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Climate Change As Class War: A Review

By Tom Wetzel - Ideas and Action, December 6, 2022

As the burning of fossil fuels continues to pump up the size of the carbon dioxide layer in the atmosphere, the global warming crisis becomes ever more acute. In its “Code Red for Humanity” warning in 2021, the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change said: “The alarm bells are deafening, and the evidence is irrefutable: greenhouse gas emissions from fossil-fuel burning and deforestation are choking our planet and putting billions of people at immediate risk. Global heating is affecting every region on Earth…”

But we’re losing the climate battle thus far. In Climate Change as Class War, Marxist geographer Matthew Huber argues that the climate movement is losing because it is rooted in the “professional class.” He argues that this class lacks the power to defeat the powerful capitalist interests that drag their heals against the kind of drastic cutting back of fossil-fuel burning that is needed. For Huber, the climate movement needs to be rooted in the working class to have sufficient power to enact radical structural reforms needed to effectively fight global warming. 

Huber analyses the existing climate movement as consisting of three layers. First, there are the “science communicators” like James Hansen who try to do popular education about climate change science. A second group are “policy technocrats” with expertise in law or policy studies and work in think tanks, the university world, or non-profits. Their orientation is to craft “smart” policy solutions. A third group are the “anti-system radicals” whose exposure to the science of environmental devastation “leads to a kind of political radicalization.” Huber views these groups as part of the “professional class” and tries to use his theory of this class to explain the politics of the climate movement. Huber pinpoints two features of the climate movement that he sees as sources of weakness: (1) The emphasis on high levels of personal consumption as a factor in global warming, thus leading to a “politics of less” — especially a feature of “degrowth” politics; and (2) an emphasis on science education. “Making climate politics purely about science evades the question of power. It allows us to attribute…inaction on climate change as simply due to misinformation rather than a lack of power.”

Huber appeals to the theory of the “Professional-Managerial Class” (proposed by Barbara and John Ehrenreich) to try to explain the origin of these features of the “professional class” climate movement. Here he points to the centrality of credentials which mediates the access of the “professional class” to the labor market. This includes “the existence of a specialized body of knowledge, accessible only by lengthy training,” degree and licensing programs, professional associations, which he regards as “forms of class organization.” This tends to encourage acceptance of meritocratic ideology which favors decision-making power for managers and professionals. This emphasis on the importance of knowledge and the role of professionals tends to favor the science education emphasis of the climate movement, as Huber sees it.

In the Ehrenreichs’ theory of the PMC their class position is based on their control over cultural and social reproduction. This is how teachers and writers are included in the class. Among both Marxists and libertarian socialists, however, class has historically been seen as an institutional group-to-group power relation in social production, as in Marx’s concept of capital as a social power relation. Looking at it from this point of view, I think the PMC theory tends to paper over a distinction between two different class groups. First, there is a group I call the bureaucratic control class. This group’s class position is based on their relative monopoly of decision-making power, via bureaucratic hierarchies that exist to control labor and run corporations and government agencies day-to-day. This includes not only salaried managers but high-end professionals who work closely with management to control labor and defend corporate interests, such as corporate lawyers, HR experts, and industrial engineers who design jobs and work organization. This class power relation is the basis of the clear antagonism between this layer and the working class. 

It’s noteworthy that school teachers, newspaper reporters, script writers, and nurses all form unions and occasionally go on strike. These lower level professional employees are not usually part of the management apparatus, and don’t manage other workers. As such, they have a structural position like the core working class of manual workers, not the bureaucratic control class. The people in this lower professional layer often have college degrees, and sometimes do show elitism towards the core manual working class. They also tend to have more autonomy in their work. However, the “skilled trades” in the early 20th century often showed elitism towards less skilled manual workers and often had relative autonomy in their work. But we generally regard skilled blue collar workers (such as tool and die makers) as part of the working class. 

Lower level professional employees may be tempted to middle class meritocratic ideology. As such they will be in a conflicted position, as they also share the subordination of the working class position. This is why Erik Olin Wright’s phrase “contradictory class location” is appropriate for this group — a point that Huber concedes.

A Discussion on the Inflation Reduction Act and Climate Justice

Labour and Climate Activists Protest Against Anti-union Laws

By staff - Free Our Unions, October 12, 2022

Around 80 activists from a range of campaign groups and unions protested outside the Department for Business, Energy, and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) on 10 October, as part of an action called by Free Our Unions and Earth Strike UK’s Empower the Unions initiative. As far as we know, this is the first piece of direct action called specifically to protest the Truss government’s plans for new anti-union laws since Truss revealed the policy.

BEIS was chosen because it will likely be central to developing the legislation for new restrictions on strikes, and because it is a key department in terms of climate policy. Free Our Unions has sought active coordination with activists from the climate movement, and Earth Strike UK’s Empower the Unions initiative seeks to highlight the specific ways in which anti-union laws constrain workers’ ability to take action in defence of the climate.

