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'Coal Country' Mines Seam of Class Anger in West Virginia Explosion

By Alain Savard - Labor Notes, April 4, 2022

If Don Blankenship were a fictional character, critics would say he was a cartoon evil capitalist. Unfortunately, he’s real. One of his lesser crimes was to dump toxic coal slurry into disused mineshafts, poisoning the water of his neighbors, all to save $55,000. While they sickened, he piped his own water from the nearby town of Matewan. Yes, that Matewan. He has characterized strikes as “union terrorism.”

As chair and chief executive of Massey Energy, he received production reports from Upper Big Branch mine every half hour, including weekends. And no wonder, Blankenship’s compensation was tied to production, and UBB produced $600,000 worth of top-quality coal every day in a mile-deep operation near Whitesville, West Virginia.

That is, until it exploded in a completely preventable disaster that killed 29 miners on April 5, 2010.

The workers knew something bad was bound to happen. Methane readings were too high, the ventilation and air control systems were a shambles. One day the mine was sweltering, the next freezing cold. They operated in a fog of coal dust and exhaustion. Management threatened anyone who spoke up.

“Coal Country,” a play recently re-opened at Cherry Lane theater in New York, tells the story of the disaster through the words of the miners and their families. They are backed up by stunning original songs by Texas songwriter Steve Earle, who accompanies himself on guitar or banjo from the corner of the stage. “The devil put the coal in the ground,” he growls, and you can believe it. Jessica Blank and Erik Jensen created the play, and Blank directs it.

Performance Coal, the subsidiary of Massey that ran Upper Big Branch, was created specifically to exclude the union. Gary Quarles (played by Thomas Kopache), recalls that when he first hired into the mine, he couldn’t believe how management shouted at the men. That wasn’t tolerated on his union jobs. Unrelieved overtime was another difference.

Managers brought in experienced miners like Quarles for their knowledge about extracting coal, but dismissed their knowledge about how to run a safe mine. Union mines are safer according to Phil Smith of the United Mineworkers of America, "because workers elect their own safety committees and they know they can report hazards without fear of retribution.”

Can a Just Energy Transition Occur Under Capitalism?

End the addiction to fossil fuel- support the Ukrainian resistance

By Alan Thornett - Red Green Labour, March 24, 2022

Putin’s merciless invasion of Ukraine – which is his next step in the restoration of the Russian empire – has been stalled by the remarkable popular resistance that has been mounted against it. The southern port city of Mariupol is been flattened by Russian artillery and is facing a humanitarian catastrophe but has refused to surrender. On the other hand, the invaders have been pushed back on several fronts.

The Ukrainian resistance has relied heavily on both Western economic sanctions and Western military aid including hand-launched anti-tank and surface to air missiles without which Putin’s blitzkrieg might have been unstoppable. The economic sanctions have not just put Putin under pressure at home, but they have given the population the confidence to resist such an overwhelming force.

As the Russians have met much stronger resistance than they expected they have resorted to ever more indiscriminate, long-range bombardment of the civilian population with missiles launched from ships in the Black Sea and from Russia itself. The result of which has been a rapid escalation of civilian casualties. Putin has thousands of planes and missiles, of course, and could wipe Ukraine off the map. But whether that would be politically sustainable (or survivable for him at home) is another matter.

Russia is now a brutal kleptocracy, with Putin as the new Stalin. Anti-war demonstrators facing up to 16 years in jail and opposition politicians, who oppose war, driven into exile. Ten million people, a quarter of the population, are internally displaced and with almost five million already refugees abroad. Many thousands, mostly civilians, are dead. EU countries, to their credit, have opened their borders, suspended visa requirements, and taken in millions of people. This is in sharp contrast to Boris Johnson’s miserable Little Englander government that has been running around in circles in a (very successful) attempt to give refuge to as few people as possible.

How can the climate and anti‑war movements come together?

By Christian Zeller - Red Green Labour, March 23, 2022

Translated from the German- originally published here.

Exit from the fossil economy and rearmament, solidarity with the Ukrainian resistance

We live in a time of abrupt turns. [1]

Global warming is accelerating. The climate is changing faster than previously thought. The Russian war of aggression against Ukraine is largely aimed at the territorialconquest of a neighbouring state, the destruction of its army and the overthrow of its government. [2] This is something that has not existed in Europe in this way since 1945.

Even before this assault, the NATO countries, Russia and China started an arms race. The antagonisms between the various imperialisms intensified enormously. [3]The wave of rearmament that was already being prepared and launched before the war in Ukraine is an expression of intensifying competion for access to scarce resources that are so urgently needed in connection with the energy transition.

Global warming, this war and the danger of wars to come are interconnected and should be understood in a common context.

Challenges and perspectives of a just transition in Europe

Putin’s Carbon Bomb

By Ted Franklin - System Change not Climate Change, March 8, 2022

At a time when the entire world needs to focus on radical climate policy changes, he has thrust us into a war that might be as existentially dire as the climate crisis.

