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Climate Change As Class War: A Review

By Tom Wetzel - Ideas and Action, December 6, 2022

As the burning of fossil fuels continues to pump up the size of the carbon dioxide layer in the atmosphere, the global warming crisis becomes ever more acute. In its “Code Red for Humanity” warning in 2021, the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change said: “The alarm bells are deafening, and the evidence is irrefutable: greenhouse gas emissions from fossil-fuel burning and deforestation are choking our planet and putting billions of people at immediate risk. Global heating is affecting every region on Earth…”

But we’re losing the climate battle thus far. In Climate Change as Class War, Marxist geographer Matthew Huber argues that the climate movement is losing because it is rooted in the “professional class.” He argues that this class lacks the power to defeat the powerful capitalist interests that drag their heals against the kind of drastic cutting back of fossil-fuel burning that is needed. For Huber, the climate movement needs to be rooted in the working class to have sufficient power to enact radical structural reforms needed to effectively fight global warming. 

Huber analyses the existing climate movement as consisting of three layers. First, there are the “science communicators” like James Hansen who try to do popular education about climate change science. A second group are “policy technocrats” with expertise in law or policy studies and work in think tanks, the university world, or non-profits. Their orientation is to craft “smart” policy solutions. A third group are the “anti-system radicals” whose exposure to the science of environmental devastation “leads to a kind of political radicalization.” Huber views these groups as part of the “professional class” and tries to use his theory of this class to explain the politics of the climate movement. Huber pinpoints two features of the climate movement that he sees as sources of weakness: (1) The emphasis on high levels of personal consumption as a factor in global warming, thus leading to a “politics of less” — especially a feature of “degrowth” politics; and (2) an emphasis on science education. “Making climate politics purely about science evades the question of power. It allows us to attribute…inaction on climate change as simply due to misinformation rather than a lack of power.”

Huber appeals to the theory of the “Professional-Managerial Class” (proposed by Barbara and John Ehrenreich) to try to explain the origin of these features of the “professional class” climate movement. Here he points to the centrality of credentials which mediates the access of the “professional class” to the labor market. This includes “the existence of a specialized body of knowledge, accessible only by lengthy training,” degree and licensing programs, professional associations, which he regards as “forms of class organization.” This tends to encourage acceptance of meritocratic ideology which favors decision-making power for managers and professionals. This emphasis on the importance of knowledge and the role of professionals tends to favor the science education emphasis of the climate movement, as Huber sees it.

In the Ehrenreichs’ theory of the PMC their class position is based on their control over cultural and social reproduction. This is how teachers and writers are included in the class. Among both Marxists and libertarian socialists, however, class has historically been seen as an institutional group-to-group power relation in social production, as in Marx’s concept of capital as a social power relation. Looking at it from this point of view, I think the PMC theory tends to paper over a distinction between two different class groups. First, there is a group I call the bureaucratic control class. This group’s class position is based on their relative monopoly of decision-making power, via bureaucratic hierarchies that exist to control labor and run corporations and government agencies day-to-day. This includes not only salaried managers but high-end professionals who work closely with management to control labor and defend corporate interests, such as corporate lawyers, HR experts, and industrial engineers who design jobs and work organization. This class power relation is the basis of the clear antagonism between this layer and the working class. 

It’s noteworthy that school teachers, newspaper reporters, script writers, and nurses all form unions and occasionally go on strike. These lower level professional employees are not usually part of the management apparatus, and don’t manage other workers. As such, they have a structural position like the core working class of manual workers, not the bureaucratic control class. The people in this lower professional layer often have college degrees, and sometimes do show elitism towards the core manual working class. They also tend to have more autonomy in their work. However, the “skilled trades” in the early 20th century often showed elitism towards less skilled manual workers and often had relative autonomy in their work. But we generally regard skilled blue collar workers (such as tool and die makers) as part of the working class. 

Lower level professional employees may be tempted to middle class meritocratic ideology. As such they will be in a conflicted position, as they also share the subordination of the working class position. This is why Erik Olin Wright’s phrase “contradictory class location” is appropriate for this group — a point that Huber concedes.

