Youth continue their slow battle through the courts for a livable climate: Updates for Environnement Jeunesse and Juliana

On June 6, lawyers presented an application to the Superior Court of Quebec on behalf of  ENvironnement JEUnesse . The application seeks authorization to bring a class action against the Canadian government on behalf of Quebeckers aged 35 and under, on the grounds that the government is infringing on their rights under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the Quebec Charter of Rights and Freedoms  by inadequate action to prevent climate change .  ENvironnement JEUnesse is asking the Court to order the government to implement a greenhouse gas reduction target and the measures necessary to respect the group members’ fundamental rights, and to pay an amount equivalent to $100 per member of the class action. The application suggests that the money, an estimated $340 million, could be invested measures to address the climate crisis.  The Court is now considering the application, with no date given for an expected decision.

The path to climate justice is intergenerational”  is an Opinion piece co-authored by a member of ENvironnement JEUnesse, appearing in the Montreal Gazette. It puts the ENvironnement JEUnesse case in the context of the worldwide Fridays for Future movement, and the Intergenerational Climate Coalition in Canada.  The ENvironnement JEUnesse website  provides French and English documentation and a timeline, as well as a summary of related cases, such as the Urgenda case of the Netherlands and the Juliana case in the U.S. . The best summary appears in the National Observer.  A Canadian Press article,  “Young Quebecers present arguments seeking class action against Ottawa”  appeared in the Montreal  Gazette on June 6 and incorrectly states that this is the first such case in the world by young people – an error which coincides with the latest court appearance on June 4  by the most famous young people’s suit, the  Juliana case.

Juliana vs. United States Government:  In the case  Juliana vs. United States, lawyers for children and young adults in the U.S. rely on the public trust doctrine,  accusing the federal government of violating their constitutional rights by failing to take action on climate change and continuing to promote and subsidize fossil fuels. The case originated in 2015 against the Obama government, and continues under the more hostile Trump administration, which argues that court doesn’t have the authority to order the political branches of government to act. Juliana has been called “the trial of the century” and is expected to be precedent-setting – accordingly, it is moving glacially and judges are being cautious, with no date set for a decision.  On June 4, one of the three judges, Judge Andrew Hurwitz stated, “You present compelling evidence that we have a real problem. You present compelling evidence that we have inaction by the other two branches of government. It may even rise to the level of criminal neglect. But the tough question for me is do we get to act because of that.”

Reports of the June 4 appearance are in the New York Times in “Judges give both sides a grilling in Youth Climate Case Against the Government” (June 4); “Ninth Circuit judges seem skeptical of role in kids climate  suit vs U.S. government in Climate Liability Newsand “Kids Face Rising Health Risks from Climate Change, Doctors Warn as Juliana Case Returns to Court” in Inside Climate News (June 4) . An historical summary appears in  “Question of the century: do we have a right to a livable climate?” in Resilience.

The case is being argued by Our Children’s Trust , which has compiled news and detailed documentation over the four years spent so far.

Climate change and health: more evidence of the dangers of extreme heat for workers

european health reportThe Imperative of Climate Action to Protect Human health in Europe was released on June 3  by the European Academies Science Advisory Council, urging that adaptation and mitigation policies give  health effects a greater emphasis, as well as proposing priorities for health policy research and data coordination in the EU.   The report also acts as a comprehensive literature review of the research on the present and future health impacts of climate change in EU countries.  It documents studies of direct and indirect health effects of extreme heat, forest fires, flooding, pollution, and impacts on food and nutrition.  Some of these impacts include communicable infectious diseases, mental illness, injuries, labour productivity, violence and conflict, and migration. It identifies the most vulnerable groups as the elderly, the sick, children, and migrating and marginalized populations, with city dwellers at greater risk of heat stress than rural populations.

