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Restoring the Heartland and Rustbelt through Clean Energy Democracy: an Organizing Proposal

By Steve Ongerth - IWW Environmental Unionism Caucus, April 29, 2017

The world faces a crises of enormous proportions. Global warming, caused by the continued burning of fossil fuels, threatens life on Earth as we know it, and yet, those most responsible for causing the crisis, the fossil fuel wing of the capitalist class, seems hell bent on doubling down on business as usual. In the United States of America, whose corporate overlords are among the worst offenders, they are led by the recently elected Donald Trump, whose cabinet is bursting at the seams with climate change denialists and fossil fuel capitalist industry representatives. Instead of transitioning to a clean energy economy and decarbonizing society as quickly as possible, as climate scientists overwhelmingly recommend, Trump and his inner circle would seemingly rather not just maintain the status quo; they’ve signaled that they intend to make the worst choices imaginable, putting all of the US’s energy eggs into the oil, natural gas, and coal basket.

Worse still, Trump claims to enjoy a good deal of support for such moves from the Voters who elected him, which includes a good portion of the "White working class" who have traditionally supported the Democratic Party, whose policies are just barely more favorable to addressing the problems of global warming (which is to say, still woefully inadequate). Meanwhile, the leadership of the AFL-CIO, pushed principally by the Building Trades unions, have doubled down on their efforts to continue to serve as capital’s junior partners, even as the latter continues to liquidate them in their ongoing campaign of systemic union busting.  Just recently, science teachers across the country began to find packets in their school mailboxes, containing a booklet entitled "Why Scientists Disagree About Global Warming", a DVD, and a cover letter urging them to "read this remarkable book and view the video, and then use them in your classroom," courtesy of the climate change denialist Heartland Institute.

One might think, given all of these situations, that…well, to put it mildly…we’re doomed. However, nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, in spite of the bleakness of these circumstances, a deeper look behind them reveals that fossil fuel capitalism is in terminal decline, that their hold over our lives hangs by a thread, so much that we the people, the workers and peasants of the world, have the ability to transform the human existence to one based not on plundering the Earth and exploiting the masses for the profit of a few, but one based on true grassroots democracy, free of suffering and want, and one that exists in harmony with the Earth. The key to making this transformation lies with clean energy, and the people who can make this transformation are the very people who helped elect Donald Trump themselves. One may justifiably ask, how is this even remotely possible?

This new organizing proposal, Restoring the Heartland and Rustbelt through Clean Energy Democracy, offers a potential solution and practical steps to achieve it which can not only break the reactionary tide, perhaps once and for all, but also can greatly accelerate the very necessary process of abolishing capitalism and building a new, ecological sustainable world in the shell of the ecocidal old by building an intersectional movement championing "Clean Energy Democracy". Such a movement has the potential to unite workers, rural and rustbelt communities, climate justice activists, environmentalists, indigenous peoples, and farmers of all backgrounds and revitalize a vibrant and grassroots democratic anti-capitalist left, and it offers goals that help address the intertwining crises of global warming, decadent capitalism, failing economies, and demoralized communities plagued by economic depression, racism, and reactionary nationalism.

While the burgeoning "resistance", loosely led by a coalition of groups and movements with a smorgasbord of goals and demands, many of which are reformist and defensive (though not undesirable if seen as steps along the way to more revolutionary and transformative demands) has so far successfully held back much of the worst intentions of Trump and the forces he represents, making the latter fight tooth and nail for every single inch (as well they should), such resistance still lacks the positive vision needed to truly meet the needs of most people, including especially the most oppressed and downtrodden. By contrast, Restoring the Heartland and Rustbelt through Clean Energy Democracy offers one piece of a revolutionary and transformative vision that can truly help build a new world within the shell of the old, thus putting an end to capitalist economic oppression as well as the ongoing systematic destruction of the Earth's ability to sustain life.

Download the Proposal (PDF File).

Third Memorandum or Grexit: What are the implications for the Future of Greece’s Energy System?

By Sean Sweeney - Trade Unions for Energy Democracy, July 18, 2015

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.

Presentation, July 18, 2015, Democracy Rising conference, Athens, Greece

Third-Memorandum-or-Grexit-word document (full presentation)

It is understandable that this conference, Democracy Rising, should be deeply engaged in the intense political debates going on in Athens and all over the world about the decision by the Syriza government to sign the Third Memorandum and not walk down the Grexit road.

