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Just Transition

Can We Earn a Living on a Living Planet? The need for jobs, and the ecological limits to growth

By Chuck Collins - American Prospect, October 13, 2014

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

It has been a tough couple of years in the effort to unite labor, community, and environmental groups, an alliance that has always been strained.

The extractive energy sector—coal, gas, oil—has historically had strong union representation and well-paying jobs. Tensions rose in 2011 after the Sierra Club escalated their campaign to close coal plants and, the climate protection group led by activist Bill McKibben, called for a halt to the Keystone XL Pipeline project.  Even Obama’s relatively mild order this past June on reducing pollution from power plants was opposed by the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) and the Mineworkers.

At a February 2013 meeting of labor and environmental activists, Damon Silvers, the AFL-CIO’s director of policy and special counsel, yelled and pounded the table, “Where is the transition plan for workers? Why isn’t this part of your demands?”

Divisions will increase in the coming years, as two competing urgencies collide. Labor and community justice organizations will demand jobs, economic growth, and reductions in inequality. And environmental activists will increase pressure to curtail fossil fuel production in the face of climate disruptions. Both the politics and the policies of these goals seem to diverge. But must they?

“Pitting jobs versus the environment is a false choice,” says Joe Uehlein, a longtime trade unionist, now board president of the Labor Network for Sustainability, which builds alliances between environmental and labor sectors. “We need to figure out how to make a living on a living planet.”

Should the feds bail out coal miners?

By David Roberts - Grist, October 14, 2014

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

I wrote yesterday that coal country is largely lost to Democrats, and that’s fine; they don’t need it to put together consistent national majorities.

Lots of people (via Twitter and email) complained that of course those voters are going to the GOP, since at least the GOP offers them sympathy on culture-war issues, while the Democrats offer them nothing. Why should they vote Dem?

Often paired with such complaints is the notion that Dems ought to propose some kind of large-scale federal program to ease the transition of miners and their families away from coal — a bold, populist, New Deal-style development program that would show coal miners (and other rural whites) that Dems care about them.

I was going to do a deep dive on this, but it turns out there aren’t many details or concrete proposals out there, and this kind of thing has a snowball’s chance in hell of passing Congress in a time of (ill-advised) fiscal retrenchment, so I’m not going to do a multi-thousand-word geek-out. Instead, just some idle musings.

Greening the Union Label: Zero Carbon Future Could Be a Jobs Bonanza

By Steven Wishnia - The Indypendent, September 12, 2014

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

From teachers to transit workers, civil servants to electricians, the People’s Climate March will have more organized-labor participation than any environmentalist effort in U.S. history.

More than 50 unions, including some of the city’s biggest, are among the organizations sponsoring the march. The Service Employees International Union, the nation’s second largest, has endorsed it, and its two main New York locals, the health care workers of Local 1199 and the building service workers of Local 32BJ, are heavily involved. Also on board are District Council 37, the city’s largest public employee union; Transport Workers Union Local 100; Local 3 of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers; the Communications Workers of America, who represent city employees as well as telephone and cable-TV workers; and the city, state and Connecticut affiliates of the American Federation of Teachers.

The sponsors also include labor-based groups such as the Left Labor Project and the Labor Council for Latin American Advancement, and “worker centers” that seek to organize low-wage and undocumented workers. Trade Unions for Energy Democracy is bringing union leaders from more than 10 countries, including the United Kingdom, Brazil, India, Korea, Canada and South Africa.

“Labor is marching because climate change affects all of us,” says Local 32BJ President Hector Figueroa. “We live in the communities that get destroyed by storms like Sandy. We work in the buildings that get flooded. We get hit by health epidemics like asthma that are rampant in our communities, and we care about the world that we will leave for our children and grandchildren.” 

“Labor has come to the conclusion that it is a workers’ issue, some of us faster than others,” says Estela Vazquez, a Local 1199 vice president.

How To Make Fighting Climate Change Work For Workers

By Andrew Breiner - Think Progress, October 2, 2014

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

At first glance, it looks grim.

