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Labor Network for Sustainability (LNS)

A Green New Deal for all: The centrality of a worker and community-led just transition in the US

By J. Mijin Cha, Dimitris Stevis, Todd E. Vachon, Vivian Price, and Maria Brescia-Weiler - Labor Network for Sustainability, January 2022

This paper argues that labour and community-led advocacy efforts towards a just transition are fundamental to delivering the promises of a Green New Deal (GND) and a just post-carbon world. To this end, an ambitious, far-reaching project was launched by the Labor Network for Sustainability, a non-governmental organization dedicated to bridging the labor and climate movements, in Spring 2020 called the “Just Transition Listening Project’’ (JTLP).

Over the course of several months, the JTLP interviewed over 100 individuals, including rank-and-file union members, union officials, environmental and climate justice advocates, and Indigenous and community advocates to understand what makes transition “just,” what opportunities exist for a broad coalition to advance a GND-style proposal, and to document the struggles facing working people and communities across the U.S. In doing so, we utilize the tools of political geography to examine the politics of spatiality, networks, and scale as well as the geographical and spatial dimensions of policy and political-economic institutions. We are particularly mindful of two spatial dynamics.

First, that transition policies, particularly in a hegemonic country like the USA, have global implications. The industrial transition that took place from the 1970s to the 1990s, for example, bred nativism because it cast other countries as the cause of the problem.

Second, critical geographers have pointed out that environmental justice (EJ) has been neoliberalized in the U.S. as a result of its operationalization, spatialization, and administration, starting with the Clinton Administration. Because JT is rising on the national and global agendas, we pay close attention to whether these dynamics that affected EJ are also operating with respect to JT, as well as how they can be contained.

This research is particularly timely given the ongoing federal governmental efforts to contain the spread of COVID-19 and provide basic economic and social supports. The process of the JTLP parallels the goals of the GND–intersectional efforts rooted in community knowledge for the development of a people-led GND. This paper details the process of the JTLP and the prospects for intersectional, broad-based movements that are the only way a GND can be realized.

Read the text (Link).

Citizen Pilgrim: Richard Falk and Me

By Jeremy Brecher - Labor Network for Sustainability, January 2022

Although I have met him only once, I’ve spent a lot of time over the past fifty years learning from Richard Falk. Now in his 90’s, Falk has recently published a memoir called Public Intellectual: The Life of a Citizen Pilgrim that helps me understand why.[1]

Falk is the Albert G. Milbank Professor Emeritus of International Law and Practice at Princeton, but he has eschewed the dominant “realist” approach to international law that portrays existing states as the only significant actors, instead promoting an alternative vision in which social movements around the world contest the existing world order. While he is perhaps best known for his highly controversial role as UN Special Rapporteur on “the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories occupied since 1967,” in which he stated that Israel’s 2009 offensive in Gaza was a war crime of the “greatest magnitude,”[2] he has been a prolific writer and speaker on subjects ranging from the Vietnam War to human rights to the environmental crisis.

I first became aware of Falk in the midst of the Vietnam War. One day, as the US war escalated, Marcus Raskin, co-director of the Institute for Policy Studies, mentioned the Manifesto of 121 that had encouraged resistance to the French war in Algeria and wondered how we could get a copy.[3] I was a young student at IPS, and I recalled that an old copy of the British New Left Review had a translation of the statement. Next time I visited my home I found it and gave it to Marc.

The Manifesto of 121 likened French torture in Algeria to Nazi atrocities, therefore justifying extralegal resistance to the war. It pledged to support soldiers who resisted the war and those who aided them, even though such resistance was a serious crime.

As the US escalated its war in Vietnam, young Americans started a draft resistance movement, burning draft cards, fleeing the country, and risking imprisonment for refusing to fight in Vietnam. They found support in a small number of religious and intellectual figures who issued a Call to Resist Illegitimate Authority.[4] As the Manifesto of 121 justified resistance to French atrocities in Algeria by comparing them to Nazi torture, the Call compared US atrocities in Vietnam to those for which Nazi leaders had been tried as war criminals after World War II – and justified resistance to the war as a right and even a duty.

This “extremist” charge received support from an unexpected quarter: Professor Richard Falk, who spoke and wrote extensively about the parallel. He co-edited the book Crimes of War[5] and advocated a “Nuremburg obligation” that made it a duty not to participate in war crimes, even if given orders to do so by those claiming governmental authority. He testified for the defense in numerous anti-war civil disobedience trials, notably those of the Catholic activists Philip and Daniel Berrigan.

Time for a Climate Insurgency?

By Jeremy Brecher - Labor Network for Sustainability, December 20, 2021

The leaders of the world's countries gathered in Glasgow signed a death warrant for the world's people. Is there anything the world's people can do about it? To answer effectively, human solidarity may have to challenge the very legitimacy of the nation-state system.

