As reported in the Labor Network for Sustainability newsletter, “the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations, a union representing 900 family-owned fishing boats on the Pacific coast, is suing Chevron, Exxon, BP, Shell, and other oil and gas companies for covering up research that warned about the dangers of burning fossil fuels. The union wants compensation for damage caused by global warming and to meet the cost of new infrastructure to cope with the climate crisis. They also demand changes in fossil fuel industry behavior.” The suit is summarized by The Guardian in “Toxic waters devastated Pacific Coast fisheries. But who’s to blame?” (Nov. 20) . The PCFFA has published a report , “Combatting Global Warming and Acidic Seas” , which documents the impacts on the livelihoods of the fishers.
Opportunities for Growth: Nature-Based Jobs in NYC is a new report released on December 1, from Just Nature NYC, a partnership between the New York City Environmental Justice Alliance and The Nature Conservancy in New York . The report argues that nature-based solutions “ are vital to improving environmental health and building climate resilience – particularly in environmental justice communities. Climate scientists project that the frequency of annual heat waves in NYC will increase three to-five-fold by 2050, and heat waves are expected to last longer than those of the recent past.”
The report breaks new ground with a discussion and definition of a nature-based job:
“Nature-based jobs (NBJs) are defined as jobs that directly contribute to natural infrastructure and nature-based ecosystems with the goal of enhancing human health and well-being and promoting biodiversity.”
Using that definition, the report determined that were 45,560 nature-based jobs in the New York City in 2020, in such positions as landscape architects, construction managers and tree trimmers and pruners. It notes projected growth for each role between 2020 and 2025, with the most expected growth to be in the professions of soil and plant scientists (expected to grow by 41 percent) and conservation scientists (with a growth of 27 percent). With a focus on the environmental justice benefits, the authors call for near-term growth of nature-based jobs; increasing job equity, accessibility, and quality; and the need to promote deeper public appreciation of nature-based solutions. Summaries are available in “To Combat Climate Change, NYC Needs More Nature-Based Jobs: Report” (City Limits, Dec. 6) and a December 1 summary in The Medium.
Another report arguing for the importance of nature-based solutions was published by the Intact Centre on Climate Adaptation at the University of Waterloo in December. Rising Tides and Shifting Sands: Combining Natural and Grey Infrastructure to Protect Canada’s Coastal Communities assesses the urgent dangers of flood and storm damages on Canada’s East and West Coasts, and discusses the current status of coastal protection measures. It differentiates between grey infrastructure (the hard, engineered measures such as seawalls) and nature-based solutions (which depend on, or mimic, natural systems to manage flood and erosion risk). The report argues that nature-based solutions are underutilized, and in addition to offering protection, deliver multiple benefits, including improved biodiversity, carbon sequestration and storage, enhanced wellbeing and opportunities for recreational activities.
Rising Tides and Shifting Sands recommends scale-up of nature-based solutions through: 1. Developing national standards to support consistent evaluation of the benefits of nature-based solutions; 2. Developing national monitoring standards for coastal protection measures, focused on nature-based solutions; and 3. Building capacity to finance and deliver nature-based solutions by engaging the private sector. (“ Public-private partnerships can potentially assist in financing, delivering, monitoring, and maintaining nature-based solutions. The insurance industry can also assist in managing construction risks and offering innovative insurance products that provide funds to restore natural features protecting the coastline, should they be damaged during extreme events.”)
The Canadian Union of Postal Workers (CUPW) announced that Canada Post will launch postal banking, with pilot sites opening in Nova Scotia in September and in Alberta in October. The goal is to offer the new financial services in over 249 Canada Post locations before the end of 2021. (Financial Services Update #4, July 2021). This brings to fruition an initiative which began with the 2012-2016 collective agreement between CUPW and Canada Post, and its Appendix T: Service Expansion and Innovation and Change Committee. That Appendix secured the right “to establish and monitor pilot projects which will test the viability of the proposals” to expand services, as envisaged in the Delivering Community Power campaign. That larger campaign, which still continues, is meant to green Canada Post, and includes postal banking, conversion of the postal fleet to electric vehicles, provision of electric vehicle charging stations at Canada Post outlets, and more. The test program offers unsecured loans, and will run in collaboration with TD Bank. CUPW continues to work to establish a postal banking service independent of the big banks, as stated in Financial Services Update #5 (Sept. 2021). The arguments for postal banking appear on the CUPW website, and in Why Canada Needs Postal Banking, a research paper published by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives in 2013.
The U.S. Postal Service also launched a pilot project to offer banking services in four cities in September, allowing customers to cash payroll or business checks of up to $500 and have the money put onto a single-use gift card, which the postal service already sold. The back story is described in “USPS begins postal banking pilot” (American Prospect, October 11), and in “Postal Banking Could Become a Reality Even Without Congress. Here’s How” (In these Times, May 2018). As in Canada, the American Postal Workers Union negotiated a Memorandum of Agreement as part of its 2016 collective bargaining agreement, which called for a joint labor/management task force to consider pilot programs for opportunities to increase revenue – including two specific ideas: “modernization of money orders” and “expansion of international money transfers.” The APWU is an important member of the coalition, Campaign for Postal Banking , whose website chronicles the U.S. campaign.
The Climate and Equitable Jobs Act (SB2408) is a 900-page bill signed into law by the Governor of Illinois in September 2021. It is summarized by Natural Resources Defence in a blog titled “Illinois Passes Nation-Leading, Equitable Climate Bill”, by David Roberts in his new blog, Volts, and by the Illinois Clean Jobs Coalition press release .
Why does David Roberts call it “ one of the most environmentally ambitious, worker-friendly, justice-focused energy bills of any state in the country”? Some highlights: the CEJA requires Illinois to achieve a 100% zero-emissions power sector by 2045 (including their coal power plant), while encouraging electrification of transportation and buildings, and reforms to the utility rate structure. It increases the existing Solar for All funding (by 5 times) to help low-income families to switch to solar energy, creates a Green Bank to finance clean energy projects. For workers, the Act requires that all utility-scale renewable energy projects must use project-labor agreements, and all non-residential clean-energy projects must pay prevailing wages. Diversity hiring reports will be required to prove that projects have recruited qualified BIPOC candidates and apprentices. The Act also provides funds for 13 Clean Jobs Workforce Network Hubs across the state, to deliver workforce-development programs to low-income and underserved populations. According to David Roberts, “The Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity and the Illinois Department of Employment Security will work together to develop a “displaced worker bill of rights,” with $40 million a year to go toward transition assistance for areas dependent on fossil fuel production or generation.”
The CEJA is a model not only for what it contains, but also how it was achieved. Roberts calls it “a model for how diverse stakeholders can reach consensus” and describes the years-long process in detail: “The state’s labor community was sensitive to the fact that it had largely been left out of the 2016 bill; the legislation contained no labor standards, and recent years have seen Illinois renewable energy projects importing cheaper out-of-state workforces. Labor didn’t want to get left behind in the state’s energy transition, so it organized a coalition of groups under the banner Climate Jobs Illinois and set about playing an active role in negotiations. Environmental and climate-justice groups organized as the Illinois Clean Jobs Coalition. All the groups introduced energy bills of their own. And then they spent years banging their heads together. A special shout-out goes to the environmental-justice community in Illinois, which used three years of relentless grassroots organizing to build an incredible political force, without which the bill couldn’t have passed and wouldn’t have been as equity-focused.” The result, according to Roberts, “As far as I know, this gives Illinois the most stringent labor and equity requirements of any state clean energy program. Similar policies tying renewable energy projects to labor standards have passed in Connecticut, New York, and Washington, but no other state’s energy policy has as comprehensive a package of labor, diversity, and equity standards.”
