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The “Electrify Everything” Movement’s Consumption Problem

By Amy Westervelt - The Intercept, May 8, 2023

In 2019, Thea Riofrancos was splitting her time between researching the social and environmental impacts of lithium mining in Chile and organizing for a rapid energy transition away from fossil fuels in the United States. A political science professor at Providence College and member of the Climate and Community Project, Riofrancos was struck by the contrast: Lithium is essential to the batteries that make electric vehicles and renewable energy work, but mining inflicts its own environmental damage. “Here I am in Chile, in the Atacama Desert, seeing these mining-related harms, and then there I go in the U.S. advocating for a rapid transition. How do I align these two goals?” Riofrancos said. “And is there a way to have a less extractive energy transition?”

When she went looking for research that would help answer that question, she found none, at least not for the transportation sector, which was her area of focus. “I saw forecast after forecast that assumed basically a binary of the future,” she said. “Either we stay with the fossil fuel status quo and the existential crisis that that is causing for the planet and all of its people. Or we transition to an electrified, renewably powered future, but that doesn’t really change anything about how these sectors or economic activities are organized.”

Riofrancos wanted to look at multiple ways to design an electrified future and understand what the costs and impacts of different scenarios might be. So she linked up with other Climate and Community Project researchers and put together a report mapping out four potential pathways to electrification for the transportation sector. Titled “Achieving Zero Emissions With More Mobility and Less Mining,” the report concluded that even relatively small, easy-to-achieve shifts like reducing the size of cars and their batteries could deliver big returns: a 42 percent reduction in the amount of lithium needed in the U.S., even if the number of cars on the road and the frequency with which people drive stayed the same.

It’s the sort of thing politicians and electrification advocates need to think through now, when decisions can be made to guide the energy transition in one direction or another. It’s also critical to an underdiscussed component of climate action: demand for products and services and the role energy plays in fulfilling those demands. Which connects right up to another topic that American politicians don’t want to touch with a 10-foot pole: consumption.

UAW Holds Off on Endorsing Biden in Bid to Secure Just EV Transition

By Kenny Stancil - Common Dreams, May 4, 2023

"We need to get our members organized behind a pro-worker, pro-climate, and pro-democracy political program that can deliver for the working class," says a memo from the union's new president.

The United Auto Workers is withholding its endorsement of U.S. President Joe Biden in the early stages of the 2024 race in an attempt to extract concessions that would ensure the nascent transition to all-electric vehicles benefits labor as well as the environment.

"We need to get our members organized behind a pro-worker, pro-climate, and pro-democracy political program that can deliver for the working class," says a memo written by UAW president Shawn Fain and shared internally on Tuesday.

Fain, an electrician from Indiana, won a March runoff election to lead the Detroit-based union, defeating incumbent Ray Curry of the powerful Administration Caucus in a major upset. Fain's victory, one of several in which challengers from the insurgent Members United slate prevailed, gave reformers control of UAW's direction. The new president quickly promised a more confrontational approach, decrying "give-back unionism" and vowing to "put the members back in the driver's seat, regain the trust of the rank and file, and put the companies on notice."

A reinvigorated UAW is also putting Biden on notice by holding onto its coveted endorsement. With 400,000 active members and a heavy presence in the battleground state of Michigan, the union remains a significant political force. Its goal is to pressure Biden into improving federal policies related to electric vehicle (EV) manufacturing.

"The federal government is pouring billions into the electric vehicle transition, with no strings attached and no commitment to workers," Fain wrote in his new memo. "The EV transition is at serious risk of becoming a race to the bottom. We want to see national leadership have our back on this before we make any commitments."

As The New York Timesreported Wednesday:

In April, the Biden administration proposed the nation's most ambitious climate regulations yet, which would ensure that two-thirds of new passenger cars are all-electric by 2032—up from just 5.8% today. The rules, if enacted, could sharply lower planet-warming pollution from vehicle tailpipes, the nation's largest source of greenhouse emissions. But they come with costs for autoworkers, because it takes fewer than half the laborers to assemble an all-electric vehicle as it does to build a gasoline-powered car.

But it's not just potential job losses that are of concern to UAW leaders. They also want to see higher wages and better benefits for workers at EV facilities.

The latest on the Just Transition

By staff - Nautilus International, May 2, 2023

At the Nautilus Professional and Technical Forum in April, head of international relations Danny McGowan gave a presentation on the hot maritime topic of 2023: the Just Transition.

What this means at its heart is that workers should be treated fairly in the move towards greener shipping. Nautilus is part of the international Maritime Just Transition Task Force, which recently commissioned a report by the DNV classification society to seek insights into the seafarer training and skills needed to support a decarbonised shipping industry.

The DNV report focuses on the four 'alternative' energy sources that are closest to widespread adoption: LNG and LPG, hydrogen, methanol and ammonia.

The concept of Just Transition means that if some of these alternatives are implemented, there should be a health and safety first approach, with strict rules about handling dangerous new fuels like ammonia and human-centred design for new vessels and new technologies onboard.

It also means that training should be standardised, should be provided at no cost to existing seafarers and not-for-profit for new seafarers.

The DNV report is helping to bring clarity on the uptake of alternative fuel options and the trajectory of decarbonisation, so that the industry can plan for the transformation of the maritime workforce.

Another document that contributes to this process is the Maritime Just Transition Task Force's 10 Point Plan, which establishes Just Transition principles such as global labour standards, gender and diversity and health and safety.

