts under Premier Mike Harris and others.  A startling statistic is that the total number of buses on the street was higher in the 1980s than it is now, despite the city having grown in size. This unsurprisingly has seen a drop in ridership from 29 million trips per year in the late 1980s to roughly 22 million trips per year today.  In recent years the city has started to put more money back into the system, but it has never recovered from these cuts.

Olympia Stand Blockade Raided on the Twelfth Day

By Libertarian Socialist Caucus (LSC) of the Olympia Stand Blockade - It's Going Down, November 28, 2017

On the morning of Wednesday November 29th, 2017, at approximately 5:30 AM, a joint force of SWAT officers, Olympia police, the Washington State Patrol, Thurston County sheriffs, and Union Pacific police broke up the Olympia Stand blockade on occupied indigenous land of the Medicine Creek Treaty nations, specifically the Nisqually and Squaxin Island Tribes.

We were made aware of the impending raid the day before by an anonymous tip off from within the city, allowing us enough time to evacuate everyone safely from the camp before police arrival without injury or arrests. Nonetheless, the police raid was accompanied by officers in full riot gear and an MRAP (an armored military vehicle used by the U.S. military). Police officers marched through the abandoned camp, supposedly looking for more protesters, tearing down the tents, tarps and temporary structures that were built and maintained throughout the twelve days that the blockade stood. Police with the sheriff’s office were also seen destroying and removing valuables from a nearby homeless encampment that had nothing to do with the blockade. Throughout the morning, people suspected of participating in the blockade were followed and harassed by police and a local non-profit was surveilled.

This raid came on the very same morning that the Olympia Stand Indigenous Caucus was scheduled to meet with the Olympia City Council and the Port of Olympia. The police raid of last year’s Olympia Stand Blockade likewise took place the morning the Indigenous Caucus was scheduled to meet with a representative from Union Pacific Railroad. These are just two more examples of the countless betrayals that indigenous people in North America have faced in the last centuries.

Report on TUED Strategy Meeting at COP23

By staff - Trade Unions for Energy Democracy, November 28, 2017

On November 10th, during COP23, Trade Unions for Energy Democracy (TUED) convened a “Strategy Roundtable” in Bonn, Germany. The meeting was attended by more than 40 representatives of roughly 25 unions from 14 countries as well as several allies from the environmental movement, media and research bodies.

Union participants came from Argentina, Australia, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, Dominican Republic, Germany, Italy, Netherlands, Norway, Philippines, UK and USA. The meeting was organized with support from the New York office of Rosa Luxemburg Stiftung (RLS–New York). Participants were welcomed by Stefanie Ehmsen of RLS-NYC, and TUED Coordinator Sean Sweeney of the Joseph S. Murphy Institute, City University of New York.

The meeting provided a rare opportunity for unions that are not yet part of the network to be exposed to TUED’s analysis and to participate in a lively debate about the struggle for the future of global energy systems. Copies of TUED’s most recent working paper, “Preparing a Public Pathway: Confronting the Investment Crisis in Renewable Energy,” were circulated.

Setting the context for the meeting, Sweeney provided a brief overview of the 5-year history of the 60-union network, and the political origins of the “Resist, Reclaim, Restructure” framework. There was broad consensus among participants that the current, market-driven approach, focused on “mobilizing the private sector,” is failing to produce a just energy transition and that, given the Paris targets, there is an urgent need to pursue public alternatives that advance social ownership and democratic control of the power sector and the broader energy economy, including energy options, management, and research and development.

Participants also provided updates on recent developments in their regions, including reports on: the Philippines and the challenges facing trade unions under Duterte’s government; the September meeting in Buenos Aires on “The Energy Grid and the Commons”; the UK Trades Union Congress resolution to support public ownership of energy; developments and next steps to follow the June 2017 meeting in Geneva of TUED unions in Europe; why “Public Renewable Power” is gaining support among unions in Australia; latest developments in Canada, particularly Alberta and Quebec; and the recent sharp debate around the AFL-CIO resolution on climate change in the US. Participants also heard about ITF’s campaigning work on public transportation.

Identifying points of agreement and shared analysis, representatives of Friends of the Earth International (FOE-I) and Friends of the Earth Europe (FOE-E) also participated in the discussion.

Survival on the island of the portable generator

By Judith Lavoie - Socialist Worker, November 28, 2017

IT IS now more than two months after Hurricane Maria struck, and Puerto Rican society is completely reliant on portable electrical generators.

Businesses and services that we thought were back to normal frequently have to close up shop because their generators break down or are in need of maintenance or repair. Everywhere you go, almost all the businesses that are open are only open part time--and even these have to open and close depending on when electricity is available to them.

Doctors have to postpone critical medical services such as CT scans because some generators simply can't sustain the machines.

These days, when we make any kind of plans, they are always tentative, because an unexpected power outage can quickly force us to cancel. These power outages can happen because of yet another failure in the electrical grid or because someone's generator has failed--yet again.

The government insists that 50 percent of homes have had electrical services re-established. They arrive at this percentage by taking the total amount of electricity being generated and estimating the number of homes served based on the island's maximum electrical load.

"This isn't the way it is done," said Matthew Cordaro, a trustee of the Long Island (N.Y.) Power Authority, told El Nuevo Dia. "The first thing you have to do is figure out how many of the distribution lines reach customers and how many have been re-established...What electricity is being generated and sent to the network is not actually being tracked. Instead of this, chaos reigns."

At the beginning of November, in the midst of the controversy about how they calculated the number of homes connected to the grid, the U.S. Department of Energy stopped counting the number of homes without electric service in Puerto Rico altogether.

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