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Finding Pathways to a Better Future: Part 1: Where Have We Been?

By John Foran - Resilience, December 14, 2017

Unlike other ecosocialists, I have long argued that the path to radical social transformation called for the formation of the most inventive social movement the world has ever seen.  But as a scholar of twentieth-century revolutions and twenty-first century movements for radical social change, I have started to come around to the idea that the urgency of the crisis in which we find ourselves, and the lack of adequate action on all sides (myself very much included) means that we need to consider the necessity of imagining something akin to a new kind of party.  What if we rejected the binary between movement and party, elections and direct action, acted upon the urgency of the mandate for thinking in new ways, and embraced a creative synthesis of the two?  This essay will explore our predicament and the prospects for ways out of it along these lines.

The world as we know it is crashing around us.  The signs are evident, and they are everywhere:  intense, extreme storms, floods, drought, heat, rain, fire, and winds – nothing is as it was.  Politicians don’t know what to do, and the actions of so many of them seem downright cruel, vacuous, or incompetent.  The devastation of war, military operations, policing, lethal drones, and physical attacks roll over populations entirely innocent of any crime.  The slow grind of debt, privation, and daily exploitation wears on more than half of Earth’s human inhabitants.  Non-human creatures are dying out in record numbers as Earth’s systems are polluted, contaminated, and wracked by the endless extraction of fossil fuels, minerals, and the loss of healthy soil and water.

We are called, therefore.  To what, we do not know exactly.  In the face of the Anthropocene and the climate crisis, militarism and inequality, and a widespread lack of political voice it is hard to know what to do.  Very hard.

Yet it is precisely this question, this existential challenge, to which we must bring our imaginations and love, in search of the greatest transformation we are capable of conjuring up – a Great Transition of all our systems – to something whole and nourishing for the planet and for the generations of Earthly creatures to come.

The good news is that millions – perhaps billions – of us know the score, and are ready to rise or already rising to the call.  Transition initiatives, intentional communities, networks of educators, activists, and ordinary people, social movements large and small, streets of neighbors, and here and there political groupings have all emerged in recent years, determined both to block the machinery of death and to create the means of life.

It is to these beginnings of hope that we should now turn our attention.  To continue with business as usual is to slowly sink into chaos.  The time is now and the agents are us, and those around us, in every corner of the Earth.  To turn away is to go extinct. We must rise.

On track to what? Colonialism, climate change and COP23

By Nic Beuret, Anja Kanngieser, and Leon Sealey-Huggins - Red Pepper, December 19, 2017

The most prominent global conference on climate change – the UNFCCC 23rd Annual Conference of Parties meeting – recently closed with much fanfare, talk of success and ‘being on track’.  There was little to indicate that any significant headway had been made to curb the predicted catastrophic levels of global warming however. Hosted by the COP23 President and Prime Minister of Fiji, Frank Bainimarama, it was the first time a small island nation had held such a role, and it was hoped by some that this would see a prioritisation of climate-affected small island states. Given the five yearly review cycles of the Paris agreement, this year’s COP was ostensibly orientated towards shoring up transparency measures and expanding frameworks for countries to meet climate goals. The main goal was to translate the global agreement made at last year’s meeting in Paris into a meaningful set of rules – rules that reflected not only the agreement to try to limit future global warming to 2C, but also the more ambitious target of a future limit of 1.5C. For many scientists, 1.5C is the threshold beyond which many island nations such as Fiji come under severe threat of ecological catastrophe.

COP23 failed in many regards to cement the Paris agreement. It was a continuation of the previous year’s rhetorics of targets, mitigation and promises of finance. Alongside the launch of a very public ‘coal-phase out’ agreement (lacking any timeline or actual commitments), there was an absence of any commitments to action by countries in the global North to take action before 2020, lack of detail or agreement on climate finance, a continuation of the paucity of funding for adaptation and no agreement on how to compensate for the losses and damages caused by climate change. Given that the various agreements and pledges made thus far on climate change mean likely future climate change will be between 3-4C, an increase many scientists see as catastrophic, these failures are all the more significant.