The EPA indicated Thursday that industry in the U.S. released more carbon dioxide (CO2) in 2013 than 2012, the wrong trend when we need to be making large cuts to get global warming under control. Meanwhile a report from the Center For American Progress and the University of Massachusetts’ Political Economy Research Institute (PERI) shows that we’re nowhere near cutting CO2 enough to prevent catastrophic global warming. If we continue with business as usual, U.S. emissions in 2030 will actually be slightly higher than they were in 2010, 80 percent higher than they need to be. Even with the “full implementation of the best clean energy policies currently considered achievable,” what the authors call the “aggressive reference case”, we’d still be well above the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) target, by 40 percent.

EIA Reference Case is where the Energy Information Administration expects us to be on our current track. The aggressive case includes current efforts to reduce CO2. And the final case is the study authors' recommendation.

“I kind of fell off my chair,” Robert Pollin, one of the report’s authors, said in a phone interview. “If you look at the institutions that do serious models of our energy future over the next generation or so, they’re saying we’re not going to control climate change. That’s the most likely scenario. That’s shocking.” But this report makes the case that there’s still hope. “The results from our research say that we can achieve the emissions reduction target through very significant action,” Pollin said, but “we can achieve it.”

“As long as we’re committed, it’s not beyond reach.”

In the report, “Green Growth: A U.S. Program for Controlling Climate Change and Expanding Job Opportunities,” the authors lay out how the government should take action to cut carbon in extensive detail. On energy efficiency, for example, the report describes specific ways of improving efficiency, and how much energy they can be expected to save, from the realm of consumer appliances to industrial practices in the pulp and paper industry. And efficiency is where the authors expect to see a lot of progress.

Screen Shot 2014-10-02 at 10.06.21 AM “The single biggest opportunity,” Bracken Hendricks of the Center for American Progress said, “is the urgency of retrofitting buildings to use less energy.” That has the benefit of being a very labor-heavy task, as is much of the work needed to cut carbon. “When you invest in clean economy,” Hendricks said, “you’re taking dollars from extractive resources and investing them in high-skill, high wage jobs.”

The report estimates 4.2 million jobs would be created by its recommendations, and 2.7 million after accounting for the loss of fossil fuel jobs. With a labor market of 155 million, that might not seem like so much, Pollin said, “but in an all else equal world, that’s a 1.5 to 2% reduction in the unemployment rate.”

And lower unemployment means more bargaining power for workers. “It directly contradicts the notion that investing in the environment means job losses, that it’s bad for jobs,” Pollin said. The Green Growth plan would also include money to retrain workers who lose their jobs as the economy shifts away from fossil fuels. Since concern for workers is at the forefront of the report, Pollin said, “we’ve taken a lot of pains on transitional policies for workers.”

One million dollars in spending on fossil fuels results in only 5.3 jobs if spent in oil, natural gas, and coal, the report says, compared with 16.7 jobs if spent in clean energy investments. Spending on renewables not only creates high-skill, high wage jobs at a higher rate than spending on fossil fuels, but it also creates a good number of low-wage jobs with opportunity for advancement. “It really creates an opportunity to create career ladders and training opportunities into the middle class,” Hendricks said.

Government spending would be an essential part of making this plan a reality, but not nearly as much as one might think for an effort to contain catastrophic global warming. The total yearly investments, public and private, needed to make the Green Growth plan a reality would be only $200 billion, which is 1.2 percent of total U.S. gross domestic product. The total government expenditure per year would average $55 billion, which is 1.4 percent of the total government budget. “There’s a window to make the investments that need to be done,” Hendricks said, “but it’s a small window and rapidly narrowing.”

While there’s a lot out there saying in the abstract what we need to do to limit climate change, action can sometimes seem impossible and far-off. But this is an actual road map, Hendricks said, “on the investments in technology, infrastructure, and communities,” that will actually solve the problem. And it translates “into a very compelling roadmap on how to rebuild the economy.”

Climate Reckoning: My Family’s Coal Story

By Jeff Biggers - EcoWatch, September 24, 2014

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

Four years after the publication of my memoir/history, Reckoning at Eagle Creek: The Secret Legacy of Coal in the Heartland, I found myself sitting in the front row of an Illinois Environmental Protection Agency hearing in southern Illinois. It was a historic evening in Harrisburg, only a few miles from where Peabody Energy sank its first coal mine in 1895, and a few blocks from where I had sat on the front porch as a kid and listened to the stories of my grandfather and other coal miners about union battles for justice. For the first time in decades, residents in coal country were shining the spotlight on issues of civil rights, environmental ruin and a spiraling health crisis from a poorly regulated coal mining rush.

