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Labor Network for Sustainability

If Not Now, When? A Labor Movement Plan to Address Climate Change

By Jeremy Brecher, Ron Blackwell, and Joe Uehlein - New Labor Forum, September 2014

We are on a climate change path that, unless radically altered, will lead to an unsustainable global warming of seven degrees Fahrenheit or greater. We also face the most serious employment crisis since the Great Depression, with wages that have stagnated for four decades and economic inequality now at levels not seen since the 1920s.

The Keystone Pipeline Debate: An Alternative Job Creation Strategy

By Kristen Sheeran, Noah Enelow, Jeremy Brecher, and Brendan Smith - Economics for Equity and the Environment and Labor Network for Sustainably, November 5, 2013

The Keystone XL pipeline has been touted as a means to address America's jobs crisis. But how does its
job creation compare to other possible projects?

Jobs vs the Environment: How to Counter This Divisive Big Lie

Jeremy Brecher - The Nation, April 22, 2014

In an era in which our political system is dominated by plutocracy, grassroots social movements are essential for progressive change. But too often our movements find themselves at loggerheads over the seemingly conflicting need to preserve our environment and the need for jobs and economic development. How can we find common ground?

The problem is illustrated by the current proposal of the Dominion corporation to build a Liquefied Natural Gas export facility at Cove Point, Maryland, right on the Chesapeake Bay. Seven hundred people demonstrated against the proposal and many were arrested in three civil disobedience actions.  But an open letter on Dominion letterhead endorsing the project—maintaining it will “create more than 3,000 construction jobs” most of which will go “to local union members”—was signed not only by business leaders, but by twenty local and national trade union leaders.

In the struggle over the Keystone XL pipeline, which has been described as the “Birmingham of the climate movement,” pipeline proponents have been quick to seize on the “jobs issue” and tout support from building trades unions and eventually the AFL-CIO. In a press releasetitled “U.S. Chamber Calls Politically-Charged Decision to Deny Keystone a Job Killer,” the Chamber of Commerce said President Obama’s denial of the KXL permit was “sacrificing tens of thousands of good-paying American jobs in the short term, and many more than that in the long term.” The media repeat the jobs vs. environment frame again and again: NPR’s headline on KXL was typical of many: “Pipeline Decision Pits Jobs Against Environment.” A similar dynamic has marked the “beyond coal” campaign, the fracking battle and EPA regulation of greenhouse gasses under the Clean Air Act. Those who want to overcome this division must tell a different story.

Toward a climate insurgency

By Jay O'Hara - Waging Nonviolence, May 16, 2017

To the outward eye, the climate movement looks to be back on its heels, reeling from the ascendancy of a fossil fuel regime, the completion of the Dakota Access Pipeline, the zombie Keystone XL and the threatened departure of the United States from the Paris Climate Accord. And there’s not much I can offer, as a climate organizer, to dissuade one from that opinion. The one major effort thus far was a massive march on Washington, D.C. that was planned when most expected Hillary Clinton to be in the White House. So we’re left wondering: What the hell are we supposed to do now?

Into this breach steps Jeremy Brecher’s slim new volume “Against Doom: A Climate Insurgency Manual.” Neither glitzy, eloquent nor subtle, Brecher methodically lays out an interlocking vision of direct action within a constitutional legal framework to build the powerful nonviolent climate insurgency necessary to turn the ship around. “Against Doom” smartly connects disparate threads of the existing climate movement and pulls them together with strategic vision. I finished the book fired up with a clearer sense of where my own work with the Climate Disobedience Center, as well as my Quaker faith community, fits into an unfolding climate insurgency. And I’m ready to get back to the pipeline valves, coal piles, construction sites, boardrooms and courtrooms where we have the opportunity to stem the tide of climate cataclysm.

Brecher puts all this in perspective right up front: Before Trump, the Paris agreements represented merely “the illusion that world leaders were fixing climate change” — with ineffectual emissions reduction targets of only 2 degrees Celsius (non-binding) and 1.5 degrees (aspirational). As such, Trump is only a refreshingly honest manifestation of the movement’s failure to muster sufficient power to achieve its ultimate aims. The illusion of the efficacy of an inside politics game somehow survived the failure of cap-and-trade among the major environmental groups, and those groups refocused on the Obama administration’s potential for executive action. At the same time, the national fight against Keystone XL and grassroots resistance by frontline communities across the country and globe have laid the groundwork for a strategy of insurgency.

