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Labor Network for Sustainability (LNS)

IPCC Report Calls for “Just Transition”

By Staff - Labor Network for Sustainability, May 2022

The latest report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change emphasizes the need for immediate action to protect the climate and lays out detailed strategies for how to do it. The report includes a lengthy analysis of ‘just transitions’ in countering climate change. A just transition could entail that

the state intervenes more actively in the eradication of poverty, and creates jobs in lower-carbon sectors, in part to compensate for soon-to-be abandoned fossil-fuel-based sectors, and that governments, polluting industries, corporations and those more able to pay higher associated taxes pay for transition costs, provide a welfare safety net and adequate compensation for people, communities, places, and regions that have been impacted by pollution, marginalized or negatively impacted by a transition from a high- to low-carbon economy and society.

The just transition concept has become

an international focal point tying together social movements, trade unions, and other key stakeholders to ensure equity is better accounted for in low-carbon transitions and to seek to protect workers and communities.

 According to the IPCC, “just transition” also forms a central pillar of the growing movement for a “Green New Deal”—a “roadmap for a broad spectrum of policies, programs, and legislation that aims to rapidly decarbonize the economy while significantly reducing economic inequality.”

The US Green New Deal Resolution for example positions structural inequality, poverty mitigation, and a just transition at its center. In 2019, the European Green Deal proposed including a UDF100 billion “Just Transition Mechanism” to mitigate the social effects of transitioning away from jobs in fossil based industries. National level green new deals with strong just transition components have been proposed in South Korea, Australia, Spain, UK, Puerto Rico, Canada, as well as regional proposals across Latin America and the Caribbean.

The report provides a list of organizations supporting just transition, including the Labor Network for Sustainability.

The report treats a just transition as part of the broader question of climate equity. Its section on “Equity in a just transition” says,

Looking at climate change from a justice perspective means placing the emphasis on

  • a) the protection of vulnerable populations from the impacts of climate change;
  • b) mitigating the effects of the transformations themselves, including easing the transition for those whose livelihoods currently rely on fossil fuel-based sectors; and
  • c) envisaging an equitable decarbonized world. Neglecting issues of justice risks a backlash against climate action generally, particularly from those who stand to lose from such actions.

Webinar: Investing in Workers for a World Beyond Fossil Fuels

Want Peace? Ditch Fossil Fuels!

By staff - Labor Network for Sustainability, April 2022

The Labor Network for Sustainability has joined more than 610 organizations in 57 countries to call on world governments to ban Russian oil and gas and to rapidly phase out all fossil fuels in the name of peace. The letter was initiated by Ukrainian climate activists and backed by Roman Shakhmatenko, Ukrainian Deputy Minister of Environmental Protection, who said: “We have to stop being indifferent. We should end using gas, oil and coal.” It calls on governments to “End global fossil fuel addiction that feeds Putin’s war machine” once and for all. It calls on governments to “ban any import of fossil fuels from Russia” and “rapidly phase out all fossil fuels,” ending this “fossil fuel addiction.”

With an emerging priority of boycotting Russian oil and gas, fossil fuel expansion must be immediately halted, and nations worldwide must commit to the rapid and just transition away from all fossil fuels. Reliance on coal, oil and gas is the intentional embrace of death, misery, and collapse at a global scale.

Stand with Ukraine,”

How can climate-safe energy start replacing Russian fossil fuel exports right now? Senators Elizabeth Warren, Ed Markey, and other propose an “Energy Marshall Plan” that would use the Defense Production Act to boost manufacturing of electric heat pumps, efficient electric appliances, and renewable energy technology.

For their full proposal, see their letter to President Biden here.

Another Silent Spring: Strategies for the Climate Struggle

By Paul Fleckenstein - Tempest, March 15, 2022

After the worst year yet of climate disruption, 2021 closed with another failure of international negotiations at COP26 and the slow death of President Biden’s meager legislative climate agenda.