The total destruction of my family’s nearby Eagle Creek community from strip-mining was held up as their cautionary tale. The takeaway: Strip-mining more than stripped the land; it stripped the traces of any human contact.

“We have lost population, we have lost homes and we have lost roads,” testified Judy Kellen, a resident facing an expanded strip mine in Rocky Branch. “We have lost history. We have to endure dust, noise levels to the pitch you wanted to scream because you couldn’t get any rest or sleep, earth tremors, home damages, complete isolation of any type of view to the north, health issues, a sadness in your heart that puts a dread on your face every day, and an unrest in the spirit that we knew nothing of.”

A lot has changed in these four years—much of it troubling, and much of it inspiring.

After traveling to coal mining communities around the U.S. and the world, I have learned that my own private reckoning with coal in the great Shawnee forests surrounding Eagle Creek was only a prologue to our greater climate reckoning for my children.But first, the inspiring part: Faced with losing their homes, farms, health—and sheer sanity—from the blasting and non-stop war-zone traffic of coal operators within 300 feet of their living rooms—southern Illinois residents with deep coal mining roots in Harrisburg were taking a courageous stand for climate and coalfield justice. Meanwhile, former coal mining areas from central Appalachia to Germany to Scotland have begun the process of transitioning to clean energy economies.

Here’s the troubling part: Four years after the publication of Reckoning at Eagle Creek, Illinois is in the throes of a coal-mining rush not seen in nearly a century, recognized as the fastest-growing coal region in the nation. Since 2009, the state’s mining production has increased by more than 60 percent.

Broadening And Sharpening The Climate Justice Movement

By Margaret Flowers and Kevin Zeese - Popular Resistance, September 12, 2014

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

This is the fifth installment in a series co-produced by and Popular Resistance, written in the run-up to the People’s Climate March and Climate Convergence actions happening next week in New York ahead of UN Climate Summit negotiations. Read the first part here, the second part here, the third part here and the fourth part here.

The climate crisis is a crisis of democracy requiring a coordinated global grassroots mobilization to stop harmful policies and practices and build alternative systems that are effective and equitable. The climate crisis affects all of us and touches everything we care about. It will take a mass “movement of movements” to counter the power of money and corruption that prevents the change we need.

The last two decades have been wasted by political misleadership and, as a result, immediate action is required. A landmark report issued last week concluded: “By 2018, no new cars, homes, schools, factories, or electrical power plants should be built anywhere in the world, ever again, unless they’re either replacements for old ones or carbon neutral.”

We have a big task before us and need to build a global movement to make it a reality. Confronting climate change will require major political and economic transformations that will impact how we live our lives. We must transition from the Industrial Revolution to the Sustainable Revolution.

Making a Living on a Living Planet

By Joe Uehlein - Common Dreams, August 27, 2014

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

On Labor Day 1940, American workers faced the aftermath of the Great Depression, with mass unemployment persisting and a divided labor movement facing a renewed counterattack from corporate America. They were barely becoming aware of an even greater threat, one that would determine the future of their country and their labor movement: the threat of Nazi armies mobilizing for war.

On Labor Day 2014, American workers face the lingering results of the Great Recession, with unemployment still at historic highs, burgeoning inequality, and attacks on the very right to have a union. But, like workers in 1940, we are being pressed by another threat, one that will far overshadow our current problems if we do not take it on.

Today the American labor movement -- like the rest of American society and like labor movements throughout the world—is being forced to grapple with global warming, climate chaos, and climate protection strategies. The future of labor’s growth and vitality will depend on its ability to play a central role in the movement to build a sustainable future for the planet and its people.

Climate change changes everything: Everything about how we organize society, how we conduct politics, even how we think of progress. For us in the labor movement, it must change how we envision the role of an organized labor movement in society. 

Society will change—either through the effects of climate degradation or through a colossal struggle to avert it. Labor has to decide whether to fight the transition to a climate-safe society or to help lead it.