Speakers at the protest included Mark Boothroyd (A&E nurse and Unite activist); Sab (Earth Strike UK activist and Industrial Workers of the World organier); Ruth Cashman (Lambeth Unison); Jared Wood (RMT London Transport Regional Organiser); Ria Patel (Green Party Equality and Diversity spokesperson); EC (PCS rep); Andy Warren (firefighter and local rep for the FBU); Hamish (Exctinction Rebellion Trade Unionists); and Benedict Flexen (Earth Strike UK: Empower the Unions).

Speeches were punctuated by chanting, accompanied by drumming from the Extinction Rebellion samba band.

Following the protest, an assembly took place in a venue nearby, discussing various aspects of the politics of anti-union laws, and proposals for campaigning on the issue forward in our workplaces and unions.

Making It Make Sense: Equitable Transition and What EJ Advocates Should Know about the IRA

First LNS Young Workers Convergence on Climate

By staff - Labor Network for Sustainability, October 1, 2022

For LNS’s inaugural Young Worker Convergence, we brought together nearly 100 young workers from 23 states (as well as DC and Canada) and more than 50 different worker and environmental organizations to participate in workshops, to hear from our union comrades who have successfully built labor power in service of climate justice, to share strategies across states and sectors, and to build a collective vision for a climate justice movement led by and for workers.

We know that there are thousands of other young workers who could not make it to the convergence who are ready to join us in building a stronger labor-climate movement, which is why we’re planning a multimedia zine project to commemorate the conference as well as provide a resource for other workers who want to fight for climate justice! Stay tuned for photos, facilitation materials, and other reflections from the Young Worker Convergence on Climate!

For more information: www.labor4sustainability.org/ywlp/ywlp-in-depth/young-worker-convergence/

Labour and the Global Climate Strike: An interview with Nigel Barriffe

By Spencer Bridgman and Nigel Barriffe - Spring, September 20, 2022

For thousands of years, Indigenous Peoples across Turtle Island have cared for and protected the land and water we all rely on. This is especially true in settler-colonial Canada, where Indigenous Peoples have always been at the forefront of the climate justice movement. Two recent examples of this is the work of the Wet’suwet’en People and the Keepers of the Water. Their calls for climate justice have been amplified in recent years through the blossoming of Fridays for Future: a youth-led, international movement demanding immediate action to address the climate crisis. Under this banner, student strikes have been held across the globe, from Tokyo to Tehran to Toronto. 

This year, a Global Climate Strike is taking place on September 23 and Fridays for Future TO is leading the Toronto action. A number of groups are joining the strike in solidarity, including a Labour and Allies Contingent, who are meeting at Steelworkers Hall, 25 Cecil St. at 12:30pm and will unite with the main march at Queen’s Park at 2pm. 

Spring Magazine spoke to labour organizer and elementary school teacher Nigel Barriffe about the climate strike and the many intersections between the labour and climate justice movements. Nigel is active in a number of roles including as Vice President of the Elementary Teachers of Toronto, President at the Urban Alliance on Race Relations, and a board member at the Canadian Anti-Hate Network and Good Jobs For All

The Promise and Perils of Biden’s Climate Policy

By staff - European Trade Union Institute, September 15, 2022

The recent Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) is properly recognised as the largest climate policy in US history. In this short essay I will first summarise and comment on its provisions, then outline the reactions to it, with a focus on labour unions, and will close by providing my own thoughts.

The IRA allocates around $370 billion over a period of ten years. About 75% of that is in the form of incentives (rather than direct investments or regulatory mandates) to advance the transition to ‘clean energy’ that includes renewables but also nuclear power, biofuels, hydrogen, and carbon capture and sequestration. These incentives focus primarily on advancing the production of clean energy but also on stimulating its consumption. Smaller energy investments focus on tackling pollution in poorer communities and on conservation and rural development.

The IRA also authorises as much as $350 billion of loans to be disbursed by the Department of Energy. While such loans have been around since the Bush Administration, the amounts and the likelihood that they will be used during the Biden Administration are much higher. Finally, its main regulatory provision is the designation of carbon, methane and other heat-trapping emissions from power plants, automobiles, and oil and gas wells as air pollutants under the Clean Air Act, one of the bedrocks of US environmental legislation, which the Environmental Protection Agency implements. Overall, it is estimated that by 2030 the IRA will help reduce emissions by around 40% of 2005 levels, compared to the about 25% reduction projected without it. 

However, the policy mandates that renewable energy siting permits cannot be approved during any year unless accompanied by the opening up of 2 million acres of land or 60 million acres of ocean to oil and gas leasing bids, respectively, during the prior year (for more details see 50265 of Act). In either case, the amount of actual leasing and drilling is subject to market dynamics rather than regulatory limits, while the Act also streamlines the permitting process for pipelines. The growing transition to electric vehicles will lessen the market for oil but the strategic repositioning of natural gas in energy production (as well as plastics) suggests that it (along with nuclear power) will be a long-term source of energy, including in the production of hydrogen. Nevertheless, overall, it is the prevailing view that the IRA will decisively transition the US into renewable energy as part of a broader energy mix.