On day three of the Russian invasion of Ukraine a worldwide group of scientists from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (“IPCC”) gathered on Zoom to put the final stamp of approval on the UN body’s latest devastating report on the world’s feeble progress on climate.

A dark gloom hung over the proceedings as war threatened to derail global action on climate for years to come. Then Svitlana Krakovska, a Kyiv-based Ukrainian climatologist leading her country’s delegation to the virtual meeting, breached the IPCC’s longstanding commitment to apolitical discourse with a trenchant observation.

“Human-induced climate change and the war on Ukraine have the same roots — fossil fuels and our dependence on them,” she reportedly told her colleagues during a break from the air-raid sirens blaring intermittently in the Ukrainian capital. “The money that is funding this aggression comes from the same [place] as climate change does: fossil fuels. If we didn’t depend on fossil fuels, [Russia] would not have money to make this aggression.”

After Krakovska spoke, scientists and climate diplomats from the 195 IPCC nations listened in amazement as Oleg Anisimov, the head of the Russian delegation, apologized “on behalf of all Russians who were not able to prevent this conflict.”

Shopfloor Ecosocialism: Pumping the Brakes on Fossil Fuels

By Nicole A. Murray - Partisan, March 3, 2022

How organized labor can shift us away from dominant car culture and turn the tides of climate crisis at the point of production:

Organized labor is currently faced with the most consequential question of its life: are oil and gas commodities that workers have a right to burn for their own material benefit; or should they be left in the ground?

As an ecosocialist, the answer is clear: no more burning fossil fuels. Organized labor is in the unique position to both disrupt the deep systems that perpetuate dependence on fossil fuels and the products that run on them, while also ensuring production pivots towards the greater public good over individual personal luxury.

One system ripe for disruption is car dependence. Car-centric living requires millions of gallons of fossil fuels be burned into the air, every day, just so people can participate in society. It is a structural problem that requires a large-scale, organized solution that is clear-eyed on both the source and the results of car dependency. 

The existing pattern of development in the US in our urban, suburban and peri-urban spaces reflects an intentional plan by petro-capitalists and the state to center life around the automobile. The Federal Housing Administration subsidized low-density suburban development from the 1930s through the post-war years. Ex-urban homeownership, largely enjoyed exclusively by white families, boosted demand for automobiles, consumer durables, and energy consumption, thereby absorbing overproduction from some of the biggest industries of the time: the oil and automotive industries.1 Indeed, the self-reinforcing and self-reproducing system of sprawl, cars, and gas make this system difficult to disrupt on a systemic level when the petro-capitalists are still many regions’ top employers and tax payers.

Today, car-centric systems seem fair and normal. Yet Americans collectively owe $1.37 trillion in auto loan debt — 10 times that of medical debt — to collectively burn about 350 millions gallons of finished motor gasoline into the air per day,2 dwarfing China in terms of both per capita and total gasoline use.3 Unlike in other sectors such as energy production, global emissions in road transportation are projected to grow, and grow fast.

Make no mistake: it’s the system of automobility as a whole that is unsustainable, not individual use and consumption. Even advances in efficiency, including electrification (electric vehicles) will be wiped out by more widespread adoption especially as auto manufacturers open up markets in the global south.

Statement on UN IPCC Climate Report

By staff - Climate Justice Alliance, March 1, 2022

Climate Justice Alliance Calls on White House, Congress, UN to Center Frontline Wisdom/Solutions & Reject False Techno Fixes Accelerating Climate Change

We must keep fossil fuels in the ground; If we take anything away from Part 2 of the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Assessment, that should be it. Like so many times before, once again we find ourselves calling on the White House and Congress, and all world leaders to act boldly and courageously to reduce and eliminate greenhouse gas emissions at their source.

As Climate Justice Alliance (CJA) Co-Executive Director, Ozawa Bineshi Albert pointed out after participating in the most recent UN Climate Change Conference (COP26), “we must act with an urgency that is not happening now and we need community leaders experiencing harm to lead with solutions.”

Hans-Otto Pörtner, Co-Chair of the working group that issued the report explains, “The scientific evidence is unequivocal: climate change is a threat to human wellbeing and the health of the planet… Any further delay in concerted global action will miss a brief and rapidly closing window to secure a liveable future.

However, we cannot rely on unproven fossil fuel industry backed, techno-fixes and market schemes that are really just band-aid approaches to solving the climate crisis: practices that do not guarantee a reduction or elimination of emissions at their source, such as geoengineering approaches like carbon capture and storage, solar radiation management, carbon removal and the like. We must safeguard Earth and all her creatures for generations to come. That means stopping the harm that continues to pollute her for future generations. We must center frontline solutions that are grounded in a Just Transition as we move away from the dig, burn, and dump economy to local, community-controlled renewable and regenerative models that reduce emissions while building community wealth and justice at every turn. 