construction drinking waterHeat as a Health risk for workers:  Although the report doesn’t highlight outdoor workers such as farmers and construction workers as a high risk group, it does weigh in on heat effects on labour productivity for indoor and outdoor workers.   For example,  “Even small increases in temperature may reduce cognitive and physical performance and hence impair labour productivity and earning power, with further consequences for health. Earlier analyses had concentrated on the effects of heat on rural labour capacity, but now it is appreciated that many occupations may be affected. For example, recent analysis by the French Agency for Food, Environmental, Occupational Health and Safety (ANSES 2018) concludes that productivity and health of workers in most business sectors will be affected in European countries by 2050. The effects of indoor high temperatures in terms of altered circadian rhythms were recently reported (Zheng et al. 2019) as part of a broader discussion of the literature on indoor high temperatures and human work efficiency. For temperature rises greater than 2°C, labour productivity could drop by 10–15% in some southern European countries (Ciscar et al. 2018). Meta-analysis of the global literature confirms that occupational heat strain has important health and productivity outcomes.”Canada Post Strike 20160705

Also: “with 1.5°C global temperature change, about 350 million people worldwide would be exposed to extreme heat stress sufficient to reduce greatly the ability to undertake physical labour for at least the hottest month in the year; this increases to about one billion people with 2.5°C global temperature change .”

And also: Hot and humid indoor environments may result in “mould and higher concentrations of chemical substances. Health risks include respiratory diseases such as allergy, asthma and rhinitis as well as more unspecific symptoms such as eye and respiratory irritation. Asthma and respiratory symptoms have been reported to be 30–50% more common in humid houses.”

Calls to improve heat standards for U.S. workers : A report in 2018,  Extreme Heat and Unprotected Workers , stated that  heat killed 783 workers in the U.S. and seriously injured nearly 70,000 between 1992 and 2017. The report was published by  Public Citizen, a coalition of social justice groups and labour unions. They continue to  campaign  for a dedicated federal standard regarding heat exposure – most recently with a  letter to the U.S. Department of Labor on April 26, 2019 which states: we “call on you to take swift action to protect workers from the growing dangers of climate change and rising temperatures in the workplace. …. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration has an obligation to prevent future heat-related injuries, illnesses and fatalities by issuing a heat stress standard for outdoor and indoor workers.”  The campaign is described in   “Worker advocates burned up over lack of federal heat protections” in FairWarning (May 9), with examples of some U.S. fatalities.  Notably, the death of a  63-year-old postal worker in her mail truck in Los Angeles in July 2018  resulted in  H.R. 1299,  the Peggy Frank Memorial Act, which was introduced in the House of Representatives in February 2019 and would require any Postal Service delivery vehicle to include air conditioning within three years. (It has languished in the House Standing Committee on Oversight and Reform since.)

The article also reports that in April,  California released a draft standard: Heat Illness Prevention in Indoor Places of Employment  which, if approved, would make California the first U.S. jurisdiction to cover both indoor and outdoor job sites. The proposed standard would require water and rest breaks for workers when indoor temperatures reach 82 F degrees, with additional requirements when temperatures hit 87 F. It is noteworthy that this is a slow process – even in progressive California, which has had heat protection for farm workers on the books since 2006,  the Advisory Committee leading this initiative has been meeting since 2017, and the draft standard still under consideration has been revised numerous times .

Updated: U.S. Labour views on climate strikes and the Green New Deal

Speakers, listed here, addressed the issues of Just Transition, the Green New Deal, public ownership of energy production, and an appropriate role for labour in climate activism at the New York Labor History Association Annual Spring Conference on May 11, under the banner  “Taking the Lead: Labor and Global Warming: Our History, Activism and Challenge”.  “New Calls for a General Strike in the Face of Coming Climate Catastrophe” appeared in the Labor Press (May 13) (re-posted to Portside on May 22) , summarizing some of the discussion, especially the statement by Bruce Hamilton, VP of the  Amalgamated Transit Union, that a general strike “should never be taken off the table”.  The article notes that “A general strike, however, requires a level of unity around the question of climate change and the Green New Deal that presently does not exist inside organized labor.”  On May 30, Portside published  a lengthly compilation of “Reader Responses”  , both pro and con, about using a general strike as a tactic.  (Note that the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) is calling for  “a day of global action on climate change” on June 26 as part of their  Climate Proof our Work campaign   , and the Fridays for Future student strike movement has called for a worldwide general strike by adults and youth for September 20).

