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Lessons From The Environmental Catastrophe Of East Palestine Norfolk Southern Railroad Derailment

Why isn't the Green Energy Transition happening Faster?

Renewable Energy is (Mostly) Green and Not Inherently Capitalist, Volume 1: Wind Power (REVISED)

By Steve Ongerth - IWW Eco Union Caucus, Revised January 16, 2024

Is renewable energy actually green? Are wind, solar, and storage infrastructure projects a climate and/or envi­ronmental solution or are they just feel-good, greenwashing, false "solutions" that either perpetuate the deep­ening climate and environmental crisis or just represent further extractivism by the capitalist class and the privileged Global North at the expense of front-line communities and the Global South? 

This document argues that, while there is no guarantee that renewable energy projects will ultimately be truly "green", there is nothing inherent in the technology itself that precludes them from being so. Ultimately the "green"-ness of the project depends on the level of rank-and-file, democratic, front-line community and working-class grassroots power with the orga­nized leverage to counter the forces that would use renewable energy to perpetuate the capitalist, colonialist, extractivist system that created the cli­mate and environmental crisis in which we find ourselves.

In‌ order to do that, we mustn't fall prey to the misconceptions and inaccuracies that paint renewable energy infrastructure projects as inherently anti-green. This series attempts to do just that. This first Volume, on utility scale wind power addresses several arguments made against it, including (but not limited to) the following misconceptions:

  • Humanity must abandon electricity completely;
  • Degrowth is the only solution;
  • New wind developments only expand overall consumption;
  • Wind power is unreliable and intermittent;
  • Wind power is just another form of "green" capitalism;
  • The extraction of resources necessary to build wind power negates any of their alleged green benefits;
  • Wind power is an extinction-level event threat to birds, bats, whales, and other wildlife (and possibly humans);
  • Only locally distributed renewable energy arrayed in microgrids should be built without any--even a small percentage--of utility scale wind developments;
  • Only nationalized and/or state-owned utility scale renewable energy developments should be built;
  • No wind power developments will be green unless we first organize a socialist revolution, because eve­rything else represents misplaced faith in capitalist market forces.

In fact, none of the above arguments are automatically true (and the majority are almost completely untrue). However, they're often repeated, sometimes ignorantly, but not too infrequently in bad faith. This document is offered as an inoculation and antidote to these misconceptions and misinformation.

Download a copy of this publication here (PDF).

Ignoring Climate Scientists and Environmental Justice Advocates, DOE Awards Billions to Fossil Fuel Hydrogen

By Abbe Ramanan - Linked In, October 30, 2023

On October 13th, the U.S. Department of Energy announced the recipients of the Regional Clean Hydrogen Hubs (“H2Hubs”) funding. H2Hubs will award up to $7 billion to seven regional hydrogen hubs around the country. Disappointingly, more than half of the money from this massive federal investment will go towards Hubs producing hydrogen from fossil fuels with carbon capture and storage (CCS), also known as blue hydrogen. This massive investment ignores major concerns cited by climate scientists, environmental justice advocates, and clean energy experts.

One major concern identified by climate scientists is especially worrying: hydrogen gas leaked into the atmosphere is an indirect greenhouse gas that extends the lifetime of methane in the atmosphere, which means hydrogen has 35 times the climate warming impacts of CO2. A massive buildout of hydrogen infrastructure at this scale, without further research into how to safely and securely transport and store hydrogen, will almost certainly lead to significant short-term warming.

Although DOE has stated that each Hub’s projected benefits played a large role in determining awards, the H2Hubs process has suffered from a lack of transparency. Prospective awardees were not required to publish their proposals publicly, so while many of the Hubs promise community benefits, how these community benefits will be generated – and how those benefits will outweigh the potential harms of each Hub – remain opaque. DOE is hosting a series of local engagement opportunities for each Hub, which will hopefully provide opportunities to cut through the hype and learn more about what these projects will mean for the communities impacted.

