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.
On March 27, the U.S. Congress passed the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES) – at $2 trillion, the largest stimulus in U.S. history. For individual taxpayers, it offers a one-time $1,200 payment, plus $500 more for each child under age 17; it also expands unemployment insurance amounts and duration. Details of the provisions are summarized in FAQ’s from the New York Times , and in Forbes . General reaction to what is clearly a compromise Bill appears in “ ‘Far More to Do,’ Say Progressives After House Approves and Trump Signs Corporate-Friendly Coronavirus Relief Act “(Mar. 28). Pramila Jayapal , Co-Chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus (CPC), issued a press release which states that Democrats are already formulating policies for the next legislative package, and gives a point-form summary of the CARES Act, describing provisions related to Worker-Centered Industry Assistance, the airline industry, and transit industry:
“The bill requires businesses receiving federal assistance to maintain existing employment levels to the extent possible and prohibits stock buybacks or dividends for the length of any loan provided by the federal government plus one year and restricts any increases to executive compensation for two years. The bill also provides direct payroll payments to keep millions of airline workers on the job and receiving paychecks, while also prohibiting airline companies from stock buybacks and dividends for the entire life of a federal grant, plus one year.” Regarding Transit Agencies: “The bill provides $25 billion to transit agencies, which have all seen a drastic drop in revenues as social distancing has been implemented. This funding is to be used to protect the jobs of the employees of the transit agencies, funding their paychecks during this public health emergency.”
Worker Health and Safety in the CARES Act
The article in Common Dreams quotes the president of the Economic Policy Institute, who states that the CARES Act “also egregiously fails to include explicit protections for worker safety during this epidemic in industries seeking federal relief.” On this issue, Labor Notes published a compilation of worker actions over health and safety concerns in “Walkouts Spread as Workers Seek Coronavirus Protections”(Mar. 26). Anxious and sick workers at food delivery service Instacart and at Amazon announced their plans to strike over health and safety on March 30, as described in “Amazon and Instacart Workers Are Striking for COVID-19 Protections” in Slate, and also in ‘The Strike Wave Is in Full Swing’: Amazon, Whole Foods Workers Walk Off Job to Protest Unjust and Unsafe Labor Practices (Mar. 30).
Other workers are also walking out on March 30, as described in Vice : “General Electric Workers Launch Protest, Demand to Make Ventilators” , demanding that their idle plants be converted to the socially-useful work of making ventilators.
A selection of notable readings about Covid-19, workers, and the climate crisis in the U.S.:
Jeremy Brecher, Research Director of Labor Network for Sustainability has written three articles so far in his new column, Strike. Brecher offer his own views and commentary, but also links to important reports and statements from unions, advocacy groups, and such U.S. press outlets as Vox, Grist, Politico, and the Washington Post, among others. The first Commentary, “In Coronavirus Fight, Workers Are Forging an Emergency Green New Deal” (Mar. 16) describes the impact and challenges of Covid 19 in workplaces, and the initiatives taken by many U.S. unions. Article #2, “An Emergency Jobs Program for an Emergency Green New Deal” ( March 24) proposes what he calls a “Green Work Program” (GWP) for the U.S. , based on the principles of a jobs guarantee: “A GWP will provide jobs for all who want them in their own communities performing socially useful work. It will be established by federal legislation, funded by the federal government, and run under the jurisdiction of the Department of Labor or another federal agency. It will be primarily administered by local and municipal governments, nonprofits, social enterprises, and cooperatives. In contrast to the WPA, it is a permanent program, though its size can be expected to vary depending on economic conditions and social needs.” Brecher’s #3 commentary is “Momentum Builds for Green New Deal Jobs”, which appeared on March 30, summarizing major policy proposals for a Just Recovery.
Naomi Klein updates her thoughts about disaster capitalism in a new video at The Intercept, explaining how governments, especially the Trump administration in the U.S., are exploiting the the coronavirus outbreak “to push for no-strings-attached corporate bailouts and regulatory rollbacks.” The most egregious example of this regulatory rollback came on March 26 in an EPA press release “EPA Announces Enforcement Discretion Policy for COVID-19 Pandemic “, critiqued by Inside Climate News in “Trump’s Move to Suspend Enforcement of Environmental Laws is a Lifeline to the Oil Industry” (Mar. 27) . The Intercept‘s Coronavirus coverage emphasizes this aspect of the crisis.
David Roberts, “A just and sustainable economic response to coronavirus, explained” appeared in Vox (Mar. 25) .
Meehan Crist in “What the Coronavirus means for climate change” an Opinion piece in the New York Times on March 27.
Bill McKibben now writes an Opinion series for the New Yorker magazine, emphasizing climate change connections. Recent articles include: “If We’re Bailing out Corporations, they should bail out the planet” (Mar. 20), and “The Coronavirus and the Climate Movement (Mar. 18) .
Progressives and climate activists: An Open Letter to Congress for a Green Stimulus Plan appeared in Medium on Mar. 22 (with approximately 1200 signatures by Mar. 24). Amongst the signatories are high-profile activists such as 350.org co-founder Bill McKibben; former EPA administrator Gina McCarthy; Naomi Klein and Avi Lewis, co-founders of The Leap, as well as prominent academics. It is aligned with the 5 Principles for Just COVID-19 Relief and Stimulus“ proposed by environmental, labour, and other progressive groups, including the Climate Justice Alliance(CJA). In a March 24 press release, “Seven Congressional Leaders Join 500+ Progressive Organizations To Demand People’s Bailout In Response To Coronavirus Crisis”, CJA announces that Senators Ed Markey and Tammy Duckworth, and Representatives Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Mark Pocan, Debbie Dingell, Pramila Jayapal, and Barbara Lee endorse joined their People’s Bailout campaign, based on the 5 Principles.
Thomas Hanna and Carlos Sandos Skandier : “We can’t let this economic crisis go to waste” an Opinion Piece in Open Democracy (March 16), which argues ..”During this, or any future, economic crisis, public support and funding to stricken industries must be conditioned on public ownership and control within the overall perspective of a Green New Deal and a just transition for workers and communities affected by the required shifts to renewable energy and less carbon intensive modes of transportation and production. This means not simply injecting public money into banks, oil and gas companies, and airlines in order to stabilize and resurrect their existing business so they can continue financing, extracting, and burning fossil fuels at a pace that will blow our chances of keeping temperature increases below 2 degrees Celsius by 2036.” ….
“How to Make the Airline Bailout Work for Workers, Not Just CEOs” from Inequality.org (March 17) endorses the proposals from Sara Nelson of the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA , including direct payroll subsidies for airline workers. The article in Inequality includes a table which shows how much the five biggest U.S. carriers spent on stock buybacks between 2010 and 2019 – including American Airlines, which spent $12.5 billion on buybacks, to increase the value of executive stock-based pay. Sara Nelson makes her case in an interview in In These Times (Mar.19) : “Our Airline Relief Bill Is a Template for Rescuing Workers Instead of Bailing Out Execs” . She concludes:
“This virus is a very clear metaphor for what we always say in the labor movement, which is “An injury to one is an injury to all.” It doesn’t matter whether you’re rich or poor, or where you come from. If a virus exists and we don’t do something about it, then we’re all at risk. “
The 10th annual National Solar Jobs Census for the United States was released by the non-profit Solar Foundation in mid-February. It reports a resurgence in solar industry employment in 2019, following two years of job losses in 2017 and 2018. The report states that 249,983 U.S. workers spent the majority of their time in solar-related activities in 2019, and an additional 94,549 workers spent some portion of their time on solar-related work, for a total of 344,532 workers. The full Report is downloadable (with free registration) from this link , with a summary here. It provides state-by-state statistics re job totals and sectors within the solar industry, and profiles the solar industry in California (where the Title 24 mandate went into effect in 2019, requiring all new residential homes to be built with solar PV), and the South-east U.S. The report also forecasts future trends, and provides discussions of demographics and workforce development, reporting that a majority of employers have difficulty recruiting and hiring. (Through its Solar Training Network, the Solar Foundation published Strategies for Solar Workforce Development: A Toolkit for the Solar Industry in 2018).
Some highlights from the 2019 National Solar Census:
- About the industry: Approximately 93% of U.S. solar establishments work in solar PV electricity generation. 16% of firms work on solar heating and cooling, (e.g. solar water heaters); 7% work on projects related to concentrating solar power (CSP).
- About the demographics: Diversity remains almost the same as in 2018: women represented 26% of the solar workforce, Latino or Hispanic workers represented 17%, Asian workers comprised 9%, and black or African American workers comprised 8%.
- About wages: for entry-level unlicensed (non-electrician) solar installers the median wage was $16.00 (the U.S. national median wage for all occupations is $18.58). The median wage for entry-level licensed (electrician) installers was $20.00.
- Wages for production workers start at $15.00 for entry-level employees, ( national median wage for production workers is $16.85). Wages reached $36.50 for senior-level production employees.
“The Climate Movement Doesn’t Know How to Talk with Union Members About Green Jobs” appeared in The Intercept on March 9, transcribing an interview with Jane McAlevey, a veteran labour activist in the U.S. and now a senior policy fellow at the University of California Berkeley’s Labor Center. One interview question: “What do you think organizers should be doing right now to make sure a climate-friendly platform can win in a presidential race where Trump will argue that ending fossil fuel investment means lost jobs?” In response, McAlevey urges activists to allay workers’ fears about the future with examples of positive changes – citing as one of the best examples the “New York wind deal” when, “unions won a far-reaching climate agreement to shift half of New York State ’s total energy needs to wind power by 2035. They did it by moving billions of subsidies away from fossil fuels and into a union jobs guarantee known as a project labor agreement.” (A previous WCR post summarizes the campaign which culminated in the New York Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act in the summer of 2019). Ultimately, McAlevey calls for “spade work” which educates workers about the climate crisis and reassures them by providing positive solutions. Citing the deeply integrated nature of the climate and economic crises, she concludes: “We have to build a movement that has enough power to win on any one of these issues that matter to us….. We’re relying on the people that already agree with us and trying to get them out in the streets. We can’t get there with these numbers.”
The Intercept interview is one of many since Jane McAlevey’s published her third book in January 2020. A Collective Bargain: Unions, Organizing, and the Fight for Democracy discusses the climate crisis, but is a much broader call to arms for the U.S. labour movement. A very informative review of the book by Sam Gindin appears in The Jacobin, here .
To launch his new column, Strike: Jeremy Brecher’s Corner at the Labor Network for Sustainability (LNS) website, Jeremy Brecher began with the theme “The Future of Climate Strikes”. On February 29 , he posted “First U.S. Union-Authorized Climate Strike?” (re-published in Common Dreams as “Did we just witness the first union-authorized climate strike in the United States?”). The article describes a one day strike on February 27 by members of Service Employees International Union Local 26 , employed by over a dozen different subcontractors to clean corporate buildings in Minneapolis. He states that it is, “as far as I have been able to discover, the very first—union sanctioned strike in the U.S. for climate protection demands. ”
Brecher gives voice to many of the low-wage and immigrant workers who are the backbone of the strike, and traces their climate activism back to 2009, when Local 26 won contract language: to establish an Ad Hoc Committee of union and company representatives at each company, to “review the use of green chemicals”, to provide training to employees on the “use, mixing and storage” of cleaning chemicals, and that “The employer “shall make every effort to use only green, sustainable cleaning products where possible.” The SEIU Local 26 collective agreement for 2016-2019 is here , with climate-related clause 18.13 on pages 39-40. Other examples of clauses related to toxic chemicals in Canadian collective agreements are available from the ACW Green Agreements database here ; clauses regarding green procurement are here , and the full searchable database of 240 clauses is here .
Although the main focus of First U.S. Union-Authorized Climate Strike? is on the climate-related demands, the strike is also important for its success in coalition-building and community support. Brecher characterizes it as exemplary of the growing trend toward “Bargaining for the Common Good, ” as outlined in a September 2019 article in The American Prospect , “How Workers Can Demand Climate Justice” . An article by Steve Payne reported on the broader community justice issues in the strike in “Twin Cities Janitors and Guards Feature Climate and Housing in Their Strike Demands” in Labor Notes (Feb. 20) .
Since Brecher’s article, the union has released a press release on March 14, announcing agreement with most employers and members’ approval of a contract which includes funding towards a Labor-Management Cooperation Fund for green education and training. Notably, given that these are the workers keeping airports and commercial buildings clean in the Covid-19 crisis, the agreement also provides for an increase for all full-time workers to six paid sick days by the second year of the contract.