The discourse of ‘being on track’ is informed by the protection of assets and infrastructures held in the Global North rather than the preemption of increasing climate events in the Global South. Ample scientific evidence has shown that unless fossil fuel production and consumption is imminently reduced to an extent far exceeding that discussed by world leaders, the possibility of staying below 2C, let alone 1.5C, is extinguished. To this extent, prevention has long been replaced with mitigation and adaptation, which would severely impact upon frontline communities in the Global South, especially those which are already seeing the decimation of land, crops and resources leading to current and future mass migration. For non-frontline Global Northern nations, higher GDPs and longer lead in times make climate proofing a more realistic prospect, and more focus is thus placed on insulating borders and protecting national economies.

The conflict around the terms of loss and damages is a key indication of this disjunction. Adaptation can only help so much, and for those nations already suffering the effects of superstorms, droughts, flooding, and ocean inundation, large scale adaptation may be too late. Compensation for loss and damages is necessary for planning relocation in places facing sea level rise such as Kiribati, or to support the switch to heat-tolerant crops such as from coffee to cacao in South America. The current narrow focus of loss and damages in technical reports means that the reality of climate caused loss and damage does not cohere with actual experience. Attempts by frontline nations to broaden this scope have been blocked by Global Northern countries through the COP itself. While some money has been pledged by G20 countries, this does not take into account that mere insurance will not cover everyone effected for all losses. What is also being seen are collaborations between developed nations with private insurance firms. This means that such firms are gearing up to directly profit off the evermore frequent disasters. For these reasons and more, there is a call by vulnerable countries to frame loss and damages as a political issue, not just a technical one. Doing this would perhaps involve acknowledgment of climate debts and reparations, and would place the issue permanently on the agenda, mainstreaming it into other processes such as capacity building, financing and technology transfers – a call that is unsurprisingly being objected to by leaders from the Global North.  

Farmworkers Resist and Organize: Connected Struggles for Farmworker Justice in South Africa and the US

By Edgar Franks - US Food Sovereignty Alliance, December 7, 2017

This past October I was part of the delegation sent by the US Food Sovereignty Alliance to South Africa. The delegation is part of a process to connect with groups throughout Africa with US-based Food Sovereignty groups to build an international analysis on the food system and to be in solidarity with one another.

During the 11 days our delegation was in South Africa, we were able to meet with many organizations throughout different regions, each with their unique struggles. Our delegation was small but represented many different sectors within the food system, including farmworkers, Black farmers, and immigrants; we all brought our own area or expertise to the trip and complimented each other well.

Even though every place we visited we learned a lot and were impacted by the amount of work and organizing that was happening, I want to share about the exchange that we had with the farmworkers in Robertson in the Western Cape.

Personally, I was able to connect to the farmworker struggle in the Western Cape, as there was a familiarity with the way issues and conditions were discussed. The analysis that was shared resonated with me profoundly considering that farmworkers here in the United States are also going through the same exploitation.

At Community to Community in Washington, we try to recognize that the struggle for farmworker justice is not limited to the workplace. Farmworkers’ lives are complex and have many intersections which is why we know that in order to achieve our goals – especially when it comes to transforming the food system – that we must go beyond just fighting for union contracts. Food Sovereignty for farmworkers also means being recognized as humans who are capable of leading ourselves. That is why we also organize for immigrant rights, climate justice, women’s rights, and food sovereignty.

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.

Trump’s war on science

By Cliff Connor - Socialist Alternative, November 27, 2017

— Cliff Conner is currently writing a book entitled “The Tragedy of American Science.”

How loathsome is the Trump administration? Let me count the ways. On second thought, let me not—it would take too long. But one important threat it poses to the United States and the world is to the integrity of American science. Earlier this year, on Earth Day, April 22, hundreds of thousands of people responded to that danger by participating in the March for Science in Washington, D.C., and 600 other cities and towns across the country. How has American science fared since then?