Extreme heat is the leading weather-related killer in the U.S.. In recognition of the likelihood of increasing dangers from climate change, U.S. President Biden announced a coordinated, interagency effort on September 20, described in a White House Fact Sheet titled Biden Administration Mobilizes to Protect Workers and Communities from Extreme Heat. Regarding workers, the Department of Labor, through the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), will launch a rulemaking process to develop a national workplace heat standard for both outdoor and indoor workers, including agricultural, construction, and delivery workers, as well as indoor workers in warehouses, factories, and kitchens. This process, which is expected to take years, will allow for a “comment period” on topics including heat stress thresholds, heat acclimatization planning, and exposure monitoring. Along with setting the Heat Standard, OSHA will begin a new enforcement initiative which will prioritize heat-related interventions and workplace inspections on days when the heat index exceeds 80°F. OSHA will also work to formalize a National Emphasis Program (NEP) on heat hazard cases, which will target high-risk industries, hopefully before Summer 2022. Finally, OSHA will form a Heat Illness Prevention Work Group within its National Advisory Committee on Occupational Safety and Health (NACOSH), which will include a public representative, a labour representative, and a management representative, along with others.
The initiative is summarized in “As climate change warms workplaces, Biden directs safety agency to draft heat rules for workers” (Washington Post, Sept. 20) and in “Extreme Heat Is Killing Workers, So the White House Is Adding Protections” (Vice Motherboard, Sept 23), which describes the regulation in Washington, California and Minnesota, as well as legislation currently under debate in Texas, which would eliminate requirements for 10-minute water breaks every four hours. A new national standard would set minimum levels under which state regulations could not descend.
As the inevitable transformation of the U.S. auto industry unfolds, supportive industrial and labour policy can help the industry reclaim its role as a source of well-paying, stable jobs, according to a report released on September 22 by the Economic Policy Institute. “The stakes for workers in how policymakers manage the coming shift to all-electric vehicles” was written in collaboration with the BlueGreen Alliance, AFL-CIO Industrial Union Council, United Auto Workers, United Steelworkers, and The Greenlining Institute.
Authors Jim Barrett and Josh Bivens report on the likely employment and job-quality implications of a large-scale shift to Battery Electric Vehicles (BEVs) under various scenarios. Their key findings: employment in the U.S. auto sector could rise by over 150,000 jobs in 2030 under two conditions: 1. Battery electric vehicles rise to 50% of domestic sales of autos in 2030 and 2. U.S. production of electric vehicle powertrain components increases. Supportive policies are seen to make the difference between job losses and job gains.
The report further states: “For the auto sector to continue providing good jobs for U.S. workers, strong labor standards—including affirmative efforts to encourage unionization—will be needed. … The jobs embedded in the U.S. automobile supply chain once provided a key foundation for middle-class growth and prosperity. A cascade of poor policy decisions has eroded employment and job quality in this sector and this has helped to degrade labor standards across U.S. manufacturing and throughout the overall economy …. The industry transformation coming due to the widespread adoption of BEVs provides an opportunity to reverse these trends. The transformations necessary to ensure that this shift to BEVs supports U.S. employment and job quality—investment in advanced technology production and strengthening supply chains—will redound widely throughout manufacturing and aid growth in other sectors as well.”
The report is summarized in “What Will It Take for Electric Vehicles to Create Jobs, Not Cut Them?” (New York Times , Sept. 22) .
As the IPCC Conference of Parties (COP26) in Glasgow approaches on Oct. 31 to Nov. 12, international leaders are grabbing microphones, activists are lobbying, and important new reports are being released . A chronology of some important highlights:
On September 13, an Open Letter was delivered to the UN General Assembly, calling for a Fossil Fuel Non-proliferation Treaty. Signed by over 2000 academics and scientists from 81 countries, the Letter calls for international cooperation on climate change and an end to new expansion of fossil fuel production in line with the best available science, and a phase-out of existing fossil fuel production of fossil fuels “in a manner that is fair and equitable”.
On September 16, World Resources Institute and Climate Analytics released Closing the gap: The impact of G20 climate commitments on limiting global temperature rise to 1.5°C, which offers hope. The report argues that if G20 countries set ambitious, 1.5°C-aligned emission reduction targets for 2030 and reach net-zero emissions by 2050, then global temperature rise at the end of the century could be limited to 1.7°C. This hinges on the fact that G20 countries account for 75% of global GHG emissions.
A new, related report from the UNFCC is far less hopeful – in fact, Greta Thunberg , as quoted in Common Dreams, states that “this is what betrayal looks like”. The Synthesis Report of Nationally determined contributions under the Paris Agreement compiled the emissions reduction pledges of 191 countries as of July 31 2021, and evaluated and analyzed their targets and plans . The bottom line: “The total global GHG emission level in 2030, taking into account implementation of all the latest NDCs, is expected to be 16.3 per cent above the 2010 level.” Such a course would lead to a “catastrophic” increase in average temperatures by 2.7 degrees C. by the end of the century. While Argentina, Canada, the European Union, United Kingdom and United States strengthened their 2030 emission reduction targets (compared to the NDCs they submitted five years ago), China, India, Saudi Arabia and Turkey have yet to submit their updated NDCs. The latter countries are responsible for 33% of global greenhouse gases.
On September 18, the EU and U.S. launched a Global Methane Pledge, promising to reduce methane emissions by 30% from 2020 levels by 2030 – which is a step in the right direction, but fails to meet the target of 45% reduction in this decade , as called for by the UNEP in its Global Methane Assessment Report released in May 2021. However, according to Inside Climate News, “Global Methane Pledge Offers Hope on Climate in Lead Up to Glasgow “, and The Conversation U.S. describes “Biden urges countries to slash methane emissions 30% – here’s why it’s crucial for protecting climate and health, and how it can pay for itself” ( Sept. 17). It remains to be seen if Canada will join the eight countries already signed on to the new Methane Pledge; in Canada, the existing regulations for methane emissions from the oil and gas industry target a reduction by 40% to 45% below 2012 levels by 2025. The Liberal election platform pledged to “Require oil and gas companies to reduce methane emissions by at least 75% below 2012 levels by 2030 and work to reduce methane emissions across the broader economy.” (More Canadian context appears in The Energy Mix, and from the WCR here, which explains the federal-provincial equivalency agreement re methane regulations.
The opening of UN General Assembly on September 20, began with a fiery speech by U.N. Secretary General António Guterres about global inequality, saying that the world is “sleepwalking” to climate change disaster and pleading yet again for urgent action and international cooperation. Discussions around Covid-19, racism, and climate change are creating the “sombre mood” of the meetings . Yet speeches by U.S. president Biden and China’s Xi Jinping offer hope for climate change actions:
On September 21, US president Biden’s address to the General Assembly included a pledge that the US will become the world’s leading provider of climate finance, promising to double U.S. aid to $11bn by 2024. Some reaction to the pledge was sceptical, given that the $100 billion in aid already pledged by developed countries has not been achieved. Canada is one of the worst offenders, with an average contribution only 17% of its fair share in 2017 and 2018, according to “Climate Finance Faces $75-Billion Gap as COP 26 Looms 1,000 Hours Away” (The Energy Mix, Sept. 21).
Also on September 21, China’s leader Xi Jinping announced to the United Nations General Assembly that China “will not build new coal-fired power projects abroad.” The impact, as explained here by the New York Times, can be huge, given that “China built more than three times more new coal power capacity than all other countries in the world combined” last year. “‘Betting on a low-carbon future’: why China is ending foreign coal investment” (The Guardian, Sept. 22) highlights two important points: 1. the announcement signals that China is serious about climate action even though it hasn’t confirmed attendance at COP26, and 2. Real climate progress lies in reduction of China’s domestic coal production, which is 10 times higher than foreign production according to the report in Germany’s DW . So far, China has not specified plans re domestic production, nor re the timing of its commitment to end coal financing.
On September 22, a statement by over 200 civil society organizations from around the world called on progressive governments and public finance institutions to launch a joint commitment to end public finance for fossil fuels at COP26. According to the spokesperson for the International Institute for Sustainable Development, said: “While a growing number of governments are turning away from coal and oil, international financial institutions are still providing four times as much funding for gas projects as for wind or solar.” The full statement and list of signatories is here and includes 28 Canadian organizations – including the Canadian Union of Postal Workers (CUPW) and the Syndicat de la fonction publique et parapublique du Québec (SFPQ).
