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degrowth

Europe's energy transformation in the austerity trap

By Béla Galgóczi - European Trade Union Institute, 2015

Our planetary limits demand a radical transition from the energy-intensive economic model based on the extraction of finite resources, which has been dominant since the first industrial revolution, to a model that is both sustainable and equitable.

Unfortunately however, energy transformation in Europe has, after a promising start, fallen hostage to austerity and to the main philosophy underpinning the crisis management policies in which overall competitiveness is reduced to the much narrower concept of cost-competitiveness. Regulatory uncertainty, design failures built into incentive systems, and unjust distribution of the costs, have also contributed to the reversal of progress in energy transformation currently observable across Europe.

In this book three country case studies highlight the different facets of these conflicts, while additional light is thrown on the situation by an account of the lack of progress in achieving energy efficiency.

By way of conclusion, a mapping of the main conflicts and obstacles to progress will be of help in formulating policy recommendations. Ambitious climate and energy policy targets should be regarded not as a burden on the economy but rather as investment targets able to pave the way to higher employment and sustainable growth. It is high time for this perception to be recognised and implemented in the context of Europe’s new Investment Plan, thereby enabling clean energy investment to come to form its central pillar. A shift in this direction will require an overhaul of the regulatory and incentive systems to ensure that the need for just burden-sharing is adequately taken into account.

Read the report (Link).

Can We Earn a Living on a Living Planet? The need for jobs, and the ecological limits to growth

By Chuck Collins - American Prospect, October 13, 2014

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

It has been a tough couple of years in the effort to unite labor, community, and environmental groups, an alliance that has always been strained.

The extractive energy sector—coal, gas, oil—has historically had strong union representation and well-paying jobs. Tensions rose in 2011 after the Sierra Club escalated their campaign to close coal plants and 350.org, the climate protection group led by activist Bill McKibben, called for a halt to the Keystone XL Pipeline project.  Even Obama’s relatively mild order this past June on reducing pollution from power plants was opposed by the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) and the Mineworkers.

At a February 2013 meeting of labor and environmental activists, Damon Silvers, the AFL-CIO’s director of policy and special counsel, yelled and pounded the table, “Where is the transition plan for workers? Why isn’t this part of your demands?”

Divisions will increase in the coming years, as two competing urgencies collide. Labor and community justice organizations will demand jobs, economic growth, and reductions in inequality. And environmental activists will increase pressure to curtail fossil fuel production in the face of climate disruptions. Both the politics and the policies of these goals seem to diverge. But must they?

“Pitting jobs versus the environment is a false choice,” says Joe Uehlein, a longtime trade unionist, now board president of the Labor Network for Sustainability, which builds alliances between environmental and labor sectors. “We need to figure out how to make a living on a living planet.”

Drilling Deeper: a Reality Check on U.S. Government Forecasts for a Lasting Tight Oil & Shale Gas Boom

By J David Hughes - Post Carbon Institute, October 2014

In recent years Americans have been hearing that the United States is poised to regain its role as the world’s premier oil and natural gas producer, thanks to the widespread use of horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”). This “shale revolution,” we’re told, will fundamentally change the U.S. energy picture for decades to come—leading to energy independence, a rebirth of U.S. manufacturing, and a surplus supply of both oil and natural gas that can be exported to allies around the world. This promise of oil and natural gas abundance is influencing climate policy, foreign policy, and investments in alternative energy sources.

The primary source for these rosy expectations of future production is the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE). Each year the DOE’s Energy Information Administration (EIA) releases its Annual Energy Outlook (AEO), which provides a range of forecasts for energy production, consumption, and prices.

The 2014 AEO reference case projects U.S. crude oil production to rise to 9.6 million barrels of oil per day (MMbbl/d) in 2019 and slowly decline to 7.5 MMbbl/d by 2040, while natural gas production is projected to grow for at least the next 25 years and hit 37.5 trillion cubic feet per year in 2040. Tight oil (shale oil) and shale gas serve as the foundation for these optimistic forecasts.