The Case Against Nuclear Power: A Primer

By Joshua Frank - CounterPunch, September 9, 2022

A version of the following was presented at Socialism 2022, sponsored by Haymarket Books, which just published Joshua Frank’s Atomic Days: The Untold Story of the Most Toxic Place in America.

Thanks everyone for showing up for this talk. I think it’s a vitally important topic, but I’ll admit, it’s a bit disheartening that it’s now a subject of debate on the Left.

I’ve long believed that we ought to build on the successes that came before us, not tear them down. Sadly, with the wrath of climate change impacting every corner of the earth, that is exactly what some are attempting to do. Last week a friend sent me an NPR story, “When Even Environmentalists Support Nuclear Power.” I read it, it’s awful propaganda that distorts the reality of how many of us view nuclear power and will continue to fight against it.

The UK Government's Nuclear Scam

170+ Organizations Sign Letter Opposing Subsidies to Delay Closure of Diablo Canyon Power Plant

By staff - Nuclear Information and Resource Service, June 21, 2022

Over 170 organizations, including Beyond Nuclear, North American Water Office, Food & Water Watch, Institute for Policy Studies Climate Policy Program, Nuclear Energy Information Service (NEIS), Center for Biological Diversity, International Marine Mammal Project of Earth Island Institute, Nuclear Information and Resource Service (NIRS) and more sent a letter to Secretary of Energy Jennifer Granholm opposing the misuse of the Department of Energy’s Civil Nuclear Credit program (CNC) to dismantle the fossil-free phaseout and just transition plan for the Diablo Canyon Nuclear Power Plant. 

The CNC was created by the bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) to mitigate potential greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) increases due to the closure of unprofitable nuclear reactors that operate in competitive electricity markets. The letter explains how applying the CNC program to Diablo Canyon would violate the letter and intent of the law. The nuclear power plant is not eligible for funds under the CNC program because it does not meet the basic requirements of the IIJA, nor those of the CNC program guidance DOE published to implement the program. 

The letter highlights climate, economic, environmental justice, and power supply concerns with abandonment of the just transition agreement dictating the planned closure of Diablo Canyon’s nuclear reactors in 2024 and 2025. 

Over 50 organizations from the State of California signed onto the letter, including San Luis Obispo Mothers for Peace, Physicians for Social Responsibility-Los Angeles, SoCal 350 Climate Action, Tri-Valley CAREs, Physicians for Social Responsibility/Sacramento, San Francisco Bay Physicians for Social Responsibility, Oceanic Preservation Society, Electric Vehicle Association of CA Central Coast, Californians for Energy Choice, Parents Against Santa Susana Field Lab and more. 

Tim Judson, NIRS executive director said, “Diablo Canyon’s planned phaseout and just transition accelerates California’s climate and renewable energy goals, supports Diablo workers and local communities, and promotes economic and environmental justice. Misusing the CNC program to unravel that progress would betray President Biden’s commitments to climate and environmental justice.” He added, “The Diablo Canyon phaseout plan which California is implementing is a just transition model DOE should promote instead of seeking to preempt it. The basis for the plan shows how phasing out nuclear power plants along with fossil fuel generation can help accelerate emissions reductions, the growth of the renewable energy economy, and a just and equitable transition for workers and communities. Is DOE afraid to let that happen while it is spending billions of dollars to promote the idea that we need to invest in overly expensive, failure-prone nuclear power plants?”

Solving the Climate Crisis with Nuclear Energy Won’t Work

By Robert Pollin - Dollars & Sense, March/April 2022

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is—as of this writing, in late March—an ongoing calamity. As of now, it is impossible to predict how it might end, and what all its costs will be. We do know, as of now, that many thousands of people are dead, and millions of lives are being wrecked.

In addition to these most brutal consequences, the war must force us to rethink many issues that—with no exaggeration—reach to the core of how we can envision future prospects for life on earth. I will consider only one such question now. That is: What role should nuclear energy play in advancing a workable global climate stabilization project?

In the initial phase of its invasion on February 24, the Russian military seized control of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant, which is located about 60 miles north of Kyiv in Ukraine. In 1986, when Ukraine was still part of the Soviet Union, Chernobyl was the site of the most severe nuclear power plant accident in history. An explosion blew the lid off one of the plant’s four operating nuclear reactors. This released radioactive materials into the atmosphere that spread throughout the region. Despite this disaster, the other three reactors at Chernobyl continued operating until 2000.

