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Labor Network for Sustainability (LNS)

Can Carbon Capture Save Our Climate— and Our Jobs?

By Jeremy Brecher - Labor Network for Sustainability, June 2021

As storms, heat waves, fires, floods, and other devastating effects of global warming have grown, more and more people have become convinced of the need to reduce greenhouse gases (GHG) emitted into the atmosphere. The Paris Agreement defined the goal of limiting global average temperature increase to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. At the April Climate Summit President Joe Biden announced the U.S. will target reducing emissions by 50-52 percent by 2030 compared to 2005 levels and reaffirmed the U.S. commitment to reach net zero emissions by 2050. These goals indicate what the consensus of climate scientists says is necessary to ward off the most destructive possible effects of climate change. The question remains how to realize them.

There are two well established and proven means to reduce GHG emissions. The first is to replace the burning of fossil fuels with renewable energy from solar, wind, hydropower, and geothermal sources. The other is to reduce the amount of energy we need through a myriad proven means ranging from switching from gasoline to electric vehicles to insulating houses. Numerous studies and thousands of implementations lay out the scientific and economic effectiveness of protecting the climate by reducing fossil fuel emissions.

There is a third means that is being promoted: continue burning fossil fuels but capture carbon–the principal greenhouse gas–either in the smokestack or by sucking it out of the air after it has been released. Various techniques for doing this have been developed with various names–carbon capture and storage (CCS), carbon capture and utilization (CCU), bioenergy with CCS (BECCS), and direct air capture with CCS (DACCS). We will refer to them together as “carbon capture.”

There is a debate in the climate and labor movements about the use of carbon capture as a climate solution. Some maintain that carbon capture is necessary to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. They argue as well that it can be a way to save the jobs of coal miners and fossil-fuel power plant workers and provide power needed for industry while still protecting the climate and that it will create large numbers of jobs. Others say that carbon capture is unproven, costly, problematic for health and the environment, more productive of jobs, and ineffective for climate protection. They argue that renewable energy and energy efficiency are superior both for climate and for workers and communities. They maintain that a transition to fossil-free energy is already underway and that organized labor and the climate movement should take the lead in ensuring that transition benefits rather than harms workers.

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Making "Build Back Better" Better: Aligning Climate, Jobs, and Justice

By Jeremy Brecher - Common Dreams, June 1, 2021

At the end of March 2021, President Joe Biden laid out his $2 trillion American Jobs Plan–part of his "Build Back Better" infrastructure program–to "reimagine and rebuild a new economy." Congress is expected to spend months debating and revising the plan. The public and many special interests will play a significant role in that process. President Biden has promised to follow up with additional proposals to further address climate policy and social needs.

Many particular interests will seek to benefit from the overall Build Back Better program–and that's good. But as Congress and the public work to shape the ultimate form of that program, we also need to keep our eyes on the ultimate prize: combining climate, jobs, and justice. What policies can integrate the needs of working people, the most oppressed, and our threatened climate and environment?

The Green New Deal reconfigured American politics with its core proposition: fix joblessness and inequality by putting people to work at good jobs fixing the climate. The Biden administration's Build Back Better (BBB) plan has put that idea front and center in American politics. Now we need to specify strategies that will actually achieve all three objectives at once.

There are many valuable plans that have been proposed in addition to Biden's Build Back Better plan. They include the original Green New Deal resolution sponsored by Sen. Ed Markey and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez; the THRIVE (Transform, Heal, and Renew by Investing in a Vibrant Economy) Agenda; the Evergreen Action Plan; the Sierra Club's "How to Build Back Better" economic renewal plan; the AFL-CIO's "Energy Transitions" proposals; the BlueGreen Alliance's "Solidarity for Climate Action," and a variety of others. All offer contributions for overall vision and for policy details.

There are six essential elements that must be integrated in order to realize the Build Back Better we need for climate, jobs, and justice:

  • Managed decline of fossil fuel burning
  • Full-spectrum job creation
  • Fair access to good jobs
  • Labor rights and standards
  • Urgent and effective climate protection
  • No worker or community left behind

These strategies can serve as criteria for developing, evaluating, and selecting policies to make Build Back Better all that it could be.