So the future of Greece’s energy system is not exactly the stuff of intense coffee-shop conversations going on right now. But energy will be at the heart of the struggles in Greece in the years ahead, Memorandum or Grexit. Energy poverty has grown with austerity and recession, and Syriza has taken measures to protect the poorest and most vulnerable from, for example, electricity disconnections.

But it is clear that the structure of Greece’s energy system also needs to change. The “Institutions”, through the Memorandum, have a clear sense of what restructuring energy means for them—full-on privatization. However, a left restructuring would seek to address two major challenges: firstly, Greece’s dependence on fossil fuel imports and, secondly, how to take advantage of its potential to generate large amounts of renewable energy. I will return to this later.

(Working Paper #4) Power to the People: Toward Democratic Control of Electricity Generation

Press Release - Trade Unions for Energy Democracy, June 24, 2015

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 What Energy Democracy Looks Like

By Sean Sweeney - Trade Unions for Energy Democracy, February 25, 2015

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.

With climate change looming, we are facing an energy emergency. How can unions fight for change?

More to ‘pumped storage’ than meets the eye

By Lydia Graves - Appalachian Voices, February 7, 2018

Dominion Energy has been eyeing far Southwest Virginia for its latest project — a giant, hydroelectric battery, also called pumped storage. The facility would use cheap or excess power to pump water into an elevated reservoir during off-peak hours. By holding the water until peak demand hours and releasing it to run turbines when energy is needed the most, electricity is effectively captured and stored.

Although using energy to pump water uphill may sound counterintuitive, this project could be a way to make our power usage more efficient. Often, pumped storage facilities reduce energy waste by using excess energy from coal or nuclear facilities, so-called baseload plants that generate the same amount of power around the clock. The world’s largest pumped storage facility is in Bath County, Virginia, and is owned by Dominion.

Local solar is best

It is critical that any project Dominion constructs in Southwest Virginia benefits local people directly by generating the power onsite using cost-effective solar, drawing from the existing workforce and maximizing local economic impacts. The two potential projects Dominion is considering in the coalfield counties are forecasted to be roughly ten times smaller than the 3,003-megawatt Bath County site, so using small, onsite solar installations would be appropriate.

Solar is now the cheapest form energy generation worldwide and employs more people in the U.S. than coal, gas and oil electrical generation combined. Solar panels at the proposed pumped storage facility would capture and store the sun’s energy until the power is needed most by customers.

California’s progressive policies yield better job growth and wage growth than Republican comparators

By Elizabeth Perry - Work and Climate Change Report, January 15, 2018

A November 2017 report from the Labor Center at University of California Berkeley  examined the “California Policy Model” –  defined as a collection of 51 pieces of legislation and policy implementations enacted in California between 2011 and 2016 – and found that with progressive policies such as minimum wage increases, increased access to health insurance, reduction of carbon emissions and higher taxes on the wealthy, the state showed  superior economic  performance  in comparison to Republican-controlled states and to a simulated version of California without such policies.  According to  “California is Working: The Effects of California’s Public Policy on Jobs and the Economy since 2011,  the suite of progressive policies resulted in superior total employment growth , superior private sector employment growth, and higher wage growth for low-wage workers from 2014 to 2016. All the while, keeping the state on track to meet its 2020 GHG emissions targets.  The  environmental policies included in the analysis were: starting in 2006, AB 32, which committed the state to lowering its greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by 2020;  regulations under AB 32 in 2012 and 2013, which introduced the state cap and trade program;  SB 350 in 2015 and 2016,  committing the state to greater use of renewable energy and further improvements in energy efficiency ; and SB 32, which raised the emissions reduction goal to 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2030.  The report warns that  enforcement of labour standards and a lack of affordable housing remain as challenges facing the state, and also admits to possible weakness  regarding the second of its two methods of analysis, the synthetic control statistical method.

In the Shadow of Honest Journalism: GateHouse Media Publishes Atrocious Anti-Wind Article Devoid of Scientific Evidence

By Brendan DeMelle - DeSmog Blog, December 13, 2017

This week, Gatehouse Media published a long-form investigative report called “In the Shadow of Wind Farms” claiming that wind energy has caused negative health effects for residents living near wind turbines — a claim that flies in the face of actual science.

GateHouse Media’s anti-wind article leans almost entirely on anecdotal evidence compiled during its six-month long project that included interviews with dozens of people who claim negative outcomes from living near wind farms.

