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Calling All Union Members

By Jonathan Guy - The Trouble, May 20, 2019

Teachers, construction workers, nurses, miners, frycooks—you have an indispensable role to play in the passage of the Green New Deal. Here are five concrete steps to take.

It’s no secret that the American labor establishment is ambivalent about the rising prospects for climate policy change. After battling environmental activists throughout the 2010s over a series of tar sands pipeline projects, unions from carbon-loving industries are balking at the prospect of a Green New Deal, even as the resolution bends over backwards to address their concerns. The AFL-CIO’s energy committee decried the flexible resolution as “unrealistic” and threatening “immediate harm to millions of our members and their families.”  Construction union LiUNA had even harsher words, calling the GND “the sails of fantasy” and its backers’ approach to inclusive coalition-building “exactly how not to enact a progressive agenda to address our nation’s dangerous income inequality”.  In the fossil fuel sector, unions like Mine Workers of America cheer the demise of even modest climate regulations such as the Clean Power Plan, insisting beyond all evidence that carbon capture and storage technology is a viable alternative to renewable energy. Given these union leaders’ stunning obstinacy, even as the climate left dangles gigantic carrots in front of their faces—full severance pay, a job guarantee, project labor agreements, unionization mandates—it would be easy to write them off as inevitable foes.

Such a dismissal, of course, would be gravely mistaken. While the electoral and lobbying influence of unions has waned, they still play a key veto role inside the Democratic Party, and have enjoyed a revival over the past two years as public sector workers found their voice against the devastating Supreme Court decision Janus and endless austerity enacted at the state level in places such as West Virginia and Oklahoma. More to the point, labor unions represent our best hope for organizing the emerging majority-minority working class who must play the central role in a political realignment around a new, low-carbon social compact which emphasizes social equality and economic fairness. Any movement which does not address the concerns of labor—particularly the building trades—is surely doomed.

This article, however, is not yet another paean to the importance of centering a just transition. That genre is well-established. Lord knows that staffers and strategists at 350.org and Sunrise and Ed Markey’s offices have internalized the previous paragraph, and are already tearing their hair out day and night over how to get labor on board. Outside groups like these can surely have some positive impact; see for example, the successful efforts towards a consensus recently won in Maine. But after years of neoliberal environmentalists betraying unions, a lot of distrust has built up which frankly will not be worked out within the short timeframe we have left to avert a two-degree plus warming scenario. In order to really move the needle, pressure on locals and internationals alike will have to be applied from within.

Plan, Mood, Battlefield - Reflections on the Green New Deal

By Thea Riofrancos - Viewpoint Magazine, May 16, 2019

Climate scientists are beginning to sound like radicals.

The 2018 IPCC report concluded that “unprecedented changes across all aspects of society” would be needed to limit warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius. In its devastating report on the dire state of the planet’s ecosystems, the UN’s panel on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services likewise called for, in the words of its chairperson, “fundamental, system-wide reorganization across technological, economic and social factors, including paradigms, goals and values.”

The first, and thus far only, U.S. policy initiative that addresses the severity of the crisis before us is the Green New Deal, introduced as a congressional joint resolution this past February. The resolution proposes, among other goals, decarbonizing the economy, investing in infrastructure, and creating dignified jobs for millions. And while this resolution is, from a planetary perspective, obviously limited by its domestic scale, transforming the U.S. along these lines would surely have global reverberations, for at least two reasons: the U.S. is a major impediment to global coöperation on climate, and political parties elsewhere in the world (e.g., the UK’s Labour Party and Spain’s Socialist Party) have already begun to adopt the Green New Deal as the frame for their own domestic policies.

After a few months of swirling discourse, we can begin to identify an emergent set of positions in the debate around the Green New Deal. The right-wing has resorted to classic red-baiting, decrying the nonbinding resolution as a “socialist monster,” a road to the serfdom of state planning, rationing, and compulsory veganism. The vanishing center is clinging tightly to its cozy attachment to a politics of triangulation: the Green New Deal is a childlike dream; serious adults know that the only option is to hew to the path of bipartisanship and incrementalism. The left, of course, knows that in the context of already-unfolding climate crisis, resurgent xenophobia, and the weakening hold on legitimacy of the neoliberal consensus, the real delusions are “market-driven” solutions and nostalgic paeans to American “norms and institutions.”

