Controversial motion on Just Transition passed at 2018 TUC Congress

Delegates gathered in Manchester U.K. for the 2018 Congress  of the Trades Union Congress (TUC), Britain’s central labour body, in early September, marking its 150th anniversary by returning to the city in which it was founded.  Speeches and debates covered a broad range of issues, notably Brexit , and diversity and equality among union members .

Greener Jobs Alliance briefing coverThe Greener Jobs Alliance Congress Briefing  lists and summarizes the six motions which relate to climate change, energy, and Just Transition, including one which has proven controversial.  Motion 07,   Just transition and energy workers’ voice  was presented by GMB  (which includes workers at the Hinkley Point nuclear facility amongst its members); the motion was adopted with minor amendments.  It states that “Congress notes that ‘just transition’ is a much-used but often ambiguous term and there is no shortage of voices who believe they are qualified to say what energy workers and communities want and need”,  the motion continues with …   “Congress believes that the views of the workers affected, as expressed through these trade unions, should be paramount and central to development of all TUC policies on energy, industrial strategy and climate change, and that the TUC should develop a political and lobbying strategy led by the voices and experiences of energy unions and their members.”  “These unions” referred to in the motion are GMB,  Prospect, UNISON and Unite.

But the Greener Jobs Alliance Briefing calls for a “full spectrum” of unions in the Just Transition debates, stating: “we have a duty to express our concern that this motion limits input on TUC policy from other unions, making ‘energy unions’ views ‘paramount’. Although the proposed conference on Just Transition is long overdue, when it comes to fighting climate change, every union should have a voice: in the fire and rescue services, food manufacturer, rail transport, public services, the NHS. No less than nine unions have motions or amendments on climate change and a just transition at TUC 2018.”  The Campaign against Climate Change Trade Union group expressed similar “deep concern” in its blog, saying that the motion “carries the risk of moving backwards from last year’s progress on climate policy (2017 climate motion).”  Finally,  the Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS) labelled the motion as “divisive”, according to a  UK DeSmog blog  (Sept. 27) .  That same blog notes that the U.K. Labour Party has picked up on the TUC’s motion in its Environmental Policy statement,  Green Transformation , which states that the Labour Party will “work closely with energy unions to support energy workers and communities” through the transition to a low-carbon economy.

“Hothouse Earth” and “Losing Earth” reporting missed the point – there is still time to act

earth from spaceTwo high-profile news stories appearing in August highlight the perils of climate change journalism: the “Hothouse Earth”  article, and  “Losing Earth: The Decade We Almost Stopped Climate Change” in the New York Times Magazine.  Both prove the old adage that there are two sides to every story; if you only read the original articles, here is some discussion and context to counter the fatalistic news coverage.

“Trajectories of the Earth System in the Anthropocene” published in the Proceedings of the National Academies of Science (PNAS) on August 6 was  widely reported as the “Hothouse Earth” article. It reviewed the existing studies about feedback loops which could push the Earth System toward “a planetary threshold”  that, if crossed, could prevent stabilization of the climate at intermediate temperatures and cause “continued warming on a “Hothouse Earth” pathway”.  The Guardian translated the  scientific language and quoted some of the authors in “Domino-effect of climate events could move Earth into a ‘hothouse’ state”  (Aug. 7), but the byline “Leading scientists warn that passing such a point would make efforts to reduce emissions increasingly futile” typifies the sort of fatalistic coverage which followed.  One of the worst examples appeared  in an Opinion piece from The Tyee on August 12  “If We Can’t Stop Hothouse Earth, We’d Better Learn to Live on It” .

In fact, the original PNAS paper was a call to action,  calling for “ stewardship of the entire Earth System—biosphere, climate, and societies—and could include decarbonization of the global economy, enhancement of biosphere carbon sinks, behavioral changes, technological innovations, new governance arrangements, and transformed social values.”   It was accompanied by a supplementary document  which included specifics in  Table S5: Human actions that could steer the Earth System onto a ‘Stabilized Earth’ trajectory.  The authors have also been active in promoting  their main message: “World is finally waking up to climate change, says ‘hothouse Earth’ author”  (August 19) in The Guardian, in which Hans Joachim Schellnhuber states: “There’s a time to sit down and work at your desk and there’s a time to get up and leave the area where you are comfortable. That time is now.”