Bay Area Transit Workers and Riders Demand to Unlock $1.7 Billion Already Earmarked for Jobs and Bus Service

Congress Should Enact a Federal Renewable Electricity Standard and Reject Gas and False Solutions

By various - (690 Organizations), May 13, 2021

Dear Majority Leader Schumer, Speaker Pelosi, Chairman Manchin, and Chairman Pallone,

On behalf of our millions of members and activists nationwide, we, the undersigned 697 organizations—including climate, environmental and energy justice, democracy, faith, Indigenous, and racial justice groups—urge you to pass a Renewable Electricity Standard (RES) in the infrastructure package and reject gas and other false climate solutions to address the climate emergency.

As Congress prepares to pass a historic infrastructure package and President Biden has globally pledged to slash carbon emissions by 50% below 2005 levels by 2030, we should look to the 28 states, Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico that have passed Renewable Electricity Standards (also known as renewable portfolio standards), as opposed to only seven states with Clean Electricity Standards (CES). The bold leadership demonstrated in RES-leading states like Hawaii, Vermont, and Washington, D.C. provide a roadmap to building a new renewable energy future. Funding this transition must start with shifting all fossil fuel subsidies to mass renewable energy deployment.

Renewable energy sources are sources that naturally replenish and are most often defined as solar, wind, and geothermal power. In contrast, so-called “clean” energy standards generally encompass these renewable sources but also include other technologies, like gas with or without carbon capture and sequestration, biomass, and nuclear, which are significant sources of pollution and carry a host of health and safety risks. In order to avoid perpetuating the deep racial, social, and ecological injustices of our current fossil-fueled energy system, Congress should ensure that any federal energy standard does not include these dirty energy sources.

Specifically, we write to express our concern that recent Clean Electricity Standard (CES) legislation, including the CLEAN Future Act (H.R. 1512), embed these injustices because they include gas and false solutions. The inclusion of gas and carbon capture and storage as qualifying energies in any CES undermines efforts to end the fossil fuel era and halt the devastating pollution disproportionately experienced by Black, Brown, Indigenous, and other communities of color in this country. Even a partial credit for fossil fuel resources that attempts to factor in lifecycle emissions runs the risk of subsidizing environmental harm for years to come. Allowing dirty energy to be bundled with clean energy under a federal energy standard would prolong the existence of sacrifice zones around dirty energy investments and delay the transition to a system of 100 percent truly clean, renewable energy.

Rutgers Divests!

By staff - Labor Network for Sustainability, May 2021

Members of Rutgers American Association of University Professors – American Federation of Teachers (AAUP-AFT) are joining with student allies in celebrating a vote to divest from fossil fuels by the Rutgers Board of Governors and Board of Trustees.

The decision, set in motion last year by a formal request from a broad student coalition, backed by Rutgers unions, will commit the university to cutting financial connections to any company or investment fund whose primary business is in oil, coal, or natural gas, from exploration and extraction to pipelines and transportation.

Divestment is the culmination of years of efforts by students, faculty, and staff to get Rutgers to take concrete action toward the goal of climate justice, said David Hughes, past president and current treasurer of Rutgers AAUP-AFT, the union representing full-time faculty and graduate workers. “This is seven-and-a-half years in the making,” Hughes said, “and it will give greater strength to the divestment movement at exactly the moment when the new Biden administration is beginning to take up climate change.”

American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten also highlighted the years of organizing. “The university community at Rutgers has shown that when people come together around an issue like climate sustainability, change is possible,” Weingarten said. “Hopefully the work Rutgers is doing on fossil fuel divestment will set a standard for other institutions. For our universities to truly become institutions of climate mitigation and resiliency, we must also invest in solarizing buildings and other measures that generate clean energy.”

Does Shale Gas Extraction Grow Jobs?

Public Forum on Empowering the Post Pandemic Working Class

Can Postal Vehicles Help Us Fight Climate Change?

By David Yao - Labor Notes, April 28, 2021

The question of whether the Postal Service acts as a business or as a public service is playing out once again—this time in the discussion over fighting climate change.

The Postal Service has more than 200,000 delivery vehicles, many of which are 30 years old and overdue for replacement. They expose workers to exhaust fumes that are a rarity elsewhere in 2021. Hundreds have caught fire, in part due to age. The question of what to replace them with has become a topic of debate.

The Postal Service has a large carbon footprint, starting with its vehicles. While it set ambitious “goals,” such as decreasing petroleum use by 20 percent from 2005 to 2015, in fact it increased petroleum use by nearly 20 percent during that period, and another 10 percent by 2018. Then there’s the contract fleet of over-the-road truckers who haul mail long distances—these trucks used three times as much gas or diesel as the Postal Service’s own fleet did.