Many right-wing politicians and public intellectuals are torn between repugnance for Donald Trump’s truculent ignorance and exuberance at the prospect that he can help them accomplish their goal of “dismantling the administrative state.” Trump’s first year in office helped advance their strategy of destroying public faith in “big government” by discrediting it. Not only are the Trump administration’s various agencies and cabinet offices laughably incompetent and ethically compromised; the office of the presidency itself has forfeited all claim to the respect of intelligent citizens.

The offensive against “big government” is driven by billionaire donors who finance right-wing think tanks, political campaigns, and media outlets. Their single-minded goal is to reduce their taxes and roll back governmental regulation of their businesses, especially with regard to environmental and public health protection. Their crusade against federal regulatory powers entails going to battle against empirical reality, rationality, knowledge, and expertise—in short, they have declared war against science.

The deregulation of corporate activities that have compromised the credibility of American science did not begin with Trump. Nor was it exclusively a Republican political project; the Carter, Clinton, and Obama administrations all likewise furthered the deregulation agenda.

It should not be forgotten that many of the environmental rules and regulations Trump’s team has rescinded were only put in place by Obama in the closing days of his eight-year tenure as president. All they accomplished was to provide easy targets for Trump to knock over. The tawdry assemblage of antiscience policymakers appointed by Trump, however, amounts to a reductio ad absurdum of the whole process.

Workers’ rights are being abused as they rebuild in the wake of Hurricane Harvey

By Casey Quinlan - ThinkProgress, November 27, 2017

Day laborers, many of them undocumented, are reportedly being exploited as they rebuild after Hurricane Harvey, and their health and economic well-being are are stake.

According to a report from the National Day Laborer Organizing Network and University of Illinois Chicago that surveyed 360 workers, 26 percent of workers have experienced wage theft in their post-Harvey work and 85 percent did not receive health and safety training. Sixty-one percent of workers did not have the necessary respiratory equipment to protect them from mold and chemicals, 40 percent did not have protective eyewear, and 87 percent were not informed about the risks of working in these unsafe buildings.

Workers have been exposed to mold and contamination on a regular basis, and regardless of whether workers are undocumented, they often aren’t aware of their legal protections, according to the report. To make matters worse, Texas is the only state that lets employers opt out of workers’ compensation for work injuries.

Advocates for different labor groups focusing on undocumented laborers have been speaking out on the issue of exploitation and visiting work sites to survey workers and pass out flyers with information on labor rights. There is tension between these advocates in Houston and Texas Governor Greg Abbott (R) on how the federal funds for hurricane recovery should be distributed. According to the Guardian, worker groups would prefer the money be distributed through the office of Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner (D), since the mayor is seen as a progressive ally. They’re afraid that if the money is instead distributed through the general land office run by George P. Bush, as Abbott wants, immigrant and worker groups won’t receive the aid they need.

The Associated Press interviewed workers hired by individual homeowners, subcontractors working on residential and commercial buildings, and work crews from outside of Texas about the working conditions. Martin Mares, a native of Mexico who came to Houston in 1995, told the AP that the demand for labor attracted people who don’t usually do this kind of work and don’t know how to do it safely. He gave the example of a pregnant woman working without gloves in an apartment building that had flooded.

Jose Garza, executive director of the Workers Defense Project wrote in the Guardian, “One woman contacted us when she and her crew, after spending more than 90 hours clearing out a Holiday Inn, were turned away without pay.”

Advocates for undocumented workers in Houston are also concerned about Senate Bill 4 (SB4), a Texas law that lets local law enforcement ask people they detain or arrest about their immigration status and hits local government officials with jail time and large financial penalties if they refuse to comply with federal detainer requests. The law is currently being held up in the courts, but that hasn’t completely erased fears among immigrant communities in Texas.