But on the left, too, there are criticisms, and outright rejections, of the Green New Deal (see here, here, here, and here). There is the charge that the Green New Deal, like the old New Deal, amounts to the state, qua executive committee of the bourgeoisie, rescuing capitalism from the planetary crisis it has created. In this rendering, rather than empowering “frontline and vulnerable” communities, as the resolution claims, the policy framework will amount to a corporate welfare windfall of investment opportunities lubricated with tax breaks and subsidies; public-private partnerships; infrastructure outlays that will stimulate real estate development; and, a jobs guarantee that will stimulate consumption—a win-win for the state and capital, but, by leaving the underlying, growth-addicted, model of accumulation untouched, a loss for the planet and the communities most vulnerable to climate crisis and eco-apartheid. There’s another twist. As sometimes the same analyses point out, this win-win-lose-lose scenario is itself based on a false understanding of contemporary capitalism. In a world of secular stagnation—declining profit rates, speculative bubbles, financialization, rentier-like behavior, and accumulation-by-upward-redistribution—the vampire-like quality of capital has never been more apparent. The notion that capital might, with a little inducement, suddenly overcome these tendencies and invest in productive activities is its own nostalgic fantasy.

New Calls For A General Strike In The Face Of Coming Climate Catastrophe!

By Joe Maniscalco - Labor Press, May 13, 2019

New York,, NY – Shut. It. Down. Amalgamated Transit Union VP Bruce Hamilton, this weekend, urged U.S. trade unionists to “learn from our past” and start building towards a general strike in a last ditch effort to avert climate disaster. 

“What we need to understand is that climate struggle is class struggle,” Hamilton told the NY Labor History Association’s Annual Spring Conference at NYU on Saturday. “Workers really do want to engage in radical action with a clear chance of making their lives better.”

Convinced that the market-driven energy sector will never voluntarily make the changes climate scientists insist are necessary to save the planet from overheating — panelists participating in a pair of labor and climate change discussions held over the last few days, instead, called for public ownership and democratic control of the energy sector.

Hamilton called the Military Industrial Complex [MIC] the biggest polluter out there, and said that dates should actually be set when “production is going to stop” and then proceed with “a series of escalating strikes” from there. 

“A tool that working people have used in the past that has been, at least temporarily successful, is a general strike,” Hamilton told LaborPress. “It’s something we should never take off the table.”

A general strike, however, requires a level of unity around the question of climate change and the Green New Deal that presently does not exist inside organized labor.

U.S. trade unionists and their leadership remain split on Green New Deal legislation from Congress Member Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez  [D-14th District] and Senator Ed Markey [D-MA]  — despite language in the proposed resolution that clearly calls for “high-quality union jobs that pay prevailing wages” and “protecting the right of all workers to organize, unionize, and collectively bargain free of coercion, intimidation, and harassment.” 

As Todd Vachon, a sociologist with the Labor Network for Sustainability told the Metro NY Labor Communications Council’s Annual Convention on Friday, when talk of a “just transition” to 100-percent renewable energy arises — many union workers “just want to punch you in the face.”

Chris Erikson, head of IBEW Local 3, meanwhile, joked that he’s been branded the “communist” of the Building Trades for advocating a “balanced transition from carbon-based fuels.”

Extinction Rebellion Must Evolve to Tackle Our Systemic Climate Crisis

By Steve Rushton - Occupy.Com, May 9, 2019

The movement known as Extinction Rebellion (XR) has pushed climate change firmly into the British consciousness, clearing the political hangover left by the never-ending Brexit fog. But there are constructive critiques to this monumental, London-centred climate activism that bear mentioning. Namely, what does this movement need to do to gather enough popular support and halt the ongoing climate meltdown.

XR takes over London

For 10 days in April, Extinction Rebellion created headline disruption, taking over prominent sites across London, including Parliament Square. They demanded that the UK government "tell the truth" about the scale of the climate crisis; enact legally binding policies to reduce carbon emissions to net zero by 2025; and do both through a Citizens Assembly (more on citizens assemblies here).

People last month participated in the tens of thousands, and many of then were new to activism. Holding these sites created space for public assemblies and direct action. When police arrested activists – more than 1,000 in total – more came forward until jail cells were full. Actions went far beyond London, from road blocks in Brussels to stopping a coal train in Australia, and die-ins as well as other actions from India to South Africa to Seattle.

Pressure from XR made Labour table a motion in Parliament to declare a climate emergency. The Welsh assembly did the same just days before. Now, as XR expands its effective activism globally, it is worth asking: what does this movement need to do to stop the climate catastrophe?

Flight attendants know the real job killer isn’t the Green New Deal. It’s climate change

By Sara Nelson - Vox, April 17, 2019

“Pretty much everyone on the plane threw up” is not a sentence most travelers want to hear.

But that’s a direct quote from the pilots’ report after United Express Flight 3833 operated by Air Wisconsin hit extreme turbulence on approach to Washington, DC, in 2018.

