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Why we need a reform of the EU electricity market and how we can make it more socially just

Green Steel in the Ohio River Valley: The Timing is Right for the Rebirth of a Clean, Green Steel Industry

By Jacqueline Ebner, Ph.D., Kathy Hipple, Nick Messenger, and Irina Spector, MBA - Bob Muehlenkamp, April 17, 2023

For more than a century, steel has played an important role in the economy and culture of the Ohio River Valley. But the traditional method of making steel, known as BF-BOF (blast furnace-blast oxygen furnace), requires lots of energy and produces lots of climate-warming emissions. The iron and steel sector is currently responsible for about 7% of global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, according to the International Energy Agency.

Shifting to fossil fuel-free steelmaking could reduce greenhouse gas emissions, boost jobs, and grow the region’s economy. Fossil fuel-free DRI-EAF (direct reduced iron-electric arc furnace) steelmaking uses green hydrogen—created with wind and solar energy—to make steel with nearly zero climate-warming emissions.

Investing in fossil fuel-free steelmaking is a win for the climate and the economy. This report looks at Mon Valley Works, a steelmaking facility in southwestern Pennsylvania, as a model for transitioning from carbon-intensive BF-BOF steelmaking to fossil fuel-free DRI-EAF steelmaking.

Key takeaways:

  • A transition to fossil fuel-free steelmaking could grow total jobs supported by steelmaking in the region by 27% to 43% by 2031, forestalling projected job losses. Regional jobs supported by traditional steelmaking are expected to fall by 30% in the same period, data show.
  • Transitioning to fossil fuel-free steelmaking will cut Pennsylvania’s industrial sector emissions by 4 million metric tons of CO2e per year, improving quality of life and saving the state $380 million in health, community, and environmental costs.
  • The Ohio River Valley is uniquely positioned to become a decarbonized industrial hub. A skilled workforce with applicable manufacturing experience, ready access to water and iron ore, and high potential for solar, wind, and green hydrogen development situate the region to lead a growing green manufacturing industry.
  • Billions in federal funding from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, the Inflation Reduction Act, and the CHIPS and Science Act will boost demand for American-made steel while supporting worker retraining programs, hydrogen infrastructure, and renewable energy development.

Download a copy of this publication here (PDF).

Editorial: The Jevons Paradox Myth

By x344543 - IWW Environmental Union Caucus, April 6, 2023

As the climate crises deepens and the push to decarbonize the world's energy systems intensifies, a chorus of skeptical and pessimistic voices continually warns against placing hope in renewable energy as a solution (whether partial or wholly), arguing instead for vastly reducing energy consumption (as well as everything else). One of the most commonly invoked pieces of putative evidence made to bolster the argument is the oft cited, but poorly understood concept known as "Jevon's Paradox" (see also Wikipedia for a quick reference).

For example, in an article featured on the degrowth blog, Resilience (run by degrowth advocate Richard Heinberg), "Resources for a better future: Jevons Paradox", author Sam Bliss declares:

In 1865, (English economist William Stanley) Jevons found that as each new steam engine design made the use of coal more efficient, Britain used more coal overall, not less.

These efficiency improvements made coal cheaper, because steam engines, including the ones used to pump water out of coal mines, required less coal to produce a given amount of useful energy. Yet increasingly efficient steam engines made coal more valuable too, since so much useful energy could be produced from a given amount of coal.

That might be the real paradox: the ability to use a resource more efficiently makes it both cheaper and more valuable at the same time.

In Jevons’ time, more and more coal became profitable to extract as more and more uses of coal became profitable. Incomes increased as coal-fired industrial capitalism took off, and profits were continually invested to expand production further.
A century and a half later, researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology found that as industrial processes have gotten more efficient at using dozens of different materials and energy sources, the overall use of these materials and energy sources has grown in nearly every case. The few exceptions are almost all materials whose use has been limited or banned for reasons of toxicity, like asbestos and mercury.

In an economy designed to grow, the Jevons paradox is all but inevitable. Some call it the Jevons phenomenon because of its ubiquity. Purposefully limiting ourselves might provide a way out.

This is by no means the only such example, nor is it even necessarily the most illustrative one, but it perfectly summarizes the all too often careless application of what is an overused and debatable trope.

There are several problems with Jevon’s Paradox and the way in which Bliss presents it:

RMT demands stronger workers’ rights on offshore wind farms

By staff - National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers (RMT), April 5, 2023

OFFSHORE union RMT today demanded trade union rights and fair pay in the Offshore Wind industry following an independent report by the UK government’s Offshore Wind Champion Tim Pick.

RMT general secretary Mick Lynch said that it was disappointing that trade unions were not consulted as part of the report, especially as it acknowledges the importance of a just transition to the 50,000 jobs which are expected to be lost from the oil and gas industry by 2030.

“RMT is calling for mandatory collective bargaining in the offshore wind supply chain for fixed and floating projects, including in low tax low regulation Freeports where the government intend much of this accelerated offshore wind activity to take place.

“However, we welcome the recognition of the delay in skills passporting for our offshore members, the move away from voluntary local content targets and the linking of seabed leasing rights to supply chain development, which could be funded out of Crown Estates’ profits. 

“The recognition of the advantage gained in the US and EU by massive subsidy commitment to green energy is also significant but we need some reality to prevail over the damaging effects of government policy to date on increasing jobs, safety and skills across the offshore wind supply chain.

“For example, crew in the offshore wind supply chain can be paid below the national minimum wage to work at sea for months on end and that needs to change fast,” he said.

