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The Green New Deal Just Won a Major Union Endorsement. What's Stopping the AFL-CIO?

By Mindy Isser - In These Times, August 12, 2020

The American Federation of Teachers (AFT), the second largest teachers’ union in the country, passed a resolution in support of the Green New Deal at its biennial convention at the end of July. The Green New Deal, federal legislation introduced in early 2019, would create a living-wage job for anyone who wants one and implement 100% clean and renewable energy by 2030. The endorsement is huge news for both Green New Deal advocates and the AFL-CIO, the largest federation of unions in the United States. The AFT’s endorsement could be a sign of environmental activists’ growing power, and it sends a message to the AFL-CIO that it, too, has an opportunity to get on board with the Green New Deal. But working people’s conditions are changing rapidly, and with nearly half of all workers in the country without a job, the leaders of the AFL-CIO and its member unions may choose to knuckle down on what they perceive to be bread-and-butter issues, instead of fighting more broadly and boldly beyond immediate workplace concerns.

The AFT endorsement follows that of the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA (AFA-CWA), Service Employees International Union (SEIU), National Nurses United (NNU) and the Maine AFL-CIO — all of which declared their support for the Green New Deal in 2019. And while local unions have passed resolutions in support of the Green New Deal, the AFT, NNU and AFA-CWA are the only national unions in the AFL-CIO to endorse the Green New Deal. (SEIU is affiliated with another labor federation, Change to Win.)

Yet the AFL-CIO has remained resistant. When Sen. Ed Markey (D‑Mass.) and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D‑N.Y.) introduced the Green New Deal legislation in February 2019, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka told reporters, ​“We need to address the environment. We need to do it quickly.” But he also noted that, ​“We need to do it in a way that doesn’t put these communities behind, and leave segments of the economy behind. So we’ll be working to make sure that we do two things: That by fixing one thing we don’t create a problem somewhere else.”

Where Trumka has been skeptical and resistant, some union leaders in the federation have been more forceful in their opposition; many unions with members who work in extractive industries, including the building trades, slammed the legislation. Cecil Roberts, president of the United Mine Workers of America (UMWA), and Lonnie Stephenson, president of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, wrote a letter to both Markey and Ocasio-Cortez on behalf of the AFL-CIO Energy Committee that said, ​“We will not accept proposals that could cause immediate harm to millions of our members and their families. We will not stand by and allow threats to our members’ jobs and their families’ standard of living go unanswered.”

Equitable Access to Clean Energy Resilience

By various - The Climate Center, August 5, 2020

Featuring Janea Scott, California Energy Commission; Genevieve Shiroma, California Public Utilities Commission; Carmen Ramirez, Mayor Pro Tem of Oxnard; Ellie Cohen, The Climate Center and others about policies to support climate justice and community energy resilience in lower-income communities who suffer disproportionately from pollution and power outages.

This summit gave overview of what California is doing now for clean energy resilience and what new policies are needed to provide access to clean and reliable power for all. Mari Rose Taruc, Reclaim Our Power Utility Justice Campaign; Gabriela Orantes, North Bay Organizing Project; and Nayamin Martinez, Central California Environmental Justice Network discussed the issue of equitable access from an Environmental Justice perspective.

Mark Kyle, former Director of Government Affairs & Public Relations, Operating Engineers Local 3 and currently a North Bay attorney representing labor unions, nonprofits, and individuals; Jennifer Kropke, Workforce and Environmental Engagement for International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, Local Union 11, and Vivian Price, CSU Dominguez Hills & Labor Network for Sustainability talked about the Labor perspective.

Carolyn Glanton, Sonoma Clean Power; Sage Lang, Monterey Bay Community Power; Stephanie Chen, Senior Policy Counsel, MCE, and JP Ross, East Bay Community Energy discussed the work that Community Choice Agencies are doing to bring more energy resilience to lower-income communities.

There May Be No Choice but to Nationalize Oil and Gas—and Renewables, Too

By Sean Sweeney - New Labor Forum, August 2020

Once on the margin of the margins, calls for the nationalization of U.S. fossil fuel interests arebgrowing. Before the Covid-19 pandemic, the basic argument was this: nationalization could expedite the phasing out fossil fuels in order to reach climate targets while ensuring a “just transition” for workers in coal, oil, and gas. Nationalization would also remove the toxic political influence of “Big Oil” and other large fossil fuel corporations. The legal architecture for nationalization exists—principally via “eminent domain”—and should be used.

