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fossil fuel capitalism

The Sky’s Limit California: why the Paris Climate Goals demand that California lead in a managed decline of oil extraction

By Kelly Trout, et. al. - Oil Change International, May 22, 2018

This study examines the implications of the Paris Agreement goals for oil production and climate leadership in California.

California’s leaders, including Governor Jerry Brown, have been vocal supporters of the Paris Agreement. Yet, California presently has no plan to phase out its oil and gas production in line with Paris-compliant carbon budgets. Under the Brown administration, the state has permitted the drilling of more than 20,000 new wells, including extraction and injection wells.

We provide new data findings related to:

  • The climate implications of ongoing permitting of new oil wells in California;
  • The ways that a managed decline of existing wells can prioritize health and equity; and
  • Elements of a just transition for affected workers and communities.

We recommend that the state take the following actions:

  • Cease issuing permits for new oil and gas extraction wells;
  • Implement a 2,500-foot health buffer zone around homes, schools, and hospitals where production must phase out;
  • Develop a plan for the managed decline of California’s entire fossil fuel sector to maximize the effectiveness of the state’s climate policies; and
  • Develop a transition plan that protects people whose livelihoods are affected by the economic shift, including raising dedicated funds via a Just Transition Fee on oil production.

As a wealthy oil producer, California is well positioned to take more ambitious action to proactively phase out its fossil fuel production and has a responsibility to do so in order to fulfill its commitment
to climate leadership. By taking these steps, California would become the first significant oil and gas producer globally to chart a path off fossil fuel production in line with climate limits.

Download (PDF).

Capitalism Is Killing the Earth: An Anarchist Guide to Ecology

By JohnWarwick, et. al. - Anarchist Federation, 2018

We are in a period of crisis that we in MEDCs cannot yet see. The signs are there if you look hard enough but at the moment the water is still flowing, the crops are still reliable the ski lifts are still running. The first wave of climate refugees are trying to make their way into Europe but they are being dismissed as "economic migrants" or those displaced by war. In all likelihood, MEDCs will not feel the effects of climate change for some time; our relative wealth will push the impacts onto those who haven't the means to adapt or whose local climates were less temperate to begin with. The longer we wait to act, however, the bigger the coming crunch will be.

Collectively, MEDCs are responsible for the overwhelming majority of cumulative carbon emissions and will have to radically change their energy and transport systems if an ecological disaster is to be avoided. Who will bear the brunt of the costs and who will get rich from this process is sadly predictable. The working class in MEDCs and most people in LEDCs will pay for the fossil fuel addiction and growth-at-all-costs model of the capitalist system. We have already begun to see this happen in the black, working-class communities devastated by natural disasters in the USA and flooding killing thousands in Bangladesh.

Capitalism relies on constantly increasing accumulation of profits. This has been achieved historically by appropriations (a polite term for thefts) both internal and external to the nation state. Internally, in Europe from the fifteenth century onwards, this has followed the model of stealing common land from the people to create a proletarian class dependent on wage labour to support itself. Externally, this expansion was tied to a move outside Europe's borders to exploit natural resources and labour in other locations. Thus colonialism and capitalism were, from the beginning, linked to processes of resource extraction and accumulation.

Capitalism is now in crisis; with so few areas beyond its reach, there are no easy sources of growth to appropriate, and the ability of the earth's ecosystems to accommodate further growth is being seriously questioned. How then to continue growth and profit? In MEDCs, we are seeing a fresh attack on workers? rights, with more precarious jobs, lower pay and poorer social care. In LEDCs, the neoliberal development model is pushed with privatisation and financial deregulation extracting the most profit for the capitalists.

We write this pamphlet to discuss the environmental problems that capitalism has created, with a focus on climate change and the false solutions offered up to us. There has been wider understanding of environmental issues since mainstream publications such as Silent Spring, Gaia and An Inconvenient Truth; however, an anti-capitalist critique has been lacking.

Read the report (PDF).