Justice 4 Jackson. Help us Fix Jackson’s Water System and Build More Autonomy and People Power in the City

By Kali Akuno - Cooperation Jackson, September 5, 2022

Jackson, Mississippi is currently suffering through an unprecedented water crisis. After decades of systematic and intentional neglect due to environmental racism, capital flight and deindustrialization, the city's water system has collapsed. 

This collapse didn’t have to happen. As a result of the city’s declining tax base over the decade, it cannot pay for the repairs by itself. Nor should it have to. Jackson is the Capitol of the state of Mississippi, which means it is the base of state government and resources. In addition, it is also where the Federal government’s administrative resources in the state are concentrated. These entities use the water system, just like the cities over 160,000, predominantly Black residents do. They must pay their fair share in overhauling and modernizing the system. 

Jackson’s elected officials have been asking the state government to make a substantive contribution to the system for decades. However, the Republican, predominantly white, party leadership that has dominated state government for generations now, fundamentally refuses. They would rather the city collapse than structurally enable and support its Black political leadership and Black life in general.

Enough is enough! The State and Federal governments must provide the City of Jackson the resources it needs to completely overhaul and modernize the city's water filtration and delivery systems. The new system must be designed with ecological sustainability in mind, and it must be built by the working people of Jackson. Money must not be an issue. If the government can generate billions of dollars to provide immediate and long term aid to the governments of Ukraine, Taiwan, and Israel so readily, then it can generate them for the people of Jackson. 

Justice for Jackson Entails the implementation of a Just Transition that adheres to the following principles and demands: 

  1. That the State and Federal government immediately fund the complete overhaul of the Jackson water treatment and delivery systems. 
  2. That the new system fully remains within the democratic control of the city of Jackson. 
  3. That the new system be built by the people of Jackson and that over 50% of the contracts awarded be granted to either contractors from Jackson and/or Black and other minority contractors to ensure equity and the development of intergenerational wealth in our communities. 
  4. That the new system be ecologically designed and built with as many locally and or regionally sourced resources as possible. 

Catastrophe and Ecosocialist Strategy

By John Molyneux - Global Ecosocialist Network, September 4, 2022

Recent events – the terrible floods in Pakistan, the drought and floods in China, the drought and floods in many parts of Africa, the heatwave and fires in France, Spain and Portugal, the fires in the American West and floods in Kentucky and more disasters by the day– make it clear that the catastrophe of climate chaos is upon us. To this must be added the chilling knowledge that this is only the starting point of a process that can only get worse.

The simple fact is that decades of warnings of impending disaster by scientists and the environmental movement have been studiously ignored by our rulers in clouds of greenwashing and ‘blah! blah! blah!’ The fact that COP 27 is being held in Sharm el-Sheik under the hideous Al-Sisi dictatorship, where no real protest is possible and that COP 28 will be held in the United Arab Emirates, is further confirmation that global capitalism is not going to change its spots.

This raises a serious strategic problem: what should the movement, and in particular ecosocialists, do next?

Up to now the climate movement as a whole has focused on raising the alarm: a) in the hope that our rulers will take effective action; b) in the hope of making the international public sufficiently aware to change its own behaviour and to pressure governments to change theirs. Within this framework, ecosocialists have focused on making the general intellectual case for the ecocidal nature of capitalism and the necessity of ecosocialist transformation. Doubtless these efforts will continue and doubtless we should continue to support them. But what if they are not enough and what if the hopes on which they are based are false or at least questionable?

The Inflation Reduction Act and the Labor-Climate Movement

By staff - Labor Network for Sustainability, September 2022

Passage of the Inflation Reduction Act reveals the power that can arise when the movements for worker protection, climate protection, and justice protection join forces.

The fossil fuel industry, the Republican Party, conservative fossil-fuel Democrats, and right-wing ideologues combined to block the climate, labor, and social justice programs of the Green New Deal and Build Back Better. They almost succeeded. But at the last minute, the combined power of climate protectors, worker advocates, and justice fighters was enough to force passage of the Inflation Reduction Act, the most significant climate legislation in U.S. history.[1]

That power was enough to include important positive elements in the Inflation Reduction Act. It will provide the largest climate protection investment ever made. It will create an estimated 1 to 1.5 million jobs annually for a ten-year period.[2] It includes modest but significant funding to address pollution in frontline communities.[3]

But the power of the fossil fuel industry and its allies was still enough to gut important parts of a program for climate, jobs, and justice – and to add provisions that promote injustice and climate change. The legislation includes only one-quarter of the investment necessary to meet the Paris climate goals and prevent the worst consequences of global warming. It allows much of its funding to be squandered on unproven technologies that claim to reduce greenhouse gas emissions but whose primary effect may simply be to permit the continued burning of fossil fuels – and enrich their promoters. It allows increased extraction of fossil fuels, especially on federal lands. It allows massive drilling and pipeline construction that will turn areas like the Gulf Coast and Appalachia into de facto “sacrifice zones” where expanded fossil fuel infrastructure will devastate the environment – and the people. It does not guarantee that the jobs it creates will be good jobs. It makes few “just transition” provisions for workers and communities whose livelihoods may be threatened by the changes it will fund.

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