North America faced heightened levels of drought, heat, fire, flooding, wind, climate-enhanced migration, and crop failures. Yet the climate movement’s support and campaigning for Biden and Democratic Party achieved little. Expectations are even lower for the next three years.

To respond to this impasse the climate movement, particularly the predominant organizations in the U.S., needs to reorient away from the over-emphasis on electoral politics, and toward protest and struggle as the priority strategy.

Fortunately, there are some glimpses at how to expand this potential, but the central question remains, what socialists and the Left, in general, can do now to best catalyze more disruptive, sustained, and mass-based climate action.

Workers Say They Breathe Polluted Air at “Green” Insulation Facility

By Mindy Isser - In These Times - March 3, 2022

As the acceptance of climate change becomes increasingly commonplace, more and more companies will be created or adapted to ​“fight” or ​“solve” it — or, at the very least, minimize its effects. Kingspan Group, which began as an engineering and contracting business in 1965 in Ireland, has since grown into a global company with more than 15,000 employees focused on green insulation and other sustainable building materials. Its mission is to ​“accelerate a zero emissions future with the wellbeing of people and planet at its heart.” 

But workers at the Kingspan Light + Air factory in Santa Ana, Calif. don’t feel that the company has their wellbeing at its heart — and they say they have documented the indoor air pollution in their workplace to prove it. Differences between Kingspan’s mission and its true impact don’t stop there, workers charge: One of its products was used in the flammable cladding system on Grenfell Tower, a 24-floor public housing tower in London that went up in flames in June 2017, killing 72 people. Kingspan has been the target of protests in the United Kingdom and Ireland for its role in the disaster. Both Kingspan workers and survivors of the Grenfell Tower fire have called on the company to put public safety over profits.

Since the 1990s, union organizers say there have been multiple attempts from the International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Workers (SMART) union to organize employees at Kingspan, but none were successful. The company says its North America branch employs ​“1,600 staff across 16 manufacturing and distribution facilities throughout the United States and Canada.” Workers at the Santa Ana plant are tasked with welding, spray painting and assembling fiberglass to produce energy-efficient skylights. During the pandemic, when workers say Covid-19 swept through the facility, employees reached back out to SMART — not just because they wanted to form a union, but because they grew concerned about what they say is poor air quality in the facility. 

While SMART provided support for their campaign for clean air, the workers took control: In the summer of 2021, the Santa Ana workers came into work armed with monitors to measure indoor air pollution. Their goal was to measure airborne particulate matter that is 2.5 micrometers in diameter or smaller (PM 2.5). Such fine particulate matter constitutes a form of air pollution that is associated with health problems like respiratory and cardiovascular issues, along with increased mortality. The workers found that the average PM 2.5 concentration inside the facility was nearly seven times higher than outdoors. (To put that in perspective, wildfires usually result in a two- to four-fold increase in PM 2.5.) The majority of monitors found PM 2.5 levels that would rank between ​“unhealthy” and ​“very unhealthy” if measured outdoors, according to Environmental Protection Agency standards, the workers reported. 

Because this is the air workers were breathing in for 40 hours per week, in October 2021, they went public with both their campaign to form a union and their fight for a safe workplace — a campaign that continues to this day. 

Environmental Groups Call on Green Building Community to Stop Partnering With Kingspan Group, Global Manufacturer of Building Materials

By Lauren Burke and Meredith Schafer - Labor Network for Sustainability, March 3, 2022

Santa Ana, Calif. — Forty-five (45) local and national groups organizing against climate change and for environmental justice have signed a statement calling on the green building community to reconsider partnerships with Kingspan Group, an Ireland-based global manufacturer of insulation and other building materials that markets its products as “green.” Led by the Labor Network for Sustainability, local groups including Orange County Environmental Justice, Madison Park Neighborhood Association, The River Project and others were joined by national groups including Greenpeace USA, Friends of the Earth, Climate Justice Alliance, Sunrise Movement, the Climate Advocacy Lab and 36 others. The green building community includes architects, specifiers, the US Green Building Council, and trade associations such as the American Institute of Architects.