#Wemaketomorrow is an activist campaign coordinated by the Trade Union Caucus of the COP26 Coalition. Planning and actions for COP26 are already underway at https://www.wemaketomorrow.org/ . The main COP26 Coalition website organizes The People’s Summit, “a global convergence space for movements, campaigns and civil society”, which this year, because of Covid-19, will feature in-person and virtual events.
More to come!
A new Labor Network for Sustainability background paper asks “Can Carbon Capture Save Our Climate – and Our Jobs?”. Author Jeremy Brecher treads carefully around this issue, acknowledging that it has been a divisive one within the labour movement for years. The report presents the history of carbon capture efforts; their objectives; their current effectiveness; and alternatives to CCS. It states: “LNS believe that the use of carbon capture should be determined by scientific evaluation of its effectiveness in meeting the targets and timetables necessary to protect the climate and of its full costs and benefits for workers and society. Those include health, safety, environmental, employment, waste disposal, and other social costs and benefits.”
Applying those principles to carbon capture, the paper takes a position:
“Priority for investment should go to methods of GHG reduction that can be implemented rapidly over the next decade” – for example, renewables and energy efficiency. … “Carbon capture technologies have little chance of making major reductions in GHG emissions over the next decade and the market cost and social cost of carbon capture is likely to be far higher. Therefore, the priority for climate protection investment should be for conversion to fossil-free renewable energy and energy efficiency, not for carbon capture.”
“Priority for research and development should go to those technological pathways that offer the best chance of reducing GHGs with the most social benefit and the least social cost. Based on the current low GHG-reduction effectiveness and high market cost of carbon capture, its high health, safety, environmental, waste disposal, and other social costs, and the uncertainty of future improvements, carbon capture is unlikely to receive high evaluation relative to renewable energy and energy efficiency. Research on carbon capture should only be funded if scientific evaluation shows that it provides a better pathway to climate safety than renewable energy and energy efficiency.”
“…..People threatened with job loss as a result of reduction in fossil fuel burning should not expect carbon capture to help protect their jobs any time in the next 10-20 years. There are strong reasons to doubt that it will be either effective or cost competitive in the short run. Those adversely affected by reduction in fossil fuel burning can best protect themselves through managed rather than unmanaged decline in fossil fuel burning combined with vigorous just transition policies.”
This evaluation by LNS stands in contrast to the Carbon Capture Coalition, a coalition of U.S. businesses, environmental groups and labour unions. In August, the Coalition sent an Open Letter to Congressional Leaders, proposing a suite of supports for “carbon management technologies” – including tax incentives and “Robust funding for commercial scale demonstration of carbon capture, direct air capture and carbon utilization technologies.” Signatories to the Open Letter include the AFL-CIO, Boilermakers Local 11, International Brotherhood of Boilermakers, Laborers International Union, United Mine Workers of America, United Steelworkers, and Utility Workers Union of America. Although the BlueGreen Alliance was not one of the signatories, it did issue a September 2 press release which “applauds” the appointment of the Assistant Secretary for Fossil Energy and Carbon Management within the U.S. Department of Energy. The new appointee currently serves as the Vice President, Carbon Management for the Great Plains Institute – and The Great Plains Institute is the convenor of the Carbon Capture Coalition.
A July report from the Workers’ Institute at Cornell University Industrial Relations School examines the state of play in Texas and makes a series of recommendations “that can help Texas simultaneously combat climate change, create high-quality jobs, and build more equitable and resilient communities.” Combatting Climate Change, Reversing Inequality: A Climate Jobs Program for Texas identifies the current challenges : a COVID-19 public health pandemic and ensuing economic crisis; a growing crisis of inequality of income, wealth, race and power; and the worsening climate crisis, which has brought weather disasters to the state.
Texas is an interesting case study: it is the state with the most greenhouse gas emissions and pollution in the U.S., with 42.4% of emissions from its well-established oil and gas industry. Oil and gas (including extraction, refining, petrochemical production) employs over 450,000 Texans, with a state-wide unionization rate of 4.8%. But Texas also leads the states in wind power installations and has wind power manufacturing facilities. Into this mix, the researchers crafted a series of concrete recommendations for jobs-driven strategies to achieve a low-carbon, more equitable economy. These include targets for the installation of wind, solar and geothermal energy, along with an upgraded electricity grid to handle renewables; a target of 2040 to electrify school buses and State and Local government vehicle fleets ; construction of a High-Speed Rail Network between the five largest cities in Texas; a target to reduce energy use in existing buildings by 30% by 2035, and a mandate for Net-Zero Emissions for new construction by 2050; and the creation of a multi-stakeholder Just Transition Commission. The report also applies many of these recommendations for the cities of Houston, Dallas, and San Antonio.
Each of these state-wide recommendations is described in detail, with costing, GHG emissions reductions estimates, and job creation estimates by sector. Total direct jobs created over a range from 10 to 25 years is estimated at 1,140,186, with another 1,125,434 indirect and 913,981 induced jobs.
The report was written by Professors Lara Skinner and J. Mijin Cha, with research assistance from Hunter Moskowitz and Matt Phillips, in consultation with 27 Texas labour unions. It accompanies the launch of the Texas Climate Jobs Project , an offshoot of the Texas AFL-CIO. Lara Skinner describes the report and the Climate Jobs Project in “Why Texas Fossil Fuel unions signed onto a climate plan” (Grist, July 30). A press release from Texas AFL-CIO includes a summary of recommendations and endorsements from various unions.
United Mine Workers of America president Cecil Roberts was accompanied by West Virginia’s senior Senator Joe Manchin on April 19 when he announced the UMWA’s new principles for addressing climate change and the energy transition. Preserving Coal Country: Keeping America’s coal miners, families and communities whole in an era of global energy transition is built on three goals: “preserve coal jobs, create new jobs, and preserve coalfield families and communities.” The UMWA statement calls for specific steps to achieve those goals, including enhanced incentives for carbon capture and storage research, with a goal of commercial demonstration of utility-scale coal-fired CCS by 2030; tax incentives for build-out of renewable supply-chain manufacturing in coalfield areas, with hiring preference for dislocated miners and families; and provision of wage replacement, family health care coverage, and pension credit/401(k) contribution, as well as tuition aid. For the community, the principles call for direct grants to coalfield counties/ communities/school districts to replace lost tax revenues for 20-year period, as well as targeted investment in infrastructure rehabilitation and development – roads, bridges, broadband, schools, health care facilities.
The document concludes with a statement of willingness to work with Congress, President Biden, and other unions, and with this: “This cannot be the sort of “just transition” wishful thinking so common in the environmental community. There must be a set of specific, concrete actions that are fully-funded and long-term. The easiest and most efficient way to fund this would be through a “wires” charge on retail electric power sales, paid by utility customers, which would add about two-tenths of one cent per kilowatt hour to the average electric bill. This would amount to less than $3.00 per month for the average residential ratepayer.”
Summaries appeared in: “Miners’ union backs shift from coal in exchange for jobs” from Associated Press, published in the Toronto Star; “Surprise news from the miners union gives Democrats an opening against Trumpism” in the Washington Post; “A coal miners union indicates it will accept a switch to renewable energy in exchange for jobs” in the New York Times, and “America’s largest coal mining union supports clean energy (with conditions)” in Grist.
At the same press conference on April 19, West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin announced that he will co-sponsor the Protecting the Right to Organize Act, or PRO Act, as reported by Reuters here. Passage of the PRO Act is also one of the action items in the Mine Workers Preserving Coal Country statement, and a key goal for American unions.