Winds of Change: Public Opinion on Energy Politics in Saskatchewan

By Andrea Olive, Emily Eaton, and Randy Besco - Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives - April 2018

Energy politics are controversial in Canada. Debates over pipelines, from the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain expansion to TransCanada’s Keystone XL, are often splashed across newspaper headlines. In Saskatchewan, however, the Saskatchewan Party government and the official NDP opposition have rarely disagreed about the importance of defending the province’s oil industry from anti-pipeline activists and federal climate change policies. Most recently, the interim leader of the NDP sided with Alberta Premier Rachel Notley in the dispute between Alberta and British Colombia over Kinder Morgan.1 Although Saskatchewan produces no bitumen itself, the NDP joined Premier Notley in condemning BC Premier Horgan’s announcement that British Colombia will place restrictions on the shipment of bitumen through its territory.

Given the seeming political consensus that defending the oil industry is consistent with defending the province’s interests, one might assume that Saskatchewan people are relatively united in their support for fossil fuel extraction. In this report we present some surprising results of public opinion polling that we conducted on issues of oil extraction, environment, and climate change in the province. Our results show that people living in Saskatchewan support a transition away from fossil fuels and agree that the government should invest more in solar and wind power while strengthening environmental regulations.

Read the report (PDF).

The Case for Free Public Transport

By Connor Beaton - The Bullet, March 6, 2018

The Scottish Socialist Party (SSP) is a proud advocate of a world-class, fare-free public transport system for Scotland.

Transport has undergone enormous changes in recent decades, both in Scotland and across the world. Some have been cyclical: in Scotland’s capital, trams were built, dismantled, and then reintroduced. In other areas, we have seen consistent trends like the steady deregulation and privatization of services, which has left Edinburgh as the sole city in Scotland with a municipal bus operator.

Rail fares across the UK have soared in comparison to those of our European neighbours, and Scottish transport contracts go out to tender in a farcical franchise system whereby public sector companies in other countries can bid for control while those in Scotland are effectively barred.

Scotland, the country which gave the world the pedal bicycle and the pneumatic tyre, now has a public transport network which is broadly unfit for purpose.

Massive changes have to be made to ensure that our public transport network is not only of a standard befitting the people of Scotland, but one that is adapted to our environmental and economic needs – challenging climate change while connecting communities and creating jobs through enhanced mobility.

The Scottish Socialist Party is brave enough to identify these changes. We call unashamedly for the integration of services – whether bus, rail, ferry, underground or tram – under publicly-owned and democratically-run operators.

But the bravest step we can take as a nation to totally transform the way we travel is to support the international movement for free public transport and become pioneers of true freedom of movement for working class people.

There is a strong economic, social, and environmental case for adopting this policy throughout the country. There is also precedent from successful fare-free public transport schemes in parts of France, Germany, Belgium, and Estonia as well as far-flung cities in China and the United States. [Ed.: see wikipedia.org/wiki/Free_public_transport, and FreeTransitToronto.org.] We have evidence of the policy’s affordability and benefit.

Imagining a New Social Order: Noam Chomsky and Robert Pollin in Conversation

Interview by C.J. Polychroniou - Truthout, November 19, 2017

We live in an age of illegitimate neoliberal hegemony and soaring political uncertainty. The evidence is all around: citizen disillusionment over mainstream political parties and the traditional conservative-liberal divide, massive inequality, the rise of the "alt-right," and growing resistance to Trumpism and financial capitalism. 

Yes, the present age is full of contradictions of every type and variety, and this is something that makes the goals and aims of the left for the reordering of society along the lines of a true democratic polity and in accordance with the vision of a socialist reorganization of the economy more challenging than ever before.

In this context, the interview below, with Noam Chomsky and Robert Pollin, which appeared originally in Truthout in three separate parts, seeks to provide theoretical and practical guidance to the most pressing social, economic and political issues facing the United States today. It is part of an effort to help the left reimagine an alternative but realistic social order in an age when the old order is dying but the new has yet to be born.

Noam Chomsky is professor emeritus of linguistics at MIT and laureate professor in the department of linguistics at the University of Arizona. Robert Pollin is distinguished professor of economics and co-director of the Political Economy Research Institute at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. These two thinkers are pathbreakers in the quest to envision a humane and equitable society, and their words can provide a helpful framework as we strive -- within an oppressive system and under a repressive government -- to fathom new ways of living together in the world.