While we don’t know much about these Hubs, what we do know suggests that most of these projects will do more harm than good:

Biden Funding for Hydrogen Hubs Threatens Communities, Exacerbates Climate Crisis

By Patrick Sullivan, Center for Biological Diversity; Karen Feridun, Better Path Coalition; Peter Hart, Food and Water Watch; Maya van Rossum, Delaware Riverkeeper Network - Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) Facts, October 13, 2023

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The Biden administration announced today that it will fund seven hydrogen hubs with $7 billion in taxpayer dollars to rapidly expand the production, transport, and use of hydrogen across the nation – sacrificing communities, worsening localized pollution and water crises, doubling down on national sacrifice zones, and perpetuating our reliance on fossil fuels. 

“Throwing billions at hydrogen hubs deepens our dependence on fossil fuels and worsens the climate emergency,” said Maggie Coulter, an attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity’s Climate Law Institute. “President Biden should be urgently investing in proven and increasingly affordable solar and wind energy. It’s wasteful and misguided to fund false solutions like hydrogen that only further burden frontline communities.”

The Department of Energy’s announcement to fund regional hydrogen hubs in the Mid-Atlantic, Appalachia, the Gulf Coast, California, the Midwest, the Dakotas/Minnesota, and the Pacific Northwest flies in the face of the numerous adverse impacts such hubs will have on communities. Billions of dollars in funding for the planned hydrogen buildout subjects already disproportionately adversely affected communities to more pollution and dangerous infrastructure.

“Today’s announcement is a pledge of allegiance to dirty energy by the Biden administration. It is at once a betrayal of environmental justice communities that have been suffering at the hands of the same polluting industries that will now benefit from this misappropriation of taxpayer dollars and of future generations who will suffer the climate chaos hydrogen hub development guarantees,” said Karen Feridun, Co-founder of the Better Path Coalition in Pennsylvania.

Earlier this year, over 180 regional and national climate, community and environmental groups urged the Department of Energy to reject the “hydrogen hype” and ditch funding to expand hydrogen-based technologies touted as climate solutions by the fossil fuel industry. In fact, the vast majority of hydrogen is generated from fossil fuels, and it itself is an indirect greenhouse gas. 

“The build out of massive hydrogen infrastructure is little more than an industry ploy to rebrand fracked gas. The Biden Administration has clearly fallen for this scam hook, line and sinker. This multi-billion dollar bet on greenwashed dirty energy will undermine efforts to address the climate crisis, while increasing pollution of our air and water, and milk taxpayers for billions in new fossil fuel subsidies,” said Jim Walsh, Policy Director of Food & Water Watch. 

“The avalanche of funding from the Infrastructure Law to create Hydrogen Hubs threatens to doom our national commitment to keep the earth from global climate catastrophe. Efforts to replace greenhouse gas emitting energy sources with renewable and truly clean energy will be undone by these subsidies to support methane and other polluting fuels that will make matters worse. Our government must stop investing in dirty energy and instead launch a full-on campaign for non-polluting renewables,” said Maya van Rossum, the Delaware Riverkeeper, leader of Delaware Riverkeeper Network.

Hydrogen production requires massive amounts of water; takes more energy to produce than it generates; is more likely to explode and burns hotter than conventional fossil fuels; and is more corrosive to pipelines – increasing threats in already overburdened communities, and extending our nation’s reliance on fossil fuels. 

“We need an ambitious transition away from dirty energy, not another taxpayer subsidy that enables Big Oil to repackage fossil fuels as so-called clean energy,” said Sarah Lutz, Climate Campaigner at Friends of the Earth US. “The Biden Administration should not be funding hydrogen infrastructure that will lock in decades more of dirty energy production in frontline communities already overburdened with pollution.”

The Climate Contradictions of Gary Smith

By Paul Atkin - Greener Jobs Alliance, September 21, 2023

In agreeing to be interviewed by the Spectator under the title the folly of Net Zero GMB General Secretary Gary Smith lets his members down; not least because remarks like these from a leading trade unionist help give Rishi Sunak encouragement to accelerate his retreat from the government’s already inadequate climate targets.

