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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).

The labour-environment nexus: Exploring new frontiers in labour law

New Report Takes a Critical Look at Critical Minerals

By Nikki Skuce - Northern Confluence, June 29, 2023

A new report “Critical Minerals: A Critical Look” seeks to expand the conversation around “critical minerals,” to ensure reducing consumption and incorporating other alternatives into an energy transition – like recycling and re-mining – are taken into consideration. 

While the federal government has already launched its Critical Minerals strategy, the Province of British Colombia has put forward $6 million in its budget toward developing one.

As B.C. moves forward with its “critical minerals” strategy, it needs to look beyond mining and toward other opportunities. What policies and programs are needed to support re-mining, recycling and urban mining? Can re-mining help to reclaim or close some of the abandoned and orphaned legacy mine sites littered throughout the province? How can B.C.’s strategy look at reducing consumption and link to its circular economy strategy? What investments does B.C. need to keep making in transportation alternatives, such as the recently announced e-bike rebate and investments in active transportation? How can B.C. work with the federal government on ensuring batteries and other technologies are designed with dismantling and recycling in mind? 

And for new mines that may open, how are Indigenous rights being respected and free, prior and informed consent achieved in the pursuit of mining critical minerals? What steps are being taken to improve B.C.’s reg­ulatory regime to ensure more responsible mining that minimizes environmental harms and risks?

We can’t just mine our way out of the climate crisis. As “critical minerals” gets lodged into our collective psyche, we need to ensure that policymakers do not just focus on the need for more mines. We hope that this report provides some facts and background information, and stimulates a broader conversation about what is needed for the energy transition.

Download a copy of this publication here (PDF).

Review - A Planet to Win:Why We Need a Green New Deal

By x344543 - IWW Environmental Union Caucus, May 11, 2023

In spite of this book's straightforward sounding title, A Planet to Win, Why We Need a Green New Deal (Verso, 2019), by Kate Aronoff, Alyssa Battistoni, Daniel Aldana Cohen, and The Riofrancos, this relatively short and concise book would be much more accurately titled, "Why we think our version of the Green New Deal is the best one of the lot," because there isn't a single "Green New Deal", but several, as we have noted here on ecology.iww.org. This, however, is not necessarily a negative aspect of this book.

The authors, all of them ecosocialists with a transformative approach, are quick to explain that the particular Green New Deal they seek is one that addresses most critiques of the Green New Deal in general. 

  • Would the Green New Deal repeat the mistakes of the original New Deal and exclude BIPOC people? Not the authors' version.
  • Would the Green New Deal rely heavily on social democratic Keynesian state intervention? Not the author's version!
  • Would the Green New Deal perpetuate endless growth in hubristic ignorance of the natural limits to growth, not if these authors have any say in the matter;
  • Would the Green New Deal further the continued exploitation by the Global North of the Global South? Not if the authors have anything to do with it!
  • Would the Green New Deal merely be a case of the capitalists saving themselves, with a putatively green branding? Absolutely not, the authors say.

Certainly, if given the choice, that sounds quite good to me. Clearly these authors aren't content with a naive faith that just because something is called a "Green New Deal" it will actually be a good deal.

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

GreenReads: IEA World Energy Employment Report - Energy transition or energy descent?

By staff - European Trade Union Institute, September 15, 2022

On 8 September, the International Energy Agency published its first comprehensive report on jobs in the global energy sectors. The World Energy Employment Report provides data on energy jobs ‘by sector, region, and value chain segment’ and will be published annually.

The global energy sector (including energy end uses) employed over 65 million people in 2019, equivalent to around 2% of global employment.

The main messages of the report are:

  • Employment is growing in the global energy sector, especially in clean energy;
  • Around a third of workers are in energy fuel supply (coal, oil, gas and bioenergy), a third in the power sector (generation, transmission, distribution and storage), and a third in key energy end uses (vehicle manufacturing and energy efficiency);
  • More than half of energy jobs are in the Asia-Pacific region;
  • Women are strongly under-represented in the energy sector. Despite making up 39% of global employment, women account for only 16% in traditional energy sectors. They are even more under-represented in management functions.

Renewable Energy Materials: Supply Chain Justice

By staff - The Climate and Community Project, April 6, 2022

Sourcing materials for renewable energy, such as lithium for lithium-ion batteries, can create its own environmental justice problems. Check out this brief report from the Climate and Community Project.

The report addresses President Biden’s recent order invoking the Defense Production Act to ramp up domestic mining for “clean energy technologies,” particularly for lithium-ion batteries used to power electric vehicles and other renewable technologies.

The report points out that “mining is one of the most environmentally harmful industries, with multinational mining companies and their governmental allies subjecting communities to rights violations and outright violence.”

It outlines four policies needed to make sure the new push for renewable energy materials is just and sustainable:

  1. Reform the 1872 General Mining Law to recognize Free,
    Prior, and Informed Consent of Indigenous peoples. . . and amend to include environmental protections,
  2. Rapidly build out critical mineral recycling infrastructure.
  3. Invest in Independent and Publicly Funded Research and Development (R&D).
  4. Fund a Green New Deal for Transportation,

Download a copy of this publication here (PDF).