But the case for nationalization has gotten stronger in recent months. The share values of large fossil fuel companies have tanked, so this is a good time for the federal government to buy. In April 2020, one source estimated that a 100 percent government buyout of the entire sector would cost $700 billion, and a 51 percent stake in each of the major companies would, of course, be considerably less. However, in May 2020 stock prices rose by a third or so based on expectations of a fairly rapid restoration of demand.

But fears of a fresh wave of Covid-19 outbreaks sent shares tumbling downward in June. Nationalizing oil and gas would be a radical step, but this alone would not be enough to deliver a comprehensive energy transition that can meet climate goals as well as the social objectives of the Green New Deal. Such a massive task will require full public ownership of refineries, investor-owned utilities (IOUs), and nuclear and renewable energy interests.

Progressives may feel it’s unnecessary to go that far; why not focus on the “bad guys” in fossil fuels and leave the “good guys” in wind, solar, and “clean tech” alone? But this is not an option. The neoliberal “energy for profit” model is facing a full-spectrum breakdown, and the energy revolution that’s required to reach climate targets poses a series of formidable economic and technical challenges that will require careful energy planning and be anchored in a “public goods” approach. If we want a low carbon energy system, full public ownership is absolutely essential.

Forward Together: A Good Jobs and Climate Action Budget

By staff - Canadian Labour Congress, August 2020

The Canadian Labour Congress (CLC) believes that saving lives, protecting public health, and containing the coronavirus outbreak must remain the federal government’s overriding priority. In the near term, this includes continued income support for individuals unable to work due to COVID-19, as well as proper personal protective equipment, workplace health and safety precautions, and training for workers.

As public health measures permit, fiscal policy measures responding to the recession and unemployment crisis will need to prioritize helping Canadians return to decent jobs. The economic crisis has disproportionately affected low-paid, vulnerable workers in precarious employment, especially women, young workers, newcomers, workers of colour, and workers with disabilities. Accordingly, the plan for economic recovery must be gendered, inclusive, inequality-reducing, and sustainable.

Read the report (PDF).

Toxic Relationship: How refineries affect climate change and racial and economic injustice

By Jean Tepperman - East Bay Express - July 22, 2020

California should begin gradually reducing output from its oil refineries in order to avoid climate catastrophe and to make the transition to clean energy as equitable as possible. That's the conclusion of a major new report released July 6 by Communities for a Better Environment (CBE), endorsed by more than 40 environmental and social justice organizations.

While most people agree on the need to use less fossil fuel, many fear that requiring refineries to reduce production could lead to higher gasoline prices and a big economic hit for workers and communities that depend on refineries for income. Report-author Greg Karras responded, "If we start now, doing it gradually, it will give us the time to replace refinery-dependent economics." The report calls for cutting production 4 to 7 percent a year, starting in 2021.

California has set targets for cutting carbon emissions between now and 2050: the state's share of global cuts needed to keep temperature increases below catastrophic levels. Because the carbon that causes climate change builds up in the atmosphere, California has a carbon "budget"—the total amount it can emit from now until 2050. According to Decommissioning California Refineries, California will have to refine much less oil per year to avoid blowing through this carbon "budget" by about 2037.

"California is the biggest oil-refining center in Western North America," Karras said. "Oil refined here emits more carbon than all other activities in the state combined." Even if all other sources of carbon are reduced on schedule, Karras said, "we must refine much less oil if we hope to meet the state's carbon limit."

"We have to break free from our toxic relationship with oil before it takes us over a cliff," Karras said. "When you're in a car heading toward a cliff, it matters when you start putting on the brakes."

The sooner we start, the more likely we are to escape the worst impacts of climate change.

The issue is not just climate, said Andres Soto of CBE. He pointed out that refinery pollution is concentrated in communities like Richmond, centers of racial and economic injustice.

"Only 20 percent of Richmond is Euro-American," he said.

And the health consequences of having a refinery as a neighbor are severe.

Rodeo, another Contra Costa refinery town, "is in the 98th percentile for asthma," said resident Maureen Brennan, and it has high rates of skin disease, autoimmune disease and cancer—all linked to refinery-generated pollution.