Union differences  around the Green New Deal have been noted before in the WCR:  in “Labor’s voice in support of the Green New Deal” (May 14) , and “AFL-CIO Energy Committee releases letter opposing the Green New Deal” (Mar 14). On May 22, “The Green New Deal is fracturing a critical base for Democrats: unions” appeared in Vox, providing  a broad overview of national and state-level examples.

Service Employees International Union endorses GND: On June 6, the Service Employees International Union issued a press release announcing that the International Executive Board had passed a resolution in support of the Green New Deal , which states in part: “the Green New Deal supports the right of all workers to have unions, no matter where they work; makes unions central to accomplishing the ambitious goal of an environmentally responsible and economically just society; and commits to providing universal healthcare and a good, union job with family-sustaining wages
and benefits for everyone who wants one.”   The Resolution affirms the goals of the GND, commits to political action, and to cooperation with other advocacy partners in environmental,  immigrant, health care,  and economic justice movements.

On the issue of transitions, it states:

4. “SEIU stands in solidarity with all in the labor movement who share our desire to create family-sustaining union jobs and a healthy and safe environment. Workers who have built and are dependent upon the fossil fuel industry must have:

  • a. Access to good union jobs, training and advancement if their current jobs cease to exist;
  • b. Guaranteed pensions and a bridge of wage support and healthcare until impacted workers find comparable employment or reach retirement;
  • c. Financial support for local community public services during a transition period

Green New Deal and Labour in California:  There is support for the Green New Deal  in polling the green new dealCalifornia – as evidenced by “Packed Bay Area Convergence on Climate Plans for Green New Deal” and other articles  in the Green New Deal compilation by the Labor Network for SustainabilityYet “Labor anger over Green New Deal greets 2020 contenders in California”  appeared in Politico, focusing on the opposition to the Los Angeles Green New Deal announced on April 29, chiefly by California’s building trades unions.  Those unions fear job loss and the costs members may face from higher gas taxes, as well as congestion pricing for tolls on freeways during rush hour. They have differed with environmentalists in the past over environmental justice and pollution regulation at the State level .  In “The Green New Deal- Be-labored?” in Resilience (May 11) and originally in Civil Notion, author Joel Stronberg describes the California divide in even greater detail and quotes a professor from Loyola Law School, who assesses that “the Green New Deal…divides the Democrats on a fault line, which is more of the elites against the working class Democrats who are concerned about losing their jobs.”  Stronberg also states that the Association of Flight Attendants is a second union which has endorsed the Green New Deal, and cites a recent survey by Data for Progress between March 30 and April 7, 2019 which measured union members’ (not leadership) attitudes. According to Stronberg, it shows 52 percent of current union members approve of the Green New Deal, 22 percent were opposed,  21 percent didn’t know about it, and five percent were neutral.

Canadian unions:  In Canada, unions have not yet been as vocal about the Green New Deal – although “Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s Green New Deal: The Canadian Connection” in The Tyee (June 3) describes the close ties between the U.S. GND and Canadians Avi Lewis and Naomi Klein of The Leap.    Some unions have endorsed the uniquely-Canadian Pact for a Green New Deal – and the United Steelworkers  have endorsed the New Democratic Party’s newly announced climate change platform  – Power to change: A new deal for climate action and good jobs .