Since the end of the feudal era the world order has been largely structured by the nation-state system. Individuals have been willing to kill and die for their countries. The pursuit of individual and collective interests has occurred largely within a national framework.

Nonetheless, social and political movements have often transgressed national boundaries and expressed solidarities that go beyond them. People frequently join together in social movements that embody the principle and practice of solidarity. And these movements often cut across national boundaries.

Image by Ralph Chaplin, published in the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) journal Solidarity on June 30, 1917.

Join us for Transit Equity Day 2022!

The Green New Deal–From Below

By Jeremy Brecher - Labor Network for Sustainability, October 30, 2021

This is the first in a series of commentaries on “The Green New Deal–From Below.” This commentary explains the idea of a Green New Deal from Below and provides an overview of the series. Subsequent commentaries in this series will address dimensions of the Green New Deal from below ranging from energy production to the role of unions to microgrids, coops, anchor institutions, and many others.

The Green New Deal is a visionary program to protect the earth’s climate while creating good jobs, reducing injustice, and eliminating poverty. Its core principle is to use the necessity for climate protection as a basis for realizing full employment and social justice.

The Green New Deal first emerged as a proposal for national legislation, and the struggle to embody it in national legislation is ongoing. But there has also emerged a little-noticed wave of initiatives from community groups, unions, city and state governments, tribes, and other non-federal institutions designed to contribute to the climate protection and social justice goals of the Green New Deal. We will call these the Green New Deal from Below (GNDfB).

The purpose of this commentary is to provide an overview of Green New Deal from Below initiatives in many different arenas and locations. It provides an introduction to a series of commentaries that will delve more deeply into each aspect of the GNDfB. The purpose of the series is to reveal the rich diversity of GNDfB programs already underway and in development. The projects of Green New Dealers recounted here should provide inspiration for thousands more that can create the foundation for national mobilization–and reconstruction.

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; a national “smart grid”; energy efficiency upgrades for every residential and industrial building; decarbonizing manufacturing, agriculture, transportation, and other infrastructure; and helping other countries achieve carbon neutral economies and a global Green New Deal. It proposed a job guarantee to assure a living wage job to every person who wants one; mitigation of income and wealth inequality; basic income programs; and universal health care. It advocated innovative financial structures including cooperative and public ownership and public banks. Since that time a wide-ranging discussion has extended and fleshed out the vision of the Green New Deal to include an even wider range of proposals to address climate, jobs, and justice.

The Green New Deal first emerged as a proposal for national mobilization, and national legislation has remained an essential element. But whether legislation embodying the Green New Deal will be passed, and how adequate it will be, continues to hang in the balance. Current “Build Back Better” legislation has already been downsized to less than half its original scale, and many of the crucial elements of the Green New Deal have been cut along the way. How much of the Green New Deal program will actually be passed now or in the future cannot currently be known.

But meanwhile, there are thousands of efforts to realize the goals of the Green New Deal at community, municipal, county, state, tribal, industry, and sectoral levels. While these cannot substitute for a national program, they can contribute enormously to the Green New Deal’s goals of climate protection and economic justice. Indeed, they may well turn out to be the tip of the Green New Deal spear, developing in the vacuum left by the limitations of national programs.

Learning About a Just Transition

Climate Jobs and Just Transition Summit: Strong Unions, Sustainable Transport

Viewpoint: Climate Justice Must Be a Top Priority for Labor

By Peter Knowlton and John Braxton - Labor Notes, September 21, 2021

Today’s existential crisis for humanity is the immediate need to shift from fossil fuels to renewable energy. All of us have to. Everywhere. For workers and for our communities there is no more pressing matter than this.

We need to begin a discussion among co-workers, creating demands and acting on them at the workplace and bargaining table. We need to show up at local union meetings, central labor councils, and town halls supporting demands that move us toward a fossil fuel-free future.

At the same time, we need to protect the incomes and benefits of workers affected by the transition off of fossil fuels and to make sure they have real training opportunities. And we need to restore and elevate those communities that have been sacrificed for fossil fuel extraction, production, and distribution. We should promote candidates for elected office who support legislation which puts those aspirations into practice, such as the Green New Deal.

If the labor movement does not take the lead in pushing for a fair and just transition, one of these futures awaits us: (1) the world will either fail to make the transition to renewable energy and scorch us all, or (2) the working class will once again be forced to make all of the sacrifices in the transition.

The time is long past ripe for U.S. unions and our leaders to step up and use our collective power in our workplaces, in our communities, and in the streets to deal with these crises. That means we need to break out of the false choice between good union jobs and a livable environment.

There are no jobs on a dead planet. Social, economic, and environmental justice movements can provide some pressure to mitigate the crises, but how can we succeed if the labor movement and the environmental movement continue to allow the fossil fuel industry to pit us against each other? Rather than defending industries that need to be transformed, labor needs to insist that the transition to a renewable energy economy include income protection, investment in new jobs in communities that now depend on fossil fuels, retraining for those new jobs, and funds to give older workers a bridge to retirement.