Clean Slate for Worker Power: Building a Just Economy and Democracy is a far-reaching analysis and set of recommendations for labour law reform, released in January 2020 by the Harvard Law School Labor and Worklife Program. Its purpose is to offer “an intervention that promises to help stop the vicious, self-reinforcing cycle of economic and political inequality. By proposing a fundamental redesign of labor law, we aspire to enable working people to create the collective economic and political power necessary to build an equitable economy and politics.” The report – the result of discussions with 70 academics, union leaders, workers, activists and others over a period of two years – offers detailed and specific recommendations for changes to labour laws in the U.S., starting with the fundamental premise that “Labor law reform must start with inclusion to ensure that all workers can build power and to address systemic racial and gender oppression.” In its long list of recommendations comes basic freedoms such as the right to organize and protection from strikebreaking, as well as more innovative proposals for sectoral bargaining, worker representation on company boards, support for digital organizing and cyber-picketing – and of most interest to those working for environmental progress – this recommendation:
“Workers deserve a voice in the issues that are important to them and their communities….To ensure that workers can bargain over the corporate decisions that impact their lives, Clean Slate recommends that the new labor law: • Expand the range of collective bargaining subjects to include any subjects that are important to workers and over which employers have control, including decisions about the basic direction of the firm and employers’ impact on communities and our shared environment.”
More detail comes on page 69, where the report states:
“Accordingly, and taking inspiration from the Bargaining for the Common Good movement, Clean Slate recommends that when an employer has influence beyond the workplace over subject matters that have major impacts on workers’ communities, such as pollution and housing, the bargaining obligation ought to extend beyond the terms and conditions of employment and encompass these “community impact” subjects. Moreover, when bargaining over community impact subjects, the workers’ organization involved in collective bargaining should have the right to bring community organizations—those with members and expertise in the relevant area—to the bargaining table. … for example, the worker organization would be entitled to bring community environmental justice groups to bargain over pollution controls and abatement and to bring housing groups and tenants unions to bargain over affordable housing development.”
Clean Slate for Worker Power is a project of Harvard Law School’s Labor and Worklife Program, led by Professor Benjamin Sachs and Sharon Block, Executive Director, Labor and Worklife Program. The 15-page Executive Summary is here ; the 132-page full report is here . The report is summarized by noted labour journalist and author Steven Greenhouse in “Overhaul US labor laws to boost workers’ power, new report urges” in The Guardian (Jan. 23), and also in “‘Clean slate for worker power’ promotes a fair and inclusive U.S. economy” from the Washington Center for Equitable Growth (Jan. 29), which includes links to a range of academic articles related to the Clean Slate proposals. The authors are interviewed about the Clean Slate framework in a Harvard press release here.
The January 2020 issue of the Labor Network for Sustainability newsletter refers to a recent article, “A Green New Deal can win even among Building Trades Unions”, which appeared in The Jacobin (Jan 30 2019). It is written by an IBEW tradesman who led a successful effort to pass a Green New Deal resolution at the 60th Annual Texas AFL-CIO Constitutional Convention. The author describes how he was inspired by a resolution from the Alameda California Central Labor Council, and how he moved his own resolution from that model to the one which passed in Texas. He outlines a process of internal discussion and education which created a broader resolution, and one which had to compromise by replacing the highly emotive term “Green New Deal” with “Federal Environmental Policy”.
The article concludes:
“What does the labor-focused segment of the climate justice movement need to do next? First, we must repeatedly engage labor, from the local level on up to the national/international level, in as many places as we can — both through defined democratic processes like the one I experienced, as well in the rank-and-file space of our locals. The goal is not to simply push resolutions through, but to educate and build a base of support in the process….In order for the Green New Deal to move forward, it must become a standard demand from organized labor. The task for us now is to replicate this kind of effort at each and every one of our locals .”
The article is one of the latest written by unionists to instruct and inspire direct action. To cite a few: “Calling All Union Members” , in The Trouble (May 2019), which begins: “Teachers, construction workers, nurses, miners, frycooks—you have an indispensable role to play in the passage of the Green New Deal. Here are five concrete steps to take.” An earlier U.S. article by Nato Green “Why Unions Must Bargain Over Climate Change” appeared in In these Times (March 2019).
Labor Network for Sustainability maintains an ongoing compilation of GND resolutions by U.S. unions, and has written numerous articles. The WCR has written previously about union actions for a Green New Deal in both the U.S. and Canada, here.
Transit Equity Day in the United States was held on February 4 – a date chosen to honour Rosa Parks, whose refusal to yield her seat on a bus in 1955 was the catalyst in the U.S. struggle against the segregation of public transit. Now in 2020, Transit Equity Day’s main goal is “to promote environmentally-sustainable and affordable transit accessible to all, regardless of income, national origin, race, gender identity, sexual orientation, age, religion, or ability,” and in all communities, rural or urban. In addition to social justice goals, it also promotes climate justice and workplace justice, calling for good, union jobs for transit workers and those who manufacture transit equipment, as well as a just transition for workers and communities in the transition to an electrified, non-polluting transit system. Transit Equity Day is organized by the Labor Network for Sustainability, in cooperation with environmental and labour groups already working to promote public transit – including the Amalgamated Transit Union , Transport Workers of America, Connecticut Roundtable for Climate and Jobs , Metropolitan Washington District AFL-CIO, and Jobs to Move America .
Transit Equity Day also supports the growing free public transit movement – described, with global case studies, in Free Public Transit: And Why We Don’t Pay to Ride Elevators, a book published in Canada by Black Rose books in 2017. Since then, advocates have focused mainly on the social justice arguments: for example in “Free and Accessible Transit Now: Toward A Red-Green Vision for Toronto” (Canadian Dimension, May 10 2018) . This continues to be the focus in the July 2019 call for free transit by the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) Local 2, representing Toronto Transit Commission workers, and endorsed by CUPE Ontario. Also in a January 2020 blog by the Amalgamated Transit Union in Canada , which stated:
“….successful examples of fare free transit around the world demonstrate that this model of public transit service may not be radical or utopian. However, there are real concerns implementation of fare free transit.
ATU Canada advocates for fares to be affordable for all, and advocates for progress toward creating a fare-free transit. Incremental pricing actions (such as fare-freezes and reductions) are realistic in lieu of immediate fare-free transit subsidized by government. In our advocacy, we prioritize efforts to eliminate cost barriers to accessing jobs, education, health care, and other services, through the implementation of low-income passes. A gradual approach to fare reduction is sorely needed in many municipalities across Canada, with the ultimate goal of ensuring that transit is safe, reliable, and affordable for all.”
Free transit and climate change
The Richochet published two articles which marry concern for social justice with the well-established environmental benefits of transit over cars: “Advocates say decommodified housing and free transit needed to fight climate emergency” (Oct.9) describes activism in Montreal, and “Free public transit is key to any Green New Deal worthy of the name” (Oct. 19) which is an overview of the growing activism Canada-wide. “The case for free public transit in Toronto” in Now Magazine (Dec. 2019) only begins to discuss the fraught transit politics in Toronto. In December 2019, members of the Free Transit Edmonton movement published an Opinion piece: “Make transit free for the sake of our climate and community” in the Edmonton Journal. For a recent U.S. summary, see “Should Public Transit Be Free? More Cities Say, Why Not?” in the New York Times (Jan. 14).
The American Council for and Energy-Efficient Economy released their 2019 City Clean Energy Scorecard in the summer of 2019 , surveying and ranking clean energy policies amongst U.S. cities. Workforce development programs were included in the survey, and the report found that 37 out of 75 cities surveyed had clean energy workforce development programs, many in partnerships with utilities, non-profits, colleges, and others. The programs include clean energy and energy efficiency job training directed at traditionally underrepresented groups, as well as clean energy contracting programs promoting minority- or women-owned businesses.
In January 2020, the ACEEE released an update in a Topic Brief titled Cities and Clean Energy Workforce Development . It offers an overview of best practices, along with brief case studies of Orlando, Florida and Chattanooga, Tennessee. An accompanying blog, “How are US cities prepping workers for a clean energy future?” summarizes other equity-driven initiatives – for example: the Work2Future program in San Jose California which trains young adults from disadvantaged populations in energy-efficient building construction, achieving an 82% job placement rate; and Birmingham, Alabama, which offers energy efficiency training opportunities to Minority Business Enterprise contracting partners.
The blog and Topic Brief update a larger 2018 ACEEE report, Through the Local Government Lens: Developing the Energy Efficiency Workforce, available from this link (free, but registration required). Even more information is available from an ongoing ACEEE database, Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy Workforce Development ,which lists cities by name and provides descriptions of their programs.
Updated on January 20 to include Naomi Klein’s new article, “Care and Repair: Left Politics in the Age of Climate Change” in Dissent (Winter 2020 issue).
In the January 2020 issue of Our Times magazine, “Save this House: A Green New Deal for Canada, Now!” provides an overview of Canadian labour’s initiatives around a Green New Deal. It highlights the on-the-ground activism of two unionists: Tiffany Balducci, (CUPE member, president of the Durham Region Labour Council and in that role, part of the Green Jobs Oshawa coalition seeking to re-purpose the shuttered General Motors plant for socially beneficial manufacturing) and Patricia Chong, ( member of the Asian Canadian Labour Alliance and co-facilitator of the “Green is Not White” environmental workshops which are co-sponsored by the ACW research project).
Asked to define and envision what the Green New Deal will look like, Chong states:
“If the climate crisis is defined as a problem where we need to move money from greenhouse-gas producing industries to non-GHG producing industry, then the answer is to move the money around. If the climate crisis is defined more broadly as a problem that also includes environmental racism, Indigenous genocide, and capitalism, then the solution is also going to be very different. ….When we talk about a Green economy, we do not want to replicate the inherent inequities we already have.”
The article also names the unions which support a Green New Deal for Canada: “Unifor, Amalgamated Transit Union, British Columbia Teachers Federation, Canadian Union of Postal Workers, and CUPE Ontario. The article concludes with a reference to the Private Member’s Motion on a Green New Deal for Canada, introduced in the new 43rd session of Parliament by Peter Julian, the NDP Member of Parliament for New Westminster-Burnaby British Columbia. His motion, introduced on December 5, defines a Green New Deal as a 10-year national mobilization to: • reach net zero greenhouse gas emissions • create millions of secure jobs• invest in sustainable infrastructure and industry • promote justice and equity for Indigenous peoples and all “frontline and vulnerable communities.” Specifically concerning GND jobs, it calls for :
……(vii) ensuring that the Green New Deal mobilization creates high-quality union jobs that pay prevailing wages, hires local workers, offers training and advancement opportunities, and guarantees wage and benefit parity for workers affected by the transition, (viii) guaranteeing a job with a family-sustaining wage, adequate family and medical leave, paid vacations, and retirement security to all Canadians, (ix) strengthening and protecting the right of all workers to organize, unionize, and collectively bargain free of coercion, intimidation, and harassment, (x) strengthening and enforcing labour, workplace health and safety, antidiscrimination, and wage and hour standards across all employers, industries, and sectors, (xi) enacting and enforcing trade rules, procurement standards, and border adjustments with strong labor and environmental protections to stop the transfer of jobs and pollution overseas, and to grow domestic manufacturing in Canada…. More details are at the Our Time website ; Julian was one of the candidates endorsed by Our Time in Canada’s 2019 federal election.
The youth-led organization Our Time exists to campaign for a Green New Deal. An overview of their approach appears in “The future is in our hands— not theirs” in the January/February issue of CCPA’s The Monitor (pages 22- 23). Written by two Manitoba organizers from the Our Time campaign , it includes the youth-led actions of Canada’s Fridays for Future climate strikers, and focuses on the Our Time campaign in the West. The authors conclude: “Our Time and the CCPA-Manitoba recognize the need to build stronger relationships with the Indigenous community and beyond. We know that any struggle for a Green New Deal must take direction from those who are most dispossessed by fossil capitalism and most exposed to climate change. We do not wish to reproduce in our organizing spaces the undemocratic relationships of exploitation that have gotten us to this point. We need to unlearn the oppressive practices we frequently deploy, often unconsciously, even when our hearts are in the right place.”
Green New Deal proposals in the U.S.:
In late December 2019, Labor Network for Sustainability released its latest paper regarding the Green New Deal: a briefing paper written by Jeremy Brecher , No Worker Left Behind: Protecting Workers and Communities in the Green New Deal . From the introduction: “This paper aims to identify policies that could be actionable by GNDs at national and state levels.… It focuses only on: “GND policies specifically designed to protect workers and communities whose jobs and livelihoods may be adversely affected by deliberate managed decline of fossil fuel burning and other GND policies.” The document does not endorse one plan over the other – the purpose is to identify and inform trade unionists so that they can make their own determinations.
No Worker Left Behind includes relevant excerpts from the following U.S. plans: • Colorado Just Transition law • Center for Biological Diversity Presidential Action Plan • Washington State Initiative 1631 • Senator Bernie Sanders “The Green New Deal – Sanders Details” • Governor Jay Inslee “Community Climate Justice Plan,” adopted by Sen. Elizabeth Warren after Inslee withdrew from the presidential race. • Vice-President Joe Biden “Plan for a Clean Energy Revolution and Environmental Justice” • BlueGreen Alliance “Solidarity for Climate Action” • Sunrise Movement “Candidate Scorecard Framework” • Peter Knowlton “Jobs for Climate Justice Demands” • Sens. Bernie Sanders, Jeff Merkley, and Edward Markey “Clean Energy Worker Just Transition Act” • Political Economy Research Institute, “The Economics of Just Transition” • Institute for Energy and Environmental Research and Labor Network for Sustainability, “Beyond a Band-Aid”.