Meanwhile, in the realm of scientific facts, the American Wind Energy Association, the main trade group representing the wind power industry, points to 25 scientific reviews that document the safety of wind farms for human health and the environment. One health researcher has told DeSmog the GateHouse article was “simply irresponsible journalism” and actually had “potential to exacerbate the experience of anxiety and related health effects.” 

Although GateHouse, a syndication outfit that publishes 130 daily newspapers in 36 states, briefly mentions the fact that scientific evidence for these claims is nearly non-existent, it plows ahead with a lengthy article full of anecdotes and unsubstantiated claims that aren’t supported by real science.

How this piece got published in its horribly one-sided (anti-wind) approach is a question worthy of many letters to the editor. Whether GateHouse — which is notoriously quiet when asked questions by other media outlets about its operations — will answer or attempt to defend this attack piece, time will tell.

But there is no hiding that the anti-wind movement is clearly coordinated, which even GateHouse admits its reporters were told repeatedly by sources contacted for their piece.

Many of the people who do complain, several representatives said, are well-known among industry insiders and comprise a small but vocal group of anti-wind activists,” the article said.

There are a good number of people who seem to pop up in different states and fight any wind project they can find,” Dave Anderson of the Energy and Policy Institute, a pro-renewable energy watchdog group, told GateHouse.

But the GateHouse reporters failed to disclose important information about several of their sources, including some with extensive ties to highly coordinated anti-wind activism.

Canada, the World Bank and International Confederation of Trade Unions announce a partnership to promote Just Transition in the phase-out of coal-fired electricity

By Elizabeth Perry - Work and Climate Change Report, December 13, 2017

Canada’s Environment and Climate Change Minister is back on the  international stage at the One Planet Summit in Paris, which is focusing on climate change financing – notably phasing out  fossil fuel subsidies, and aid to developing countries.  In a press release on December 12,  Canada announced a partnership with the World Bank Group to accelerate the transition from coal-fired electricity to clean sources in developing countries, stating: “This work also includes sharing best practices on how to ensure a just transition for displaced workers and their communities to minimize hardships and help workers and communities benefit from new clean growth opportunities. The transition to a low-carbon economy should be inclusive, progressive and good for business. We will work together with the International Trade Union Confederation in this regard.”   The World Bank Group announcement was briefer : “Canada and the World Bank will work together to accelerate the energy transition in developing countries and, together with the International Trade Union Confederation, will provide analysis to support efforts towards a just transition away from coal.”  The ITUC Just Transition Centre hadn’t posted any announcement as of December 13.

Other Canadian partnerships announced in a general press release: a Canada-France Climate Partnership to promote the implementation of the Paris Agreement through  carbon pricing, coal phase-out, sustainable development and emission reductions in the marine and aviation sectors; Canada was selected as one of five countries for a new partnership with the Breakthrough Energy Coalition led by Bill Gates; and Canada , along with five Canadian provinces, two U.S. states, and Mexico, Costa Rica and Chile, signed on to the Declaration on Carbon Markets in the Americas, to strengthen  international and regional cooperation on carbon pricing.

The World Bank, one of the organizers of the One Planet Summit, made numerous other announcements – including that it will no longer finance upstream oil and gas developments after 2019, and as of 2018, it  will report greenhouse gas emissions from the investment projects it finances in key emissions-producing sectors, such as energy. Such moves may be seen as a response to the demands of the Big Shift Global campaign of Oil Change International, which  released a new briefing called “The Dirty Dozen: How Public Finance Drives the Climate Crisis through Oil, Gas, and Coal Expansion  on the eve of the One Planet Summit.  Over 200 civil society groups also issued an Open Letter   calling on G20 governments and multilateral development banks to phase out fossil fuel subsidies and public finance for fossil fuels as soon as possible, and no later than 2020.  Signatories include Oil Change International, Les Amis de la Terre – Friends of the Earth France, Christian Aid, Greenpeace, Reseau Action Climat – Climate Action Network France, WWF International, BankTrack, Climate Action Network International, Global Witness, 350.org, Germanwatch, Natural Resources Defense Council, CIDSE, and the Asian Peoples Movement on Debt and Development.

In Canada, Environmental Defence is collecting signatures in a campaign to stop fossil fuel subsidies , stating  “ Together, federal and provincial governments hand out $3.3 billion in subsidies every year for oil and gas exploration and development. In 2016, Export Development Canada, a crown corporation, spent an additional $12 billion in public money to finance fossil fuel projects.”