The Sierra Club U.S. report How to Build Back Better: A 10-year Plan for Economic Renewal is a blueprint for economic renewal – in which the environmental advocacy group continues to demonstrate clear support for the needs of workers. Released in March, this report includes a call for public investments which “must come with ironclad labor and equity standards to curb racial, economic, and gender inequity instead of reinforcing the unjust status quo.” To support the job quality theme, the Sierra Club also released a 1-pager titled Cross-cutting environmental, labor and equity standards and a 3-page summary titled Why Standards Matter, an overview of job quality issues .
Briefly, the Sierra Club recommends a pandemic recovery plan which would create over 15 million good jobs, based on public investment of $1 trillion per year for ten years. Investments would go to many sectors including infrastructure and clean manufacturing, but also the care sector and the public sector. In addition to job creation, the plan addresses systemic racism, supports public health, and cuts climate pollution nearly in half by 2030. The economic renewal plan is based on the THRIVE Agenda, which is itself based on job projections and modelling by academics at the Political Economy Research Institute (PERI), led by Robert Pollin. Their latest analysis was published by PERI as Employment Impacts of Proposed U.S. Economic Stimulus Programs (March 2021). Sierra Club released a 3-page summary of job projections; an interactive Jobs Calculator ; and Fact Sheets for each of the sectors considered: regenerative agriculture, clean energy, care and public sector, transportation, manufacturing, buildings, and clean water for all, and pollution-free communities. All these accompanying documents, along with the full report, are available here.
THRIVE stands for “Transform, Heal, and Renew by Investing in a Vibrant Economy” and is summarized in the Sierra Club press release of March 25. The coalition has grown out of the Green New Deal Network, itself a coalition of 15 U.S. organizations that are focused on combating social inequity and environmental destruction through political action.
On March 31, U.S. President Biden announced his “American Jobs Plan,” which outlines over $2 trillion in spending proposals, including $213 billion to build, modernize and weatherize affordable housing, $174 billion for incentives and infrastructure for electric vehicles; $100 billion for power grid modernization and resilience; $85 billion investment in modernizing public transit and bringing it to underserved areas; $35 billion investment in clean technology research and development, including incubators and demonstration projects; $16 billion employing union oil and gas workers to cap abandoned oil and gas wells and clean up mines, and $10 billion to launch a Civilian Climate Corps to work on conservation and environmental justice projects. All of these are proposals, to be subject to the political winds of Washington, with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi suggesting a date of July 4 for a vote on legislation.
The White House Fact Sheet outlines the specifics . Robert Reich calls the plan “smart politics” in “Joe Biden as Mr. Fix-it” in Commons Dreams, and according to “Nine Ways Biden’s $2 Trillion Plan Will Tackle Climate Change” in Inside Climate News, “President Joe Biden aims to achieve unprecedented investment in action to address climate change by wrapping it in the kind of federal spending package that has allure for members of Congress of both parties.” David Roberts offers a summary and smart, informed commentary in his Volt blog, stating: “Within this expansive infrastructure package is a mini-Green New Deal, with large-scale spending targeted at just the areas energy wonks say could accelerate the transition to clean energy — all with a focus on equity and justice for vulnerable communities on the front lines of that transition. If it passes in anything like its current form, it will be the most significant climate and energy legislation of my lifetime, by a wide margin.”
Julian Brave NoiseCat writes in the National Observer on April 6, summing up the dilemma: …” Each policy has the potential to unite or divide the Democrat’s coalition of labour unions, people of colour, environmentalists and youth activists. Some policies, like the creation of a new Civilian Climate Corps …. are directly adopted from demands pushed by activists like the youth-led Sunrise Movement. Others, like investments in existing nuclear power plants and carbon capture retrofits for gas-fired power plants, will pit labour unions against environmental justice activists from the communities those industries often imperil. Uniting the environmental activists who oppose the development of fossil fuel pipelines with the workers who build them will be among the Democrats’ greatest challenges.”
Some Specific U.S. statements:
Generally favourable reaction comes in a brief statement from the AFL-CIO. The BlueGreen Alliance states: “This is a historic first step, and yet we know this and more will be needed to deliver the scale of investment needed, particularly in disadvantaged communities and for workers and communities impacted by energy transition.” Similarly, Kate Aronoff writes “Biden’s Infrastructure Plan Needs More Climate Spending” in The New Republic; and the Climate Justice Alliance response is titled “Grassroots, Environmental Justice Communities call on Biden To Go Bigger, Bolder And Faster For A Climate, Care And Infrastructure Recovery Package That Meets The Moment”.
The Sunrise Movement press release commends Biden for calling for passage of the PRO Act, for clean energy initiatives, and environmental justice aspects, and has a mixed reaction to Biden’s version of the Civilian Climate Corps: “This gives our movement a starting place, and with a foot in the door we can fight to expand and strengthen the CCC over the coming years.” ….. “The plan Biden rolled out today would create about 10,000-20,00 jobs in a Civilian Climate Corps, which would train and employ young people to build clean energy and decarbonize the economy. When FDR rolled out a similar Civilian Conservation Corps, it employed around 300,000 people per year, and that was back when the US population was ~40% of its current size .”
Will Biden’s Plan push Canada’s climate ambitions?
The CBC published “Here are four ways Biden’s big climate bill touches Canada” . Mitchell Beer compiles reactions in “Biden Jobs, Infrastructure Plan Aims to ‘Turbocharge the transition’ off Fossil Fuels” in The Energy Mix, including Adam Radwanski’s response in the Globe and Mail, “Joe Biden’s new climate plans should jolt Ottawa” (restricted access). And the Canadian United Steelworkers alludes to the “Buy American” elephant in the room for Canadians, in its press release titled, Build Back Better Through Infrastructure Spending on Both Sides of the Border (April 1) “the United Steelworkers union (USW) sees U.S. President Joe Biden’s American Jobs Plan as an opportunity to maintain and create jobs, bolster manufacturing and make our communities safer. ….A decade ago, the USW worked with the Obama administration and the Canadian government to create a North American strategy that benefited workers in the United States and Canada…. Canada is not the problem facing U.S. manufacturing and workers. Co-operation between Canada and U.S. will build on our longstanding and productive trading relationship.”
A February study examined the economic changes in 22 counties the authors call “Frackalachia” – home to the Utica and Marcellus shale gas industry. The report, Appalachia’s Natural Gas Counties: Contributing more to the U.S. economy and Getting less in return examines the period from 2008 to 2019, a time when the area went from producing a negligible portion of U.S. natural gas to producing 40%. The report summarizes the job forecasts provided by oil and gas industry economic impact studies, (over 450,000 new jobs for Ohio, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia), and shows the actual economic data from the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis – a 1.6% increase in jobs – at a time when the number of jobs across the U.S. grew by 9.9%. Detailed statistics demonstrate the differences amongst counties and states – with Ohio faring the worst and Pennsylvania faring the best. The report’s analysis shows that in the entire area represented by the 22 counties, the share of the national personal income fell by 6.3 percent, the share of jobs fell by 7.5 percent, and the share of the national population fell by 9.7 percent , while 90% of the wealth generated from fracking left the local communities.
The report was produced and published on February 10 by the Ohio River Valley Institute, a non-profit think tank based in Pennsylvania, founded in 2020 with the vision of “moving beyond an extractive economy toward shared prosperity, lasting job growth, clean energy, and civic engagement.” This report has been widely reported, including in “Appalachia’s fracking boom has done little for local economies: Study”(Environmental Health News , Feb. 12), which summarizes the report and adds context concerning the health effects of fracking, and the failed attempts to expand production to petrochemicals and plastics using ethane, a by-product of the fracked natural gas.
A Committee of Experts in the United States collaborated to produce a sweeping policy blueprint for how the U.S. can reach net-zero carbon emissions by 2050. Accelerating Decarbonization of the United States Energy System was published by the U.S. National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine in February 2021, and discusses how to decarbonize the transportation, electricity, buildings, and industrial sectors. The Overview emphasizes goals of job creation and equity, with a need to build social license. This aspect of the report is drawn out in “We risk a yellow vest movement”: Why the US clean energy transition must be equitable” a summary which appeared in Vox.