Like any change of technology or work practice in a shop, if the workers affected don’t receive sufficient guarantees of income, benefits, and protections their support for it, regardless of the urgency, will suffer.

U.S. Labour unions divided on carbon capture

By Elizabeth Perry - Work and Climate Change Report, September 8, 2021

A new Labor Network for Sustainability background paper asks Can Carbon Capture Save Our Climate – and Our Jobs?. Author Jeremy Brecher treads carefully around this issue, acknowledging that it has been a divisive one within the labour movement for years. The report presents the history of carbon capture efforts; their objectives; their current effectiveness; and alternatives to CCS. It states: “LNS believe that the use of carbon capture should be determined by scientific evaluation of its effectiveness in meeting the targets and timetables necessary to protect the climate and of its full costs and benefits for workers and society. Those include health, safety, environmental, employment, waste disposal, and other social costs and benefits.”

Applying those principles to carbon capture, the paper takes a position:

“Priority for investment should go to methods of GHG reduction that can be implemented rapidly over the next decade” – for example, renewables and energy efficiency. … “Carbon capture technologies have little chance of making major reductions in GHG emissions over the next decade and the market cost and social cost of carbon capture is likely to be far higher. Therefore, the priority for climate protection investment should be for conversion to fossil-free renewable energy and energy efficiency, not for carbon capture.”

“Priority for research and development should go to those technological pathways that offer the best chance of reducing GHGs with the most social benefit and the least social cost. Based on the current low GHG-reduction effectiveness and high market cost of carbon capture, its high health, safety, environmental, waste disposal, and other social costs, and the uncertainty of future improvements, carbon capture is unlikely to receive high evaluation relative to renewable energy and energy efficiency. Research on carbon capture should only be funded if scientific evaluation shows that it provides a better pathway to climate safety than renewable energy and energy efficiency.”

“…..People threatened with job loss as a result of reduction in fossil fuel burning should not expect carbon capture to help protect their jobs any time in the next 10-20 years. There are strong reasons to doubt that it will be either effective or cost competitive in the short run. Those adversely affected by reduction in fossil fuel burning can best protect themselves through managed rather than unmanaged decline in fossil fuel burning combined with vigorous just transition policies.”

This evaluation by LNS stands in contrast to the Carbon Capture Coalition, a coalition of U.S. businesses, environmental groups and labour unions. In August, the Coalition sent an Open Letter to Congressional Leaders, proposing a suite of supports for “carbon management technologies” – including tax incentives and “Robust funding for commercial scale demonstration of carbon capture, direct air capture and carbon utilization technologies.” Signatories to the Open Letter include the AFL-CIO, Boilermakers Local 11, International Brotherhood of Boilermakers, Laborers International Union, United Mine Workers of America, United Steelworkers, and Utility Workers Union of America. Although the BlueGreen Alliance was not one of the signatories, it did issue a September 2 press release which “applauds” the appointment of the Assistant Secretary for Fossil Energy and Carbon Management within the U.S. Department of Energy. The new appointee currently serves as the Vice President, Carbon Management for the Great Plains Institute – and The Great Plains Institute is the convenor of the Carbon Capture Coalition.

Carbon Capture and Storage Exposed: Key Reports

By Staff - Sunflower Alliance, September 4, 2021

“Carbon Capture and Sequestration” sounds like it could save us—but the current massive campaign for CCS is led by fossil fuel companies. They are advocating and implementing CCS measures that would prop up and even expand carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuel, and worsen environmental racism.

Several recent reports explain the current push for CCS and why it’s so dangerous.

Can Carbon Capture Save Our Climate and Our Jobs?, from the Labor Network for Sustainability, takes apart the claims of carbon capture proponents, describes the failures of many carbon capture projects financed with federal tax money, and shows how carbon capture projects allow the pollution of frontline communities to continue or increase.

Top 5 Reasons Carbon Capture And Storage (CCS) is Bogus, from Food and Water Watch, gives a brief explanation of these five reasons:
1. Carbon capture is an expensive failure.
2. Carbon capture is energy intensive.
3. Carbon capture actually increases emissions.
4. Storage presents significant risks.
5. Carbon capture trades off with other critical solutions.

DOE Quietly Backs Plan for Carbon Capture Network Larger Than Entire Oil Pipeline System is a horrifying report revealing that “Obama Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz and major labor group AFL-CIO are behind the ‘blueprint’ for a multi-billion dollar system to transport captured CO2—and offer a lifeline to fossil fuel plants.”

Gassing Satartia: Carbon Dioxide Pipeline Linked to Mass Poisoning is a Huff Post report about a recent explosion in one of those pipelines.

And the most delightful five-minute video from Australia, satirizing CCS with tons of facts and attitude.

ecology.iww.org web editor's note: See also: 10 myths about net zero targets and carbon offsetting, busted - Climate Home News.

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