“We call on those who deal with Kingspan to reconsider rewarding it for behavior that weakens the credibility of the green building community, and that goes against the values of safe and sustainable buildings and communities,” reads the statement co-signed by the 45 organizations.

Read the full statement and list of signatory organizations here

The groups are calling on the green building community to stop allowing Kingspan representatives to sponsor or speak at trade shows and conferences, and to discontinue offering continuing education courses taught by Kingspan until the Grenfell Inquiry is finished and changes are made to its Santa Ana factory. The statement points to whistleblower complaints by Kingspan workers on health, safety and stormwater pollution issues at its Santa Ana, CA factory filed in October 2021, as well as the revelations from the Grenfell Tower Fire Inquiry regarding its UK insulation business that came out in 2020-2021.

Read the CalEPA and CalOSHA complaints, and the Indoor Air Quality study

The 2020-21 testimony and evidence from the UK Government Inquiry into the 2017 Grenfell Tower fire revealed how Kingspan’s UK insulation division misrepresented and mis-marketed Kooltherm K15’s fire safety testing and certifications from 2006-2020. (Kooltherm K15 made up five percent of the insulation in the tower, which is why Kingspan is a core participant of the Inquiry.) The company began marketing K15 in the US in 2018, after the fire.

“Kingspan is not an appropriate source for continuing education courses or sponsorships of events for the green building community, including those that touch on fire safety.” Read about Kingspan and the Grenfell Inquiry here

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The Labor Network for Sustainability (LNS) engages workers and communities in building a transition to a society that is ecologically sustainable and economically just. We work to foster deep relationships that help the labor movement engage in the climate movement and the climate movement understand the economics of climate change and the importance of organized labor as a key partner in confronting the climate crisis.

The International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Workers (SMART), AFL-CIO, is an international union whose affiliates represent sheet metal workers throughout the United States and Canada, as well as workers in transportation industries. Our members manufacture and install heating, ventilation, and air handling systems (HVAC), as well as architectural components such as metal roofing, facades, and other building envelope products.

Fossil Fuel Phaseout–From Below

By Jeremy Brecher - Labor Network for Sustainability, March 2022

Protecting the climate requires rapidly reducing the extraction of fossil fuels. That’s a crucial part of the Green New Deal. While the federal government has done little so far to reduce fossil fuel production, people and governments all over the country are taking steps on their own to cut down the extraction of coal, oil, and gas.

Introduction

The U.S. needs to cut around 60% of its greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 2030 to reach zero net emissions by 2050.[1] The world will need to decrease fossil fuel production by roughly 6% per year between 2022 and 2030 to reach the Paris goal of 1.5°C. Countries are instead planning and projecting an average annual increase of 2%, which by 2030 will result in more than double the production consistent with the 1.5°C limit.[2]

In the previous two commentaries in this series we have shown how initiatives from cities, states, and civil society organizations are expanding climate-safe energy production and reducing energy use through energy efficiency and conservation. These are essential aspects of reducing climate-destroying greenhouse gas emissions, but in themselves they will not halt the burning of fossil fuels. That requires action on the “supply side” – freezing new fossil fuel infrastructure and accelerating the closing of existing production facilities. That is often referred to as a “phaseout” or “managed decline” of fossil fuels.