From the report overview
“The transition represents an opportunity to build a more competitive U.S. economy, increase the availability of high-quality jobs, build an energy system without the social injustices that permeate our current system, and allow those individuals, communities, and businesses that are marginalized today to share equitably in future benefits. Maintaining public support through a three decade transition to net zero simply cannot be achieved without the development and maintenance of a strong social contract. This is true for all policy proposals described here, including a carbon tax, clean energy standards, and the push to electrify and increase efficiencies in end uses such as vehicle and building energy use. “
The report recommendations are summarized in this Policy Table, and in a 4-page Highlights document. These include: Setting an emissions budget for carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases • Setting an economy-wide price on carbon (though a low price is set “because of concerns about equity, fairness, and competitiveness”) • Establish a 2-year federal National Transition Task Force “to evaluate the long-term implications of the transition for communities, workers, and families, and identify strategies for ensuring a just transition”.• Establish a new Office of Equitable Energy Transitions within the White House to act on the recommendations of the task force, establish just transition targets and track progress • A new independent National Transition Corporation. • A new Green Bank, initially capitalized at $30 billion, to ensure the required capital is available for the net-zero transition and to mobilize greater private investment • A comprehensive education and training initiative “to develop the workforce required for the net-zero transition, to fuel future innovation, and to provide new high-quality jobs” • Triple federal investment in clean energy RD&D at the Department of Energy over the next ten years, as well as the support for social science research on the socio-economic aspects of advancing the transition.
The full report, 210 pages, is available free for download from this link (registration required).
In the latest of a series of reports titled Green Growth Programs for U.S. States, researchers provide analysis and proposals for economic recovery for Pennsylvania, considering both the impacts of Covid-19 and a necessary transition to a cleaner economy. In Impacts of the Reimagine Appalachia & Clean Energy Transition Programs for Pennsylvania: Job Creation, Economic Recovery, and Long-Term Sustainability, Robert Pollin and co-authors estimate that clean energy investments scaled at about $23 billion per year from 2021 to 2030 will generate roughly 162,000 jobs per year in Pennsylvania. They detail those investment programs for sectors including public infrastructure, manufacturing, land restoration and agriculture, and including plugging orphaned oil and gas wells.
The report estimates that 64,000 people are currently employed in Pennsylvania in fossil fuel-based industries – including in fracking for natural gas from the Marcellus Shale regions, as well as other oil and gas projects, coal mining, and fossil fuel-based power generation. As the state transitions away from fossil-fuel industries, the authors estimate that about 1,800 workers will be displaced each year between 2021 – 2030, and another 1,000 will voluntarily retire each year. The authors estimate that the average costs of supporting these workers will amount to about $115,000 per worker, with an overall cost of about $210 million per year over the duration of the just transition program. The report emphasizes: “It is critical that all of these workers receive pension guarantees, health care coverage, re-employment guarantees, wage insurance, and retraining support, as needed”.
The full series of reports, Green Growth Programs for U.S. States, includes similar analysis and proposals for Ohio, Maine, Colorado, New York, and the state of Washington. They are co-written by experts including Robert Pollin, Shouvik Chakraborty, Heidi Garrett-Peltier, Tyler Hansen, Gregor Semieniuk, and Jeannette Wicks-Lim. The series is published by the Department of Economics and Political Economy Research Institute (PERI) University of Massachusetts-Amherst.
Incoming U.S. President Biden exceeded expectations with the climate change initiatives announced in week 1 of his term, and many have important repercussions for Canada. The most obvious came on Day 1, January 20, with an Executive Order cancelling the Keystone XL pipeline and taking the U.S. back into the Paris Agreement. Also of potential impact for the Canadian clean tech and auto industries – the Buy American policies outlined in Executive Order on Ensuring the Future Is Made in All of America by All of America’s Workers (Jan. 25). On January 27 ( “Climate Day ”), the Executive Order on Tackling the Climate Crisis at home and abroad (explained in this Fact Sheet ) announced a further series of initiatives, including a pause on oil and gas leases on federal lands, a goal to convert the federal government’s vehicle fleet to electric vehicles, and initiatives towards environmental justice and science-based policies. Essential to the “whole of government” approach, the Executive Order establishes the White House Office of Domestic Climate Policy to coordinate policies, and a National Climate Task Force composed of leaders from across 21 federal agencies and departments. It also establishes the Interagency Working Group on Coal and Power Plant Communities and Economic Revitalization, “to be co-chaired by the National Climate Advisor and the Director of the National Economic Council, and directs federal agencies to coordinate investments and other efforts to assist coal, oil and natural gas, and power plant communities.”
The New York Times summarized the Jan. 27 Orders as “a sweeping series of executive actions …. while casting the moves as much about job creation as the climate crisis.” A sampling of resulting summaries and reactions: ‘We Need to Be Bold,’ Biden Says, Taking the First Steps in a Major Shift in Climate Policy” in Inside Climate News (Jan. 28); “Fossils ‘stunned’, ‘aghast’ after Biden pauses new oil and gas leases” in The Energy Mix (Feb. 1); “Biden’s “all of government” plan for climate, explained” in Vox (updated Jan. 27) ; “Biden’s Pause of New Federal Oil and Gas Leases May Not Reduce Production, but It Signals a Reckoning With Fossil Fuels” (Jan. 27) ; “Biden is canceling fossil fuel subsidies. But he can’t end them all” (Grist, Jan. 28); “Activists See Biden’s Day One Focus on Environmental Justice as a Critical Campaign Promise Kept” and “Climate Groups Begin Vying for Power in the Biden Era as Pressure for Unity Fades” (Jan 21) in The Intercept , which outlines the key policy differences between the BlueGreen Alliance (which includes the Service Employees International Union, the American Federation of Teachers, and the United Steelworkers in the U.S.) and the Climate Justice Alliance, a national coalition of environmental justice groups.
The Narwhal provides an excellent overview of the important issues for Canada in “Biden has hit the ground running on climate and environmental justice. How will Canada respond?“
Focus: Cancelling the Keystone XL Pipeline
The January 20 Executive Order halting the Keystone XL pipeline construction was meant to be a highly symbolic break with the previous administration’s policies, as described by Bill McKibben in the New Yorker as “Joe Biden’s cancellation of the Keystone Pipeline is a landmark in the climate fight” . Inside Climate News wrote “Biden Cancels Keystone XL, Halts Drilling in Arctic Refuge on Day One, Signaling a Larger Shift Away From Fossil Fuels” (Jan. 21).
In Canada, the Keystone XL cancellation set off a torrent of reactions – with Alberta’s Premier immediately calling for trade retaliation – summarized in “‘Gut punch’: Alberta premier blasts Biden on revoked Keystone XL permit” (National Observer, Jan. 20) . The federal government held an Emergency Debate on Keystone on January 25, the first day the House of Commons re-convened after Christmas break. Environmental groups, along with social justice groups, First Nations, and the B.C. Government Employees Union, sent an Open Letter to Prime Minister Trudeau and all cabinet ministers on January 26, approving of the Keystone cancellation and stating: “Canada must follow Biden’s lead on Keystone XL and cancel TMX because it directly conflicts with the federal government recently announced climate plan and it does not have permission or consent from affected Indigenous Nations.” An opposite viewpoint was reported in “Keystone XL denial will hurt communities, Indigenous business coalition leader says” (National Observer, Jan. 22). Consistent with the past policies of the construction unions in the U.S. and Canada, Canada’s Building Trades Unions issued a press release expressing deep disappointment in lost jobs as a result of the decision – as did their U.S. counterpart the North American Building Trades Union (NABTU) . (The discord amongst unions over pipeline construction has been long-standing and well documented – for example, in “Contested Futures: Labor after Keystone XL” by Sean Sweeney ( New Labor Forum, 2016.)
What next for Canada, now that Keystone XL has been cancelled?