Extreme turbulence is on the rise around the world. It isn’t just nauseating or scary — it’s dangerous.

In June 2017, nine passengers and a crew member were hospitalized after extreme turbulence rocked their United Airlines flight from Panama City to Houston.

A few weeks ago, a Delta Connection flight operated by Compass Airlines from Orange County, California, to Seattle hit turbulence so sudden and fierce, the flight attendant serving drinks — and the 300-pound drink cart — was slammed against the ceiling of the plane. The flight attendant’s arm was broken and three passengers were hospitalized.

In my 23 years as a flight attendant and president of our union representing 50,000 others, I know firsthand the threat climate change poses to our safety and our jobs. But flight attendants and airline workers have been told by some pundits that the Green New Deal, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Sen. Ed Markey’s environmental proposal, will ground all air travel.

That’s absurd. It’s not the solutions to climate change that kills jobs. Climate change itself is the job killer.

No Shortcuts: The Climate Revolution Must be Ecosocialist

By Daniel Tanuro - Life on the Left, April 15, 2019

This declaration was drafted by Daniel Tanuro* and adopted by the national leadership of Belgium’s Gauche Anticapitaliste. My translation, below, was initially published by Ian Angus in his excellent ecosocialist journal Climate & Capitalism. – Richard Fidler

The mobilization against climate change continues to build, gaining new social layers beyond the initial circles of environmental activists and tending toward a systemic critique of capitalist productivism with its underlying competition for profit. Particularly significant is the fact that young people are joining the struggle. On March 15 more than a million people, a majority of them youth, went on strike for the climate around the world in response to the call by the Swedish teenager Greta Thunberg. The movement is very deep, although at present it is limited to the major countries of the Global North. It reshuffles cards, upsets agendas and puts all the actors — politicians, trade unions, associations, social movements — on notice to answer two fundamental questions:

  1. Why are you not doing everything possible to limit to the maximum the terrible catastrophe that is growing day by day, and to do so in compliance with democracy and social justice?
  2. How dare you leave such a mess to your children and grandchildren?

A new chance for climate justice?

By Nathan Thanki - Open Democracy, April 12, 2019

In the past year, concerns of civilizational collapse and unprecedented transformations of society and the economy have gone from being fringe ideas of eco-socialists to populating the mainstream debate in the Global North. The “Green New Deal” is gaining traction both amongst US Democrats and the UK’s Labour Party. There’s a growing desire for positive and visionary ideas, and a growing recognition of the scale and time frame of the challenge.

We can see the same desire in the explosion onto the scene of “Extinction Rebellion” and the phenomenal School Strike for Climate. While these initiatives represent different and internally diverse politics, they all speak to the same tendency: a profound sense of panic among people in the Global North.

There is much to praise and be heartened by in the shifting politics of the North, but there is a danger of missteps which could roll back the modest advances climate justice movements have made in the past few decades, and even contribute to the political forces we oppose. We need to debate the strategic value of the choices being made. We cannot afford to be uncritical, nor nihilistic.

A Roadmap to an Equitable Low-Carbon Future: Four Pillars for a Just Transition

By J. Mijin Cha, JD, PhD - Climate Equity Network, April 2019

The signs that the climate crisis is already happening are clear. The most recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report detailed the evidence from more than 6,000 studies that found that over the past decade, a series of record-breaking storms, forest fires, droughts, coral bleaching, heat waves, and floods have taken place around the world in response to the 1.0 °C of global warming that has taken place since the pre-industrial era. These events, and the losses associated with them, are expected to become substantially worse with 1.5 °C of warming currently targeted by global climate agreements, and far worse if these agreements are not effective. Without major cuts in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, this warming threshold could be reached in as little as 11 years, and almost certainly within 20 years. Even if such cuts were to begin immediately, reaching this threshold would not be prevented, only delayed.

Any chance of staving off even worst impacts from climate change depends on significant reductions in GHG emissions and a move from a fossil fuel- based economy to a low-carbon economic future. While this transition is fundamentally necessary, the challenges it poses are great. Every aspect of our economy and our society is dependent upon fossil fuel use – from the reliance on electricity provided by fossil fuel power plants to the tax revenue local communities receive from fossil fuel extraction and facilities to the jobs held by those working in an industry that may keep their incomes high but often puts their communities at risk. The imprint of fossil fuels is so deeply embedded within our way of life that ceasing its use will require a fundamental shift in how we procure and use energy.

The good news is that this shift is possible—and California is already on a path to a low-carbon future. In addition to several ambitious climate targets, in September 2018, then-Governor Jerry Brown signed an executive order pledging the state to achieve carbon neutrality no later than 2045. As the world’s fifth largest economy, the commitment California made to reduce greenhouse gases can provide a pathway to a low-carbon future that could lay the groundwork for others to follow. But to get there, we need to aim even higher than California’s already ambitious goals.