The Biden administration’s January Executive Order on the Climate Crisis called for a transition to zero-emission vehicles for all government vehicles, including the postal fleet. But in February the Postal Service made its long-awaited decision to award the contract for replacement vehicles—accepting the proposal of military contractor Oshkosh Truck for a 90 percent gas-powered fleet, rather than the competing all-electric vehicle proposal from Workhorse Group.

The decision to stick with mainly fossil fuel-powered vans would be a missed opportunity to reduce the Postal Service’s output of the greenhouse gases that cause climate change. Thirteen Congressional representatives have called on the Postal Board of Governors to delay implementation of the contract until there is a full review, citing in part Biden’s call for zero-emission vehicles.

The Postal Service’s 10-year plan, released in March, states that it would need $8 billion in Congressional funding to enable the Postal Service to transition to a completely electric fleet by 2035. The Biden administration’s newly released infrastructure proposal does provide funding to electrify government vehicles, but at this point it is unclear whether a divided Congress would approve that proposal, or in what form.

Noam Chomsky and Robert Pollin: Green New Deal Is Essential for Human Survival

By C.J. Polychroniou - Truthout, April 22, 2021

Earth Day has been celebrated since 1970, an era which marks the beginning of the modern environmental movement, with concerns built primarily around air and water pollution. Of course, the state of the environment has shifted dramatically since then, and while environmental policy has changed a lot in the United States over the past 50 years, biodiversity is in great danger and the climate crisis threatens to make the planet uninhabitable.

On the 51st anniversary of Earth Day, world-renowned scholar and public intellectual Noam Chomsky, institute professor emeritus at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, laureate professor of linguistics and also the Agnese Nelms Haury chair in the Agnese Nelms Haury Program in Environment and Social Justice at the University of Arizona; and leading progressive economist Robert Pollin, distinguished professor of economics and co-director of the Political Economy Research Institute at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, share their thoughts on the state of planet Earth in this exclusive interview for Truthout.

C.J. Polychroniou: The theme of Earth Day 2021, which first took place in 1970 with the emergence of environmental consciousness in the U.S. during the late 1960s, is “Restore Our Earth.” Noam, how would you assess the rate of progress to save the environment since the first Earth Day?

Noam Chomsky: There is some progress, but by no means enough, almost anywhere. Evidence unfortunately abounds. The drift toward disaster proceeds on its inexorable course, more rapidly than rise in general awareness of the severity of the crisis.

To pick an example of the drift toward disaster almost at random from the scientific literature, a study that appeared a few days ago reports that, “Marine life is fleeing the equator to cooler waters — this could trigger a mass extinction event,” an eventuality with potentially horrendous consequences.

It’s all too easy to document the lack of awareness. One striking illustration, too little noticed, is the dog that didn’t bark. There is no end to the denunciations of Trump’s misdeeds, but virtual silence about the worst crime in human history: his dedicated race to the abyss of environmental catastrophe, with his party in tow.

They couldn’t refrain from administering a last blow just before being driven from office (barely, and perhaps not for long). The final act in August 2020 was to roll back the last of the far-too-limited Obama-era regulations to have escaped the wrecking ball, “effectively freeing oil and gas companies from the need to detect and repair methane leaks — even as new research shows that far more of the potent greenhouse gas is seeping into the atmosphere than previously known … a gift to many beleaguered oil and gas companies.” It is imperative to serve the prime constituency, great wealth and corporate power, damn the consequences.

Indications are that with the rise of oil prices, fracking is reviving, adhering to Trump’s deregulation so as to improve profit margins, while again placing a foot on the accelerator to drive humanity over the cliff. An instructive contribution to impending crisis, minor in context.

Earth Day, Labor, and Me

By Joe Uehlein - Labor Network for Sustainability, April 21, 2021

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.

When it comes to the environment, organized labor has two hearts beating within a single breast. On the one hand, the millions of union members are people and citizens like everybody else, threatened by air and water pollution, dependent of fossil fuels, and threatened by the devastating consequences of climate change. On the other hand, unions are responsible for protecting the jobs of their members, and efforts to protect the environment sometimes may threaten workers’ jobs. First as a working class kid and then as a labor official, I’ve been dealing with the two sides of this question my whole life.

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