Labor’s voice in support of the Green New Deal

Joe Uehlein of Labor Network for Sustainability (LNS) was interviewed by Counterspin Radio on May 3 concerning his views on the Green New Deal; a transcript was published by FAIR on May 8 as “Climate Change is the Real Job Killer”  . Uehlein and colleague Jeremy Brecher have written numerous articles on this theme – including  “12 reasons why labor should support a Green New Deal”, which appeared in Working In These Times in 2018.  LNS monitors the situation and posts new GND endorsements by U.S. labour unions in a dedicated “Green New Deal” section of its website, building a compilation of documents. Labor Network for Sustainability co-hosted a Labor Convergence on Climate on April 13, along with the Alameda Labor Council in California; the next Labor Convergence will take place in Chicago at the end June, with the theme Strengthening Labor’s Voice to Help Shape the Green New Deal. Details are here 

For those interested in the issue of how the Green New Deal is being communicated in mainstream media, “Establishment Media and the Green New Deal: New Wine in Old Bottles” appeared on May 1 in FAIR . The article tracks mainstream U.S. newspaper and network coverage of the announcement by Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Ed Markey on February 7 (and 8th), and a subsequent snapshot of coverage two weeks later.   It documents the chronology with  sample headlines and quotes, with some analysis. While none of it is surprising, taken together it condenses the tone and atmosphere of the GND launch. The conclusion: “To meet that level of public concern, the mainstream media should be covering how to leverage climate action quickly and broadly enough to make a dent in the crisis, as well as probing how and if solutions can also bring a clean and just energy economy into existence.”

One might also add that mainstream media should be seeking out the voices outside of  political and academic circles – such as Joe Uehlein’s and those of other labour leaders. One such article, “Labor Unions are skeptical of the Green New Deal, and they want activists to hear them out” appeared in The Intercept  in February, and describes the complex conflict within the labour movement – a topic also addressed by Naomi Klein in   “The Battle lines have been drawn on the Green New Deal” , which appeared in The Intercept (Feb. 13).

 

 

The clean economy workforce in the U.S. and proposals to make it more inclusive

brookingsclean-energy-jobs_wages Figure2-finalAdvancing inclusion through clean energy jobs  is a report  released  by the Brookings Institution in April 2019,  with a goal to determine “ the degree to which the clean energy economy provides labor market opportunities for historically disadvantaged groups, with a particular focus on equity”.  It examines a range of occupations, not just the traditionally-identified “green jobs”,  identifying approximately 320 unique occupations in three major industrial sectors: clean energy production, energy efficiency, and environmental management.  The report includes detailed discussion of its methodology and data sources, and emphasizes the size of the clean energy economy and its potential to make an impact on the equity of the U.S. labour market.

Some highlights about the “nature” and “ quality” of clean energy economy jobs:

  • Workers in clean energy earn higher and more equitable wages when compared to all workers nationally. Mean hourly wages exceed national averages by 8 to 19 percent.
  • Roughly 50 percent of workers in the clean energy economy have a high school diploma yet earn higher wages than similarly-educated peers in other industries – for example, plumbers, electricians, and carpenters.
  • Some occupations within the clean energy production and energy efficiency sectors require greater scientific knowledge and technical skills than the average American job.
  • The clean energy economy workforce is older, dominated by male workers, and lacks racial diversity when compared to all occupations nationally. Fewer than 20 percent of workers in the clean energy production and energy efficiency sectors are women, while black workers fill less than ten percent of these sector’s jobs.

In the accompanying press release , first author Mark Muro states: “Clean energy occupations are varied, accessible to workers without a bachelor’s degree, and good paying, but they are not yet as inclusive as they should be. To deliver on the sectors’ full promise for economic inclusion, more work needs to be done in front-line communities to ensure under-represented communities and women are more widely included.”  The report concludes with  proposals directed at state and local policy makers, education and training sector leaders, and community organizations.  Broadly, the policy proposals include: “modernizing and emphasizing energy science curricula, improving the alignment of education and training offerings, and reaching underrepresented workers and students.”