The phrase “the folly of Net Zero” makes as much sense as “the folly of getting into the lifeboats when the ship is sinking”

Difficulties in making a transition to sustainability does not mean that making it isn’t essential, and the faster we move the less damage is done. We can see that damage all around us even now. 

Gary doesn’t seem to get this, any more than Rishi Sunak does, and he latches on to some of the same lines as the PM does, albeit with a more pungent turn of phrase. To go through these point by point, quotes are either directly from Gary Smith or the Spectator.

White Energy Workers of the North, Unite? A Review of Huber's Climate Change as Class War

By Michael Levien - Historical Materialism, March 2023

Review of Matthew Huber, (2022) Climate Change as Class War: Building Socialism on a Warming Planet, London: Verso.

The year-long American saga that culminated in the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) underscored the difference between two ways of mitigating climate change at the national level. The first is elite climate policy in which wonks and technocrats come up with the smartest policies to incentivise private capital to invest in the right technologies. This is, ultimately, what we got with the IRA, which has been accurately characterised as the triumph of ‘green industrial policy’.1 The second is popular climate politics which seeks to build a broad political coalition for decarbonisation by tying it to social programmes that directly improve people’s lives. This is the idea behind the Green New Deal, which to a surprising extent made its way into the initial Build Back Better bill before Joe Manchin got his hands on it. Matthew Huber’s book Climate Change as Class War provides a powerful critique of the first while advancing a labour-centred version of the second.

Huber lands many good punches against what he calls professional-class climate politics. Building on the Ehrenreichs’ concept of the professional managerial class (PMC),2 Huber argues that PMC climate politics characteristically over-emphasises that class’ stock-in-trade: education and credentials. In their hands, climate politics thus becomes a matter of knowledge (communicating the science) more than one of power (tackling the class power of the fossil-fuel industry). PMC policy technocrats further internalise neoliberal logic with their obsession with pricing carbon – a policy that ultimately balances the carbon budget on the backs of working-class consumers. In its more radical manifestations, PMC environmentalism – degrowth being the main target here – espouses an ascetic ‘politics of less’ that has no resonance with working-class people who already do not have enough. This type of environmental politics, Huber argues, explains why the right has been able to mobilise the working class against the environment.

By way of alternative, Huber advances a theory of working-class climate politics which he dubs ‘proletarian ecology’. The starting point, developed over Chapters 1 and 2, is to recognise that industrial fossil capital is responsible for the vast majority of emissions. As Huber sketches with discussions of the cement and fertiliser industries – for the latter, Huber draws on some interviews with managers of a fertiliser plant in Louisiana – their carbon intensity is not a matter of greed but of the structural imperative to produce surplus value, and therefore will not be halted (as opposed to greenwashed) by any amount of shaming. Thus, ‘Climate change requires an antagonistic approach towards owners of capital in the “hidden abode” of production’ (p. 106). The problem is that ‘the climate movement today – made up of professional class activists and the most marginalized victims of climate change – is too narrowly constructed to constitute a real threat to the power of industrial capital’ (p. 69).

This brings us to the bold and controversial claim of Climate Change as Class War: it is the working class (and organised labour in particular) that must be the main agent of radical climate politics, not the diverse coalitions of ‘marginalised groups’ – which includes Indigenous movements against pipelines and Black-led environmental justice organisations – who are currently the vanguard of the climate justice movement. What Huber calls ‘livelihood environmentalism’ only sees the working class as having environmental interests when their communities’ land, water or health are directly threatened (p. 195). Huber’s theory of proletarian ecology, by contrast, proceeds from the broader recognition that ‘a defining feature of working-class life under capitalism is profound alienation from the ecological conditions of life itself’ (p. 188). Thus ‘a working-class interest in ecology will emerge not from the experience of environmental threats, but from a profound separation from nature and the means of subsistence’ (pp. 181–2). Rather than defending bodies or landscapes, it will focus on the working class’s material interest in decommodifying the means of subsistence (p. 196).

Debunking the Skeptics: Real Solutions For A Clean, Renewable Energy Future - EcoJustice Radio

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.

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