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fossil fuel capitalism

Climate Change and Just Transition: What Will Workers Need

By staff - Adapting Canadian Work and Workplaces to Respond to Climate Change and United Steelworkers, April 2017

The United Steelworkers Union (USW) in Canada has produced a new workshop guide to educate workers about the impact of climate change on jobs, and to better prepare them to ensure that government policies promoting a just transition are put in place. The workshop and guide were piloted at the United Steelworkers National Health, Safety, Environment and Human Rights Conference that was held in Vancouver in 2017.

The workshop guide leads union members through discussion topics and activities, such as asking participants to answer the question, “What can your workplace do to combat climate change?”

Topics covered include:

  • How Climate Change Connects Us
  • How Climate Change Contributes to the World of Work
    • Employment
    • Forestry
    • Mining
    • Transportation
  • Just Transition
  • What Does a Green Job Mean in Relation to the Environment?
    • Collective Agreements
    • Political Lobbying
    • Green Procurement
    • Training
    • Employment Insurance
  • National Concern for the Economic Growth of Canada

Read the text (PDF).

Let Us Now Praise A Coal Miner: Chuck Nelson Is An American Hero

By Jonathan Rosenblum - Common Dreams, March 26, 2017

Among the hundreds of coal miners I have interviewed over the years, retired coal miner Chuck Nelson has always been among the most fearless truth-tellers in the coal country of West Virginia.

An indefatigable presence at hearings, meetings, media briefings, and in his beloved mountains, Nelson’s powerful voice and witness have never been needed more than now—during this unending “war” on Appalachia by the coal industry and its sycophants in state halls and Washington, DC.

“Chuck Nelson is an invaluable member of our community,” said Maria Gunnoe, the Goldman Prize Award recipient with Coal River Mountain Watch in West Virginia. “The coal industry may have broken his health down, but they sure didn’t break his Appalachian spirit to always fight for something better.”

A 4th generation union coal miner, who spent 30 years working in underground mines, Nelson has witnessed first-hand the demise of a once strong union movement for workplace safety and wage justice, the unraveling of deeply rooted communities, the clear-cut destruction of his mountain forests and poisoning of his neighbors, and the fierce struggle of local communities to defend their health, land and ways of life.

Expect the Unexpected: The Disruptive Power of Low-carbon Technology

By Luke Sussams, et. al. - Carbon Tracker, February 2017

The time for energy transformations is now.

Achieving climate stability will require deep and widespread changes in the global energy sector. Fossil fuel industry projections, however, continue to show a future energy system with few changes to that of today. This is in spite of examples of disruption in the energy sector at the hands of the low-carbon transition. This scenario analysis was produced in partnership between Carbon Tracker and the Grantham Institute at Imperial College London and explores the extent to which ongoing cost reductions could see solar photovoltaics (PV) and electric vehicles (EVs) impact future demand for coal, oil and gas. The findings of this study should motivate energy companies and their investors to retire the use of business as usual (BAU) scenarios and further integrate the consideration of downside demand scenarios.

Read the report (PDF).

How Green is Jerry Brown?

By Liza Tucker - Consumer Watchdog, February 2017

This review fact-checks the perception of Jerry Brown as an environmentalist against his actions since taking office as Governor in 2011 to answer the question: “How Green Is Brown?” On a continuum of “Green” to “Murky” to “Dirty,” the review concludes that Brown’s environmental record is not green. The following advocates and public interest groups concur with the report’s analysis, conclusions, and recommendations: Food & Water Watch, Physicians for Social Responsibility-Los Angeles, Rootskeeper, Powers Engineering, Basin & Range Watch, Aguirre & Severson LLP, Public Watchdogs, the Southern California Watershed Alliance, The Desal Response Group, Restore The Delta, and Committee to Bridge the Gap.