CBC reports “Trudeau government looks to continental energy strategy in wake of Keystone cancellation” (Jan. 27), which summarizes the unimpressive history of international energy initiatives but strikes an optimistic note because of the new Biden administration. Eric Grenier summarizes the political and public opinion landscape and concludes that “For Trudeau, there’s no political reason to fight for Keystone XL” , and Aaron Wherry expands on that theme in “How political symbolism brought down Keystone XL” (Jan 23). In “Cenovus unveils capital spending plan, confirms up to 2,150 layoffs still targeted” (Jan. 29) the CEO of Cenovus states that while the Keystone XL pipeline cancellation was a “tragedy” for the industry, it wouldn’t affect his company’s ability to move oil and that Biden’s pause on oil and gas leasing, “is probably good for the Canadian oilpatch” . The Cenovus layoffs announced are not related to Biden’s policies but come as a result of its takeover of Husky Energy- Cenovus had already announced it would cut 20 to 25 per cent of its combined employee and contractor workforce (approx. 1,720 and 2,150 workers) in October 2020.
Warren Mabee wrote in The Conversation Canada (Jan.21) “Biden’s Keystone XL death sentence requires Canada’s oil sector to innovate” – (republished in The Narwhal here ) arguing that Canada and Alberta “need to decide if more pipeline capacity is really needed” and “The future of Canada’s oil sector may not be in volume, but in value” – for example, high value-added products such as plastics, rubber and chemicals. But this is Canada, so pipeline battles will continue: “With Keystone XL cancelled, all eyes turn to Trans Mountain expansion battle” (Ricochet , Jan. 27) and “The cancellation of Keystone XL raises the stakes for Trans Mountain (Globe and Mail Opinion piece, Jan. 26) . David Hughes has written, most recently in October 2020, that the Trans Mountain pipeline capacity is not needed, and on December 8 2020, the Parliamentary Budget Office released a report with the same conclusion. An excellent overview on the status of the Trans Mountain issue appears from the West Coast Environmental Law, and the Dogwood Institute maintains an online petition against TMX here.
In 2019, the State of Colorado established the first state-level Office of Just Transition (OJT) through House Bill 19-1314 . As required by that legislation, the OJT submitted its final Just Transition Action Plan on December 31, 2020, based largely on the Draft Plan submitted by its Just Transition Advisory Committee (JTAC) in August 2020. (The structure, mandate, and documentation from the consultation process are accessible here; an excellent summary is provided by the State press release here .
The December Just Transition Action Plan offers discussion and strategy recommendations organized in three sections: communities; workers; and financing. The estimated cost is $100 million, and the time frame calls for actual closures to finish in 2030. (Perhaps the leisurely schedule will be reviewed in light of events: the Denver Post reported on January 4 that Xcel- Energy announced it will close its Hayden coal plant significantly earlier than planned – beginning in 2027). The December Action Plan strategies are dominated by concerns for communities, with six detailed strategies outlined. Recognizing that some communities are more dependent on coal than others, and that average wages are also different across communities, the plan designates four communities as priority Tier One communities, and others as Tier Two communities, as defined in an Appendix. The Hayden plant is located in a Tier One community.
Actions for workers’ benefits, environmental justice are deferred
Regarding workers, there are 3 action strategies. The Just Transition Advisory Committee made recommendations to provide displaced workers with temporary benefits related to “wage and health differential” and “wage and health replacement” in the Draft Plan in August, but the final Plan states: “too much uncertainty remains around cost and scalability for us to feel comfortable advancing this recommendation — especially in the midst of the COVID pandemic and resulting economic downturn.” Instead, the Office for Just Transition: “will drive a serious process to gain more certainty about costs, scalability, potential sources of funding, and possible alternatives at the state level. And we will engage a broad range of stakeholders in a dialogue about whether the State should implement such a strategy — and how it might do so.” This includes discussions with coal-related employers regarding their willingness to provide severance and retirement benefits.
This Plan also discusses and ultimately deflects and defers responsibility for the environmental justice concerns expressed in the 2019 enabling legislation , which recognized “a moral commitment” to “the disproportionately impacted communities who have borne the costs of coal power pollution for decades”. This December Plan states: “we agree with the JTAC that these issues are best addressed in that broader context, which is why we are following its suggestion that OJT participate actively in emerging interagency efforts — led largely by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment — rather than creating our own independent (and potentially isolated) approach….. OJT will continue to rely on the advice of the Disproportionately Impacted Communities subcommittee of the JTAC, and it will play as active a role as possible in broader interagency efforts. As with our work on behalf of transition communities and workers, this is a long-term challenge to which we make a long-term commitment.”
The final report is summarized in an article in The Colorado Sun , which emphasizes the explicit goal for the Office of Just Transition to “Encourage the federal government to lead with a national strategy for energy transition workers”. This is perhaps thanks to the leadership of Dennis Dougherty, Chair of the Colorado Just Transition Advisory Committee, Executive Director of the Colorado AFL-CIO, and through them, a representative to the National Economic Transition project – a grassroots organization of representatives from U.S. coal communities. That ongoing project released a National Economic Transition Platform in the summer of 2020 .
Despite the chaos in post-election politics of the United States, Joe Biden is the legitimate President-elect of the United States, and his climate change platform was an important factor in his victory. As his Transition team prepares for inauguration in January 2021, environmental and climate change groups are among those advocating for appointments and policies. Prominent among these: The Climate Mandate, a joint initiative of the Sunrise Movement and Justice Democrats . On November 11, Climate Mandate issued a statement saying: “We can unite our nation by solving the crises we have in common: COVID-19, climate change, systemic racism and an economic recession. Joe Biden must command the federal government with fierce urgency and bold creativity…. This is Biden’s FDR moment”. A top demand of the Climate Mandate movement: the creation of a Climate Mobilization Office – “with wide-reaching power to combat the climate crisis — just as we mobilized to defeat the existential threat of Nazi Germany in WWII.” The CMO “will convene and coordinate across the President’s Cabinet agencies and, ultimately, hold every federal department accountable to the national project of stopping climate change. The Office of Climate Mobilization will deeply embed this mission into all of our spending, regulations, policies, and actions.” Top picks suggested to lead the Climate Mobilization Office: Washington Governor Jay Inslee, Gina McCarthy , now Head of the Natural Resources Defence Council and former head of the Environmental Protection Agency, or John Podesta, founder of the American Center for Progress and a counsellor to President Obama and Chief of Staff to President Clinton.
Other names which appear in the Climate Mandate wish list include Bernie Sanders , their top pick for Secretary of Labor; environmental justice champion Mustafa Santiago Ali to lead the Environmental Protection Agency; and two union officials: Mary Kay Henry, International President of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), as an alternate choice for Secretary of Labor, and Sara Nelson, International President of the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA as a second choice for Secretary of Transportation.
The Climate 21 Project is a second group with proposals for Joe Biden. A group of more than 150 people, Climate 21 Project is co-chaired by Christy Goldfuss, a former Obama official and now with the Center for American Progress, and Tim Profeta, director of the Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University. The Summary of their Recommendations regarding the transition is here , accompanied by eleven memos for each of the relevant departments and agencies .
Finally, Greenpeace USA released its Just Recovery Agenda on November 17, directed at Joe Biden. Broader than climate and environmental issues, “the Just Recovery Agenda includes more than 100 concrete policy recommendations spanning both legislation and executive action aimed at creating a world in which everyone has a good life and where our fundamental needs — including dignified work, healthcare, education, housing, clean air and water, healthy food, and more — are met.” Detailed policy proposals are here .
Here are a few general reactions and assessments of the climate future since Biden’s election: “Initial Thoughts on the Impact of the 2020 Federal Elections on National Climate Policy“ by Joel Stronberg (Nov. 5); “Election likely hardens political limits of Biden climate agenda” by Amy Harder in Axios (Nov. 5); “State Climate Leadership Is Coming to the Nation’s Capital in 2021” in a Center for American Progress blog (Nov. 9) and “How Joe Biden plans to use executive powers to fight climate change” in Vox (Nov. 9); and “Trump Rolled Back 100+ Environmental Rules. Biden May Focus on Undoing Five of the Biggest Ones” in Inside Climate News (Nov. 17) .