Similarly, in  “Hothouse Earth” Co-Author: The Problem is Neoliberal Economics” by Kate Aronoff in The Intercept (Aug. 14)  another co-author,  Will Steffen states:  “the obvious thing we have to do is to get greenhouse gas emissions down as fast as we can. That means that has to be the primary target of policy and economics. You have got to get away from the so-called neoliberal economics.” He suggests something “more like wartime footing”  at very fast rates for renewable energy , transportation and agriculture ”.

Others also call for action: Eric Holthaus, in “Terrified by ‘hothouse Earth’? Don’t despair — do something”  in The National Observer (Aug. 7) states  “Humanity is now facing the need for critical decisions and actions that could influence our future for centuries, if not millennia” .  David Suzuki struck a similar note in “David Suzuki: Cool solutions mean a hothouse planet isn’t inevitable” in The Straight (August 14) and also in Rabble.ca , saying, “The research is profoundly disturbing. But the media coverage often missed or downplayed a crucial element: the solutions the report outlines toward a “stabilized Earth pathway.”  Suzuki states: “We must insist that politicians represent the interests of citizens rather than corporations. We must stand up to the fossil fuel industry and climate science deniers.”, and quotes Professor Simon Lewis from University College London and University of Leeds, saying “diagnosing global warming and its consequences is a scientific issue, but solving climate change is about power, money, and political will.”

For a review of other scientific studies : “Is our planet headed toward a ‘Hothouse’? Here’s what the science does — and doesn’t — say” in the  Washington Post (Aug. 10)  by Richard Betts, a U.K. scientist, who credits the importance of the article but speculates that it has received such outsize press response because of the timing of being released in the midst of the world’s heat waves, and because of the use of the perjorative “hothouse” term.

The second case which needs some context:  “Losing Earth: The Decade We Almost Stopped Climate Change” , published on August 1 in the New York Times Magazine . The article was preceded by extensive publicity to establish its importance and authority:  “with support from the Pulitzer Center, this two-part article by Nathaniel Rich is based on 18 months of reporting and well over a hundred interviews, documenting the history of climate change science and activism between 1979 and 1989.” Sounds unassailable, and presents a highly detailed historical account, yet criticism followed immediately. From The Atlantic, “The Problem With The New York Times’ Big Story on Climate Change” (Aug. 1) with the byline: “By portraying the early years of climate politics as a tragedy, the magazine lets Republicans and the fossil-fuel industry off the hook”.  In an interview in Democracy Now, ““Losing Earth”: How Humanity Came to Understand Climate Change & Failed to Act in Time”, Amy Goodman invites Nathaniel Rich  to refute some of the criticism.  Finally,  “Capitalism killed our climate, not human nature”  by Naomi Klein appeared in The Intercept (Aug. 4), stating: “ it is so enraging that the piece is spectacularly wrong in its central thesis.”  … Klein argues that climate activism  “suffered from an epic case of historical bad timing… governments were getting together to get serious about reining in the fossil fuel sector, the global neoliberal revolution went supernova, and that project of economic and social reengineering clashed with the imperatives of both climate science and corporate regulation at every turn.” She concludes: “We aren’t losing earth — but the earth is getting so hot so fast that it is on a trajectory to lose a great many of us. In the nick of time, a new political path to safety is presenting itself. This is no moment to bemoan our lost decades. It’s the moment to get the hell on that path.”

Green collective agreement language achieved by Canadian Union of Public Employees

CUPE LOGO   “Bargaining language for a green agreement” , posted to the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE)  Table Talk newsletter on July 25,  is a brief article highlighting some of the innovative bargaining done by CUPE locals on the issues of environmental stewardship, transit passes, bicycle reimbursement, sustainable work practices and green procurement. The Table Talk article reproduces the actual language of the agreements; for links to the full agreements, and almost 200 others by many unions, go to the Green Collective Agreements database maintained by the Adapting Canadian Work and Workplaces to Climate Change project (ACW).