A broader discussion of the Green New Deal appears in Naomi Klein’s new article, “Care and Repair: Left Politics in the Age of Climate Change” in Dissent (Winter 2020 issue). Although the article focuses on the U.S. Green New Deal in a historical and political context , Klein continues to cite her “favourite example” of the GND as the Canadian Union of Postal Workers initiative, Delivering Community Power , which she describes as “a bold plan to turn every post office in Canada into a hub for a just green transition.” She continues “….To make the case for a Green New Deal—which explicitly calls for this kind of democratic, decentralized leadership—every sector in the United States should be developing similar visionary plans for their workplaces right now.”
Klein also repeats themes from previous writing, including :
“A job guarantee, far from an opportunistic socialist addendum, is a critical part of achieving a rapid and just transition. It would immediately lower the intense pressure on workers to take the kinds of jobs that destabilize our planet, because all would be free to take the time needed to retrain and find work in one of the many sectors that will be dramatically expanding…This in turn will reduce the power of bad actors like the Laborers’ International Union of North America, who are determined to split the labor movement and sabotage the prospects for this historic effort.”
Finally, her concluding call to action:
“The Green New Deal will need to be subject to constant vigilance and pressure from experts who understand exactly what it will take to lower our emissions as rapidly as science demands, and from social movements that have decades of experience bearing the brunt of false climate solutions, whether nuclear power, the chimera of carbon capture and storage, or carbon offsets.”
“Care and Repair: Left Politics in the Age of Climate Change” is adapted from Klein’s chapter in We Own the Future: Democratic Socialism—American Style, a new anthology edited by Kate Aronoff, Michael Kazin, and Peter Dreier and released by the New Press in January 2020. Several other recent articles have appeared in The Intercept are available on her own website here , and her book, On Fire: The Burning case for a Green New Deal was published in September 2019.
A thoughtful new contribution to the “green jobs” debate comes in Re-defining Green Jobs for a Sustainable Economy , released by The Century Foundation, in cooperation with Data for Progress, on December 2. Co-author Greg Carlock is currently Senior Fellow and Research Director for Climate at Data for Progress, and was one of the authors of the original visioning document A Green New Deal , published in 2018 and leading to the current U.S. movement launched by Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. Data for Progress continues to monitor public opinion and publish important contributions to the Green New Deal debate – in November, exploring the issue of a Green New Deal for Public Housing.
Re-defining Green Jobs for a Sustainable Economy outlines an interesting history of the “green jobs” definition and measurement in the U.S., but the main purpose of the report is to propose an expanded definition and framework of green jobs which would encompass the principles of equity and sustainability. Ultimately, the report recommends how an expanded definition can be integrated into U.S. public policy.
Perhaps most importantly, Re-defining Green Jobs for a Sustainable Economy focuses in detail on demonstrating why health care and educational workers should be considered as part of the green workforce, stating that including them in the green workforce definition “would go a long way toward gender and racial equity, and toward ensuring all workers green, family-sustaining jobs.”
An expanded definition of a green job, from the report:
“A green job should refer to any position that is part of the sustainability workforce: a job that contributes to preserving or enhancing the well-being, culture, and governance of both current and future generations, as well as regenerating the natural resources and ecosystems upon which they rely. And in order for green jobs themselves to be sustainable, they need to be good, living-wage jobs…. These green job occupations stand in contrast to work—even decent-paying work—in industries that result in the depletion or degradation of ecological systems and the social, cultural, and political institutions that support them.”
On November 14, Bernie Sanders and Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez led a press conference to announce the introduction of the Green New Deal for Public Housing Act in the United States Senate, under Sanders’ sponsorship. The Bill would eliminate carbon emissions from federal housing, invest approximately $180 billion over ten years in retrofitting and repairs, and create nearly 250,000 decent-paying union jobs per year, according to the many summaries which appeared: for example, in Common Dreams . Bernie Sanders’ press release is here, linking to the legislation, summaries, and a list of the 50 organizational supporters. Co-sponsors named are Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR) and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA).
As stated in a press release, progressive think tank Data for Progress “conducted policy and public opinion research to support this pathbreaking progressive legislation, which advances housing, racial, economic, environmental and climate justice together.” The Green New Deal for Public Housing Act can stand up to Scrutiny reports the results of the political polling done by Data for Progress. A related article, “Why Bernie Sanders and AOC are targeting public housing in the first Green New Deal bill” in Vox contends “By starting with housing, the legislators appear to be trying to make inroads with a broad political base and avoid some of the more contentious aspects of the Green New Deal, like the transition away from fossil fuels. That issue in particular has divided labor unions because it would lead to the end of mining and drilling jobs.”
Data for Progress also conducted economic research which “shows that a ten-year mobilization of up to $172 billion would retrofit over 1 million public housing units, vastly improving the living conditions of nearly 2 million residents, and creating over 240,000 jobs per year across the United States. These green retrofits would cut 5.6 million tons of annual carbon emissions—the equivalent of taking 1.2 million cars off the road. Retrofits and jobs would benefit communities on the frontlines of climate change, poverty and pollution and the country as a whole. Our analysis shows the legislation would create 32,552 jobs per year in New York City alone. A large portion of the jobs nationally—up to 87,000 a year—will be high-quality construction jobs on site at public housing developments.” A Green New Deal for New York Housing Authority (NYHCA) Communities report is now available, and a National report is forthcoming- until then, data is available here .
A new report was released on October 31 by the Reclaiming Appalachia Coalition, a group which seeks to spur coal mine reclamation projects throughout Central Appalachia. A New Horizon: Innovative Reclamation for a Just Transition profiles 19 projects in Kentucky, Ohio, Virginia and West Virginia, including data centres, a YMCA Wellness Centre, as well as many ecotourism projects. Although much is specific to the U.S. funding opportunities, the case studies offer instructive descriptions of the challenges and obstacles faced by the communities, and also attempt to quantify the economic impacts of each project.
The press release describes the progressive approach used to create a “new horizon”: “In the past, efforts to reuse old mine sites too often resulted in sparse, lasting economic activity. Surface mined areas near population centers became shopping centers, hospitals and other standard uses, but more remote sites were either completely abandoned, converted to low-productivity cattle grazing lands, or developed into speculatively built industrial parks or golf courses at great taxpayer expense. Those “if you build it, they will come” projects now largely sit empty. To break from this unsuccessful approach to coal site reclamation, the Reclaiming Appalachia Coalition established six guiding principles to identify optimal repurposing projects, including ensuring they are appropriate to the place in which they are occurring, that they include non-traditional stakeholders in decision-making, and are environmentally sustainable and financially viable long-term.”
The report was published as part of the launch of a new website, ReclaimingAppalachia.org, by the Reclaiming Appalachia Coalition, which consists of organizations in four states — Appalachian Voices in Virginia, Appalachian Citizens’ Law Center in Kentucky, Coalfield Development Corporation in West Virginia, and Rural Action in Ohio — and a regional technical expert, Downstream Strategies, based in West Virginia. The website as a whole is intended as an information and education resource , providing best practices and information about potential U.S. funding sources.
In “Scared Central Banks Face Up to Threats From Climate Change” (Sept. 23) , Bloomberg News reported that “Most major central banks — with the exception of the U.S. Federal Reserve — are joining forces to promote sustainable growth, after realizing that climate change threatens economic output and could even sow the seeds of a financial crisis.” Now it appears that even the U.S. Federal Reserve Bank, or at least one of its components, the San Francisco Fed., is catching up to the rest of the world. Climate Change and the Federal Reserve drew attention when it was published by the San Francisco Fed in March 2019, and a special climate change-themed issue of the newsletter, Community Development and Innovation Review was published by the San Francisco Fed in October , highlighting independent economic analysis it had commissioned. The New York Times summarizes that research in “Bank Regulators Present a Dire Warning of Financial Risks From Climate Change ”.
The economic research was also highlighted in a conference on November 8. Host Mary Daly, President and CEO of the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco, introduced the event with a speech entitled, “Why Climate Change Matters to Us ” . Two highlighted conference papers: “Climate change: Macroeconomic impact and implications for monetary policy ” presented by Sandra Batten from the Bank of England, which explains why central banks care about climate change, and includes the warning that “for each degree the temperature rises above a daily average temperature of 59°F, productivity declines by 1.7%”. In “Long-Term Macroeconomic Effects of Climate Change: A Cross-Country Analysis “, six academics from the U.S., U.K. and Taiwan modelled the links between historical levels of temperature and precipitation and changes in labour productivity. They conclude that global GDP per capita could fall 7% by 2100 in the absence of climate change mitigation effects, but that loss could be reduced to 1% by conforming to the Paris Agreement.
Of related interest: SHARE Canada (Shareholder Association for Research and Education) summarizes the position of the major Canadian banks in an October 10 blog post “Responsible Banking – Part 2: Aligning finance with the goals of the Paris Climate Agreement .”
The November issue of the journal Environmental Justice includes “Time is Up: Social workers take your place at the climate change table” ( free access only until November 22, 2019). The authors maintain that “Social workers are uniquely situated to be involved, with their training in social policy, legislative advocacy, and community organizing, in combating the negative effects of climate change and the inherent social justice issues associated with this issue. However, …. they must be trained on topics such as disaster-specific trauma, bereavement, and resource disruption.
The article begins with a broad overview of policies related to climate change – including the Kyoto Protocol and the Paris Climate Agreement, but the main focus is on social workers in the United States as actors in climate change. Based on reviews of the social work literature between 2008 and 2019, the authors conclude that what little has been written has focused on consequences and/or coping strategies after a natural disaster. They also conclude that most of the climate-related training of social workers is occurring outside of the United States in countries such as Australia and New Zealand.
The article reveals how the professional organization, the American Academy of Social Work and Social Welfare, has viewed the climate emergency. The AASWSW issued its 12 Grand Challenges for Social Work in 2016, and it included a goal to “Create social responses to a changing environment”. A separate Policy Briefing outlines amibitious goals, including: (1) adopt and implement evidence-based approaches to disaster risk reduction, (2) develop policies targeting environmentally induced migration and population displacement, and (3) strengthen equity-oriented urban resilience policies and proactively engage marginalized communities in adaptation planning. A 2015 background paper preceded the goal statement: Strengthening the Social Response to the Human Impacts of Environmental Change .
The latest issue of the Association’s journal Social Work Today is a progress report on the Grand Challenges. Regarding the changing environment, it reports that the Association has been advocating for the Green New Deal, and will “examine the social work implications of the proposed Green New Deal and to call social workers to action around environmental justice policies.” It concludes:
“One of the greatest challenges toward continued progress is in making social workers aware of their role and responsibility in addressing both the causes and consequences of climate change,” …. Many social workers feel there are more immediate issues to deal with, even if they acknowledge the seriousness of the problem.”
The California utility company largely blamed for the catastrophic Camp Fire in 2018 is making headlines again. In the midst of dry, windy weather conditions, Pacific Gas & Electric shut off power to approximately 800,000 accounts (translating into 1.8 million people) on October 8, in an effort to reduce the risk of another wildfire caused by sparking from their electricity transmission lines. The Los Angeles Times provides a general overview in “Gov. Newsom slams PG&E over ‘unacceptable’ power outages and failure to fix systems” (Oct. 10) and “Millions Brace for Unprecedented Power Cuts in California” in Bloomberg News reports that shutoffs will affect major cities in the San Francisco Bay area, including Oakland, San Jose and Berkeley, with a possible duration of up to 6 days.
The chaos, anger and inconvenience has additional significance for workers, described briefly in “Confusion reigns as California utility cuts power in 34 counties to reduce wildfire risk” (Oct. 10) in Energy Mix . More details appear in “What happens when a power company decides to turn off the electricity for millions of residents?” in Wildfire Today which states: “The indirect effects of having no electricity expand to a much larger population when you consider traffic lights not working, tunnels on highways being shut down, plus the closure of gas stations, schools, and businesses …. At some point, cellular telephone towers and infrastructure may exhaust their emergency power supply systems, not to mention the batteries in the public’s cell phones…And in an emergency, firefighters’ communications could be hampered by the disabling of their radio repeaters on mountaintops. Notifying residents of approaching fires and conducting evacuations in order to save lives could be challenging.”
And what of the PG&E workers? The local Sacramento Bee newspaper reported “PG&E employee shot at ahead of utility’s massive Northern California power shutoff” (Oct. 9) as residents take out their frustrations on employees doing their jobs. The Washington Post reported “PG&E pleads for employee safety amid outage after police report egging, gunfire at vehicle” . One worker’s wife is widely reported to have issued a social media plea stating that utility workers “are simply employees and have no say in any decision making so shouting profanities or resorting to violence towards PG&E workers will never do any good but it would instead hurt someone’s father, mother, brother, sister, husband or wife. ” Truly a dark time.
California Offshore Wind: Workforce Impacts and Grid Integration is a report released on September 27 by the Center for Labor Research and Education at University of California, Berkeley, in partnership with Energy and Environmental Economics Inc. The report seeks to quantify what benefits for workers and communities would emerge from a major offshore wind power sector, given that the depth of California’s waters require floating platform wind installations, and floating wind is in its infancy. (According to the report, the only commercially operating project now is the 30 MW Hywind project , opened in 2017 off the coast of Aberdeen, Scotland). The author interviewed union leaders, offshore wind industry participants, workforce training professionals, and port and transportation specialists for their firsthand accounts of the impacts of offshore wind, as well as analyzing the research to date on the economic and employment impacts of the fixed-bottom offshore wind industry around the world. A press release provides an executive summary of the report.