Canada greets Joe Biden and his climate plans
The National Observer maintained a Special Report section about the U.S. election, including an overview of reactions in “Ottawa welcomes president-elect Joe Biden as climate fight ally” (Nov. 9) -including comments from politicians (Environment Minister Jonathan Wilkinson and former Minister Catherine McKenna, as well as Alberta Premier Jason Kenney, and New Brunswick Premier Blaine Higgs ) along with policy experts Blair Feltmate and Sara Hastings-Simon. A good summary of the most important climate issues appears in “The Biden presidency could change the terms of the climate debate in Canada” by Aaron Wherry at CBC (Nov. 10).
In “Five ways the Biden presidency could change Canadian climate policy for the better” in CCPA’s Behind the Numbers (Nov. 12), Hadrian Mertins-Kirkwood gives an overview, stating:
“For the past four years, a recalcitrant U.S. administration provided cover for Canadian politicians to water down and delay climate policies. With Biden in the White House, the situation may be reversed. Even if the new president only achieves a portion of his ambitious climate agenda, Canada risks falling behind in the transition to a net-zero carbon economy. …. Biden’s plan could energize Canada’s international climate agenda, could accelerate the growth of Canada’s clean economy, curb fossil fuel infrastructure, strengthen Canada’s carbon pricing system, and strengthen Canadian environmental regulations.”
Whether Canada can compete with U.S. clean technology industry if the U.S. starts to ramp up its spending is a topic raised in “Biden’s victory raises the clean growth stakes for Canada” (Nov. 7) by Sara Hastings-Simon and Rachel Samson of the Canadian Institute for Climate Choices. In “What Joe Biden’s Climate plan means for Canada” in The Conversation (Nov. 12), Robert O’Brien of McMaster University focuses on the prospects for the oil and gas industry and the Keystone XL pipeline, flowing from Biden’s remark that “I would transition from the oil industry, yes.” O’Brien considers the implications for Indigenous communities, workers and communities in that transition. Will Greaves of University of Victoria focuses on the oil and gas industry and protection of the Arctic in “What a Biden Presidency means for Climate Change and Canada” in Policy Options (Nov. 10) .
Another analysis, from a trade perspective, appears in Behind the Numbers : “Biden’s Buy American Plan should inspire – not scare – Canada” (Oct 25) . Author Scott Sinclair argues that Buy American policies are not likely to go away, and if you can’t beat ‘em, you should learn from them. “ Canadians can no longer afford to disregard or neglect considerable potential of government purchasing for job creation, improved working conditions and environmentally sustainable development. Given our current trade treaty constraints, ambitious “Buy Sustainable” purchasing policies offer the best way forward for Canadian workers and the environment.”
“Why Racial Justice is Climate Justice” in Grist (June 4) compiles the comments of five environmental justice leaders in the U.S., and links the incidence of Covid-19 with the environmental injustices of the past.
“We now know that coronavirus — much like police brutality, mass incarceration, and climate change — is not colorblind. It’s not that the virus itself differentiates by race, but, as with other crises, the factors that make communities of color more susceptible to it are shaped by the United States’ long history of discriminatory policies and practices.
Many of the places that have been dealt the harshest blow by COVID-19 are simultaneously dealing with other serious threats to residents’ well-being. Even under the cover of the pandemic, environmental rollbacks and pipeline plans continue to threaten the health of people of color.”
Robert Bullard, often acknowledged as the founder of the environmental justice movement and now a distinguished professor at Texas Southern University, Houston, also makes the connection in “The Coronavirus Pandemic and Police Violence have Reignited the Fight against Toxic Racism” in The Intercept (June 17),where he describes his efforts to revive the National Black Environmental Justice Network ; In “Q&A: A Pioneer of Environmental Justice Explains Why He Sees Reason for Optimism” , Bullard reflects on the past and offers optimistic views on the current demonstrations: “you see young people out there from different economic groups, different ethnic groups and racial groups, there is an awakening unlike any that I’ve seen on this earth in over 70 years.” Bullard is also quoted as one of the panelists in an Environmental Justice Roundtable from the journal Environmental Justice (June 5) in which he states:
“This moment in time is just as important as the birth of our movement …..Environment is where we live, work, play, worship, learn, as well as the physical and natural world. So that means housing and transportation. It means energy. It means employment. It means health. It means all of that. Intersectionality is the word of the day. These things interlace all of our institutions, whether we are talking about unions, black colleges and universities, small businesses, faith-based institutions, or any other type of institution.”
One recent study which links the environmental links to Covid-19 death rates was conducted by the T.H Chan School of Public Health at Harvard University – summarized by the New York Times in April). Two subsequent blogs from Data for Progress expand that focus to include the links to race and environmental justice: on May 6, “In Georgia, Coronavirus and Environmental Racism Combine”, and on May 19 “The Bronx Is An Epicenter for Coronavirus and Environmental Injustice “. Among the alarming statistics: “Data from the New York City Department of Health finds that the asthma hospitalization rate for children in the Bronx is 70 percent higher than the rest of NYC and 700 percent higher than the rest of New York State, excluding New York City.” (In Canada, we have no such detailed data, and data collection and transparency has been widely criticized in Ontario. On May 27, the CBC reported on the “hot spots” of Covid incidence in the Greater Toronto area, corresponding to low income neighbourhoods with high density.)
“Q&A: A Human Rights Expert Hopes Covid-19, Climate Change and Racial Injustice Are a ‘Wake-Up Call’ – transcribing an interview with Philip Alston, recently-retired UN Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty and Human Rights and now professor of law at New York University . He states: “The optimistic way is to see Covid-19 as a trial run for what’s on the way with climate change in the sense that it really is a crisis that has affected vast numbers of people that has shown up the importance of being prepared and the importance of listening to the warning signals, and the potential for totally disproportionate impact on different groups of the population—whether by gender, class, race and so on. Covid-19 could provide some sort of wake-up call to those of us who are pretending that climate change is going to be manageable and we don’t really need to do anything until it actually starts to hit ever more dramatically….. A much more pessimistic way of looking at it is to wonder if Covid-19, followed by the George Floyd pandemic of racial violence and inequality, is going to lead to a sort of crisis fatigue.”
Yet “Climate activists have a lot to learn from listening” in the National Observer (June 9) is a thoughtful call for a shift in tactics and approach: “The climate change movement is learning to listen. If we can learn to listen to people’s concerns about their health, and respond by talking about health first — and then about how action on climate is important to protect it — we may yet win.”
How does environmental justice relate to racial justice?
Despite the denialism of dinosaurs such as Rex Murphy, most Canadians realize that, as explained in The Tyee, “Canada Has Race-Based Police Violence Too. We Don’t Know How Much” (June 2). A current example is the death of Regis Korchinski-Paquet still under investigation after she fell to her death from a high rise apartment, in the company of Toronto police. The winter of 2020 saw demonstrations across Canada in support of Indigenous protestors at the Wet’suwet’en blockades of the Coastal GasLink pipeline, facing police violence and intimidation, documented in “No Surrender” in The Intercept . In their 2018 book Policing Indigenous Movements: Dissent and the Security State , authors Jeffrey Monaghan and Andrew Crosby examined four prominent movements in Canada, including the climate-related struggles against the Northern Gateway Pipeline and the anti-fracking protests surrounding the Elsipogtog First Nation. A June 3 article, “How Militarizing Police Sets up Protesters as ‘the Enemy’” is highly relevant for Canadian climate and social justice activists – re- published by The Tyee from an article in The Conversation.