Brown has staked his environmental legacy on fighting climate change, calling it the “singular challenge of our time.” He claims that he is enacting “a 1 thorough, integrated plan to reduce fossil fuel consumption.” He plans to have 1.5 million electric cars on the road by 2025 and has granted major investor-owned utilities a windfall of billions of dollars to build the charging infrastructure to make it happen. Yet, he has thrown his support to the fossil fuels industry whose products emit the most carbon on the planet when burned for transportation, electricity, and heat.

Far from the environmentalist that Brown claims to be, Brown has expanded the burning of heat-trapping natural gas and nurtured oil drilling and hydraulic fracturing while stifling efforts to protect the public from harm. The Public Utilities Commission has approved a slew of unnecessary new fossil-fuel power plants when the state’s three major investorowned utilities have overbuilt their generating capacity by nearly triple the minimum extra capacity that the state requires. Under Brown, the number of active onshore state oil and gas wells jumped by 23 percent since the year before he was elected Governor in a bid to produce more oil.

Hydraulic fracturing is producing 20 percent of the state’s oil, while companies continue to use other common, dirty methods of oil extraction exempted from fracking legislation under Brown. Companies are extracting oil from a few hundred newly permitted offshore wells in existing state leases since Brown came to office, though Brown asked then- President Obama to ban any new drilling in California’s federal waters. Brown’s regulators have ignored a petition signed by 350,000 people to ban the use of toxic oil wastewater for crop irrigation until proven safe.

Read the report (PDF).

(Working Paper #9) Are We Moving Away From Fossil Fuels? Separating Facts from Fantasies

By Sean Sweeney - Trade Unions for Energy Democracy, January 31, 2017

Is the World Really Moving Away from Fossil Fuels? Examining the Evidence.

PDF available for download now.

During 2015 and 2016, a number of significant public and political figures have made statements suggesting that the world is “moving away from fossil fuels,” and that the battle against greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs) and climate change is therefore being won. Such statements are frequently accompanied by assurances that the transition to renewable energy and a low-carbon economy is both “inevitable” and already well underway, and that economic growth will soon be “decoupled” from dangerously high annual emissions levels. This optimism has also been accepted by a section of the environmental movement, and even by some unions.

Renewables and Reality 

If the “green growth” optimists are correct, the political implications for trade unions and social movements are profound. For unions, it would mean focusing aggressively on the need to protect the livelihoods of the tens of millions of workers around the world who currently work in fossil fuels and rallying around the principle of “just transition” encoded in the preface to the Paris Agreement. But it would also mean that the need to wage a determined and protracted political struggle against fossil fuel expansion and “extractivism” would immediately become less urgent. In this scenario, trade union efforts would rightly focus on working to shape the next energy system as it rises from the ashes of the old.

But what if proclamations of fossil fuels’ demise are wrong? What if the “momentum” has not shifted, and the transition to renewables-based power is neither inevitable nor well underway? In that case, the struggle against the current model of ownership that drives the growth of fossil fuels and extractivism—that is, the struggle for democratic control and social ownership of energy—remains vital. This would demand redoubled effort and commitment across all sections of our movement. It would mean the level of urgency in the struggle for energy democracy must be increased, activism stepped up, and fresh approaches embraced, encouraged, and endorsed.

Their Optimism, and Ours

In this ninth TUED working paper, authors Sean Sweeney and John Treat document the recent claims of the optimistic, “green growth” narrative; examine the evidence frequently used to legitimize and sustain it; and then consider this evidence in context of the broader trends in the global energy system, drawing on a range of major recent data sources.

What the paper’s analysis shows is that, unfortunately, the world is not “moving away from fossil fuels”; far from it. The recent “we are winning” optimism is misplaced, misleading, and disarming. It must therefore be rejected, and replaced with a more sober perspective that draws hope and confidence not from a selective and self-deceiving interpretation of the data, but from the rising global movement for climate justice and energy democracy, armed with clear programmatic goals and a firm commitment to achieve them.