Retired refinery worker Steve Garey, past president of a United Steelworkers local in Washington state, said starting now to plan for reduced refinery production could actually benefit refinery workers, since "the movement away from fossil fuels and toward renewables is going to accelerate. It's an economic reality. Renewables are cheaper than fossil fuel and getting cheaper all the time."

Recently when the pandemic cut demand for gasoline, Garey said, the Marathon refinery in Martinez shut down, leaving the workers and community stranded.

The current drop in oil use, Karras said, gives us a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to turn away from the cliff and build a cleaner and more equitable recovery.

Towards a Global Climate Strike

By John Molyneux - Global Ecosocialist Network - July 13, 2020

The IWW has not yet decided whether to endorse this call. This is posted here for information purposes only.

The Global Ecosocialist Network (GEN) is asking its members and affiliated organisations to popularise the idea of a global climate strike coinciding with the COP 26 Conference in Glasgow in November 2021.

To avoid misunderstanding it should be said at the outset that GEN is not itself presuming to call such a strike but we hope to spread the idea and be part of assembling a broad coalition that can issue such a call. Also the idea of a strike in November next year is not counter posed to any actions or struggles that may develop in the meantime but would complement them.

What follows are some comments on why I think this is a good idea and on some of the political thinking behind it.

First, the obvious. The issue of climate change has been overshadowed by the Covid pandemic but in fact the scientific evidence shows catastrophic climate change, particularly in the form of bouts of extreme heat, is developing even faster than the experts had predicted and making existing responses even more inadequate than they already were. It is vital that we put this question back at the centre of political debate.

Second, the mere fact that COP 26 was postponed for over a year shows that this issue is not really an urgent priority for the world’s rulers and therefore it is essential to build the mass popular movement to put them under pressure.

So why a global strike? The broad environmental movement will invest a great deal of energy into COP 26 both in terms of trying to exert influence within the Conference and in terms of mobilizing people to be on the streets of Glasgow and at various counter summits etc. But the fact is that the mass of ordinary people in Latin America, Africa, Asia, Oceania and even in Europe, will not be going to Glasgow and the idea of a climate strike offers a framework within which people can become engaged everywhere.

The idea of a climate strike next November provides a strategic goal which we can work towards in a multitude of ways over the next year. There will be innumerable conferences and organising meetings held by bodies ranging from NGOs and Charities (War on Want etc) to Extinction Rebellion and ecosocialist groups to radical political parties in the coming period. The goal of a global climate strike day can be canvassed at all of them in order to build momentum. It is something which, hopefully, everyone except the most conservative wing of the movement can support and combined with numerous other forms of action relevant to particular countries and situations.

Is it possible? It is, of course, by no means guaranteed but it IS possible. In the not too distant past the idea of a global strike on anything, let alone climate, would have seemed outlandish and akin to those tiny left sects that repeatedly called general strikes to zero effect. But times have changed. Most obviously we have seen the inspirational school strike movement launched by Greta Thunberg On 15 March 2019, the schools strikes exploded internationally. Here are some of the high points: Australia – 150,000; Germany – 300,000; France – 195,000; Italy – 200,000; Canada – 150,000; UK – 50,000; Austria – 30,000; Luxemburg – 15,000; Ireland – 16,000. There were also smaller strikes and protests in places as far flung as Reykjavik, Slovenia, Cape Town, Hong Kong and Bangkok. Overall, about 2,200 events took place in about 125 different countries, with more than a million participating worldwide. In 2019 there were strikes in the USA by McDonald’s workers against sexual harassment and prison strikes against unpaid labour. In India in 2016 an estimated 160 to 180 million public sector workers went on a 24 hour general strike against privatisation and government economic policies. It was hailed as the largest strike in history. In Spain on International Women’s Day, 2019, approximately 5 million held a strike against gender inequality and sex discrimination and this strike was initiated by feminists outside the official trade union movement. In the course of the fight for abortion rights there were important right-to-choose strikes in both Poland and Ireland. And there are Black Lives Matter strikes planned for the US on 20 July.

The proletarianisation of white collar work, the globalisation and multicultural diversification of the working class has facilitated the adoption of the quintessentially working class form of struggle – the strike – by people a long way from the traditional stereotype of the industrial worker.