The other three reactors did cease operating in 2000. And the site still houses more than 20,000 spent fuel rods. These rods must be constantly cooled, with the cooling system operating on electricity. If the system’s electrical power source were to malfunction, the spent fuel rods could become exposed to the air and catch fire. This would release radioactive materials into the atmosphere. Once released, the radioactive materials could again spread throughout the region and beyond, as they did in 1986. This is a low-probability but by no means a zero-probability scenario.

On March 3, the Russian miliary also took control of the Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant, the largest in Europe. According to a March 4 report on NPR, “Russian forces repeatedly fired heavy weapons in the direction of the plant’s massive reactor buildings, which housed dangerous nuclear fuel.” All military actions at or near the plant create further danger of the plant’s operations becoming compromised. As with Chernobyl, this could then lead to radioactive materials being released into the atmosphere.

Nuclear disasters at both Chernobyl and Zaporizhzhia are therefore active threats right now. In addition, the war is compromising the security systems that operate to protect both sites. The fact that both sites have become combat zones means that they are more vulnerable to attacks from non-state actors, including terrorist organizations of any variety. The aim of such organizations in breaching security at Chernobyl or Zaporizhzhya would almost certainly include gaining access to materials that would enable them to produce homemade nuclear weapons. At the least, they would be positioned to threaten the release of radioactive materials.

On the Dialectics of Technology: Past and Present

By Brian Tokar - Green Social Thought, March 3, 2022

Since the heyday of technological determinism in the 1960s, many authors have written eloquently about how developments in technology are more typically the outcome of particular social and economic arrangements. Some contributions that have significantly shaped my own thinking include:

Climate Jobs: Building a Workforce for the Climate Emergency

By Suzanne Jeffery, editor, et. al - Campaign Against Climate Change, November 2021

This report was written by the Campaign Against Climate Change Trade Union Group (CACCTU). It builds on and develops the earlier work produced by CACCTU, One Million Climate Jobs (2014). The editorial group and contributors to this report are trade unionists, environmental activists and campaigners and academics who have collaborated to update and expand the previous work. Most importantly, this updated report is a response to the urgency of the climate crisis and the type and scale of the transition needed to match it.

This report shows how we can cut UK emissions of greenhouse gases to help prevent catastrophic climate change. We explain how this transformation could create millions of climate jobs in the coming years and that the public sector must take a leading role. Climate jobs are those which directly contribute to reducing emissions. This investment will give us better public transport, warmer homes, clean air in our cities and community renewal in parts of the country which have long been neglected. Most importantly, it will give us a chance for the future, avoiding the existential threat of climate breakdown.

Read the text (Link).

Learning About a Just Transition

Hoodwinked in the Hothouse: Examining False Corporate Schemes advanced through the Paris Agreement

People's Utility Justice Playbook​

By Yesenia Rivera and Johanna Bozuwa - Energy Democracy Project, October 2021

Have you ever wondered who is in charge of your electricity? And why?

The People’s Utility Justice Playbook has two components:

  1. a “History of Utilities” report to summarize the history of utilities for everyone to understand how our current energy system originated.
  2. a “People’s Utility Justice Playbook” to expose the tactics from electric utilities that are undermining community’s efforts, so we can build our organizing strength—to not only fight back but also to build the democratic energy system for climate justice.

This is the basic information we need to fight back against energy utilities attempting to slow or stop progress toward economic and climate justice.

History of Utilities​

Electric utilities have expanded into almost every aspect of our lives to become one of the most powerful and concentrated industries on Earth. To have a better understanding of what we’re fighting against, we first need to learn about the history of energy utilities! This PDF summarizes the entire timeline and how the rise of energy democracy came about.

People's Utility Justice Playbook

In order to fight the industry-owned utilities’ tactics, we need our own strategies for combat!

We have our very own playbook sourced from energy justice activists on the ground. They suggest strategies and tactics they employ when fighting against utilities that anyone fighting against utilities could use!

Read the History (PDF).

Read the Playbook (PDF).

Pages

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