“‘This is about Vulnerability’: Ingrid Waldron on the links between environmental racism and police brutality” in The Narwhal (June 3) summarizes an interview with Professor Ingrid Walton, associate professor at Dalhousie University in Halifax, head of the ENRICH Project that tracks environmental inequality among communities of colour in Nova Scotia, and the author of the 2018 book, There’s Something in the Water: Environmental Racism in Indigenous and Black Communities. In the interview, Walton raises the January 2020 closure of the Northern Pulp mill in Pictou, Nova Scotia as an example of environmental racism – the Mi’kmaq First Nations community had been calling for decades to stop the discharge of toxic effluent into Boat Harbour , but Walton argues that action took so long because “closing the mill was a risk for white people in power who were profiting from these industries. …With police violence, it’s similar. It’s different, but it’s similar in that the physical and emotional impacts on Black bodies are not the kinds of things white people care about.”
Emilee Gilpin, journalist and managing director of the First Nations Forward Special Reports series at the National Observer, writes an eloquent Opinion piece: “If life before this was ‘normal,’ I don’t want to go back” (June 1) . Emphasizing the need for solutions, she concludes:
“I want to live in a world where the murder of innocent Black boys and men is not a normalized reality, where Indigenous women do not get murdered or go missing and turned into a statistic, where reconciliation means reparation, where people aren’t shot with rubber bullets and tear gas for demanding accountability and change, and where every system of power is representative of the society it’s meant to serve…..I want to live in a world that listens and respects the natural world, rather than trying to dominate, colonize and control it. …”
“Indigenous and Black people in Canada share social exclusion and collective outrage” in the National Observer (June 10) links environmental justice, the natural world, and health, and concludes: “While the momentum of what is being called Black Spring continues, it is important to address the constant trespasses against Indigenous rights. It is past due that we set our ambitions toward rectifying the damage being done to the environment and its impact on the health outcomes of First Nations Peoples.”
In the U.S.
“As Protests Rage Over George Floyd’s Death, Climate Activists Embrace Racial Justice” (June 3), and “Louisville’s ‘Black Lives Matter’ Demonstrations Continue a Long Quest for Environmental Justice” (June 21) both appeared in Inside Climate News, providing examples of practical actions in the U.S..
In “Racism, police violence and the climate are not separate issues” in The New Yorker, Bill McKibben states: “The job of people who care about the future—which is another way of saying the environmentalists—is to let everyone breathe easier. But that simply can’t happen without all kinds of change. Some of it looks like solar panels for rooftops, and some of it looks like radically reimagined police forces. All of it is hitched together.” His article reports on an interview with Nina Lakhani, an environmental-justice reporter for The Guardian, who discusses her new book, “Who Killed Berta Cáceres?: Dams, Death Squads, and an Indigenous Defender’s Battle for the Planet” – the indigenous environmental activist in Honduras, killed for her opposition to a hydroelectric dam in 2015.
In “Defunding the Police Is Good Climate Policy” , Kate Aronoff in The New Republic (June 4) argues “there’s plenty of common cause to be found in calls to defund the police and invest in a more generous, democratic, and green public sphere, well beyond the scope of what any carbon-pricing measure can accomplish. For green activists, that will mean seeing decarbonization less as a narrow battle for line items that incentivize renewables than as a contest to shape who and what society values in a climate-changed twenty-first century; many, including in the Sunrise Movement, are already making these connections.”
Aronoff refers to a call to action by the youth-led Sunrise Movement : “The Climate Justice Movement must Oppose White Supremacy Everywhere — By Supporting M4BL” (May 29). It concludes: “Much as we support defunding fossil fuel companies to invest in the future of humanity, we must also support the defunding of white supremacist institutions — including the police and prison-industrial complex — to invest in healing and reparations for Black communities. That is what it means to fight for racial justice, and nothing less.”
Geoff Dembicki discusses the Sunrise Movement in his June 18 article in Vice, “Why ‘Defunding the Police’ Is Also an Environmental Issue”, which argues that “Defunding the police isn’t a distraction from organizing mass numbers of people to fight the climate emergency. It’s part of the same theory of change and political vision.” (Dembicki also penned a relevant article profiling Extinction Rebellion U.S., which appeared in Vice in April, “A Debate Over Racism Has Split One of the World’s Most Famous Climate Groups” . The statements of other groups are reviewed in “Responding to protests, green groups reckon with a racist past” in Grist (June 1) ,including the League of Conservation Voters, Earthjustice, 350.org, and the Sierra Club , all of whom issued statements condemning the killing of George Floyd and vowing to work towards racial justice. Others were signatories to an Open Letter sent to leaders of the U.S. House and Senate from the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights . The letter begins: “we urge you to take swift and decisive legislative action in response to ongoing fatal police killings and other violence against Black people across our country.” Environmental groups signing on include: Greenpeace USA, League of Conservation Voters, Natural Resources Defense Council, National Parks Conservation Association, NextGen America, and the Sierra Club.
“Black environmentalists talk about climate change and anti-racism” in the New York Times (June 3) summarizes interviews with three U.S. environmental activists: Sam Grant, executive director of MN350.org, (Minnesota affiliate of 350.org); Robert Bullard, and Heather McGhee, a senior fellow at Demos, a nonpartisan research and advocacy group.
“An anti-racist climate movement … should be led by “a real multiracial coalition that endorses environmental justice principles” and its goals should seek to uplift the most vulnerable. That means,… the creation of green jobs, rather than cap-and-trade policies that allow companies to keep polluting in communities of color as they have been able to do for decades….. Success is measured by the improvement in the environmental and economic health of the people who have borne the brunt of our carbon economy.”
An interview by Yale Environment 360 titled “Unequal Impact: The Deep links between Racism and Climate Change” (June 9) asked Elizabeth Yeampierre (co-chair of the Climate Justice Alliance, and executive director of UPROSE) “What would you hope the climate movement and the environmental justice movement take away from this moment and apply going forward?” Her reply: “ I think it’s a moment for introspection and a moment to start thinking about how they contribute to a system that makes a police officer think it’s okay to put his knee on somebody’s neck and kill them, or a woman to call the police on an African-American man who was bird-watching in the park….. These institutions [environmental groups] have to get out of their silos and out of their dated thinking, and really need to look to organizations like the Climate Justice Alliance and Movement Generation and all of the organizations that we work with. There are so many people who have been working with each other now for years and have literally put out tons of information that there’s no need to reinvent the wheel. It’s all there.”
“Bargaining for Climate Justice” appears in the March 2020 special issue of The Forge, a publication launched in September 2019 by and for community and labour organizers. The article is written by Todd Vachon, Saket Sonni, Judith LeBlanc and Gerry Hudson, and updates their earlier article, “How Workers Can Demand Climate Justice”, which appeared in American Prospect in September 2019. Both articles describe the new movement of Bargaining for the Common Good, defined as: “an innovative approach for bringing unions and allies together to shape bargaining demands that advance the mutual interests of workers and communities alike. BCG campaigns seek to increase investment in underserved communities and confront structural inequalities—not simply to agree on a union contract.”
The origins of the BCG movement are described in “Going on Offense During Challenging Times” (in New Labor Forum, 2018) which explains: “Bargaining for Common Good aims to avoid transactional relationships between community and labor by building lasting alignments between unions and community groups, not merely temporary alliances of convenience.” “Bargaining for Climate Justice” describes how the element of climate justice fits in to the broader concerns of BCG , and updates it with the example of the February strike by janitors in Minneapolis, members of SEIU Local 26, as well as the concept of “bargaining for a just recovery”, expanding it from climate-related disasters such as hurricanes and pipeline spills, to the most recent disaster: the current pandemic. The authors state:
“To date, BCG campaigns have been launched around issues of education, racial justice, public services, immigration, finance, housing, and privatization. But they are in many ways perhaps best suited to taking on the overarching existential issues such as global pandemics and human-caused climate change that intersect with and often exacerbate all of these other issues.”
The Center for Innovative Workplace Organization at Rutgers University in the U.S. has established a program to promote concrete initiatives around all aspects of Bargaining for the Common Good – building alliances, convening conferences and regional meetings (now delivered through webinars), and compiling resources such as a “Common Good” Toolkit. That Toolkit includes examples of bargaining demands related to Climate Justice.