Unions Standing Together: A World To Win

Decommissioning California Refineries: Climate and Health Paths in an Oil State

By Greg Karras - Communities for a Better Environment, July 2020

Machines that burn oil are going away. We will burn much less oil, either to prevent the increasing accumulation of pollution impacts that could cause the collapse of human societies as we know them, or as a footnote to the collapse of our societies and economies on which the petroleum fuel chain now feeds. Which path we take matters.

Sustainable energy technologies that are proven, available now, and obviously more economic than societal collapse could replace oil and other fossil fuels. But critical oil infrastructure, permitted mainly in working class communities and communities of color, is still growing. Environmental, economic, and racial injustice weaken societal capacity to break free of this toxic path. Societal capacity to organize—political feasibility—has emerged as the primary barrier to solving our existential pollution crisis.

California has this problem. It hosts the largest oil refining center in western North America. It has the worst air pollution in the nation, and yet it has allowed its oil sector’s critical infrastructure to grow in low-income communities of color, where this pollution is disparately severe compared with the state average. It uses pollution trading—the exchange of money for permits to pollute—leaving communities largely on our own to fight refinery and oil terminal expansion projects.

Communities rose up to stop tar sands projects in many inspiring efforts that for a decade have held to a trickle the flood of cheaper, dirtier oil that refiners sought. But some projects slipped through. The petroleum fuel chain emits more carbon from extracting, refining, and burning fuels made from the oil refined in California than all other activities in the state combined, and as other emissions have begun to decline, its emissions have not.

In fact its emissions increased from 2013–2017 as refiners here increased production for exports that sold for more money than the entire oil sector spent on permits to emit under the state’s carbon trading scheme. They could do that because no refiner faced any limit on carbon emissions from its plant. They still can because politicians caved in to their demand to make carbon trading the only curb on those emissions. Since 2017, state law has prohibited state air officials from setting a carbon-cutting limit on any oil refining plant under this carbon trading scheme.

Governor Brown argued this law was the best “compromise” that was politically feasible. Yet state climate policy has ignored the need, first voiced by the Oil, Chemical & Atomic Workers Union decades ago, for a mandate that assures workers a just transition. Equally important to political feasibility, communities must predict how fast to transition their job and tax bases from oil to sustainable alternatives. But by letting any polluter delay emission cuts at any time, pollution trading makes it harder to make this very prediction.

Read the report (PDF).

Defending Tomorrow: The climate crisis and threats against land and environmental defenders

By staff - Global Witness, July 2020

For years, land and environmental defenders have been the first line of defence against climate breakdown. Yet despite clearer evidence than ever of the crucial role they play, far too many businesses, financiers and governments fail to safeguard their vital and peaceful work. 

The climate crisis is arguably the greatest global and existential threat we face. As it escalates, it serves to exacerbate many of the other serious problems in our world today – from economic inequality to racial injustice and the spread of zoonotic diseases.

For years, land and environmental defenders have been the first line of defence against the causes and impacts of climate breakdown. Time after time, they have challenged those companies operating recklessly, rampaging unhampered through forests, skies, wetlands, oceans and biodiversity hotspots.

Yet despite clearer evidence than ever of the crucial role they play and the dangers they increasingly face, far too many businesses, financiers and governments fail to safeguard their vital and peaceful work. 

Our annual report into the killings of land and environmental defenders in 2019 shows the highest number yet have been murdered in a single year. 212 land and environmental defenders were killed in 2019 – an average of more than four people a week.

Read the text (PDF).

National Economic Transition Platform: A Visionary Proposal for an Equitable Future

By staff - Just Transition Fund, Summer 2020

Workers and families affected by the changing coal economy are facing a profound crisis complicated by unique difficulties. Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic and economic decline, coal facility closures, layoffs, and cuts to vital services were devastating to people and places dependent on the coal economy—many of whom are still struggling following earlier economic declines, the loss of manufacturing jobs, or inequality and widespread poverty.

For low-income communities and communities of color already disproportionately left behind by the status quo, the need for equitable and inclusive economic growth is vital. But, now, with COVID-19, these unique challenges are exacerbated. The closure of even more coal facilities is accelerated, giving communities little time to plan for the disappearance of their largest employer and the erosion of the tax base, which provides critical funding for public services, local education, and health care systems.

Read the text (PDF).

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