C.J. Polychroniou: Noam, the rise of Donald Trump has unleashed a rather unprecedented wave of social resistance in the US. Do you think the conditions are ripe for a mass progressive/socialist movement in this country that can begin to reframe the major policy issues affecting the majority of people, and perhaps even challenge and potentially change the fundamental structures of the US political economy?

Noam Chomsky: There is indeed a wave of social resistance, more significant than in the recent past -- though I'd hesitate about calling it "unprecedented." Nevertheless, we cannot overlook the fact that in the domain of policy formation and implementation, the right is ascendant, in fact some of its harshest and most destructive elements [are rising].

Beyond Fossil Fuels: Planning a Just Transition for Alaska's Economy

By John Talberth, Ph.D. and Daphne Wysham - Center for Sustainable Economy, October 2017

Of the 50 United States, Alaska best exemplifies the types of problems the rest of the country may well face in a matter of decades, if not years, if we don’t wean ourselves from fossil fuels. The U.S. is in the middle of an oil and gas production boom, one that has caused oil and gas prices to plummet, with devastating consequences for Alaska, a state that has grown dependent on revenue from the oil and gas industry for its public funds.

However, if one only looked at the prominent outlines of the boom-and-bust, oil and gas economy in Alaska, one would miss a subtler shift happening on a much smaller scale: A more sustainable, self-reliant economy is beginning to take shape in remote villages and towns throughout the state.

While this sustainable economy is beginning to take root, it needs special care. In a report, commissioned by Greenpeace USA, entitled “Beyond Fossil Fuels: Planning a Just Transition for Alaska’s Economy,” CSE’s John Talberth and Daphne Wysham write that this nascent economy in Alaska shows great promise but will require investments in the following key sectors if it is to thrive:

  • human capital—particularly in computer literacy in rural areas;
  • sustainable energy, including wind, wave, tidal and solar energy;
  • greater local self-reliance in food including produce, which currently is imported at great cost, and fisheries, which is often exported for processing, and manufacturing;
  • the clean-up of fossil fuel infrastructure, including abandoned infrastructure sites;
  • the protection of ecosystems;
  • tourism led and controlled by Alaska Native communities;
  • and sustainable fisheries.

But investment in these key building blocks is only the first step. Also needed are policy changes at the state and federal level that would remove subsidies for the fossil fuel industry, begin to internalize the price of pollution, and make federal funds available that are currently out of reach for many Alaska Natives.

Read the report (PDF).

Dirty Energy Dominance: Dependent on Denial

By Janet Redman, et. al. - Oil Change International, October 2017

A new report by Oil Change International reveals that U.S. taxpayers continue to foot the bill for more than $20 billion in fossil fuel subsidies each year. The analysis outlines tax incentives, credits, low royalty rates, and other government measures benefiting the oil, gas, and coal sectors.

While the majority of Americans want stronger U.S. action on climate change, policies at the state and federal level continue to underwrite the ongoing exploration and production of fossil fuels. Every dollar spent subsidizing this industry takes us further away from achieving internationally agreed emissions goals, and maintaining a stable climate.

Key findings include:

  • Fossil fuel subsidies have been defended by a Congress influenced by $350 million in campaign contributions and lobbying expenditures by the fossil fuel industry – which equates to a 8,200% return on investment.
  • The cost of annual federal fossil fuel production subsidies is equivalent to the projected 2018 budget cuts from Trump’s proposals to slash 10 public programs and services that benefit some of the nation’s most vulnerable children and families.
  • Government giveaways in the form of permanent tax breaks to the fossil fuel industry – one of which is over a century old – are seven times larger than those to the renewable energy sector.

