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Decline and Fall: The Size & Vulnerability of the Fossil Fuel System

By Kingsmill Bond, Ed Vaughan, and Harry Benham - Carbon Tracker, June 4, 2020

Renewable costs are below those of fossil fuels. Five years ago, fossil fuels were the cheapest baseload. The collapse in renewable costs means that for 85% of the world, renewable electricity is the cheapest source of new baseload. By the early 2020s it will be every major country. Because of the rise of cheap renewables, the fossil fuel system is ripe for disruption. This disruption will be have profound financial implications for investors as a quarter of equity markets and half of corporate bond markets are ‘carbon entangled’.

Those responsible for our pension schemes should sit up and take notice; but even greater concern should be felt by financial regulators, as they grapple with finding the right tools to manage the risks of a deflating ‘carbon bubble’.

The world faces two contrasting pathways. Either it can secure the ‘trillion dollar green gigafall’, the trillions that can be generated at low cost from the sun and the wind – particularly benefiting the poorest inhabitants of the world currently dependent upon high cost fossil fuel imports. Or it can stay locked into business as usual, tied into a declining industry that both threatens the global economy with the worst effects of a warming planet, and damages investors with losses, low returns and destabilised equity and credit markets.

In Carbon Tracker’s first report, some ten years ago, entitled ‘Unburnable Carbon – are the World’s Financial Markets Carrying a Carbon Bubble’ we highlighted that listed fossil fuel companies have the potential to develop enough reserves to take the world way beyond 3˚C. Our second report, ‘Unburnable Carbon – Wasted Capital and Stranded Assets’, noted that if we can’t burn what we have already found, why continue to invest in the fossil fuel industry’s expansion? Yet today, we know that some $1 trillion is spent annually on expanding supply and this report goes more into these numbers. Before we wind down the fossil fuel system, we need to stop expanding it.

Some argue that ‘fossil fuels will go away of their own accord’ as the result of the rapid progress made by cleaner technologies and the collapse in demand for fossil fuels driven by the terrible COVID-19 epidemic. Unfortunately, as this report makes clear, financial markets are still heavily tied in to the fossil fuel system.

Read the report (PDF).

A Pathway to a Regenerative Economy

By various - United Frontline Table, June 2020

The intersecting crises of income and wealth inequality and climate change, driven by systemic white supremacy and gender inequality, has exposed the frailty of the U.S. economy and democracy. This document was prepared during the COVID-19 pandemic which exacerbated these existing crises and underlying conditions. Democratic processes have been undermined at the expense of people’s jobs, health, safety, and dignity. Moreover, government support has disproportionately expanded and boosted the private sector through policies, including bailouts, that serve an extractive economy and not the public’s interest. Our elected leaders have chosen not to invest in deep, anti-racist democratic processes. They have chosen not to uphold public values, such as fairness and equity, not to protect human rights and the vital life cycles of nature and ecosystems. Rather, our elected leaders have chosen extraction and corporate control at the expense of the majority of the people and the well-being and rights of Mother Earth. Transforming our economy is not just about swapping out elected leaders. We also need a shift in popular consciousness.

There are moments of clarity that allow for society to challenge popular thinking and status quo solutions. Within all the challenges that this pandemic has created, it has also revealed what is wrong with the extractive economy while showcasing the innate resilience, common care, and original wisdom that we hold as people. Environmental justice and frontline communities are all too familiar with crisis and systemic injustices and have long held solutions to what is needed to not only survive, but also thrive as a people, as a community, and as a global family. We cannot go back to how things were. We must move forward. We are at a critical moment to make a downpayment on a Regenerative Economy, while laying the groundwork for preventing future crises.