Unions are urged to circulate the paper and use its contents to stimulate debates on energy policy and political action. Please send comments, additional data, and requests for more information to Irene Shen (ireneTUED@gmail.com).

Download the full paper here.

Climate Change and Eco-Socialism

By Jason O’ Neal, Founding Member Green Party, UC Berkeley - Facts for Working People, December 31, 2016

Climate change is a fact of life in the twenty-first century. Our society’s dependence on fossil fuels to encourage more economic growth is directly contributing to the global warming crisis. Climate models accounting for changes in surface air temperatures, ocean currents, land masses, and polar ice cover have forecast extreme weather events occurring on a more regular basis.  Organizations such as the Pentagon, the UN, NASA, and 90% of the world’s scientists forecast the end of life on Earth as we know it in the decades ahead unless things are changed.

For the past several decades, scientists and government policy makers have modeled possible solutions to the problem based on stabilizing the amount of carbon dioxide in the air at 350 ppm, (parts per million) a level that is probably no longer feasible. If CO2 concentrations within the atmosphere continue to increase, the ability of the planet to sustain the environment will diminish. Possibly crashing the entire ecosystem. How did we arrive at such a dangerous precipice? And, can we do anything about it? Current debates are between market-based approaches of taxes on emissions or trading programs against stricter government regulation. What is left out of this discussion on the economic front is how to rapidly reduce emissions and improve carbon sequestering capabilities, both natural and technological. With the easiest path to 350 ppm by the year 2030 becoming an unrealistic expectation, where do we set the next target? And, how did climate science and our political and economic goals become so disconnected?

The use of carbon-dense fossil fuels helped to industrialize America as productivity exploded and the economy expanded. Two hundred years had passed since the transition from feudal labor relations to industrial labor relations created the Second Industrial Revolution. Rural communities were realigned with workers migrating to urban areas where they were forced to sell their labor for income. The emerging economy became one based on social relations and interactions that were held in place by commodities. Like the arguments between early economists during the transition between mercantilism and capitalism, questions about who was best equipped to responsibly manage surpluses from the economic boom remained. Because ‘capital’ needs to be free and allowed to work in a global economy, neoclassical economics became the preferred economic system in the United States by the end of the nineteenth century. The downside of this heightened productivity was that it was based on energy from fossil fuels and the risks associated with climate change were an unknown threat at the time.

Together We Can Cool the Planet

By Eugenia Izquierdo and IvanZigarán - La Via Campesina and GRAIN - December 2016

Based on the video Together we can cool the planet! co-produced by La Vía Campesina and GRAIN in 2015, we have created a comic book to support training activities of social movements and civil society organisations around climate change. This comic book looks at how the industrial food system impacts our climate and also explains what we can do to change course and start cooling the planet.

La Via Campesina and GRAIN have pointed out that the industrial food system is responsible for half of all greenhouse gas emissions. In the Americas, Asia, Europe and Africa, we have been denouncing the false solutions to climate change such as GMOs, the “green economy” and "climate-smart agriculture".

We say loud and clear: it is peasants and small farmers, along with consumers who choose agroecological products from local markets, who hold the solution to the climate crisis.

We must all rise to the challenge!

Read the report (PDF).

Watch the video, too:

One Million Climate Jobs: Moving South Africa Forward on a Low-Carbon, Wage-Led, and Sustainable Path

By Brian Ashley, et. al. - One Million Climate Jobs - December 2016

The One Million Climate Jobs Campaign is an alliance of labour, social movements and popular organisations in South Africa that is campaigning for the creation of a million climate jobs as part of a collective approach to the crisis of unemployment and climate change. The Campaign was launched in 2011 and since then has been mobilising thousands of South Africans around real solutions to slowing down climate change, protecting the natural environment, improving the quality of life for all and moving towards a sustainable development path. Climate change will exacerbate inequality and poverty because it reduces access to food, water, energy and housing. Thus it is vital that social justice struggles around these issues incorporate struggles around climate change.