The conclusion: state policy intervention is a crucial determinant of the level of benefit for offshore wind. Excerpts from the report: The largest economic benefits would occur “if an in-state supply chain were developed for the primary components of wind turbine generators—blades, nacelles (hubs), and towers—as well as the floating platforms, thus creating thousands of manufacturing and construction jobs. But the offshore wind industry is highly globalized, with its supply chain centered in Europe, and by the mid-2020s, China is likely to become a major exporter of wind components. … policymakers should set a clear goal for offshore wind as part of the long-term renewable energy planning process (for example, a mandate for at least 8 GW over a decade). If the offshore wind planning process were to evolve in a more piecemeal basis, without strategic direction or fixed targets, wind developers and manufacturers would lack incentive to make major California investments…. Although the state has a strong workforce training system, including the construction industry’s state-certified apprenticeships, skills gaps are likely to be a challenge for offshore wind on the North Coast. The state should consider creating a High-Road Training Partnership (HRTP) for offshore wind to fill these gaps and broaden community access to offshore wind jobs. HRTPs are a new state program of industry‐specific training programs that prioritize job quality, equity, and environmental sustainability.”
The world has awoken to the real-life manifestations of climate change in 2019, and we have been bombarded with media images of extreme weather disasters. July 2019 was approximately 1.2°C warmer than the pre-industrial era, according to a summary of international heat waves by the World Metorological Organization (WMO) on August 1. The WMO also published “Unprecedented wildfires in the Arctic” (July 29) and “Widespread fires harm global climate, environment” on August 29, including information about the Amazon wildfires. “Global heating made Hurricane Dorian bigger, wetter – and more deadly” by scientists Michael Mann and Andrew Dessler appeared in The Guardian on September 4 and “Is climate change making hurricanes stall?” at the PBS website both offer clear summaries of the climate change connection to the most recent extreme weather disaster the world has seen.
In Canada, flooding was the predominant weather disaster: In a July 2019 press release, the Insurance Bureau of Canada described the flooding events of April and May and estimated that spring flooding in Ontario, Quebec and New Brunswick caused close to $208 million in insured damage . In the same press release, the IBC advocates that all political parties in the upcoming federal election commit to a National Action Plan on Flooding. ( The IBC published Options for Managing the Flood Costs of Canada’s Highest-risk Residential Properties in June, the result of national consultations with the Working Group on the Financial Management of Flood Risk, co-chaired by Public Safety Canada and the IBC. The report is summarized in the IBC press release and in the National Observer “Who should bear the financial risk of flooding? Report lays out three options” in the National Observer June 19 . )
In what it calls the first report of its kind in Canada to examine climate risks at the provincial level, the British Columbia government published a Preliminary Strategic Climate Risk Assessment for British Columbia in July 2019. The report evaluates the likelihood of 15 climate risk events and considers their health, social, economic and environmental consequences, concluding that the greatest risks to B.C. are severe wildfire season, seasonal water shortage, heat wave, ocean acidification, glacier loss, and long-term water shortage. A compilation of forty-six articles concerning Wildfires is available from the National Observer, and includes “‘Climate change in action:’ Scientist says fires in Alberta linked to climate change” (June 10).
In late June, Healthy Climate, Healthy New Brunswickers: A proposal for New Brunswick that cuts pollution and protects health was released, written by Louise Comeau and Daniel Nunes. The report describes how climate change will affect the physical and mental health of all New Brunswickers, especially children, seniors, the isolated, and those living on low incomes. The report combines climate projections and existing community health profiles for 16 New Brunswick communities, emphasizing the risks of more intense precipitation, flooding and heat waves.
Extreme Heat in Canada and Beyond:
The Prairie Climate Centre at the University of Winnipeg released Heat Waves and Health in August – a brief and practical guide to the health impacts of heat waves, drought and wildfires in Canada. The report predicts future heat waves in Canada, based on data newly updated the Climate Atlas of Canada . Previous projections were published as Chapter 4 in the federal government’s 2019 report Canada’s Changing Climate Report : “Changes in Temperature and Precipitation Across Canada” .
Heat is a much more widespread danger in the United States, with Phoenix Arizona experiencing 128 days at or above 100 degrees Fahrenheit in 2018 – one of the hottest and fastest-warming cities in the country, according to an article in the New York Times, “As Phoenix heats up, the night comes alive” . The Times article describes how citizens and workers must re-schedule their lives and their job duties to avoid the killing heat of the day. Phoenix is also the main focus of a lengthly article, “Can we survive extreme heat” in the Rolling Stone (Aug. 27) .
Killer Heat in the United States: Climate Choices and the Future of Dangerously Hot Days was released in July by the Union of Concerned Scientists, directed to a non-technical audience, and includes interactive maps and downloadable date here . The report offers national and regional projections and in Chapter 5, addresses the particular implications for outdoor workers, as well as city and rural dwellers, and those in low-income neighbourhoods. A more technical version of the research appeared as “Increased frequency of and population exposure to extreme heat index days in the United States during the 21st century” in the Open Access journal Environmental Research Communications .
The accuracy and sensitivity of occupational exposure limits to heat is examined in “Actual and simulated weather data to evaluate wet bulb globe temperature and heat index as alerts for occupational heat related illness”. This important article, published in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Hygiene in January 2019, analysed the cases of 234 outdoor work-related heat-related illnesses reported to the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration in 2016 and concluded that wet bulb globe temperature (WBGT) should be used for workplace heat hazard assessment. When WBGT is unavailable, a Heat Index alert threshold of approximately 80 °F (26.7 °C) could identify potentially hazardous workplace environmental heat.
Finally, “Can the Paris Climate Goals Save Lives? Yes, a Lot of Them, Researchers Say” in the New York Times (June 5) summarizes a more technical article which appeared in the journal Sciences Advances on June 5 . “Increasing mitigation ambition to meet the Paris Agreement’s temperature goal avoids substantial heat-related mortality in U.S. cities” reviews the literature about heat-related mortality and concludes that achieving the 1.5°C threshold of the Paris Agreement could avoid between 110 and 2720 annual heat-related deaths in 15 U.S. cities.
“Hardhats vs hippies: how the mainstream media misrepresents the debate over the Green New Deal” appeared in In these Times (June 18) and was re-posted to Common Dreams . It responds to the negative image in “Labor anger over Green New Deal greets 2020 contenders in California” ( Politico, June 1), and states “….though building-trades workers may fit Trump’s image of working-class America, they are not representative of labor or the working class as a whole when it comes to green issues. The future of labor will be helmed by service workers, women, immigrants and people of color. Accordingly, the Green New Deal or other strong climate change policies have won endorsements from SEIU, Los Angeles County Federation of Labor and National Nurses United, along with various locals like New York State Nurses Association and American Federation of Teachers – Oregon. A survey released by Data for Progress this month found that “union membership is one of the factors most highly correlated with support for Green New Deal policies as well as the Green New Deal framework as a whole.”
“Blue Collar Workers – let’s support the Green New Deal” in Resilience (July 18 2019) also takes issue with the Politico article. Author Steve Morse states: “I am a blue-collar worker – a retired member of Sheet Metal Workers Local 104, which represents workers throughout Northern and Central California. The union leaders quoted in that article certainly don’t speak for me, nor for tens of thousands of other building trades workers.” The article points out examples of positive union retraining initiatives, and calls for union workers to support the Green New Deal.
“Unions are finally learning to love the Green New Deal” appeared in The Nation on July 12, in which author Bob Massie profiles the recent Convergence meeting organized by Labor Network for Sustainability to discuss action strategies for a Green New Deal. He notes key leaders amongst unions, including SEIU and the Association of Flight Attendants, and also notes that a contentious resolution concerning racial and economic justice emerged on the final day of meetings, and explains: ” The tension arose in part because the leaders committed to racial and economic justice—like the rest of their union counterparts—are waking up to the vast potential power of the Green New Deal as a set of ideas and as force for political change. They were not rejecting it; quite the opposite. They wanted to be certain that their concerns were not overlooked.”
The Labor Network for Sustainability (LNS) is an active supporter of the Green New Deal, and maintains a compilation of labour union endorsements of the Green New Deal here , and a compilation of other GND articles and tools here . The most recent article appeared in June, by Jeremy Brecher, Director of Research and Policy at LNS. He presented an essay at The Climate Movement, What’s Next? , a forum organized by the Great Transition Initiative (GTI). Brecher’s essay, “The Green New Climate Deal,” characterizes the Green New Deal as the third and current phase of the climate movement. He considers the GND as unique for several reasons: like the Extinction Rebellion and the Student Strike for Climate movement, it represents a shift to using direct action techniques against governments and politicians; it calls for strong government leadership and authority; it is specifically directed to the needs of the working class (for example, calling for universal job guarantees and labour rights protection); and finally, it is uniquely ambitious by calling for public policies to meet the targets as laid out by climate science.
Brecher acknowledges many dangers to the Green New Deal initiative: “Opposition from the friends of fossil fuels, combined with tepid support from the supposed friends of climate protection, workers, and justice, could easily turn the GND into one more inadequate, toothless, feel-good public relations fig leaf. In a worst-case scenario, the initiative could morph into a cover for expanding nuclear energy, geoengineering, “clean coal,” and other environmental nightmares. Fortunately, we have the start of a GND movement that is alert to these dangers and mobilizing to push back against them. The outcome is likely to be largely determined by how hard those of us who should be fighting for the GND actually do so.” He calls for that fight to begin, knowing that “The truth is that we don’t know how compatible effective climate protection is with capitalism…. The rational thing to do under such conditions of uncertainty is to start implementing the measures that are necessary to protect the climate while compensating for the negative consequences we can clearly anticipate.”
Brecher’s essay was part of a forum, The Climate Movement, What’s Next? , organized by the Great Transition Initiative (GTI). In his overview/introduction to the forum, Bill McKibben asks “Do we need a meta-movement?”. Among the many other contributors: Guy Dauncey of the British Columbia Sustainable Energy Association, with Charting how we get there ; Gus Speth of the Next System Project with Imploding the Carbon Economy ; climate justice expert Tom Athanasiou, with Globalizing the Movement ; and Anders Wijkman, chairman of the Swedish Association of Recycling Industries, with A Climate Emergency Plan . The Great Transition Initiative (GTI) has a long history as a worldwide network of visionary thinking and writing. Most recently, in 2014, it was relaunched by the Tellus Institute as an online forum , “offering a rolling series of essays, viewpoints, reviews, and interviews.”
And further discussion of a Green New Deal:
Decarbonizing the U.S.economy: Pathways towards a Green New Deal was released in June 2019 by the Roosevelt Institute. In this detailed (80-page) report, three economists argue that the Acasio-Cortez/Markey Green New Deal proposals are based on sound economic policy, and make detailed proposals to move to a low-carbon economy based on 1) large-scale public investments; 2) comprehensive regulations to ensure decarbonization across the board; and 3) a cap-and-dividend system that puts a price on carbon while offsetting the regressive effects on income distribution.
On June 18, the New York State Assembly passed the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act – what the New York Times calls “one of the world’s most ambitious carbon plans” (June 18) . Originally tabled in 2016 as the Climate and Community Protection Act , the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act calls for the state to achieve 100 percent carbon-free electricity by 2040 and economy-wide, net-zero carbon emissions by 2050. The final legislation was a compromise – stripped of measures on prevailing wages, apprenticeship programs, preferences for women- and minority-owned businesses, and investment for disadvantaged communities. The NY Renews coalition, comprised of unions, community and environmental groups issued a statement which reads, in part: “Ultimately, the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act is a partial victory for New Yorkers. The fight for true climate justice demands transformative change, and we will bring that fight until our communities win…We stand strong knowing that as recently as last week, the Governor dismissed any funding for frontline communities, and in his Climate Leadership Act, refused to set a timeline for economy-wide emission reductions. This new legislation does both, and that is a direct result of years of tireless organizing by the members of the NY Renews coalition.”
“New York Is About to Pass One of the Most Ambitious Climate Bills in the Land” in The Nation (June 19) describes the political battles and compromises involved, and states “the real heroes of the fight for the CCPA are the hundreds of protesters who stormed the state Capitol on a recent Tuesday in June, and the dozens who staged a “die-in” outside the governor’s office to illustrate the consequences of failing to pass climate legislation.” An article by David Roberts in Vox (June 20) also summarizes the nitty gritty of the bill and its evolution.
Planning under the new legislation will be led by a 22-member Climate Action Council, composed of the heads of various New York state agencies, along with members appointed by the governor, the Senate, and the Assembly. The Council will convene advisory panels on, for example, transportation, land use and local government, and will also convene working groups on Just Transition and Climate Justice.
Leaking Talent: How People of Color are Pushed out of Environmental Organizations is the latest publication of Green 2.0 (formerly the Green Diversity Initiative), a U.S. NGO whose purpose is “to stimulate the demand for, and demonstrate the supply of, talented leaders of all backgrounds” in the mainstream environmental movement.