To do so, we say—listen to the frontlines! Indigenous Peoples, as members of their Indigenous sovereign nations, Asian and Pacific Islander, Black, Brown and poor white marginalized communities must be heard, prioritized, and invested in if we are to successfully build a thriving democracy and society in the face of intersecting climate, environmental, economic, social, and health crises. A just and equitable society requires bottom-up processes built off of, and in concert with, existing organizing initiatives in a given community. It must be rooted in a people’s solutions lens for a healthy future and Regenerative Economy. These solutions must be inclusive—leaving no one behind in both process and outcome. Thus, frontline communities must be at the forefront as efforts grow to advance a Just Transition to a Regenerative Economy.

A People’s Orientation to a Regenerative Economy offers community groups, policy advocates, and policymakers a pathway to solutions that work for frontline communities and workers. These ideas have been collectively strategized by community organizations and leaders from across multiple frontline and grassroots networks and alliances to ensure that regenerative economic solutions and ecological justice—under a framework that challenges capitalism and both white supremacy and hetero-patriarchy—are core to any and all policies. These policies must be enacted, not only at the federal level, but also at the local, state, tribal, and regional levels, in US Territories, and internationally.

Read the text (PDF).

Green Strings: Principles and conditions for a green recovery from COVID-19 in Canada

By Vanessa Corkal, Philip Gass, and Aaron Cosbey International Institute for Sustainable Development, June 2020

Key Messages

  • The COVID-19 crisis, while difficult and tragic, also provides a critical opportunity to align efforts to meet Canada’s climate goals with the challenge of economic reconstruction post-pandemic.
  • IISD has developed seven "green strings" recommendations: key principles, criteria, and conditionalities that should be applied to government measures for economic recovery from COVID-19 to ensure a green recovery.
  • Canada’s leading environmental groups, representing close to two million people, have signed on to the recommendations, including the Pembina Institute, Climate Action Network Canada, David Suzuki Foundation, Environmental Defence, Greenpeace Canada, Équiterre, Ecojustice, Ecology Action Centre, Conservation Council of New Brunswick, Stand.earth, Leadnow, Sierra Club Canada Foundation, and Wilderness Committee.

The reasons to set and apply "green strings" are clear:

  • Conditions in the public interest are the government’s right and duty.
  • The benefits of green stimulus and recovery measures are backed by evidence. 
  • We need a new economic model for the workers of today and tomorrow.
  • Urgent action is needed to address the climate crisis. 
  • Health and climate change imperatives go hand in hand. 
  • There is strong public support for ensuring a green recovery. 

The following seven “green strings” should be attached to COVID-19 recovery measures announced by Canada’s government:

  1. Support only companies that agree to plan for net-zero emissions by 2050.
  2. Make sure funds go towards jobs and stability, not executives and shareholders.
  3. Support a just transition that prepares workers for green jobs.
  4. Build up the sectors and infrastructure of tomorrow.
  5. Strengthen and protect environmental policies during recovery.
  6. Be transparent and accountable to Canadians.
  7. Put people first and leave no one behind.

We can no longer continue with the status quo, worsening the climate and biodiversity crises and locking our country and the global community in to stark health, environmental, and economic outcomes. We must seize this difficult moment to transform our economy and our institutions to serve vital public policy goals from environment to equity. The stakes are high.

Read the text (Linked PDF).

Putting California on the High Road: a Jobs and Climate Action Plan for 2030

By Carol Zabin, et. al. - University of California, Berkeley Center for Labor Research and Education, June 2020

Over the last 15 years, California has emerged as a national and world leader in the fight to avoid climate disaster, passing a comprehensive and evolving suite of climate measures to accelerate the transition to a carbon- neutral economy. The state has also emerged as a national leader in embracing economic equity as a goal for state policy, charting a path towards a new social compact for shared prosperity in a rapidly changing world. Meaningful commitment to both of these goals—ensuring that all Californians thrive in the transition to a carbon-neutral economy—requires the development and implementation of a bold agenda that aligns California’s ambitious climate and workforce action plans. This report presents a framework for California to advance that agenda.