Beware the Green Corporate Scam: the 100% Renewable Façade

By José Madero - CounterPunch, December 8, 2017

A few months ago, Google announced that they will achieve their goal of being 100% powered by renewable energy in 2017 [1]. They are not the only corporation with such lofty goals. Google is joined by GM, Apple, Coca Cola, and more than one hundred companies who have also pledged to go “100% renewable” [2].

It would be easy to believe that this means a great victory for the planet, that the demise of fossil fuels is incoming, that environmentalism has won and that climate change will soon be a thing of the past. Yet the foul smell emerging from tax-dodging transnationals jumping all together into a bandwagon cannot be ignored.

Despite their claims, none of the companies in the RE100 list is actually going to receive all of its energy from renewable sources. The “100% renewable” label is a façade, a marketing gimmick used by corporations to pretend they are the good guys while their unfettered thirst for profits continues unopposed. This corporate lie is enabled by the abuse of Renewable Energy Certificates (RECs) which allow companies to buy their way into “green” without having to change any of their practices. Here is Google’s actual claim:

“Google will buy, on an annual basis, the same amount of MWh of renewable energy as the MWh of electricity that we consume for our operations around the world” [3].

Behold the magic of the RECs. When a renewable energy facility creates one MWh of energy, it not only creates electricity, it also gets a certificate, a REC, which states that one MWh of clean energy was created. The REC can then be sold, either together with the electricity or separate from it. The purchaser of the REC can then claim to have bought “green energy” without having ever done so. This means that you can buy 100 MWhs from your local utility provider, most likely produced in coal or natural gas power plants, and as long as you also buy 100MWhs worth of RECs, you can claim to be “powered by 100% renewables” even if that clearly is not the case. In that sense, RECs are the ultimate virtue signalers. They allow corporations to proudly wear the green badge without having to change in any way their energy consumption.

The GOP Tax Bill Assaults the Planet as Well as the Poor

By Basav Sen - Common Dreams, December 5, 2017

If you are an average American, your government has just declared war against you. Unless you happen to be an oligarch. I’m talking, of course, about the monstrosity of a tax bill that Congress looks set to pass.

With good reason, only about one-third of Americans support the bill, since its primary purpose is to cut taxes for corporations and fabulously wealthy people at all costs.

The costs are high indeed, since the bill systematically raises taxes on struggling lower to middle income people. It gets rid of taxpayers’ ability to deduct state and local taxes paid from their taxable income, which is a form of double taxation. While this increases everyone’s taxes, struggling working people will feel the pain of this double taxation more than oligarchs. Make the Poor (and the Middle Class) Pay Again. And Again.

It also ends the deductibility of large medical expenses, effectively a large tax increase for the seriously ill, especially the uninsured or underinsured among them. Make the Sick Bankrupt Again.

In an all-out assault on higher education, it turns tuition reductions or waivers for graduate student teaching and research assistants into taxable income, a move that would make graduate school unaffordable for most people. Make America Uneducated Again.

The bill also gets rid of tax-exempt bonds for affordable housing construction, which are used to finance more than half of affordable rental units built each year. Make Housing Unaffordable Again.

In fact, it raises taxes on most people in so many ways that it is disingenuous to even call it a tax cut. This bill is a massive tax increase on most of us.

Lost in the debate around the tax bill, however, are provisions that will make more wind-reliant Iowans and Texans jobless, leave more hurricane-struck Puerto Ricans without access to basic necessities, poison more African-Americans with toxic fumes, and submerge more Native Alaskan villages, just to enrich a particular subset of oligarchs.

The tax bill kills the modest tax credits for solar and wind power, effectively raising taxes retroactively on renewable energy developers. It also kills the tax credit for electric cars, but does not touch the much larger subsidies for fossil fuels. Make Fossil Fuel Barons Rich Again, by subsidizing them while raising their competitor’s taxes.

These changes in energy tax credits will hurt many more people than just the owners of solar and wind companies. Solar and wind energy create many, many more jobs — hundreds of thousands more — than coal, even though they account for much smaller share of our overall energy mix than fossil fuels. If the intent of the tax bill truly were to create jobs, it would reinstate the solar and wind tax credits and eliminate fossil fuel subsidies, not the other way round. Make Americans Jobless Again.

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