Transitioning away from fossil fuels must be done more quickly and also in a manner that protects workers and communities economically dependent on the fossil fuel industry. Transitioning is also an opportunity to include those who have historically been excluded from the jobs and economic benefits of the extractive economy and expand the populations who have access to future jobs and economic opportunities. As we move to a low-carbon future, environmental justice communities should be prioritized for job creation and renewable energy generation. Without protecting displaced workers and expanding opportunities to other workers, transitioning to a low-carbon future will replicate the mistakes and inequalities of the extractive past and present.

Read the report (PDF).

A Green Growth Program for Colorado: Climate Stabilization, Good Jobs, and Just Transition

By Robert Pollin, Jeannette Wicks-Lim, Shouvik Chakraborty, and Tyler Hansen - Department of Economics and Political Economy Research Institute (PERI), April 2019

This study examines the prospects for a transformative green growth program for Colorado. The centerpiece of the program is clean energy investments—i.e. investments to raise energy efficiency levels and expand the supply of clean renewable energy sources. These investments should be undertaken in combination by the public and private sectors throughout the state. This program can advance two fundamental goals: 1) promoting global climate stabilization by reducing carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions in Colorado without increasing emissions outside of the state; and 2) expanding good job opportunities throughout the state while the state’s economy continues to grow. The program is specifically designed to reduce Colorado’s CO2 emissions by 50 percent as of 2030 and by 90 percent as of 2050 relative to the state’s 2005 emissions level while the economy grows at an average annual rate of 2.4 percent. The consumption of oil, natural gas and coal to generate energy will need to fall sharply in Colorado, since CO2 emissions result through the combustion of fossil fuels.

We estimate that total investments in energy efficiency and renewable energy will need to average about $14.5 billion per year between 2021 – 2030, equal to about 3.5 percent of Colorado’s average annual GDP over those years. These investments will generate about 100,000 jobs per year in the state. New job opportunities will be created in a wide range of areas, including construction, sales, management, production, engineering and office support. At the same time, the contraction of the state’s fossil fuel related industries will generate about 700 job losses per year, of which about 600 will be non-managerial jobs. We develop a Just Transition program for workers impacted by the contraction of the state’s fossil fuel industries. The program includes: pension guarantees for retired workers who are covered by employer-financed pensions; retraining to assist displaced workers to obtain the skills needed for a new job and 100 percent wage replacement while training; re-employment for displaced workers through an employment guarantee, with 100 percent wage insurance; and relocation support as needed. We also propose a broader set of policies to meet the state’s emissions reduction goals. These include a carbon tax; strengthening the state’s existing energy efficiency and renewable portfolio standards; strengthening existing procurement programs for clean energy public investments; increasing financial subsidies for clean energy investments; expanding the state’s worker training programs for clean energy employment opportunities; and channeling a disproportionate share of new clean energy investments into communities that will be significantly impacted by the contraction of the state’s fossil fuel related industries.

Read the text (PDF).

Gulf South for a Green New Deal Policy Platform

By Colette Pichon Battle, et. al. - Gulf South Rising, Spring 2019

The Gulf South is uniquely positioned to be a national leader in the movement for a Green New Deal. With the climate crisis accelerating faster than even most scientific predictions, deep investment in Gulf South frontline communities will yield an opportunity for this region to be a global leader in equitable approaches to a socio-economic transformation that builds wealth and sustainability for the nation and the world.

Gulf South for a Green New Deal is a multi-state effort to address the impact of the global climate crisis on some of the most unique communities in the US. In May 2019, more than 800 advocates, farmers, fisherfolk, and community leaders from across the Gulf South gathered in New Orleans around a shared vision to advance regional sustainability in the face of the global climate crisis.

The creation of the Gulf South for a Green New Deal (GS4GND) Policy Platform was a six-month process anchored by the Gulf Coast Center for Law & Policy (GCCLP). Using techniques from the People’s Movement Assembly Process, GCCLP facilitated a five-state process of formalizing frontline voices. Through a broader regional organizing effort, over 100 original signatories are listed herein. Additional signatories will be updated quarterly.

This document is a collective assertion that the Gulf South must be included in the development of national policy. This platform is not a comprehensive policy vision, but rather a starting point and living tool of regional alignment and broad organizing in the Gulf South. The principles, goals, and strategies of this Policy Platform are offered to address what a Green New Deal must look like to be successful in the Gulf South.

We offer this document as a step towards climate justice, self-determination, and dignity for all people everywhere.

As goes the South, so goes the nation.

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