Canadian Postal Workers Union bargaining for greener operations, postal banking

POSTES CANADA -Fourgonnettes ˆ marchepied entirement ŽlectriquesThe Canadian Union of Postal Workers  (CUPW) and  Canada Post are currently negotiating a new collective agreement, with “Canada Post hellbent on labour dispute as talks continue, union president says”   in the  Toronto Star (July 12). If no deal is reached by September 9, a strike or lockout is possible by September 26.  An important goal has been to consolidate two agreements into one, and to achieve equity between the Rural and Suburban Mail Carriers (RSMC) unit and the Urban unit on job security, guaranteed hours of work, and wages, following an arbitration award in CUPW’s favour on June 1 .   Also highly important  in this round of negotiations, however, are  CUPW demands related to climate change and the environment.

cover-DeliveringCommunityPowerCUPW’s interest in environmental issues is not new.  In February 2016, CUPW  launched  The Delivering Community Power Initiative which re-imagines the postal service by leveraging its huge retail network to provide: Charging stations for electric vehicles at post offices; postal banking, especially to rural and indigenous communities; community hubs for digital access and social innovation. In addition, the postal vehicle fleet could be converted to renewable fuels; provide consolidated last-mile delivery service that would ease congestion and pollution in urban centres; and vulnerable people in their own homes could be served  with a check-in service by door-to-door mail carriers.  The 2012-2016 collective agreement between CUPW and Canada Post  included an Appendix T: Service Expansion and Innovation and Change Committee,   which secured the right “to establish and monitor pilot projects which will test the viability of the proposals” to expand services – and from CUPW’s perspective, these could  lay the groundwork for its Community Power initiatives.

In the current negotiations, CUPW’s Negotiating Update  (August 2) states: “We recognize that both Canada Post and CUPW have responsibilities to work together to reduce our environmental impact. We have put forward a bold vision: Delivering Community Power. Our vision will expand services for everyone and generate more revenue while also creating new jobs. It’s interconnected: our environment demand supports the Delivering Community Power campaign, and the campaign’s massive public support will help us in bargaining. “  An updated statement of  the Community Power document was released in August: Delivering Community Power: Postal Service and the Low carbon economy and in June CUPW  published It’s time for a postal bank for everyone: How a bank in the post office could help you  to present the advantages of postal banking and describe examples from other countries.

The specific environment–related demands, as outlined in Negotiating Program Bulletin are :

C.3: Improve Services and Standards to the Public: Expand retail services, delivery hours, banking, and internet and other services. Contract-in all work that CUPW members can perform with no contracting out of work. Maximize work in local communities.

C.22: Green Canada Post Operations and Reduce Emissions with New Services: Require CPC to take measures to reduce its environmental footprint, initiate new environmental services and negotiate joint environmental sustainability committees.

Follow CUPW updates to the current negotiations here  .

CUPW’s long history with environmental concerns is outlined by Geoff Bickerton, Meg Gingrich and Sarah Ryan in Chapter 9: “Climate change and work and employment in the Canadian Postal and Courier Sector”, in the book Climate@Work   (2013) .   In 2016, Carla Lipsig Mumme of the Adapting Canadian Work and Workplaces to Climate Change project (ACW) made a presentation  to the federal government’s Standing Committee on Government Operations and Estimates, titled Canada Post and Environmental Leadership , which made proposals for a Green Plan for Canada Post, drawing on many of the CUPW themes.   Canada Post Corporation’s latest Sustainability Report (2016)   reports on existing environmental performance re fleet performance, GHG emissions, landfill waste diversion, paper consumption, and building operations and real estate.

 

New podcast series celebrates women fighting climate change

MothersOfInvention_PressShot_11A new, optimistic initiative called Mothers of Invention  was launched in July, led by Mary Robinson, former Prime Minister of Ireland and a well-known climate justice campaigner. Maeve Higgins, an Irish-born comedian is her  “sidekick” in a series of podcasts designed to celebrate “ amazing women doing remarkable things in pursuit of climate justice.”  Through lighthearted, informal conversations, the podcasts educate and inspire with stories of local climate activists – initially focusing on women only, but eventually planned to include men as well.  The clear purpose is to motivate individuals with positive examples, rather than a climate change “doom and gloom” message.

Episode 1, All Rise ,  explores the issue of global climate litigation through interviews with Tessa Khan, Co-Founder of the Global Climate Litigation network ; Marjan Minnesma, Director of the Urgenda Foundation which launched the world’s first climate liability lawsuit in the Netherlands; and Kelsey Juliana, Victoria Barrett & Ridhima Pandey – young plaintiffs from the U.S. and India who are supported in  lawsuits against their own governments by the Our Children’s Foundation. Each episode consists of the podcast interviews and discussion, with links for more information, more involvement, and  a chance to donate.

The line up of future “Mothers”   includes activists from around the world who have focused on land protection, zero waste, fossil fuel divestment, energy poverty, plastic pollution, and environmental racism. The initiative is profiled in The Guardian in “Mary Robinson launches new feminist fight against climate change” (July 24).