Leaking Talent reports on a 2018 survey which determined that, amongst the 40 largest green NGOs in the U.S., only 20% of the staff and 21% of the senior staff identified as “People of Color”. The survey results for environmental foundations were similar: 25% of the staff and 4% of the senior staff identified as People of Color. To determine the factors related to retention and promotion, the author examined qualitative and quantitative data from employees, their HR or diversity managers, and their CEOs. Results showed that a focus on employee development and transparency in the promotion process had the most consistent impact on intent to stay for all employees. For top-level leaders, the strongest effect came from diversity and inclusion commitments stated in the organization’s mission, vision and values .
Green 2.0 established a baseline of data, and coined the term “green ceiling” in 2014 with The State of Diversity in Environmental Organizations: Mainstream NGOs, Foundations & Government Agencies . That survey concluded that unconscious bias, discrimination, and insular recruiting were the top three barriers to hiring and retention in the mainstream movement. Other publications are: Beyond Diversity: A Roadmap to Building an Inclusive Organization (2017) , and in January 2019, the 2017 Transparency Report Card was updated.
On June 24, the Blue Green Alliance in the U.S. released a platform document titled Solidarity for Climate Action. According to the press release, Leo Gerard, retiring International President of the United Steelworkers, stated: “This historic moment in labor and environmental cooperation is the culmination of more than a decade of work…. The platform we are unveiling today is a roadmap to address both the climate crisis and growing income inequality in a way that leaves no workers or communities behind.” The press release includes endorsement statements from: The Sierra Club, National Wildlife Federation, Natural Resources Defense Council, Utility Workers Union of America, Service Employees International Union, Union of Concerned Scientists, Environmental Defense Action Fund, and the League of Conservation Voters. Others whose logos appear on the document include: Communications Workers of America, International Union of Bricklayers and Allied Craftsmen, American Federation of Teachers, and the United Association of Journeymen & Apprentices of the Plumbing & PipeFitting Industry.
In a blog, the National Resources Defense Council calls the platform a “defining moment in the fight against climate change” and states: “Solidarity for Climate Action marks a significant milestone in the relationship between the labor and environmental movements regarding climate action. We’ve had our disagreements, to be sure, but there is more agreement then most might realize, particularly around the need for climate action and income equality, which is one of the reasons this platform was created. It is an expression of hope that our movements will begin a renewed cooperation from a foundation of broad agreement. ” The Center for American Progress also endorsed the platform.
Here are the issue areas, as stated in the 8-page Solidarity for Climate Action document:
Climate Stability: “Limiting global warming to 1.5°C would require rapid, far reaching and unprecedented changes in all aspects of society… This global effort to address climate change and inequality must happen at the speed and scale demanded by scientific reality and the urgent needs of our communities.”
High-Quality Jobs: “We must strive to create and retain millions of high-quality jobs while putting forward bold solutions to climate change. Unions are a primary vehicle to confront the economic insecurity most Americans face.”
Community Resilience: “We must dramatically increase the capacity of the public sector, the health care system, and community-based nonprofit sectors to prepare for and respond to the demands our changing climate places on first responders, healthcare workers, social workers, and others who deal with climate-induced disasters…..”
Repair America: “We cannot address climate change with derelict infrastructure. …. Infrastructure must be designed in ways that reduce emissions and that reflect projected conditions over its lifespan, including the ability to withstand the increased frequency and severity of climate-driven natural disasters.”
Rebuild American Manufacturing: “A comprehensive national commitment to sustainably manufacture the next generation of energy, transportation, and other technologies in the United States will fully capture the benefits to workers and communities.”
Clean Air, Clean Water, Safe and Healthy Workplaces and Communities: “Tackling climate change goes hand in hand with ensuring that all workers and communities have access to clean air and water. We must also guarantee that our workplaces and communities are safe, clean, and free of hazardous chemicals and toxic pollution. This must include stepping up workplace protections and improving our industrial infrastructure through improved process safety and investments in inherently safer technologies.”
Equity for Marginalized Communities: “Generations of economic and racial inequality have disproportionately exposed low-income workers, communities of color, and others to low wages, toxic pollution, and climate threats. We must inject justice into our nation’s economy by ensuring that economic and environmental benefits of climate change solutions support the hardest hit workers and communities.”
The platform offers multiple, specific recommended policies for each of these areas of concern.
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 News; and “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 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.
Heat 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.”
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 .
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 California – 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 Sustainability. Yet “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 .
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).
Advancing 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.”
The U.S. Solar Industry Diversity Study 2019 was released by The Solar Foundation , in partnership with the Solar Energy Industries Association on May 6, reflecting a growing industry awareness of the need to promote inclusion. The 2019 study is based on survey responses from 377 employers and 398 employees in the winter of 2018, and reports on job satisfaction, career paths and progression, and wages.
- Among the senior executives reported in the survey, 88% are white and 80% are men.
- Three of the top five recruitment methods rely on professional and personal networks – putting minority applicants at a disadvantage to be hired (Only 28% of Hispanic , Latino, and African American respondents reported that they found their jobs through a referral or by word of mouth, compared to 44% of white respondents).
- There is a 26% gender wage gap across all position levels. 37% of men earn in the range of $31 to $74 per hour, compared to only 28% of women. The median wage reported for men was $29.19, and for women it was only $21.62.
The full report is available here (registration required). This is the second Diversity Report, but the first, in 2017, is no longer available online. An accompanying Best Practices Guide is a brief guide aimed at HR managers to encourage diversity and inclusion programs. A summary of the report appears in Think Progress .
Other reports which confirm the need for more diversity in the solar industry:
Solar Empowers Some (February 2019) focused on the state of diversity and inclusion in Baltimore and Washington D.C.
Advancing inclusion through clean energy jobs (April 2019) by the Brookings Institution goes beyond just the solar industry to include all clean energy and energy efficiency occupations. It reports that fewer than 20 percent of workers are women, and less than 10 percent are black, confirming that the clean energy economy workforce is older, dominated by male workers, and lacks racial diversity compared to all occupations nationally. This report, importantly, also documents skills and educational requirements, and is written in the context of labour market issues for a transition to a clean economy.
We have little comparable research in Canada. As reported in the WCR previously, Bipasha Baruah at Western University in London researches the gender issue in the renewable energy industry, and in 2016 presented a report, Creating and Optimizing Employment Opportunities for Women in the Clean Energy Sector in Canada, at Imagining Canada’s Future, an SSHRC Knowledge Synthesis Symposium at the University of Calgary.
In what a New York Times article characterizes as “ the largest employee-driven movement on climate change to take place in the influential tech industry”, almost 7,000 employees of tech giant Amazon have now signed their names to an Open Letter to Jeff Bezos and the Amazon Board of Directors, released on April 10. The Letter states: “we ask that you adopt the climate plan shareholder resolution and release a company-wide climate plan that incorporates the principles outlined in this letter.” It then outlines a thorough list of desired actions, including: a complete transition away from fossil fuels rather than relying on carbon offsets; prioritization of climate impact when making business decisions; prioritizing the most vulnerable communities in pollution reduction initiatives related to Amazon locations; and “fair treatment of all employees during climate disruptions and extreme weather events. Unsafe or inaccessible workplaces should not be a reason to withhold pay, terminate, or otherwise penalize employees — including hourly and contract workers.” Amazon Employees for Climate Justice provides updates at their Twitter account here.
According to an article in Gizmodo : “Employees from seemingly every background and department have signed on, from UX designers to biz dev managers to systems development engineers and beyond. A number of senior employees are on board, too—in addition to the VP, at the time of writing, I counted at least eight directors on the list. It’s part of a growing trend towards worker advocacy in the tech industry, coming on the heels of the Google Walkout for Change and the We Won’t Build It effort, also at Amazon.” The culture of empowerment behind the Open Letter is evident in an interview published in Gizmodo, “One of the Amazon Workers Behind the Push to Get Jeff Bezos to Address Climate Change Speaks Out” . Wired also describes the culture of shareholder activism in “Amazon Employees Try A New Form Of Activism, As Shareholders” .
Amazon has more than 65,000 corporate and tech employees in the United States, who are awarded shares as part of their compensation program. In late November and early December, 2018, 16 current and former Amazon employees exercised their rights as shareholders by tabling a shareholder resolution – which has been seen as the trigger for Amazon’s Shipment Zero initiative, a vision to make all Amazon shipments net-zero carbon, with 50 percent of all shipments net zero by 2030. Amazon’s response to the latest Open Letter is partly reproduced in the Gizmodo article, and states: “We have a long history of commitment to sustainability through innovative programs such as Frustration Free Packaging, Ship in Own Container, our network of solar and wind farms, solar on our fulfillment center rooftops, investments in the circular economy with the Closed Loop Fund, and numerous other initiatives happening every day by teams across Amazon. In operations alone, we have over 200 scientists, engineers, and product designers dedicated exclusively to inventing new ways to leverage our scale for the good of customers and the planet. We have a long term commitment to powering our global infrastructure using 100% renewable energy.” Amazon’s corporate website details all its sustainability efforts – and on April 8th, just before the Open Letter was published, a press release announced 3 new wind energy projects, to augment the current level of 50% renewable energy power for the Automated Web Services part of the business.
In a press release on April 22 , New York Mayor Bill de Blasio announced “New York City’s Green New Deal, a bold and audacious plan to attack global warming on all fronts….The City is going after the largest source of emissions in New York by mandating that all large existing buildings cut their emissions – a global first. In addition, the Administration will convert government operations to 100 percent clean electricity, implement a plan to ban inefficient all-glass buildings that waste energy and reduce vehicle emissions.” The full range of Green New Deal policies are laid out in OneNYC 2050: Building a Strong and Fair City, which commits to carbon neutrality by 2050, and 100% clean electricity. The full One NYC strategic plan is comprised of 9 volumes, including Volume 3: An Inclusive Economy , which acknowledges the shifting, precarious labour market and envisions green jobs in a fairer, more equitable environment.
A global first – Energy Efficiency mandates for existing buildings: The Climate Mobilization Act, passed by New York City Council on April 18, lays out the “global first” of regulation of the energy efficiency of existing buildings. Officially called Introduction 1253-C (unofficially called the “Dirty Buildings Bill”), 1253-C governs approximately 50,000 existing large and mid-sized buildings- those over 25,000 sq feet- which are estimated to account for 50% of building emissions. The bill categorizes these buildings by size and use (with exemptions for non-profits, hospitals, religious buildings, rent-controlled housing and low-rise residential buildings ) and sets emissions caps for each category. Buildings which exceed their caps will be subject to substantial fines, beginning in 2024. The goal is to cut emissions by 40 percent by 2030 and 80 percent by 2050.
Seen as historic and innovative, the energy efficiency provisions have been highlighted and summarized in many outlets: “New York City Sets Ambitious Climate Rules for Its Biggest Emitters: Buildings” in Inside Climate News ; “Big Buildings Hurt the Climate. New York City Hopes to Change That” in the New York Times (April 17); “’A New Day in New York’: City Council Passes Sweeping Climate Bill“ in Common Dreams; and best of all, “New York City’s newly passed Green New Deal, explained” (April 23) in Resilience, (originally posted in Grist on April 18).
Job Creation in Retrofitting and Energy Efficiency: The New York City Central Labor Council strongly supports Introduction 1253-C and cites job creation estimates drawn from Constructing a Greener New York, Building By Building , a new report commissioned by Climate Works for All. The report found that 1253-C would create 23,627 direct construction jobs per year in retrofitting, and 16,995 indirect jobs per year in building operation and maintenance, manufacturing and professional services. The report includes a technical appendix which details how it calculated the job estimates, based on the job multipliers developed by Robert Pollin and Jeanette Wicks-Lam at the University of Massachusetts Political Economy Research Institute.
The Mayor’s Green New Deal press release also states “The City, working with partners, will pursue 100 percent carbon-free electricity supply for City government operations with the building of a new connection linking New York City to zero-emission Canadian hydropower. Negotiations will begin right away, with the goal of striking a deal by the end of 2020 and powering city operations entirely with renewable sources of electricity within five years. ” The National Observer describes reaction from Quebec and Hydro Quebec in “New York City’s Green New Deal music to Quebec’s Ears” (April 23).
A letter, dated March 8, was addressed to Senator Ed Markey and Representative Alexandra Ocasio Cortez, and signed by Cecil Roberts, president of the United Mine Workers of America , and Lonnie Stephenson, president of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, on behalf of the AFL-CIO’s Energy Committee. The letter states : “..the Green New Deal resolution is far too short on specific solutions that speak to the jobs of our members and the critical sectors of our economy. It is not rooted in an engineering-based approach and makes promises that are not achievable or realistic.” “…We want to engage on climate issues in a manner that does not impinge on enacting other labor priorities, especially much-needed infrastructure legislation…”
How they would engage and what they would propose is contained in a position paper posted on the IBEW website, and drafted by the IBEW, UMWA, and five other unions in the electric utility, construction, and rail transport sectors. The position paper, Preliminary Labor Positions on Climate Legislation , states their opposition to carbon tax legislation and grave concerns about the Green New Deal . It calls for comprehensive, economy wide climate legislation which would include an national emissions trading scheme, to be introduced no earlier than 10 years after enacting legislation, to allow for development of Carbon Capture Utilization and Storage (CCUS) technologies. It also calls for worker transition protections, including compensation and retraining. The policy document was submitted to the House of Representatives Energy and Commerce Committee for the record of their February 6th meeting: “Time for Action: Addressing the Economic and Environmental Effects of Climate Change“.