This booklet is a follow-up, six years later, to the first booklet that was produced in 2011. It is based on well- researched solutions for how South Africa can immediately begin a just transition, away from the Minerals-Energy Complex that continues to dominate the South African capitalist economy, to a low carbon economy in which the basic needs of communities are met in an equitable, sustainable and affordable way.

It recognizes that in these six years there have been many developments – for instance, renewable energy is now firmly established as part of the energy mix (although still a minor part); retrofitting buildings, and the development of environmentally friendly construction methods, is being developed, and the Rapid Bus Transit system is being slowly implemented in some municipalities.

But most of these solutions are being pursued within the logic of the market. It is not possible, we would argue, within these market parameters, to respond adequately to the enormous challenges facing us – what is needed is a publicly-driven solution for the shift to a sustainable, low-carbon future. The research that this booklet is based on begins to set out what such a transition could look like. We hope that it will be an important contribution to the ongoing work of building a political movement to struggle around these issues.

Download (PDF).

Reclaiming Alberta’s Future Today

By Regan Boychuk and Brent O’Neil - Reclaiming Alberta’s Future Today, November 3, 2016

As the first step towards reducing Alberta’s dependence on fossil fuels as our primary source of income we must embrace our current environmental deficit. We must admit that climate change is real and that man-made contributions to global warming can be reduced.

After 100 years of exploration we must acknowledge that our provinces conventional oil and gas resources have been depleted. Technically speaking our low hanging fruit has been plucked and what is left is 444,000 oil and gas wells, 430,000 km of pipe lines (the distance to the moon is 384,000 km), 30,000 oil and gas facilities, 900 km of oil sands development, 220 km of tailing ponds, and a 11.2 million ton sulfur pile that dwarfs the great pyramids of Egypt.

Tackling this shameful legacy will be the biggest environmental cleanup project undertaken to date. It will take 1000 rigs 50 years and every willing Canadian to clean up our mess. This change in industry requires a paradigm shift in thinking. Our province no longer see the economic benefit from drilling new conventional oil wells as it once did. The real opportunity for Albertans will come from cleaning up our mess.

No longer can we tackle climate change with taxes and levy’s. We need to start making a real reduction in man-made emissions so our future generations have the same opportunities we once did.

Read the report (PDF).

The Chevron Way: Polluting California and Degrading California

By various - International Transport Federation, et. al., November 2016

In the recent election, Chevron-backed campaigns lost bigtime, despite the $61 million the company has spent to influence California elections since 2009. That’s far more than any other oil company spend in state elections. The report, by the International Transport Workers Federation, was released Nov. 17 at the Chevron gates by a coalition including the Richmond Progressive Alliance (RPA), Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment (ACCE), Communities for a Better Environment (CBE), and more.

Members of the coalition said the report, The Chevron Way: Polluting California and Degrading Democracy, will educate the public about the corrupting influence of corporate money and alert politicians that they will be judged on whether they act in the public interest or in Chevron’s interest.

In this election, in State Assembly and State Senate races, candidates heavily backed by Chevron lost. In Monterey County, Chevron spent $1.5 to oppose a ballot measure to ban fracking and expanded oil drilling. Despite being outspent 33 to 1, the measure passed.

In Richmond, Chevron sat out this election, having spent $3 million in the last election, when its candidates lost anyway. This year, two additional progressive candidates won seats on the city council and a longstanding Chevron candidate was voted out.

Chevron makes billions in profits from its huge retail and refining business in California, but has aggressively cut tax payments to federal, state and local governments. In 2015, the company paid no net income tax in the US, but instead banked nearly $1.7 billion in tax credits.

In 2015, Chevron had over $45 billion stashed in offshore accounts, including the company’s 211 active Bermuda subsidiaries, and the company’s global effective tax rate fell to below 3%.

Read the report (PDF).

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