The report recommends that climate champions in Congress, statehouses, and governors’ residences concerned about using taxpayer dollars wisely can push back on Trump’s fossil fuel agenda by taking the following actions:

  • Immediately repeal existing tax breaks for fossil fuel exploration and production, and halt efforts to extend and expand tax credits for unconventional fossil fuel production technologies, like carbon capture and storage and enhanced oil recovery.
  • Champion broader legislation that ends investment in fossil fuel expansion, and funds a just transition for industry-dependent workers and communities, while supporting a clean, renewable energy economy.
  • Break the cycle of dirty energy money, particularly by elected officials at all levels of government pledging to refuse campaign donations and other forms of support from the oil, gas, and coal industries.

Download PDF Here.

Trade unions in the UK engagement with climate change

By Catherine Hookes - Campaign against Climate Change Trade Union Group, August 15, 2017

Despite being faced with many immediate battles to fight, it is to the credit of many trade unions that they are also addressing the long term wellbeing of their members, and of future generations, by introducing policies to tackle climate change. A new report providing the first ever overview of the climate change policies of 17 major UK trade unions could help raise wider awareness of this important work.

The author, Catherine Hookes, is studying for a masters degree at Lund University, Sweden, and her research drew on a comprehensive web review of policies in these unions, going into more depth for many of the unions, interviewing key figures and activists. The research was facilitated by the Campaign against Climate Change.

For anyone within the trade union movement concerned about climate change (or for campaigners wishing to engage with trade unions on these issues) this report is of practical use in understanding the context, the diversity of different trade unions' approaches, and the progress that has been made in the campaign for a just transition to a low carbon economy.

While every attempt was made to ensure the report is comprehensive, and accurately reflects union positions, there are clearly controversies and different viewpoints over issues such as fracking and aviation. Trade unions with members in carbon intensive industries will always have a challenging task in addressing climate change, but their engagement in this issue is vital. And, of course, this is a rapidly changing field. It is very encouraging that since the report was written, Unison has voted to campaign for pension fund divestment. This is an important step in making local authority pension funds secure from the risk (both financial and moral) of fossil fuel investment.

Anyone attending TUC congress this September is welcome to join us at our fringe meeting, 'Another world is possible: jobs and a safe climate', to take part in the ongoing discussion on the role of trade unions in tackling climate change.

Read the text (PDF).

Standing Rock in Tacoma, Washington

By Sarah Morken - The North Star, April 16, 2017

Tacoma has been one of the main dumping grounds for polluting industry in western Washington. We are home to nine EPA Superfund clean up sites.

This week we gathered on the Tacoma tide flats outside outside the site where Puget Sound Energy (PSE) is preparing to build the nations largest fracked gas storage plant (Liquid Natural Gas or LNG). There were members of the Puyallup Tribe, Standing Rock Tribe, the Palouse Tribe and their non-native allies from local political and environmental groups. We were about 50 people coming and going. The protest was hosted by Tacoma Direct Action and sponsored by Redline Tacoma, Save Tacoma Water and Green Party Tahoma. This was the first local protest actually at the site.

Takes More Than Prayer

James Rideout, member of the Puyallup Tribe and geoduck diver started the protest with a prayer and a song, with help from Jesse Nightwalker a member of the Palouse Tribe. James asked how far we were willing to go to fight this project, reminding us that it was going to take more than prayer, reminding us about what happened in Standing Rock.

ILWU

We stood on the four corners at the intersection located between the LNG site and Totem Ocean Trailer Express (TOTE). TOTE is supposedly one of the primary customers of the LNG. We handed out flyers to Longshore workers (ILWU 23) as they drove through the gate at TOTE and also to other port workers as they drove by. Some of the cars drove past without stopping, but many of them took our flyers. Most of them were not even aware of the project. They weren’t aware that their union leadership supports the project. The decision to support LNG was voted on at a general membership meeting without effort to truly inform the members on the issue. The union has been helping with the million dollar greenwashing campaign for PSE.

Interestingly, ILWU 23 sent a delegation with supplies and money to Standing Rock showing solidarity with the Water Protectors against the oil and gas industry there. Can the dockworkers be convinced to stand in solidarity with the Puyallup Tribe right here at home? Or will they instead support the the oil and gas industry? In my opinion, it would be helpful if Puyallup Tribe members ask their Tribal Council to set up a meeting with ILWU 23 and have a conversation about this. As union members, as the working class, our natural allies are fellow exploited/oppressed/discriminated people, like Native Americans, not Puget Sound Energy!