Climate Emergency: Global Insurgency

By Jeremy Brecher - Common Dreams, October 14, 2016

Note: The new, updated 2016 edition of Jeremy Brecher’s Climate Insurgency: A Strategy for Survival, from which the following is drawn, can be now be downloaded for free at the author's website here.)

The Lilliputian defenders of the earth’s climate have been winning some unlikely battles lately. The Standing Rock Sioux, supported by nearly two hundred Native American tribes and a lot of other people around the globe, have put a halt, at least for now, to completion of the Dakota Access Pipeline, a project that threatens their sacred burial sites and the water supply for 17 million people—not to mention the world’s climate. Before that a seven-year struggle terminated the Keystone XL pipeline. Other fossil fuel extraction, transport, and burning facilities have been halted by actions around the world.

But as Bill McKibben has said, "Fighting one pipeline at a time, the industry will eventually prevail."[1] Is there a plausible strategy for escalating today’s campaigns against fossil fuel infrastructure to create an effective challenge to the escalating climate threat? How can we get the power we need to counter climate catastrophe? My book Climate Insurgency: A Strategy for Survival (download) grapples with that question and proposes a possible strategy: a global nonviolent constitutional insurgency. Now that strategy is being tried – and may even be overcoming some of the obstacles that have foiled climate protection heretofore.

Earth Day, Labor, and Me

By Joe Uehlein - Znet, April 19, 2010

The approach of the 40th anniversary of Earth Day on April 22 provides us an opportunity to reflect on the “long, strange trip” shared by the environmental movement and the labor movement over four decades here on Spaceship Earth. 

A billion people participate in Earth Day events, making it the largest secular civic event in the world.  But when it was founded in 1970, according to Earth Day’s first national coordinator Denis Hayes, “Without the UAW, the first Earth Day would have likely flopped!”

Less than a week after he first announced the idea for Earth Day, Senator Gaylord Nelson presented his proposal to the Industrial Union Department of the AFL-CIO.  Walter Ruther, President of the UAW, enthusiastically donated $2000 to help kick the effort off – to be followed by much more.  Hayes recalls:

"The UAW was by far the largest contributor to the first Earth Day, and its support went beyond the merely financial.  It printed and mailed all our materials at its expense — even those critical of pollution-belching cars.  Its organizers turned out workers in every city where it has a presence.  And, of course, Walter then endorsed the Clear Air Act that the Big Four were doing their damnedest to kill or gut."

Some people may be surprised to learn that a labor union played such a significant role in the emergence of the modern environmental movement.  When they think of organized labor, they think of things like support for coal and nuclear power plants and opposition to auto emissions standards.

Climate Insurgency After Paris

By Jeremy Brecher - CounterPunch, January 11, 2016

In December of 2015 – the earth’s hottest year since recordkeeping began — 195 nations met in Paris to forge an agreement to combat global warming. The governments of the world acknowledged their individual and collective duty to protect the earth’s climate — and then willfully refused to perform that duty. What did they agree to, and how should the people they govern respond?

The 195 nations meeting in Paris unanimously agreed to the goal of keeping global warming “well below 2 degrees Celsius” and to pursue efforts “to limit the increase in temperatures to 1.5 degrees Celsius.” Despite that goal, the Paris agreement also permits the greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions that cause global warming to continue rising.

Under the Paris agreement, governments put forward any targets they want – known as Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs) – with “no legal requirement dictating how, or how much, countries should cut emissions.”[1] These voluntary commitments don’t come into effect until 2020 and generally end in 2025-2030.

Today there are 400 parts per million (ppm) of carbon in the atmosphere, far above the 350 ppm climate scientists regard as the safe upper limit. Even in the unlikely event that all nations fulfill their INDC pledges, carbon in the atmosphere is predicted to increase to 670 ppm by the end of this century.[2] The global temperature will rise an estimated 3.5 degrees Celsius (6.3 degrees Fahrenheit) above pre-industrial levels.[3] For comparison, a 1-degree Celsius increase has been enough to cause all the effects of climate change we have seen so far, from Arctic melting to desertification. In short, the agreement authorizes the continued and even increased destruction of the earth’s climate.