Reaction: The Washington Post reported: “AFL-CIO criticizes Green New Deal, calling it ‘not achievable or realistic’” (March 12) and in a follow-up piece , “Labor opposition to Green New Deal could be a big obstacle” ( March 14). The United Mine Workers re-posted the Washington Post article . Friends of the Earth, in its reaction to the March 8 letter, states “one-fifth of the unions that make up the AFL-CIO energy committee commented on the Green New Deal”, and, “With the energy committee’s position, the AFL joins climate deniers like the Koch brothers, the Republican Party and Big Oil. We encourage the AFL and other unions within it to rethink this position.”
Labour Unions and Green Transitions in the USA: Contestations and Explanations is a new report by Dimitris Stevis, released on February 27 by the Adapting Canadian Work and Workplaces to Climate Change (ACW) project. Professor Stevis, from Colorado State University, identifies and provides details about 50 climate change-related initiatives by labour unions in the U.S. , up to May 1, 2018. In his own words: “This report outlines the deep cleavages with respect to climate policy but also argues that the views of unions are more complex and contradictory than the opposition-support dichotomy. Additionally, it seeks to understand what explains the variability in union responses to climate change and policy. What can account for the contradictions evident amongst and within unions?”
From his conclusion: “There is good evidence to suggest that unions can adopt initiatives to deal with climate change and can and have supported climate policy. But it is very unlikely that broader and deeper change can take place without some modification of the institutional and political economy dynamics of the country or, at least, some states. There is plenty of evidence that internal factors do shape the attitudes of unions as there is also good evidence that public policies can steer unions in one direction or another. For that reason strategies that aim at changing public policy at the level of cities, states and, even better, the whole country are necessary. In their absence the road of labour environmentalists will be that much harder.”
The U.S. Energy and Employment Report 2019 edition (USEER) was released by the National Association of State Energy Officials and the think tank Energy Futures Initiative on March 6 , providing detailed statistics about the energy workforce and the industrial sectors in which they work. The 2019 USEER reports on the “Traditional Energy Sector” (composed of fuels; electric power generation; and electric power transmission, distribution and storage) as well as the energy efficiency sector. Those four sectors combined to employ approximately 6.7 million Americans, or 4.6 percent of the workforce, with an employment growth rate of almost 7 percent in 2018, outpacing the economy as a whole. The report also includes statistics on the motor vehicle and parts industry, (excluding automobile dealerships and retailers) – which grew at a rate of 3%, employing over 2.53 million workers. Of these, almost 254,000 employees worked with alternative fuels vehicles, including natural gas, hybrids, plug-in hybrids, all-electric, and fuel cell/hydrogen vehicles, an increase of nearly 34,000 jobs.
Noteworthy trends: the number of jobs in solar decreased by 4.2% in 2018 (the latest Solar Foundation Census reported a decrease of 3.2% for 2017- 2018); Oil and natural gas employers added the most new jobs in the fuel sector, nearly 51,000, most of which were in mining and extraction; the energy efficiency sector produced the most new jobs of any energy sector—over 76,000—with 2,324,866 jobs in total, and an anticipated growth rate of approximately 8%.
This is the second edition of the USEER Report to be published by the National Association of State Energy Officials and Energy Futures Initiative, and as before, it uses same the survey instrument and underlying methodology as was used when the U.S. Department of Energy was responsible, so that data is compatible for year-over-year comparisons. The survey was administered to over 30,000 employers across 53 different energy technologies in late 2018. Data shows: Employment numbers and trends; Employer hiring expectations for the next 12 months; Hiring difficulty by technology and industrial classification; High demand jobs and skills gaps; Workforce demographics by race, ethnicity, gender, and veteran’s status; highly detailed geographic location by state, county, congressional and legislative districts. A separate report on energy wage data is scheduled for release later in 2019. Reports are available in several formats: a Full Report, Executive Summary, and reports by State, as well as individual sections for Fuels; Electric Power Generation Transmission, Distribution, and Storage; Energy Efficiency; and Motor Vehicles & Component Parts.
The Labor Network for Sustainability in the U.S. published a new Discussion Paper written by Jeremy Brecher in late February. 18 Strategies for a Green New Deal: How to Make the Climate Mobilization Work states that initial discussion of the Green New Deal resolution was rightly focussed on values and goals, but this Discussion paper moves on to the “how”- in 18 specific proposals which are itemized individually, but are intended to work together. The paper explains and consolidates many of the goals and strategies which have been proposed before by LNS, including: protect low-income energy consumers and empower communities; mobilize labour and leave no worker behind; ensure worker rights and good union jobs, and yes, provide a “job guarantee.” The 18 Strategies Discussion paper is summarized as “The Green New Deal can work: Here’s How”, which appeared in Commons Dreams on February 25 and was re-posted in Resilience on Feb. 26. In the article, Jermey Brecher states: “A GND will not pit workers against workers and discourage the growth of climate-protecting industries and jobs abroad. It will oppose both escalating trade wars and the free trade utopia of neoliberalism.”
The Labor Network for Sustainability has worked to build solidarity behind the Green New Deal, and on February 26, published a Special Issue of their newsletter, which profiles the GND endorsements and initiatives of the San Diego and Imperial Counties Labor Council in California, SEIU Locals 32BJ in New York, SIEU Local 1021 in San Francisco, and the Business Manager of IBEW Local 103 in Dorchester, Massachusetts, along with other examples and resources. The LNS website also hosts a new blog by Todd Vachon, Green New Deal is a Good Deal for New Jersey workers , in which he argues for the GND and cites some of his research which shows that union members are more likely than the general population to support environmental action.
Sean Sweeney, the Director of Trade Unions for Energy Democracy, has published “The Green New Deal’s Magical Realism” in New Labor Forum, which rejects the “far-fetched” label that many have used for the GND, and argues that “the magnitude of the climate crisis makes the half-measures and failed ‘market mechanisms’ of the mainstream in fact more unrealistic than the bold plans put forward by the Green New Deal.” He further argues that the GND deserves to be defended by the Left, not least because it does not call for carbon pricing. “If it can be sustained, this exclusion will amount to a massive policy breakthrough, because it flies in the face of almost 30 years of investor-focused climate policy.”
Another voice for consensus: David Roberts, the climate change journalist at Vox, who wrote “This is an emergency, damn it: Green New Deal critics are missing the bigger picture (Feb. 23). Roberts states: “….. So that’s the context here: a world tipping over into catastrophe, a political system under siege by reactionary plutocrats, a rare wave of well-organized grassroots enthusiasm, and a guiding document that does nothing but articulate goals that any climate-informed progressive ought to share. Given all that, for those who acknowledge the importance of decarbonizing the economy and recognize how cosmically difficult it is going to be, maybe nitpicking and scolding isn’t the way to go. Maybe the moment calls for a constructive and additive spirit.”
On the other hand, Naomi Klein attacks Republicans, but also unions, in her article “The Battle lines have been drawn on the Green New Deal” , which appeared in The Intercept (Feb. 13) . Klein praises the Canadian Union of Postal Workers for their climate change vision in Delivering Community Power , but singles out “bad actors like the Laborers’ International Union of North America who are determined to split the labor movement and sabotage the prospects for this historic effort.” Calling LiUNA “a fossil fuel astroturf group disguised as a trade union, or at best a company union”, Klein states: “The time has come for the rest of the labor movement to confront and isolate them before they can do more damage. That could take the form of LIUNA members, confident that the Green New Deal will not leave them behind, voting out their pro-boss leaders. Or it could end with LIUNA being tossed out of the AFL-CIO for planetary malpractice.”
The LiUNA official response to the Green New Deal was posted on February 7, and states: “It is exactly how not to successfully enact desperately needed infrastructure investment. It is exactly how not to enact a progressive agenda to address our nation’s dangerous income inequality. And it is exactly how not to win support for critical measures to curb climate change…. threatens to destroy workers’ livelihoods, increase divisions and inequality, and undermine the very goals it seeks to reach. In short, it is a bad deal.”
UPDATE: On March 8, the Energy Committee of the AFL-CIO released a letter they sent to Senator Ed Markey and Representative Alexandria Ocasio Cortez, opposing the Green New Deal. The Washington Post reported: “AFL-CIO criticizes Green New Deal, calling it ‘not achievable or realistic’” (March 12) and in a follow-up piece , “Labor opposition to Green New Deal could be a big obstacle” ( March 14). More details are here, along with a link to a policy paper submitted by IBEW, United Mine Workers of America and others to the House Committee on Energy and Commerce in February 2019.
For all those who are still wandering through the mountains of Green New Deal articles and opinions: Canada’s National Observer published a very brief summary in “What is the Green New Deal and how would it benefit society? (reprinted from The Guardian in the U.K. ). A more detailed explanation appears in The Green New Deal: Mobilizing for a Just, Prosperous and Sustainable Economy , a 14-page paper written by the originators of the concept, Rhianna Gunn-Wright and Robert Hockett at New Consensus, or their 2-page summary . And here is the text of the GND Resolution tabled in the House of Representatives on February 7 2019: Recognizing the Duty of the Federal Government to create a Green New Deal .
On February 7, 2019, freshman Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, in partnership with Ed Markey, tabled a Resolution in the U.S. House of Representatives, titled, “Recognizing the Duty of the Federal Government to create a Green New Deal”. Here is the statement of goals (cut and pasted by WCR from the OAC version): “Resolved, That it is the sense of the House of Representatives that (1) it is the duty of the Federal Government to create a Green New Deal— (A) to achieve net-zero greenhouse gas emissions through a fair and just transition for all communities and workers; (B) to create millions of good, high-wage jobs and ensure prosperity and economic security for all people of the United States; (C) to invest in the infrastructure and industry of the United States to sustainably meet the challenges of the 21st century; (D) to secure for all people of the United States for generations to come—(i) clean air and water; (ii) climate and community resiliency; (iii) healthy food; (iv) access to nature; and (v) a sustainable environment; and (E) to promote justice and equity by stopping current, preventing future, and repairing historic oppression of indigenous peoples, communities of color, migrant communities, deindustrialized communities, depopulated rural communities, the poor, low-income workers, women, the elderly, the unhoused, people with disabilities, and youth (referred to in this resolution as ‘‘frontline and vulnerable communities’’)” .
David Roberts in his article in Vox, states: “The resolution consists of a preamble, five goals, 12 projects, and 15 requirements. The preamble establishes that there are two crises, a climate crisis and an economic crisis of wage stagnation and growing inequality, and that the GND can address both. The goals — achieving net-zero greenhouse gas emissions, creating jobs, providing for a just transition, securing clean air and water — are broadly popular. The projects — things like decarbonizing electricity, transportation, and industry, restoring ecosystems, upgrading buildings and electricity grids — are necessary and sensible (if also extremely ambitious).” Roberts emphasizes the progressive, social justice core of the proposals, including that “the Green New Deal now involves a federal job guarantee, the right to unionize, liberal trade and monopoly policies, and universal housing and health care.”
Media coverage began immediately : “Democrats Formally Call for a Green New Deal, Giving Substance to a Rallying Cry” in the New York Times ; articles also appear in the Washington Post and The Guardian , and Politico compiles general reactions in “Green New Deal lands in the Capitol“. From Jake Johnson of Common Dreams, “‘This Is What Hope Feels Like’: Green New Deal Resolution Hailed as ‘Watershed Moment’ for New Era of Climate Action” .
By February 8, the Washington Post analysis appeared: “No ‘unanimity’ on Green New Deal, says key House Democrat” , which discusses the political odds of success for the Green New Deal – and cites the satirical headline which appeared in The Onion: “Nancy Pelosi Signals Support For Environmental Causes By Placing Green New Deal Directly Into Recycling Bin.” Politico also discusses the political opposition in “The Impossible Green Dream of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez” , referencing the “green dream” label given the plan by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
As of February 8, the AFL-CIO hadn’t posted a reaction. The Labor Network for Sustainability has been strongly in favour of the Green New Deal: see, for example, their post, Twelve Reasons Labour should demand a Green New Deal , written before the proposal was tabled in the House of Representatives.
On February 11, the Sunrise Movement, the key mover behind the Green New Deal, posted their reaction on Common Dreams , pledging to assemble an “unprecedented coalition” , which already includes Justice Democrats, 32BJ SEIU, Green for All, 1199SEIU, Center for Popular Democracy, People’s Action, Working Families Party, Dream Corps, Presente.org, Demos, Sierra Club, 350.org, CREDO, Bold, Organic Consumers Association, Honor the Earth, Seeding Sovereignty, American Sustainable Business Council President, and NextGen. From Sunrise: “We’re planning over 600 Congressional office visits this week to kick start our campaign to build the political and public support for the Green New Deal, which will include getting thousands of organizations signed on to back the resolution.”