Can Coal Make a Comeback?

By Trevor Houser, Jason Bordoff, and Peter Marsters - Columbia Center on Global Energy Policy, School of International and Public Affairs, and the Rhodium Group, April 2017

From the introduction: Six years ago, the US coal industry was thriving, with demand recovering from the Great Recession, and global coal prices at record highs along with the stock prices of US coal companies. By the end of 2015, however, the industry had collapsed, with three of the four largest US miners filing for bankruptcy along with many other smaller companies. While coal mining employment has been on the decline for decades – from a peak of more than 800,000 in the 1920s to 130,000 in 2011 – the pace of job loss over the past six years has been particularly dramatic. After campaigning on a promise to end what he called his predecessor’s “War on Coal,” President Donald Trump signed an Executive Order in March 2017 ordering agencies to review or rescind a raft of Obama-era environmental regulations, telling coal miners they would be “going back to work.”

This paper offers an empirical diagnosis of what caused the coal collapse, and then examines the prospects for a recovery of US coal production and employment by modeling the impact of President Trump’s executive order and assessing the global coal market outlook. In short, the paper finds:

  • US electricity demand contracted in the wake of the Great Recession, and has yet to recover due to energy efficiency improvements in buildings, lighting and appliances. A surge in US natural gas production due to the shale revolution has driven down prices and made coal increasingly uncompetitive in US electricity markets. Coal has also faced growing competition from renewable energy, with solar costs falling 85 percent between 2008 and 2016 and wind costs falling 36 percent.
  • Increased competition from cheap natural gas is responsible for 49 percent of the decline in domestic US coal consumption. Lower-than-expected demand is responsible for 26 percent, and the growth in renewable energy is responsible for 18 percent. Environmental regulations have played a role in the switch from coal to natural gas and renewables in US electricity supply by accelerating coal plant retirements, but were a significantly smaller factor than recent natural gas and renewable energy cost reductions.
  • Changes in the global coal market have played a far greater role in the collapse of the US coal industry than is generally understood. A slow-down in Chinese coal demand, especially for metallurgical coal, depressed coal prices around the world and reduced the market for US exports. More than half of the decline in US coal company revenue between 2011 and 2015 was due to international factors.
  • Implementing all the actions in President Trump’s executive order to roll back Obama-era environmental regulations could stem the recent decline in US coal consumption, but only if natural gas prices increase going forward. If natural gas prices remain at or near current levels or renewable costs fall more quickly than expected, US coal consumption will continue its decline despite Trump’s aggressive rollback of Obama-era regulations.
  • While global coal markets have recovered slightly over the past few months due to supply restrictions in China and flooding in Australia, we expect this rally to be short-lived. Slower economic growth and structural adjustment in China will continue to put downward pressure on global coal prices and limit the market opportunities for US exports. Indian coal demand will likely grow in the years ahead, but not enough to make up for the slow-down in China. The same is true for other emerging economies, many of whom are negatively impacted by decelerating Chinese commodities demand themselves.
  • Under the best case scenario for US coal producers, our modeling projects a modest recovery to 2013 levels of just under 1 billion tons a year. Under the worst case scenario, output falls to 600 million tons a year. A plausible range of US coal mining employment in these scenarios ranges from 70,000 to 90,000 in 2020, and 64,000 to 94,000 in 2025 and 2030 -- lower than anything the US experienced before 2015.

These findings indicate that President Trump’s efforts to roll back environmental regulations will not materially improve economic conditions in America’s coal communities. As such, the paper concludes with recommendations for steps that the federal government can take to safeguard the pension and health security of current and retired miners and dependents and support economic diversification. Attracting new sources of economic activity and job creation will not be easy, and even at its most successful will not return coal country to peak levels of past prosperity.

But responsible policymakers should be honest about what’s going on in the US coal sector—including the causes of coal’s decline and unlikeliness of its resurgence—rather than offer false hope that the glory days can be revived. And then support those in America’s coal communities working hard to build a new economic future.

Read the text (PDF).

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