In addition to being exposed to mold and chemicals as well as experiencing wage theft, undocumented workers have already suffered from the devastation of the storm in unique ways due to poverty, lack of insurance, and their undocumented status. There are some 600,000 undocumented immigrants in Houston. After the hurricane, many undocumented people were afraid to use local shelters because of their immigration status or didn’t want to leave homes because they were concerned about protecting property. Although local and federal officials have tried to persuade undocumented people that they are not there to enforce immigration laws, undocumented people are still worried about the risk of seeking help...

Will Houston’s Post-Harvey Recovery Exacerbate Inequities or Build a More Just City?

Robert Bullard interviewed by Amy Goodman - Democracy Now!, November 24, 2017

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman. We are just back from COP23, the U.N. climate summit in Bonn, Germany, where the Trump administration tried to derail the conference by pushing coal, nuclear and gas as solutions to climate change. Well, on this Democracy Now! special, we’re looking at the ways climate change is already affecting the United States.

We turn now to Houston, which was devastated by massive flooding from Hurricane Harvey. The storm shattered all past U.S. rainfall records, forcing hundreds of thousands of people to evacuate their homes in the fourth-largest city in the United States. Some call it the “Petro Metro,” Houston, because it’s home to the country’s largest refining and petrochemical complex. The storm also caused massive environmental and public health impacts. According to the Environmental Defense Fund, more than a million pounds of air pollution have been released into the air as petrochemical plants were forced to shut down by the storm.

Well, over Labor Day weekend, just as the floodwaters were receding, Democracy Now! traveled to Houston, where we spoke with Professor Robert Bullard, among others. Dr. Bullard is a professor at Texas Southern University, a historically black college and university. He’s considered the father of environmental justice. We spoke with Professor Bullard at his home, which he had just returned to after evacuating. I began by asking him about his experiences of the flood.

Earth Watch: IBON International’s Tetet Lauron on COP23

By staff - Global Justice Ecology Project, November 21, 2017

Last week’s Earth Watch guest on the Sojourner Truth Radio show was Tetet Lauron, climate justice program manager for IBON International. Lauron was in Bonn, Germany for the COP23 Climate Talks. IBON’s goal is to contribute to building global mass movements of oppressed and marginalised peoples, to challenging neoliberal globalisation, war and all forms of oppression, and to advancing people’s individual and collective rights, democracy, social justice and equality, ecological sustainability and liberation.

Lauron’s segment is short and there are audio quality issues. It begins at about 52:40 mark.

Progress at COP23 as Canada’s Minister pledges to include the CLC in a new Just Transition Task Force

By Elizabeth Perry - Work and Climate Change Report, November 21, 2017

An article in the Energy Mix reflects a widely-stated assessment of the recently concluded Conference of the Parties in Bonn: “COP23 Ends with solid progress on Paris Rules, Process to Push for Faster Climate Action” :  “It was an incremental, largely administrative conclusion for a conference that was never expected to deliver transformative results, but was still an essential step on the road to a more decisive “moment” at next year’s conference in Katowice, Poland.”  A concise summary of outcomes  was compiled by  the  International Institute for Environment and Development, including a link to the main outcome document of the COP23 meetings – the Fiji Momentum for Implementation .  The UNFCCC provides a comprehensive list of initiatives and documents in its closing press release on November 17. And from the only Canadian press outlet which attended COP23 in person, the National Observer: “Trump didn’t blow up the climate summit: what did happend in Bonn?” .

What was the union assessment of COP23? The International Trade Union Confederation expressed concern for the slow progress in Bonn, but stated: “The support for Just Transition policies is now visible and robust among all climate stakeholders: from environmental groups to businesses, from regional governments to national ones. The importance of a social pact as a driver to low-carbon economics means we can grow ambition faster, in line with what science tells us. ”  The European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC) also expressed disappointment, reiterating the demands in its October  ETUC Resolution and views on COP 23  , and calling for a “Katowice plan of action for Just Transition”  in advance of the COP24 meetings next year in Katowice, Poland.