Assembly Bill 398 (E. Garcia, Chapter 135, Statutes of 2017) required that the California Workforce Development Board (CWDB) present a report to the Legislature on strategies “to help industry, workers, and communities transition to economic and labor-market changes related to statewide greenhouse gas emissions reduction goals.” To fulfill this mandate, the CWDB commissioned the Center for Labor Research and Education at the University of California, Berkeley, to review the existing research in the field and prepare this report. The summary presented here describes the key concepts, findings, and recommendations contained in UC Berkeley’s full work.

The statutory language of AB 398 makes clear that this report should address workforce interventions to ensure that the transition to a carbon-neutral economy:

  • Creates high-quality jobs;
  • Prepares workers with the skills needed to adapt to and master new, zero- and low-emission technologies;
  • Broadens career opportunities for workers from disadvantaged communities; and
  • Supports workers whose jobs may be at risk.

This report presents a comprehensive strategy that identifies roles for state and local climate, economic development, and workforce development agencies in achieving these goals, alongside key partners such as business, labor, community, and education and training institutions. All recommendations align with the CWDB’s Unified Strategic Workforce Development Plan, which has put forth a set of actions to leverage and coordinate the state’s myriad workforce and education programs to support high-quality careers for Californians. In keeping with the statutory directive, the report discussion is further enriched by comments provided to the CWDB through a series of stakeholder meetings held in July and August 2018.

This report builds upon the framework established in California’s 2017 Climate Change Scoping Plan (Scoping Plan), which presents a roadmap of policies and programs to reach the climate protection target in Senate Bill 32 (Pavley, Chapter 42, Statutes of 2016) of a 40 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 from 1990 levels. The Scoping Plan is organized into sectors based on the state’s major sources of greenhouse gas emissions and corresponding climate action measures: Transportation, Industry, Energy, Natural and Working Lands (including Agricultural Lands), Waste, and Water. This report organizes the available information from existing academic research, economic models, and industry studies for the Scoping Plan sectors and presents for each of them:

  • Information about current labor conditions and the impact on jobs of the major climate measures;
  • Guidance for policymakers, agencies, and institutions that implement climate and/or workforce policy on how to best generate family-supporting jobs, broaden career opportunities for disadvantaged workers, deliver the skilled workforce that employers need to achieve California’s climate targets, and protect workers in declining industries; and
  • Examples of concrete, scalable strategies that have connected effective climate action with workforce interventions to produce good outcomes for workers.

Unifor's Road Map for a Fair, Inclusive and Resilient Economic Recovery

By staff - Unifor, June 2020

Unifor is Canada’s largest union in the private sector, representing 315,000 workers in every major area of the economy.

The union advocates for all working people and their rights, fights for equality and social justice in Canada and abroad, and strives to create progressive change for a better future.

Unifor brings a modern approach to unionism: adopting new tools, involving and engaging our members, and always looking for new ways to develop the role and approach of our union to meet the demands of the 21st century.

Every person of working age in Canada has a right to a good job and the benefits of economic progress.

Unifor is presenting this plan in June 2020, four months after the novel coronavirus arrived in Canada, at a time when restric-tions on movement, activities and business operations are begin-ning to lift, but infection rates and illness continue to grow.

Read the report (PDF).

When Flood Waters Run Dry: Hurricane Harvey, Climate Change & Social Reproduction

By Camilo Torres - contracted social reproduction. With hurricane season just ending, this essay will reflect upon and analyze why Harvey had such a deep impact on Houston, how contracted reproduction is being executed, identify the strengths and weaknesses of relief efforts and/or mutual aid organizing, and lay out ideas to advance future struggles around climate disaster.

Contracted Social Reproduction

For the purpose of this piece a brief explanation of contracted social reproduction is necessary. The lived experience of contracted social reproduction is a common one in many core capitalist countries of the west. Roughly, since the early 1970s, in order to stay afloat, realize value, counter working-class revolt and stave off crisis, the capitalist class has implemented austerity, broken up the production process, dismantled unions, and cut real wages.