'Big Win': New York to Build Publicly Owned Clean Energy, Electrify New Buildings

By Julia Conley - Common Dreams, May 2, 2023

"A better world is possible," said campaigners who pushed for the passage of the Build Public Renewables Act. "And we are building it."

Climate campaigners in New York were credited on Tuesday with pushing Democratic Gov. Kathy Hochul and the state Legislature to include in the state budget "historic" provisions that will build publicly owned renewable energy and end the use of fossil fuels in new buildings—without a loophole allowing municipalities to opt out of the requirement.

The budget, hammered out in recent days in talks between the governor and the leaders of the Legislature as advocates refused to back down from their demands for far-reaching climate measures within the deal, includes the Build Public Renewables Act (BPRA), which was secured "through four years of organizing across the state by thousands of [Democratic Socialists of America members], the Public Power NY coalition, and more," said the NYC-DSA Ecosocialist Working Group.

"This text is the biggest Green New Deal win in U.S. history," said the group. "A better world is possible. And we are building it."

The Perfect Storm of Extraction, Poverty, and Climate Change: A Framework for Assessing Vulnerability, Resilience, Adaptation, and a Just Transition in Frontline Communities

THE ROAD TO TRANSIT EQUITY: The Case for Universal Fareless Transit in Los Angeles

By Chelsea Kirk, et. al. - Strategic Actions for a Just Economy (SAJE) and Alliance for Community Transit Los Angeles (ACT-LA), May 2023

Los Angeles is a place like no other, and that is especially true when it comes to public transportation. Its primary public transit agency, the Los Angeles Metropolitan Transit Authority (LA Metro), is one of the largest in the nation, with nearly one-fourth of California residents living in the agency’s 1,433-square-mile service area.

But LA Metro currently serves very few Angelenos—just 78 out of every 1,000 Los Angeles– area residents ride the bus or train. The majority of public transit riders in Los Angeles are low-income people of color who are financially burdened by the region’s high housing and transportation costs. Seventy-six percent of LA Metro ridership identifies as Latinx or Black, and approximately 63% of riders earn household incomes of less than $25,000 annually, with 40% subsisting on household incomes under $15,000 per year.

Additionally, LA Metro, unlike most public transit agencies in large U.S. cities, nets very little revenue from fares. Government grants and sales taxes mostly fund the agency’s operations and capital expenses, with fares projected to make up just 4.8% of the agency’s operations budget in fiscal year 2023. LA Metro has attempted to solve the financial burden of fares on their riders through fare capping and means-tested discount programs. These initiatives are not only expensive to run, but they also have low enrollment rates. And, ironically, if LA Metro successfully enrolled all those eligible for discounts, their earnings from fares would be even more negligible than they are now. In effect, the agency is spending millions of dollars to get the majority of its riders to pay less in fares. Why not just go fareless?

Download a copy of this publication here (PDF).

This May Day, We Celebrate Making a Living Wage on a Living Planet

By Bob Muehlenkamp - Third Act, May 1, 2023

On May Day we celebrate worker solidarity in the continuing struggle for fair wages, dignity, and social justice. As part of the climate justice movement, we in Third Act connect climate action with the struggle to create better jobs, change our obscene economic inequality, and fight for racial and gender justice. We know we can’t solve these crises separately or one at a time. We need intersectional solutions. So on this May Day we stand in solidarity with workers in our common struggles.

The history of May Day shows just how common these struggles are.

In the spring of 1886, workers went on strike at the McCormick Harvesting Machine Company. On May 3rd, as the police protected strike-breakers, they shot and killed one striker and injured others. To protest this police brutality unions held a mass meeting the next day in Haymarket Square in Chicago. After the rally someone, never identified, threw a bomb. Police opened fire on the crowd, injuring 60; 7 police were killed. Three years later, in 1889, unions declared May 1st as May Day, to commemorate the strike and the Haymarket Affair.

Thirteen years later, in 1902, J. P. Morgan (yes, the founder of Chase Bank), in order to stop competition and create a monopoly, and to prevent workers from organizing unions, merged six farm machine companies into International Harvester. By the 1970s, IH was the fourth largest U. S. corporation.

Workers fought for another 39 years to organize a union at IH in 1941. They fought for the next 50 years to make their jobs secure and pay a living wage They went on strike for over 100 days in 1950, 63 days in 1958, 42 days in 1967, l15 days in 1973, 42 days days in 1976, 172 days in 1979, and, 101 years after police killed a striker at Mccormick, 163 days in 1987. That’s how workers and their unions built a middle class against J. P. Morgan’s monopoly. J. P. Morgan and International Harvester didn’t change. They couldn’t. Workers and their union forced them to pay a living wage.

Stop the Cumbria Coal Mine: XRTU at The Big One

ETU NSW & ACT Secretary Allen Hicks at May Day

Talking Union, Talking Climate

By staff - Labor Network for Sustainability, April 30, 2023

How are workers around the world viewing climate change and its impact on their jobs, their labor conditions, and their industries? For a quick, revealing glimpse at the answer, take a look at the 15-minute video Talking Union, Talking Climate. It provides a dialogue among workers in California, Norway, and Nigeria about labor conditions in the fossil fuel industry, the shift to a green economy, and what a just transition might be.

The video was made by Vivian Price, a former union electrician, now professor and researcher on labor and climate change and a co-author of the LNS report Workers and Communities in Transition: Report of the Just Transition Listening Project. The three workers are Charlie Sandoval, United Steelworkers, California, Kristian Enoksen,Industri Energi, Norway, Orike Didi, PENGASSAN, Nigeria.


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