The biggest winner on Just Transition was the Canadian Labour Congress, who pressed the Canadian Minister of Environment and Climate Change outside of formal negotiations at Bonn and received her pledge for federal support for the newly-announced Just Transition Plan for Alberta’s Coal Workers –  including flexibility on federal  Employment Insurance benefits,  and a pledge that  Western Economic Diversification Canada will  support coal communities.   Importantly, “Minister McKenna also announced her government’s intention to work directly with the Canadian Labour Congress to launch a task force that will develop a national framework on Just Transition for workers affected by the coal phase-out. The work of this task force is slated to begin early in the new year”, according to the CLC press release “  Unions applaud Canada’s commitment to a just transition for coal workers” .  The background story to this under-reported breakthrough  is in the National Observer coverage of the Canada-UK Powering Past Coal initiative, on November 15 and November 16.  Unifor’s take on the Task Force is here .

Groundbreaking “Carbon Pricing Report” Released by Indigenous Environmental Network and Climate Justice Alliance at COP 23

By Jade Begay - Common Dreams, November 16, 2017

WASHINGTON - While city, state, and national leaders gather at the UN Climate Talks to launch and implement platforms and agendas that promote carbon trading, carbon offsets, and REDD+, the Indigenous Environmental Network and the Climate Justice Alliance take a bold stance to reject and challenge these so-called innovative solutions by releasing the “Carbon Pricing Report: A Critical Perspective for Community Resistance.”

This report provides in-depth context to why carbon market systems will not mitigate climate change, will not advance adaptation strategies, will not serve the most vulnerable communities facing climate change impacts and only protect the fossil fuel industry and corporations from taking real climate action.

Furthermore, the publication is the first of its kind to be released in the United States and will help frontline communities and grassroots organizations articulate crucial points to challenge carbon markets and climate change. It is a tool in building a carbon market grassroots resistance.

On Wednesday November 15, Tom Goldtooth, co-author of the report, and members from communities who are impacted first and worst by climate change spoke at the UN Climate Change Talks to challenge nations, cities, and businesses who are promoting carbon markets as they violate Indigenous Rights and make way for more fossil fuel extraction near Indigenous, Black, and Brown communities

Key points of Carbon Pricing Report:

  • Carbon trading, carbon offsets and REDD+ are fraudulent climate mitigation mechanisms that help corporations and governments to continue extracting and burning fossil fuels.
  • Revenues distributed to communities from carbon trading or carbon pricing never compensate for the destruction wrought by the extraction and pollution process required to obtain that revenue.
  • The injustices, racism and colonialism of carbon pricing schemes have worldwide effects that require international resistance.

This publication will help communities and organizations articulate crucial points to resist carbon pricing and climate change.

**Digital Version of Carbon Report**

The following is a statement from the co-authors of the report:

"The linking of carbon markets across the United States and the World is a tool that fossil-fuel companies have shaped and built to continue to extract and dump on frontline communities.  Carbon pricing is a slap on the wrist, a reward really.  History shows that, it does not have the ability to move us away from oil addiction, or reach our targets for climate justice. The only true way to reach our goals of 1.5C is to stop the fossil fuel machine at source, to provide stricter regulations, and to hold polluters accountable for their legacy of pollution.  We need this Just Transition to survive! This report demonstrates through a historical and international lens the mounting threats these markets have wreaked on frontline communities across the world.  It is a call to action for community resistance and resilience." -- Angela Adrar, Executive Director of the Climate Justice Alliance.

"Our Indigenous Peoples and people of color climate justice alliances saw a need to put together a publication that demystifies the carbon market regimes constantly being pushed upon our communities by environmental and climate organizations. Under the rubric of carbon pricing, these cap-and-trade, carbon offsets, carbon tax systems are false solutions that do not cut emissions at source, create toxic hot spots, and result in land grabs and violations of human rights and rights of Indigenous peoples in the forest regions of developing countries. People have a right to know the truth about these national and global initiatives that are nothing but the financialization of nature, the privatization of Mother Earth.” -- Tom Goldtooth, Executive Director of the Indigenous Environmental Network

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