This report provides an extensive analysis of actual production data from the top seven tight oil and seven shale gas plays in the U.S. (These plays account for 89% of current tight oil production and 88% of current shale gas production, and serve as the primary sources of future production in the EIA’s forecasts—82% of forecast tight oil and 88% of forecast shale gas production through 2040.) It concludes that the current boom in domestic oil and gas production is unsustainable at the rates projected by the EIA, and that the EIA’s tight oil and shale gas forecasts to 2040 are extremely optimistic. What this means is that the country's current energy policy—which is largely based on the expectation of domestic oil and natural gas abundance far into the future—is badly misguided and is setting the country up for a painful, costly, and unexpected shock when the boom ends.

Linking Degrowth to Environmental Justice

Joachim Spangenberg interviewed by Felicitas Sommer - EJOLT, July 1, 2014

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

For “Scharf-links”, a German online newspaper, Dr. Joachim Spangenberg , co-chair of EJOLT’s steering committee, spoke about the activities of EJOLT and the link between Environmental Justice and Degrowth, looking forward to the Degrowth meeting in Leipzig in the first week in September 2014 where EJOLT will be present. In the interview he explains that justice is a core element of any Degrowth process. Without justice, Degrowth won’t work.

[?] Dr. Spangenberg, for many people at EJOLT the Degrowth movement of the global North largely corresponds to the environmental justice movement of the global South…

[!] On our EJOLT map of environmental conflicts (www.ejatlas.org) it is not only possible to identify which regions are affected and which industries are causing conflicts, but also where perpetrators are coming from. These companies are primarily mining companies or other manufacturing industries, private ones as well as state owned ones. Apart from very few exceptions these companies are based in industrial countries, especially in Europe and the U.S. The victims of conflicts, in contrast, are mostly from countries of the global South. In these countries each month 2-3 leaders of environmental movements are being murdered. For them protection of the environment in is not a matter of goodwill but it is a matter of life and death.

[?] Who allows or fosters such developments, governments or corporations?

[!] State-owned energy companies in OECD-countries contribute 200 billion per year to state revenues. Many states are financially dependent on these companies and also on the taxes from private resource companies.

Many of the private companies are stock exchange-listed companies. The goal of high share prices collides with ambitious environmental targets. For example, to reach the 2 degree Celsius target two-thirds of remaining fossil fuels would have to stay in the ground. If this target were actually enforced, stock prices of the world’s largest corporations would collapse–their market value is based on the amount of resources they own, as these are considered the basis of future profits. Anything that reduces expected profits will lower the companies’ market value and this applies to laws protecting the environment, labour rights or indigenous people’s rights as well.

Australia‘s largest mining company, for example, would lose 50% of its market value if it had to re-classify 2/3 of its fossil fuel reserves as „unburnable fuels“. Mining and oil companies, but also the waste industry, do everything in their power to avert more stringent laws, more ambitious political targets and more effective sanctioning. Yet, with the Renewable Energies Law (EEG) in Germany it became apparent that big companies do not necessarily have the upper hand – RWE has lost 80% of its market value. However, the tough fight over renewable energies continues, also with the aid of the German Federal Government, to safeguard as much of the market value as possible.

Until Environmentalists Tackle Capitalism, We Will Never Stop Climate Change

By Brad Hornick - rabble.ca, June 16, 2014

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

In a recent speech, environmental journalist George Monbiot argues that opposition to the central drivers of climate change (neoliberal economic policies being the key) is consistently neutralized by environmentalists themselves. He says environmentalists shape their strategies to appease people who do not share their values.

Instead of boldly asserting their own values, environmentalists adopt principles embedded in neo-classical economics. They talk like radicals or leftists, but act as conservatives, says Monbiot. "The result" he says, "is effectively no political alternatives to the neoliberal project" and perpetual losses even in the face of the catastrophic destruction and crisis caused by political opponents.

Some of the roots of this conceptual slippage -- from defying to reproducing business-as-usual practices -- can be identified in a number of recent debates in Vancouver between advocates of "degrowth" and "ecological economics". These two conceptual frameworks have the appearance of radical, ecologically-minded departures from conventional economic thinking. To a certain extent they are. But they lack a crucial component, which is analysis that leads to concrete agonistic struggle against systemic power.

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