US negotiators were adamant that the agreement must not include any binding restrictions on emissions. Secretary of State John Kerry told fellow negotiators that he “wished that we could include specific dates and figures for emissions cuts and financial aid” to developing countries, but “this could trigger a review by the US Senate that could scuttle the entire agreement.”[4] When US lawyers discovered a phrase declaring that wealthier countries “shall” set economy-wide targets for cutting their GHG pollution, Kerry said, “We cannot do this and we will not do this. And either it changes or President Obama and the United States will not be able to support this agreement.” “Shall” was changed to “should” without so much as a vote.[5]

The breathtaking gap between the Paris agreement’s aspiration to hold global warming below 2 degrees Celsius and the agreement’s actual commitments is indicated by an analysis by Climate Interactive and MIT Sloan. The current US pledge to drop GHG emissions 26 percent below 2005 levels by 2025, along with the pledges of other countries, will lead to a global temperature increase of 3.5 degrees Celsius (6.3 degrees Fahrenheit) above pre-industrial levels. To reduce warming to 1.8 degrees Celsius (3.2 degrees Fahrenheit) will require the US to increase its INDC from 26 percent below 2005 levels to 45 percent by 2030, and for other countries to make comparable reductions.[6]

Under the Paris agreement countries will monitor their emissions and reconvene every five years starting in 2023 to report on the results and perhaps ratchet up their INDCs. This has been characterized as creating a “name-and-shame” system of global peer pressure, “in hopes that countries will not want to be seen as international laggards.”[7]

On the last day of the Paris summit, a panel of leading scientists evaluated what would be necessary to achieve its targets. Prof. Hans Schellnhuber of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research said that to reach the 2-degree target the world would have to get CO2 out of its system by 2070. To reach the 1.5-degree target it would have to eliminate CO2 emissions by 2050. Johan Rockstrom of the Stockholm Resilience Center said that for any chance of reaching 1.5 degrees, the richest nations need to reach zero fossil fuel use by 2030.[8]

How Climate Protection Has Become Today’s Labor Solidarity

By Jeremy Brecher - The Nation, May 6, 2015

Under banners proclaiming “Healthy Planet & Good Jobs,” thousands of trade unionists from 75 local and national unions, highly visible in their red, blue, green, and white union uniforms, joined the People’s Climate March in New York City last September—a quantum leap from labor’s previous participation in climate actions.At the labor rally before the march, AFSCME District Council 37 executive director Henry Garrido recalled that during Superstorm Sandy in 2012, “Our workers were at the forefront manning shelters, evacuating people, preparing hospital beds, and rescuing people every day.” But Sandy was just a warning shot. “Labor must stand for more than working conditions,” Garrido continued. “We must stand for more than contracts. We must stand for environmental justice—otherwise, we will become irrelevant.” The issue of climate change, he concluded, is “the biggest threat to our humanity.” We can no longer afford to put our heads in the sand: “Today is the day that the human race stood together and said, ‘Enough!’”

The march’s organizers are now working to launch a People’s Climate Movement. They are planning a series of major mobilizations leading up to the Paris climate summit this December. According to Phil Aroneanu of 350.org, activists have started meeting with unions to plan labor-focused events along the way. “It is incumbent on the climate movement to lay out plans that leave nobody behind in the transition to a climate-safe economy,” Aroneanu says.

Meanwhile, labor action on climate change has proliferated. In New York, according to Matt Ryan, executive director of ALIGN (New York’s Jobs With Justice affiliate), “There is a growing surge of labor unions engaging and activating their members and their members’ communities around a climate, jobs, and justice agenda. I see it at CWA, SEIU, the Teamsters, New York State Nurses Association, and many others.”

A climate insurgency: building a Trump-free, fossil-free future

By Jeremy Brecher - The Ecologist, April 28, 2017

As the thousands of foot-weary protesters leave the April 29 Peoples Climate March in Washington, DC - and its scores of sister marches around the country - one question will no doubt be foremost on their minds:

How can a march, or indeed any other action they take, force a reversal in the world's hurtle to climate doom?

After all, a single march, no matter how large, is not going to force President Trump and his administration of fossil-fuel company executives and climate-change deniers to reverse course.

They have already cancelled the Environmental Protection Agency's Clean Power Plan, authorized drilling and mining on public lands, and gutted regulations that protect local people and environments against the extraction of fossil fuels.

He has cleared the way for the Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipelines. His allies in Congress are whetting their knives to gut the Clean Air, Clean Water and Environmental Policy Acts. The fossil fuel industry is lining up for permits to build new infrastructure that will accelerate global warming and threaten local environments to boot.

A Superfund for Workers

By Jeremy Brecher - Dollars and Sense, November 2015

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