The breaking up of the production process was a necessary move by capitalists for a number of reasons. For one, in the US, this helped to disrupt and undermine unionization efforts and workplace organizing by physically relocating the means of production to Latin America, East Asia and other parts of the world. Furthermore, capitalists were able to cut costs by finding cheaper proletarians and reducing or eliminating benefits offered to workers. This last point is significant because it prompted the lowering of the total social wage for proletarians globally. The non-reproduction of the class has plunged more proletarians into poverty and forced previously stable workers into precarious and deskilled work. This has resulted in increased exploitation and has generalized immiseration for many working-class people.

This reality continues as proletarians are increasingly taken out of the production process due to advancements in the forces of production that require less living labor. Capital is able to produce immense amounts of commodities, but through competition capitalists outpace one another as newer and improved technologies emerge, resulting in cheaper commodities. Yet, in capitalist society living, human labor is the key source in actualizing value. The expulsion of human labor from the production process causes the rate of profit to fall and crisis to ensue. As the rate of profit falls, capitalists must drive down wages below their values and reduce the cost of reproducing the working class. In order to do this, capitalists have to loot existing private fixed capital (machinery, buildings, etc.) as well as the means to reproduce labor power, like education, housing, and healthcare. This also includes public capital, such as roads, water infrastructure, bridges, etc. Nature is also a free input that capitalists use up as a means to boost their diminishing revenue streams. Coupled with this crisis is the emergence of proletarians confronting capitalism in the form of mobilizations against degenerative living conditions. 

How contracted social reproduction unfolds globally is uneven and varies regionally. Still, this serves as a basic summation of its central elements. Contracted social reproduction isn’t a subjective choice made by greedy capitalists, but an objective reality of this current period of capitalism. Now, let us look at how contracted social reproduction changed concretely before and after Hurricane Harvey. 

Rebuilding our Economy for All: BC Federation of Labour Submission to the Economic Recovery Taskforce

By staff International BC Labor Federation, May 2020

The economic shutdown resulting from this pandemic is historically unprecedented. Never before have we collectively decided to close entire sectors of our economy, and dramatically curtail others in service of a greater good – our collective health. BC has weathered both this pandemic and the ensuing lockdown in large part because of the sacrifices and courage of working people. They have continued to do the important work of treating the sick, providing vital public services, and ensuring we can continue to have the necessities of life. COVID-19 has revealed that essential portions of BC’s economy depend on frontline workers.

But as public respect for the value of their work has grown, so has our recognition of the many gaps this pandemic has exposed. For example, we better understand the paramount importance of workplace safety and standards, the need for robust public services and social supports, and our collective responsibility to address the continued marginalization of vulnerable populations.

We have the chance as our economy emerges from hibernation to address those gaps, and to do much more. The choices we make in the coming weeks and months can help us build an economy – and a province – equipped to address climate change while prospering along the way. Our choices must acknowledge and genuinely embrace reconciliation with Indigenous peoples and communities. Our choices must secure opportunities and equity in every community of this province.

There will always be voices who suggest we move in the opposite direction: that the public sector should retreat from the economy and the community; that working people who were this province’s lifeline revert back to less protections, poorer working conditions and lower wages; that vulnerable populations remain vulnerable; that we should abandon years of progress toward reconciliation. They will argue that all of this will make business more competitive and generate jobs.

But even in an unprecedented situation, we can learn from history. And history tells us again and again – from the Great Depression through countless recessions and downturns – that ’austerity‘ only serves to freeze out working people and the most vulnerable, enriching a handful of already-wealthy people while hollowing our communities and leaving most of us to fend for ourselves. Austerity, in fact, is why we have many of the gaps this pandemic has so glaringly exposed in the first place. We also know that this pandemic will not impact people or communities equally, and thus our response must work to decrease these inequities, rather than exacerbate them. We can’t cut and slash our way back to where we were before – let alone to a better, fairer, more sustainable and more prosperous future.

Read the text (PDF).