A January 25th blog by the Brookings Institution is a recent addition to a series of publications about the workforce implications of the transition to a clean economy. “The Green New Deal promises jobs, but workers need to be ready to fill them” (Jan. 25) broadly discusses the range of occupations which will be affected by the transition to a clean economy, and promises forthcoming research which “will delve deeper” into the workforce issues – going beyond simply job estimates and forecasts to look at skills and training requirements and barriers, as well as working conditions.
Specific to the transformation of the auto manufacturing industry, Brookings has published “What GM’s layoffs reveal about the digitalization of the auto industry” (Dec. 13 2018) and in February 2019, “Equipping today’s AV workforce with skills to succeed tomorrow” , which defines the “digital mobility workforce” to include truck drivers, automotive service technicians and mechanics, and many other jobs beyond the engineers we normally associate with autonomous vehicle production. The article cites the Michigan Alliance for Greater Mobility Advancement (MAGMA), a component of the Workforce Intelligence Network for Southeast Michigan (WIN), which exists to identify the skill needs, and train for, “Michigan’s rapidly changing automotive industry as it moves towards CAV, cybersecurity, embedded software systems, and other emerging technologies.”
Earlier Brookings reports focus on infrastructure jobs, including Infrastructure skills: Knowledge, tools, and training to increase Opportunity (May 2016), and Renewing the water workforce: Improving water infrastructure and creating a pipeline to opportunity (June 2018) . Opportunity Industries: Exploring the industries that concentrate good and promising jobs in metropolitan America (Dec. 2018) also provides an important look at the potential to improve workforce development policies, although it focuses on “good jobs” and “ promising jobs”, rather than green jobs,
Two new reports foresee employment growth in the U.S. renewable energy industry – despite the chilling effect of the tariffs on solar equipment imposed by the Trump administration, as described in a Solar Energy Industry Association press release in December. The first study, Clean Energy sweeps across rural America (November 2018) by the Natural Resources Defence Council examines job growth in wind, solar, and energy efficiency in rural regions throughout the Midwest U.S., and finds that the number of clean energy jobs grew by 6 percent from 2015 to 2016 (a higher rate than the economic in general), to a total of nearly 160,000 in 2017. In 2017, in the rural parts of every midwestern state except North Dakota and Kansas, more people worked in clean energy than in the entire fossil fuel industry. The report emphasizes the outsized impact of job opportunities in rural areas in which job growth is normally negligible or even negative. The report also profiles examples of community solar programs operated by co-ops and investor-owned utilities.
A second report models the impact of replacing Colorado’s coal plants with a mix of wind and solar backed by battery storage and natural gas. This report was prepared by consultants Vibrant Clean Energy and commissioned by energy developer Community Energy Inc., with a main focus on cost savings and carbon emissions. However, it also forecasts job impacts under three scenarios (keeping coal plants to 2040, gradually retiring coal plants, and retiring all coal plants in 2025), and overall, it forecasts a 52% increase in employment in the electricity industry.
The January 9 press release quotes a representative from Community Energy Inc: “The key to unlocking these benefits is to create a legal framework that enables utilities to voluntarily retire the coal plants. Otherwise, it could take years to negotiate or litigate utility cost recovery, replacement power costs and impact on local communities.” The full Coal Plant Retirement study is here .
Finally, the Solar Energy Industries Association issued a press release in early December, highlighting its 2018 initiatives to improve gender equity and diversity – including the creation of the Women’s Empowerment Initiative, which includes summits to increase women’s leadership and various industry opportunities. In September 2018, the SEIA signed a Memorandum of Understanding to help the solar industry recruit and employ more students from the 101 Historically Black Colleges and Universities. This will include hosting a national jobs fair, individual jobs fairs at the HBCU schools and bringing solar companies to campuses for recruitment. A webinar series on diversity and inclusion is scheduled for SEIA member companies in 2019.
As the U.S. Congress returned for its 116th Session in January 2019, newly-elected Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and the Green New Deal have become the symbols of the “freshmen” class in Washington. The term is now everywhere – as shown by “What’s the Deal with the Green New Deal” from the Energy Institute at Haas, University of California at Berkeley, which coins the acronym “GND” and shows a graph of the Twitter traffic on the topic. More substantially, the article critiques the economic, job creation proposals in the Green New Deal proposal, as does economist Edward B. Barbier in “How to make the next Green New Deal work” in Nature.com on January 1. From a Canadian, much less conservative viewpoint, Thomas Clayton-Muller discussed a Canadian version called the “Good work Guarantee”, as proposed by 350.org. in “Canada needs its own Green New Deal. Here’s what it could look like” in the National Observer (Nov. 29) , and Matt Price urged unions to follow the lead in “Unions Should Go Big on a Green New Deal for Canada” in an Opinion piece in The Tyee (Dec. 10) .
Jeremy Brecher and Joe Uehlein of the Labor Network for Sustainability write “The Green New Deal provides a visionary program for labor and can provide a role for unions in defining and leading a new vision for America” in “12 Reasons Labor Should Demand a Green New Deal” in Portside. The article reviews the history of the original U.S. New Deal, but more importantly, shows how the Green New Deal can help U.S. labour unions reclaim bargaining power, political power, and good jobs. They conclude with a long list of Labour goals for any Green New Deal, including: Restore the right to organize: Bargain collectively and engage in concerted action on the job; Guarantee the Constitutional rights to freedom of speech and assembly in the workplace; Restore the right to strike; Guarantee the right to a safe and healthy work environment; Provide a fair and just transition for workers whose jobs may be threatened by economic change; Establish fair labor standards; Establish strong state and local prevailing wage laws; Encourage industry-wide bargaining; Establish a “buy fair” and “buy local” procurement policy. They conclude with suggestions for how unions can support a Green New Deal . Héctor Figueroa , President of 32BJ Service Employees International Union also urges other unions to support the GND, and describes its importance for his union in “For the Future of Our Communities, Labor Support for The Green New Deal” in Common Dreams (Dec. 13) .
The political story of the Green New Deal revolves around the negotiations to form a House of Representatives Select Committee on the Climate Crisis, summarized in a great article from Inside Climate News, “New Congress Members See Climate Solutions and Jobs in a Green New Deal” (Jan. 3). HR-1, the first Bill tabled by the Speaker Nancy Pelosi and the Democratic Party in the new House of Representatives is a 60-page statement, which establishes the mandate of the Select Committee on the Climate Crisis in Section 104, (pages 46-49). Reaction from the Sunrise Movement stated: “The mandate for @nancypelosi‘s Climate Select Committee is out, and it’s everything we feared. No mandate to create a plan on the timeline mandated by top scientists; No language on economic & racial justice, or a just transition; Allows members to accept fossil fuel money. As well, it lacks power to supoena.” Sunrise co-founder Varshini Prakash is extensively quoted in “They Failed Us Once Again’: House Democrats Denounced for Dashing Hopes of Green New Deal” from Common Dreams (Jan. 3), and though disappointed, she states: “In losing this fight on the Select Committee, we have won the biggest breakthrough on climate change in my lifetime.”
The Select Committee is not the only political avenue to deal with climate change. The House Energy and Commerce Committee, led by Democractic Representative Frank Pallone, announced it will hold its first hearing on climate change, as reported by The Hill . And prospective Democratic presidential candidates are under pressure, as described in “Green Leftists Prepare to Give Democratic Candidates Hell” in the New Republic (Jan. 4) .
“Climate Jobs for All” by Jeremy Brecher appeared in CounterPunch on December 3, and it would be hard to find a more knowledgeable guide to the current U.S. policy discussion about a Green New Deal. Brecher traces the origins and evolution of one of the key aspects of the Green New Deal – the Jobs for All Guarantee (JG), which began in 2017 as a policy proposal to combat unemployment and inequality. He then discusses how the concept expanded to include a Climate Jobs for All Guarantee – a jobs guarantee program that is geared to the transition to a climate-safe, fossil-free economy.
The Green New Deal is an increasingly popular and powerful policy within the Democratic Party of the U.S. Here are some of the stepping stones along the way to the present:
In May, 2017, Toward a Marshall Plan for America: Rebuilding Our Towns, Cities, and the Middle Class was published by the Center for American Progress as a proposal for full employment policies, based on the precedent of the Roosevelt New Deal policies of the Great Depression.
The Federal Job Guarantee – A Policy to Achieve Permanent Full Employment was published in March 2018 by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities; also in March, “Why Democrats Should Embrace a Federal Jobs Guarantee” appeared in The Nation .
“The Job Guarantee: Design, Jobs, and Implementation” , published in April 2018, was one of several working papers on the topic by Pavlina R. Tcherneva of Levy Economics Institute of Bard College, New York.
Application to the climate change movement began with “It’s Time for the Climate Movement to Embrace a Federal Jobs Guarantee”, which appeared in In These Times in May 2018, written by two members of the Sunrise Movement, the U.S. youth organization which promotes climate justice, and which has published the Climate Jobs Guarantee Primer .
A Green New Deal: A Progressive Vision for Environmental Sustainability and Economic Stability was published by Data for Progress in September 2018, stating: “This report articulates a vision for a broad set policy goals and investments that aim to achieve environmental sustainability and economic stability in ways that are just and equitable.”
The topic began to hit the headlines with the sit-in at Nancy Pelosi’s office on November 13, organized by youth activists for climate justice in the Sunrise Movement and Justice Democrats . Representative-elect Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez unexpectedly took part in the demonstration, demanding that Pelosi support a Select Committee on the Green New Deal – which had been part of AOC’s platform in the congressional election . David Roberts of Vox provides expert political analysis in “Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is already pressuring Nancy Pelosi on climate change” (Nov. 15) , and The Intercept also reported on the demonstration in “Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez Joins Environmental Activists in Protest at Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi’s Office ” .
For the latest, as Democratic members of Congress begin to sign on, read “The Game-Changing Promise of a Green New Deal” by Naomi Klein in The Intercept (Nov. 27); “Video: Naomi Klein interviews Bernie Sanders on Climate Change” on December 3, before the National Town Hall on Solutions for Climate Change, and “The Green New Deal is designed to win” in The Atlantic (Dec. 5) .
The U.S. Global Change Research Program, a consortium of 13 federal government departments and agencies, released volume 2 of the 4th National Climate Assessment of Climate-change Impacts on the United States on November 23. This report is exceptional for the unequivocal, comprehensive, and detailed information contained, and a new emphasis on the economic impacts of climate change, described as “broader and more systematic”, providing an advancement in the understanding of the financial costs and benefits of climate change impacts. For example, the report estimates a worst-case scenario for 2090 where extreme heat results in “labor-related losses” of an estimated $155 billion annually; also, $141 billion from heat-related deaths, $118 billion from sea level rise and $32 billion from infrastructure damage by the end of the century. Other key themes: the negative impacts of climate change on trade, the disruption of supply chains for U.S. manufacturers, likely loss of productivity for U.S. agriculture, unequal impacts of climate change on vulnerable populations, and the impact on Indigenous peoples.
In an article from the New York Times, climate expert Michael Oppenheimer says, “This report will weaken the Trump administration’s legal case for undoing climate change regulations and it strengthens the hands of those who go to court to fight them.” Small wonder the administration chose to release it on the eve of American Thanksgiving, when public attention would be distracted.
Volume 2, just released, is based on the scientific findings of the 4th National Climate Assessment, Volume 1, which was released in 2017. Volume 2 is over 1500 pages, and is composed of 16 national-level topic chapters, 10 regional chapters, and 2 response chapters. Each of the 29 individual chapters is downloadable from this link. The Overview is here. A Guide briefly explains the modelling assumptions and sources of information used; more specific detail is in Appendix 3: Data tools and scenario products .
Media reaction and summaries include: “Climate Change Puts U.S. Economy and Lives at Risk, and Costs Are Rising, Federal Agencies Warn” in Inside Climate News (Nov. 23); “New National Climate Assessment Shows Climate Change is a Threat to our Economy, Infrastructure and Health” from the Union of Concerned Scientists (Nov. 23); “U.S. economy faces hit, climate change report warns” from the New York Times, reposted to Portside (Nov. 24) ; or “3 big takeaways from the major new US climate report” in Vox (Nov. 24) .
On September 30, the governments of Canada, the United States and Mexico agreed on a replacement of the North American Free Trade Agreement – the United States Mexico Canada Agreement (USMCA). Legislatures in all three countries must now consider and ratify the agreement before it is final; if that happens, it will automatically be reviewed after six years, at which time it will continue for a 16-year period, if all parties agree to that.
What has changed? The new agreement runs to over 1800 pages, including annexes and side letters – a complexity that will take a while to digest. For WCR readers, the major changes of interest relate to the elimination of Chapter 11, (Investor-State Dispute Resolution) for Canada, and a change to auto tariffs, so that, as of 2020, a car will qualify for tariff-free treatment if 75 per cent of its contents are made in North America (an increase from the current NAFTA threshold of 62.5 per cent).