Such a phaseout of fossil fuel production is necessary to meet the goals of the Green New Deal and President Joe Biden’s climate proposals. The original 2018 Green New Deal resolution submitted by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez called for a national 10-year mobilization to achieve 100% of national power generation from renewable sources. Biden’s Build Back Better plan sought 100% carbon-free electricity by 2035 and net zero GHG emissions by 2050. These goals cannot be met without reducing the amount of fossil fuel that is actually extracted from the earth.[3]

While the US government and corporations are failing to effectively reduce the mining and drilling of fossil fuels, hundreds of efforts at a sub-national level are already cutting their extraction. 50 US cities are already powered entirely by clean and renewable sources of energy. 180 US cities are committed to 100% clean energy.[4] According to a report by the Indigenous Environmental Network and Oil Change International, Indigenous resistance has stopped or delayed greenhouse gas pollution equivalent to at least one-quarter of annual U.S. and Canadian emissions.[5] Such reductions are an essential part of a widespread but little-recognized movement we have dubbed the “Green New Deal from Below.”[6]

New Maine Labor Climate Council Calls for Jobs Protecting the Climate

By staff - Labor Network for Sustainability, March 2022

A dozen Maine unions launched a new coalition this March to push for pro-labor environmental initiatives. The coalition, called the Maine Labor Climate Council, includes:

  • Amalgamated Transit Union Local 714
  • International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 490, 567, 1253, 2327 and 104
  • International Association of Bridge, Structural, Ornament & Reinforcing Iron Workers Local 7
  • International Union of Operating Engineers Local 4
  • International Union of Painters and Allied Trades, District Council 35
  • North Atlantic States Regional Council of Carpenters, Locals 349 and 352
  • Laborers’ International Union Local 327
  • Maine AFL-CIO
  • Maine Education Association
  • Maine State Building and Construction Trades Council
  • Maine Service Employees Association SEIU 1989
  • Southern Maine Labor Council

According to Maine AFL-CIO President Cynthia Phinney, “The twin crises of climate change and inequality demand bold and urgent action.”

United Mine Workers Partner for 350 Electric Battery Jobs in West Virginia

By staff - Labor Network for Sustainability, March 2022

The United Mine Workers just announced that it will partner with energy startup SPARKZ to build an electric battery factory in West Virginia in 2022 that will employ 350 workers. The UMWA will recruit and train dislocated miners to be the factory’s first production workers.

“We need good, union jobs in the coalfields no matter what industry they are in,” said UMWA International Secretary-Treasurer Brian Sanson. “This is a start toward putting the tens of thousands of already-dislocated coal miners to work in decent jobs in the communities where they live.”

The first markets for the company’s batteries are expected to be for material handling vehicles like forklifts, agricultural equipment, and energy storage.

Source: bit.ly/UMWAEnergyJobs

Negawatts–From Below

By Jeremy Brecher - Labor Network for Sustainability, March 2022

Tired of waiting for the Green New Deal? Thousands of individuals and communities, cities, and states are taking climate protection into their own hands by creating their own “Green New Deal from Below.” This commentary portrays how people are using energy efficiency and conservation locally to realize the climate, jobs, and justice goals of the Green New Deal.

Every time you replace an incandescent light bulb with a florescent or LED one, every time you caulk a window to stop heat from escaping, you save energy. Every time a skyscraper installs new heating and cooling equipment, it saves a significant and measurable number of watts. Indeed, the energy that is saved by these and other energy efficiency and energy conservation measures has come to be known as “negawatts.”

Energy efficiency and conservation are essential elements of the Green New Deal. It includes “upgrading every residential and industrial building for state-of-the-art energy efficiency, comfort and safety” and “decarbonizing” manufacturing, agriculture, transportation, and other infrastructure.[1] Spelling out the role of energy efficiency, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) in April, 2021, introduced the Green New Deal for Public Housing Act which aims to strengthen public housing communities, improve living conditions for residents, and create jobs by addressing the housing and climate crises through the retrofitting, rehabilitating, and decarbonizing of the nation’s entire public housing stock.[2]

Meanwhile, at community, local, and state levels people are already producing “negawatts” through the “Green New Deal from Below.” Using more efficient home appliances, building houses and workplaces close to public transportation, and insulating buildings are a few examples. Homes, workplaces, stores, and other buildings are among the highest producers of greenhouse gases, and in this commentary we will focus on examples of energy efficiency and conservation that reduce the use of energy in buildings.

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