Together with 1,140 organizations and as a part of the Build Back Fossil Free Coalition in a letter issued last week, we called on President Biden to use his Executive powers to immediately 1) ban all new oil and gas contracts on federal areas, 2) stop approving fossil fuel projects, and 3) declare a climate emergency under the National Emergencies Act that will unlock special powers to fast track renewable projects that will benefit us all.

Additionally, as this report rightly points out, the United States must pay its fair share as the major culprit of climate change and heed the traditional knowledge of Indigenous peoples as we craft real solutions and reject false ones that will only serve to accelerate climate chaos in Black, Brown, Indigenous, Asian, and other low-income and vulnerable communities. We must invest in mitigation and adaptation resources for all frontline communities, in the Global South, and all other nations immediately. 

At the same time that the United Nations was preparing to craft this damning report on the fossil fuel industry, the largest delegation of badged participants at the COP26 were fossil fuel lobbyists. Only a few from vulnerable and most impacted communities were allowed in. This is unacceptable – the UN must end rules that restrict and keep out those most impacted by climate change from fully participating in future climate change conferences. Finally, we call on the UN to end its long practice of bowing to pressure from fossil corporations and member nations aligned with them, and reject false solutions that enable polluters to continue business as usual while doing nothing to stop emissions at their source.

This most recent IPCC Assessment focuses on impacts, vulnerability, and adaptation. An upcoming section in April will focus on ways to reduce emissions, and the final part will present lessons to member states during the next Climate Change Conference (COP27) to be held in Egypt. If the nations of the world truly want to solve the climate crisis they will heed the calls of those most impacted and look to them to lead rather than those who created the crisis in the first place; here in the United States that looks like addressing this issue as the emergency that it already is.

Shell Needs to be Dismantled. Here’s How:

By Marie-Sol Reindl - Open Democracy, February 11, 2022

Don’t be fooled by Shell’s green rebrand. The company is still deeply undemocratic and destroying the environment.

It has been a turbulent year for the oil and gas giant Shell.

Last May, Dutch courts ruled that Shell must drastically reduce its carbon emissions. In October, ABP, a major shareholder, divested from the company. The following month, the firm announced plans to move its headquarters from the Hague to London and drop its iconic prefix, ‘Royal Dutch’ (the company is now just Shell plc). And, in recent weeks, it has come under fire for its mammoth 14-fold increase in quarterly profits, having made $16.3bn (£12bn) pre-tax profit in the last quarter of 2021, while gas prices surged across Europe.

Now, as Shell presents itself as a global leader in the green energy transition, it is still actively investing in new oil and gas drilling.

But that is not the company’s only problem.

For a start, Shell’s profit-maximising business model is deeply undemocratic, benefitting top management and shareholders at the expense of communities around the world. The firm has also not reckoned with its colonial past and severe human rights violations, while its privileged access and influence over political decision-making processes are an obstacle towards building a democratic and green energy system. And, finally, its investment in ‘innovation’ is primarily dependent on gas and carbon capture, which keeps the world locked into a fossil fuel future.

While many agree that ending fossil fuel extraction is necessary, questions remain over how to dismantle oil and gas giants such as Shell. These companies will certainly not stop polluting of their own volition – so governments and civil society must take strategic action to force them to do so.

Can this be done via carbon pricing, bankruptcy, strategic litigation or nationalisation? When assessing these mechanisms, it’s critical to consider how – and if – they would reckon with the corporation’s colonial legacy and safeguard labour rights to build a fairer and regenerative energy system.

Green Union Organizing: Avoiding the "Jobs versus Environment" Trap

By Steve Ongerth - IWW Environmental Union Caucus, February 7, 2022

Note to readers: the intended audience for this piece includes environmental justice activists and/or workers sympathetic to them (and it should go without saying that there may be some overlap between the two):

As the climate and ecological crises deepen front line and working class communities are rising up to oppose the continued capitalist extractivism that continues to render their communities, homes, and sacred lands in to sacrifice zones.

Although this is not a new phenomena, it has been happening more and more. Typically, one of the favorite tricks in the capitalist playbook is to mobilize their employees--very often unionized employees, particularly those represented by conservative [2] business unions [1]--to parrot their corporate talking points, (at public hearings or in various forms of media) and usually these frame the issue as one of community and environment versus workers and jobs. Usually such spin is mostly false, but often the conservative business union officials and the rank file members buy into it. To make matters worse, the mainstream press, which inevitably serves capitalist interests, dutifly repeats and spreads the narrative. Such efforts are intended to isolate the community opposition, and either induce agencies, tasked with regulating the corporations in question, to take the corporate side, or--more likely--to provide cover for regulators already tacitly under industry capture to affirm their favorability towards the industry. The bosses know this trick often works, and they have been using it for over a half century. The trick isn't infallible, however, and this text is intended as a beginning guide on neutralizing its effects.

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