Resisting Green Extractivism: The Unjust Cost of the Energy Transition: Mineral Extraction

Where We Mine: Resource Politics in Latin America

Thea Riofrancos interviewed by Annabelle Dawson - Green European Journal, August 12, 2021

As the drive to expand renewable energy capacity speeds up, there is a rush for lithium and other materials around the world. What will the expansion of rare earth mining in Latin America mean for the indigenous communities and workers who have historically borne the harms of extractivism? Thea Riofrancos, author of Resource Radicals (Duke University Press, 2020), explains how the energy transition in the Global North risks being anything but just without structural changes to supply chains and the governance of extractive industries.

Annabelle Dawson: Your work explores the politics of resource extraction in Latin America, from oil in Ecuador to lithium in Chile. How do you define resource politics or extractivism?

Thea Riofrancos: Resource politics refers to any social or political activity – whether conflict, collaboration, political economy or social mobilisation – that’s attributed to the extraction of resources, and in some cases to stop resource extraction. Scholarship tends to see resource politics as primarily related to elites like state officials and corporate actors. This is pivotal, for example, to the concept of the resource curse, which holds that dependency on resource rents leads to authoritarianism. However, this focus overlooks a range of resource politics such as social movements that oppose extractive projects or demand better regulation and indigenous rights.

Extractivism is a little thornier to define. My research has explored how in Latin America social movements, activists and even some bureaucrats in the case of Ecuador began to use this term to diagnose the problems that they associated with resource extraction. This happened in the context of the 2000 to 2014 commodity boom – a period of intense investment in resource sectors driven by the industrialisation of emerging economies like China – and the Left’s return to power across Latin America during the “Pink Tide”. Activists, left-wing intellectuals and some government officials began to see extractivism as an interlocking system of social and environmental harm, political repression, and corporate and foreign capital domination. So, the concept originates from political activity rather than scholarship [read more about extractivism in Latin America].

We tend to associate resource extraction with notoriously dirty commodities like coal, oil, and certain metals. How are green technologies implicated in all of this?

The transition to renewable energies is often thought of as switching one energy source for another: fossil fuels for renewables. That’s part of it, but this transition fits into a much bigger energy and socio-economic system. You can’t just swap energy sources without rebuilding the infrastructures and technologies required to harness, generate, and transmit that energy. All this has a large material footprint and requires materials such as lithium, cobalt, nickel and rare earth metals [read more about the central role and impact of these rare metals]. More traditional extractive sectors like copper are also very important for decarbonisation.

One very bad outcome would be if the harms related to fossil fuel capitalism were reproduced in new renewable energy systems, subjecting particular communities to the harms of resource extraction in the name of fighting climate change. We need a new energy system quickly – especially in the Global North given the historic emissions of the US and Europe. But in this rush, there’s a real risk of reproducing inequalities and environmental damage. This is especially so with some mining sectors where a boom in the raw materials for green technologies like wind turbines, electric vehicles and solar panels is predicted.

Mining and Green New Deals

By Sebastian Ordoñez Muñoz - The Ecologist, August 4, 2021

Mining that destroys communities and the ecosystem can have no part in any Green New Deal.

The recent mainstreaming of the Green New Deal framework has intensified scrutiny on oil majors.

However, the same cannot be said of global extractivist power - especially mining companies, who see the climate crisis as an opportunity to reinvent themselves and guarantee their bottom line. 

Supported by the World Bank, the mining industry has cynically positioned itself as key actors in the energy transition, claiming they are needed to provide the minerals and metals to meet growing renewable energy demand.

This series of articles has been published in partnership with Dalia Gebrial and Harpreet Kaur Paul and the Rosa Luxemburg Stiftung in London. It first appeared in a collection titled Perspectives on a Global Green New Deal.

Batteries

Yet, many of these same companies are heavily invested in fossil fuel extractors, and are among the world’s highest corporate emitters.

The mining industry, along with other extractive industries, has been at the heart of a colonial model which continues to bring profits to multinational corporations and the wealthy few, while dispossessing countless communities of their lands, water and livelihoods and exploiting workers at the expense of their health and well-being.

Miners are also amongst the most mistreated workers in the world.

In July 2019, at least 43 artisanal miners died in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), due to a mine collapse at an industrial copper and cobalt mine owned by Anglo-Swiss multinational Glencore - cobalt is a vital part of electric car batteries.

Protest

UNICEF estimates that 40,000 children work in mining across the south of the DRC. Meanwhile, Glencore sees itself as part of the energy transition powering the electric vehicle revolution.

During the pandemic, multiple governments declared mining an essential activity, or responded to industry pressure to do so after a brief shutdown.

Mining operations became vectors of the disease - for workers and rural communities.

As companies profiteered from the pandemic, threats to land defenders exercising legitimate protest increased, and the regulatory groundwork was laid to reposition and bolster extractivist industries.

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