Still Digging: G20 Governments Continue to Finance the Climate Crisis

By Bronwen Tucker and Kate DeAngelis - Oil Change International and Friends of the Earth - May 2020

In 2015, governments around the world committed to hold global warming to well below 2 degrees Celsius (°C) and to strive to limit warming to 1.5°C by adopting the Paris Agreement. This analysis shows that since the Paris Agreement was made, G20 countries have acted directly counter to it by providing at least USD 77 billion a year in finance for oil, gas, and coal projects through their international public finance institutions. These countries provided more than three times as much support for fossil fuels as for clean energy.

With the health and livelihoods of billions at immediate risk from COVID-19, governments around the world are preparing public spending packages of a magnitude they previously deemed unthinkable. In normal times, development finance institutions (DFIs), export credit agencies (ECAs), and multilateral development banks (MDBs) already had an outsized impact on the overall energy landscape and more capacity than their private sector peers to act on the climate crisis. In the current moment, their potential influence has multiplied, and it is imperative that they change course. The fossil fuel sector was showing long-term signs of systemic decline before COVID-19 and has been quick to seize on this crisis with requests for massive subsidies and bailouts.1 We cannot afford for the wave of public finance that is being prepared for relief and recovery efforts to prop up the fossil fuel industry as it has in the past. Business as usual would exacerbate the next crisis— the climate crisis—that is already on our doorstep.

Read the report (PDF).

For a Sustainable Future: The Centrality of Public Goods

By Nancy Holmstrom - Socialist Register, Spring 2020

The most recent report of the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) makes it absolutely clear that ways of living in the twenty-first century must be premised on the existential threat to our survival posed by multiple ecological crises. Indeed it could all be over before the end of the century. If we do not radically suppress global CO2 emissions, global warming will rise to the point where it cannot be stopped. While not long ago the word ‘catastrophe’ seemed hyperbolic to many, today few could deny it is fitting. Melting glaciers, rising sea level, drought, fires, and flooding all over the world and the resulting migration are catastrophes for those who suffer them – and give us a taste of far worse catastrophes to come. Already the World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that there are 150,000 excess deaths per year due to climate change, likely to double by 2030.

After the 9-11 attack on the World Trade Center we heard the word ‘security’ incessantly, almost always invoked as intentional threats to our safety and well-being, which of course means they are threats by people, whether they be individuals, groups, or nations. Global warming, on the other hand, is a threat from nature that is an unintended result of human action – not what is usually intended by a ‘security’ threat, and it does not grip our imagination and fears in any way proportional to its severity. But it is not only intentional acts that can threaten our safety and well-being. Once threats to our security are conceived more broadly, consider the greater dangers from unclean air and water and contagious diseases, whatever the mix of intentional and unintentional acts that created the problem.

Download (PDF).

The energy crises revealed by COVID: Intersections of Indigeneity, inequity, and health

By Kathleen Brosemer, et. al. - various, Spring 2020

The global COVID-19 pandemic is a health crisis, an economic crisis, and a justice crisis. It also brings to light multiple ongoing, underlying social crises. The COVID-19 crisis is actively revealing crises of energy sovereignty in at least four ways:

  • First, there are many whose access to basic health services is compromised because of the lack of energy services necessary to provide these services.
  • Second, some people are more vulnerable to COVID-19 because of exposure to environmental pollution associated with energy production.
  • Third, energy services are vital to human well-being, yet access to energy services is largely organized as a consumer good. The loss of stable income precipitated by COVID-19 may therefore mean that many lose reliable access to essential energy services.
  • Fourth, the COVID-19 crisis has created a window of opportunity for corporate interests to engage in aggressive pursuit of energy agendas that perpetuate carbon intensive and corporate controlled energy systems, which illuminates the ongoing procedural injustices of energy decision making.

These four related crises demonstrate why energy sovereignty is essential for a just energy future. Energy sovereignty is defined as the right for communities, rather than corporate interests, to control access to and decision making regarding the sources, scales, and forms of ownership characterizing access to energy services. Energy sovereignty is a critical component in the design of a post-COVID-19 energy system that is capable of being resilient to future shocks without exacerbating injustices that are killing the most vulnerable among us.

Download (PDF).

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