A Green Economy For Rhode Island with Climate Jobs RI

Protecting Workers and Communities–From Below, Part 1: On the Ground

By Jeremy Brecher - Labor Network for Sustainability, March 23, 2023

Climate protection will create jobs for workers and economic development for communities. But as fossil fuel facilities are closed down there will also be some jobs lost and some communities will lose taxes and other economic benefits. This Commentary recounts what communities around the country are doing “on the ground” to protect workers and local economies from collateral damage from the transition to climate-safe energy. The next Commentary describes what states are doing to include such protections in their climate and energy programs.

The Lithium Problem: An Interview with Thea Riofrancos

By Alyssa Battistoni and Thea Riofrancos - Dissent, Spring 2023

Can we rapidly reduce carbon emissions while minimizing the damage caused by resource extraction?

After years of outright climate denial and political intransigence, the development of renewable energy is finally underway. When it comes to transportation—the number one source of U.S. carbon emissions—the strategy for decarbonization has focused heavily on replacing gas-powered cars with rechargeable electric vehicles. The Inflation Reduction Act offers billions of dollars of subsidies for both producers and consumers of EVs, including a $7,500 tax credit for buying new EVs made in the United States. The infrastructure bill passed in late 2021 included $5 billion to help states build a network of EV recharging stations. New York and California have announced bans on the sale of vehicles with internal combustion engines beginning in 2035. Half of this year’s Superbowl car ads touted electric vehicles. By 2030, it is estimated that electric vehicles will make up half of U.S. car sales.

For our reliance on privatized transportation to remain the same, everything else will have to change. We’re already seeing concerns about shortages of “critical minerals” necessary for batteries and other renewable technologies. Based on current consumption patterns, for example, U.S. demand for the lithium used in batteries would require three times the existing global supply—which comes primarily from Australia, Latin America, and China—by 2050. In anticipation of booming demand, a flurry of new mining operations has begun around the world—and so have protests by those worried that mines will disturb ecosystems, contaminate water supplies, generate toxic waste, and disrupt local livelihoods.

What does the current trajectory of the “green energy transition” mean for global environmental justice? What other options are there? Is it possible to rapidly reduce carbon emissions while also minimizing extraction and maintaining—or even increasing—people’s ability to move freely and safely?

A new report from the think tank Climate and Community Project presents the data behind different visions of the green future. A scenario in which the United States reduces car dependency by improving public transit options, density, and walkability could see a 66 percent decrease in lithium demand compared to a business-as-usual model. Even just reducing the size of U.S. vehicles and batteries could potentially reduce lithium use by as much as 42 percent in 2050. In other words, the choices Americans make about domestic transportation, housing, and development matter worldwide. In this interview, the report’s lead author, political scientist Thea Riofrancos, explains the implications of its findings for climate and environmental politics in the United States and around the planet.

The IRA Is an Invitation to Organizers

By Kate Aronoff - Dissent, Spring 2023

The Inflation Reduction Act presupposes a private sector–led transition. But battles over its implementation could build the political constituencies and expertise needed to take on the fossil fuel industry.

The Inflation Reduction Act would not have happened without the movement for a Green New Deal, but it shouldn’t be confused for one. The climate left (broadly defined) now faces a novel problem: how to deal with having won something—and keep fighting for more.

It’s understandably hard for those who supported Green New Deal proposals for transformative investments in public goods to see the IRA—a bundle of tax credits whose benefits accrue largely to corporations—as a consolation prize. For the many climate hawks galvanized by Bernie Sanders’s bid for the Democratic nomination in 2020, it’s also a far cry from what, for a moment, looked to be within striking distance: governing power.

In some ways the IRA’s passage—and Republicans taking back the House a few months later—marks a return to normal for the climate left. But Democratic Party politics have changed. Top Democratic policymakers openly discuss the need for industrial policy (what one International Monetary Fund paper dubs “the policy that shall not be named”), and hundreds of billions of dollars will soon go out the door to build up domestic supply chains for things like battery storage and critical minerals. In practice, however, that means letting the public sector shoulder the risks of an energy transition while the private sector reaps the rewards. By all accounts the White House seems to imagine climate policy as the project of turning clean energy technologies into a more attractive asset class for investors.

None of this obviates the need for a Green New Deal. Every path to staving off runaway climate catastrophe runs through enormous investments to scale up zero-carbon energy and a simultaneous, brutal confrontation with the fossil fuel industry. Even given unlimited resources, the former simply won’t overpower the latter fast enough. Trillions of dollars in future revenue—coal, oil, and gas that has yet to be dug up and burned—need to be made worthless, even when the market disagrees. Only the state can keep a company from doing what is profitable.

The Green New Deal’s basic political calculus for making the state do that still holds, too: getting to zero emissions requires giving people a reason to be excited about the awe-inspiring project of decarbonization and to come to its defense at the ballot box and beyond. Decarbonization should make the kinds of changes in people’s lives that inspire them to name children after the president they deem responsible. No one will name their kid Biden because they got a $7,500 rebate on a Chevy Bolt.

If winning a Green New Deal is still necessary (it is), then the path to it will be a strange one. A product of the left having shifted the debate on climate and economic policy is that it’s also created a new organizing challenge for itself: how do you build durable democratic majorities for climate action as political elites align around a fundamentally undemocratic vision for what decarbonization should look like?

China, Southern Africa, Capitalism, Climate & Labor

CCS and What it Means for EJ

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