General summaries and reaction: From CBC News “Buried behind the cows and cars: key changes in NAFTA 2.0” ; an iPolitics article on October 3 is headlined “Canada can claim at least partial success of progressive agenda in USMCA” . From the Council of Canadians: “The Good, the bad and the ugly from NAFTA 2.0” with #1 in the “good news” category: “at the request of the U.S., there will be no ISDS process between U.S. and Canada”; also on ISDS, “Canada cheers the end of corporate NAFTA challenges in the new deal” (Toronto Star Oct. 2) . From The Conversation Canada: “Winners and Losers in the new NAFTA” by Atif Kubursi , Professor Emeritus of Economics, McMaster University, who states “ The most significant achievement by Canadian negotiators is their success in preserving Chapter 19 from the original NAFTA” (which covers dispute resolution re tariffs and countervailing duties).
In the bad news category: An Opinion from Gordon Ritchie in The Globe and Mail on Oct. 1 says “NAFTA gets a new name but little else has changed” , reflecting a cynicism that the agreement was an exercise in “branding” by President Trump. It has been noted that Article 32.1 would make it difficult for Canada or Mexico to negotiate any separate free-trade agreements with a “non-market country,” (shorthand for China) . And from a broader view, the New York Times on October 3, “For Canada and U.S., ‘That Relationsip is Gone’ after bitter NAFTA Talks” and “For Canada, a Sigh of relief more than a celebration in new Nafta deal” (Oct. 1), which chronicles the difficulties of negotiation and includes some unique reactions.
The oil and gas industry lobbied and made gains, mostly in provisions relating to Mexico (which maintains the Investor State Dispute Resolution provisions for oil and gas investment) – explained in an article in Grist , and explained in more detail in “Trump’s USMCA delivers big wins to drugmakers, oil companies and tech firms” in the Washington Post. Energy Mix echoes the same ideas from a Canadian viewpoint in “Fossils cheer climate absent as Canada Mexico U.S. reach new trade deal” (Oct. 3) .
On the key issue of the Environment: The National Observer article of October 1 notes that the agreement does not appear to contain the terms “climate change” or “global warming” in any of its chapters, annexes or side letters. The article quotes the Sierra Club in the U.S. : it “includes weak environmental terms that have historically enabled outsourcing of pollution and jobs, fails to make any mention of climate change, and includes special handouts to oil and gas corporations. …Much of the language appears designed to greenwash the deal, not to rectify NAFTA’s threats to wildlife, ecosystems, or clean air and water.” Sierra Club’s “Environmental Audit of the new NAFTA deal” is here . The weaknesses of USMCA on the environmental front are explored in “Trudeau says he still wants to talk climate change and trade with Trump” in the National Observer (Oct. 1). The Canadian government Technical Summary of the Negotiated Outcomes: Environment Chapter states “Climate change remains a priority for Canada, and we remain committed to addressing this issue through ongoing negotiations of a parallel environmental cooperation agreement (ECA).”
Union Reaction to the USMCA: The Canadian Labour Congress welcomes the elimination of Chapter 11 and is “pleased to see the side agreements on labour moved into the main agreement, now subject to a state-to-state dispute resolution process.” in “Along with key gains in the USMCA, Canada’s unions raise concern” (Oct. 1) .
Similarly, Canadian Union of Public Employees posted: “CUPE applauds the elimination of Chapter 11, the ISDS (investor-state dispute settlement) mechanism from NAFTA, which CUPE has long fought to have removed, though it is regrettable that Mexico will remain subject to ISDS provisions” in “NAFTA gets worse for Canadians under USMCA” (Oct. 1) . CUPE continues: “it is disappointing that the agreement does not meet or even come close to the progressive benchmarks that the Liberal government set for itself on NAFTA.”
The current tariffs against Canadian steel and aluminum remain unaffected by the new USMCA, prompting the United Steelworkers to issue a press release: “NAFTA Deal a Sell-Out for Canadian Steel, Aluminum Workers” .
“United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) should offer more protections for workers, says OFL” in a press release (Oct. 2) . “ The OFL calls on the government of Ontario to work alongside their federal counterparts to ensure that the immediate removal of security tariffs on Canadian steel and aluminum are a top priority.”
In a surprisingly subdued press release on September 30, auto workers union Unifor was withholding any celebrations until further study of the language of the official agreement, according to “USMCA framework achieves auto gains: Unifor”
Official Documents related to the USMCA: Canada’s Office of International Trade has compiled Technical summaries of the Chapters and backgrounders at its main website in English and in French . The government’s overview summary is in English here ( in French here ). Also available, Technnical Summaries of the Negotiated Outcomes: for Labour ; for Trade remedies and related dispute settlement (Chapter 19) (re countervailing duties and tariffs); for State-to-State Dispute Settlement ; Section 232 Side Letters summary re auto industry
The full text of USMCA is (so far) available only at the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative. Chapter 23 on Labour is here ; Chapter 24 on the Environment is here ; Chapter 31 on Dispute Settlement is here .
With the well-accepted consensus that climate change will make extreme weather disasters more likely in Canada and around the world, and with the misery of Hurricane Florence in full view, it is time to consider the dilemma of those who must work despite evacuation orders and disaster. A recent AFL-CIO blog (reposted to Portside) summarizes the problem: “You can be fired for not showing up for work during a hurricane” (Sept. 13) . The blog relates the results of a survey conducted by Central Florida Jobs With Justice following Hurricane Irma in 2017, which found that more than half of survey respondents said they faced disciplinary action or termination if they failed to show up to work during the storm. Others weren’t paid if they if they didn’t report for work – making it an impossible choice between a normal, much-needed paycheque, or tending to their own and their family’s safety. Following Hurricane Irma, a few employers instituted climate leave policies, and in June 2018, the Miami-Dade Board of County Commissioners passed an ordinance prohibiting employers from retaliating against employees who comply with evacuation orders during a state of emergency. But for most workers, evacuation is not an option.
A similar situation was reported in the latest newsletter from Labor Network for Sustainability . The Central Labor Council in Miami conducted a survey and interviews, canvassing labor leaders and coalition partners from AFSCME Florida, IUOE and South Florida Building Trades, Unite HERE, United Teachers of Dade, and the Miami Climate Alliance of community, and environmental groups, to find out their concerns about climate change and health. Answers reflected the difficulties of working in extreme heat in a surprising number of ways, and also asked the question: “Have extreme weather events like hurricanes, flooding, or high heat impacted your job on a day to day basis?”. Recurring responses included: “Being required to work during a hurricane or bad weather” , and concerns for job security and losing wages, because of a workplace being closed. Other concerns: unsafe workplaces, being required to work excess hours without allowance for caring for one’s own home, and “Not having access to clean, safe drinking water.”
Similar concerns were reported in a December 2017 report of a survey about the impacts of Hurricane Harvey in Texas, highlighted in the WCR article “What happens to workers when wildfires and natural disasters hit?” . In that summary, we also featured the impacts on families after the wildfires near Fort McMurray in Alberta in 2016. In the case of Alberta, amendments to the Alberta Employment Standards Code took effect in January 2018, providing new Personal and Family Responsibility Leave of up to 5 days of job protection per year for personal sickness or short-term care of an immediate family member, including attending to personal emergencies.
Until legislation makes such personal leaves universal, consider the job and wage protection in the 2014-2019 Collective Agreement between Canadian Union of Public Employees Local 3886 and Royal Roads University in Victoria B.C..
Article 31.8 states:
“a) Should the University, or an area of the University, be closed temporarily due to environmental conditions, utility disruptions, road conditions or other reasons beyond the control of the University, employees shall receive their regular salary (excluding shift differential and weekend premium) during the closure. The University may layoff employees in accordance with the terms of Article 16 if the closure is expected to be for greater than twenty (20)working days.
b) If an employee is called in to work during a temporary closure of the University they will be paid at Overtime rates as per Article 18.02. “
The Global Climate Action Summit (GCAS), which brought together the world’s politicians, business leaders, and civil society organizations in San Francisco, concluded on September 14 . The final Call to Global Climate Action calls on national governments to urgently step up climate action, including by enhancing their UNFCC Nationally Determined Contributions by 2020.The GCAS final press release summarizes the many announcements and 500+ commitments that were made; even more comprehensive is A Chronology of Individual Summit and Pre-Summit Announcements , in which Summit organizers list all important actions and documents, dating back to January 2018. Plans were announced to monitor actions flowing from the Summit at a revamped Climate Action Portal, hosted by the UNFCC – focused around an interactive map as the key to aggregated data about climate action by region and sector.
Labour unions at the Summit: Richard Trumka, President of the AFL-CIO, delivered a speech to the Summit on September 13, “Fight Climate Change the Right way” , in which he highlighted the passage of Resolution 55 at the AFL-CIO Convention in October 2017. He emphasized that the climate change/clean energy resolution was adopted unanimously…”with the outspoken support of the unions whose members work in the energy sector. That part is critical–the workers most impacted by a move away from carbon fuels came together and endorsed a plan to save our people and our planet….”
Trumka also spoke on September 12 at Labor in the Climate Transition: Charting the Roadmap for 2019 and Beyond , an affiliate event sponsored by the University of California Berkeley Labor Center, along with the California Labor Federation, California Building and Construction Trades Council, Service Employees International Union, IBEW 1245, the International Trades Union Confederation, and BlueGreen Alliance. In that speech, titled Collective Action and Shared Sacrifice Key to Fighting Climate Change, Trumka cast the AFL-CIO climate record in a positive light, repeated the success of Resolution 55 at the 2017 Convention, gave a 100% commitment to fighting climate change, and stated: “…we must be open to all methods of reducing carbon emissions—including technologies some environmentalists don’t like.” He concluded: “When the movement to fight climate change ignores the issue of economic justice, or treats it as an afterthought, when we seek to address climate change without respecting the hard work and sacrifice of workers in the energy and manufacturing sectors whose jobs are threatened—we feed the forces who are trying to tear us apart…. If we don’t get this right, we could find that our democracy fails before our climate…as rising fear and rising hate converge on us faster than rising seas.”
The Berkeley event also featured panels on Just Transition, chaired by Samantha Smith, Director, Just Transition Centre of the ITUC, and included Gil McGowan, President, Alberta Federation of Labour, as a speaker, and a panel on Energy Efficiency in buildings , which included John Cartwright, President, Toronto & York Region Labour Council (pictured right) as a speaker. Videos of the Berkeley event are here , including one of the Trumka speech.
Finally, as part of the main Summit announcements, the International Transport Federation (ITF) released a statement in support of the Green and Healthy Streets Declaration by the C40 Cities, which commits signatory cities to procure zero emission buses by 2025 and to ensure that major areas of cities are zero emissions by 2030. (Montreal and Toronto are the two Canadian signatories). The ITF statement, Green & Healthy Streets: Transitioning to zero emission transport , is motivated by the benefits of lowering air pollution and occupational health and safety for transport workers, as well as the economic justice of providing transit opportunities for workers to commute to work.
The ITF and its affiliates commit to: “Working in partnerships with mayors and cities to ensure that the transition to fossil-fuel-free streets is a just transition that creates decent jobs, reduces inequality, and drives inclusion and improvements in the lives of working class and low income people. • Building partnerships with mayors and city authorities to develop and integrate just transition plans that drive decent work and social action, including labour impact assessments, safeguards and job targets for men and women workers. • Mobilising workers knowledge and skills to shape and enhance the supportive actions needed to meet the commitments in the Declaration. • Working in partnerships with mayors and city authorities to deliver a just transition to zero emission buses, including developing plans for relevant worker training.”
Other progress for workplace concerns at the Summit:
Amid the announcements from the formal meetings, one new initiative stands out: the Pledge for a Just Transition to Decent Jobs, which commits renewable energy companies to ILO core labor standards and ILO occupational health and safety standards for themselves and their suppliers, as well as social dialogue with workers and unions, wage guarantees, and social protections such as pension and health benefits. The BTeam press release “Companies step up to Deliver a Just Transition” lists the signatories, and also quotes Sharan Burrow, Vice-Chair of The B Team and General Secretary of the International Trade Union Confederation, who states: “We will not stand by and see stranded workers or stranded communities.… We have to work together with business, with government and workers. We can build a future that’s about the dignity of work, secure employment and shared prosperity.” The BTeam press release also references Just Transition: A Business Guide, published jointly by the B Team and the Just Transition Centre in May 2018.
Another announcement related to the workplace: 21 companies announced the Step Up Declaration, a new alliance “dedicated to harnessing the power of emerging technologies and the fourth industrial revolution to help reduce greenhouse gas emissions across all economic sectors and ensure a climate turning point by 2020.” The press release references “the transformative power of the fourth industrial revolution, which encompasses artificial intelligence (AI), cloud computing and the Internet of Things (IoT). In addition, the declaration acknowledges the role its signatories can play in demonstrating and enabling progress both in their immediate spheres of influence and “collaboratively with others— across all sectors of society, including individuals, corporations, civil society, and governments.” Signatories include several established climate leaders: Akamai Technologies, Arm, Autodesk, Bloomberg, BT, Cisco Systems, Ericsson, HP, Hewlett Packard Enterprise, Lyft, Nokia, Salesforce, Supermicro, Symantec, Tech Mahindra, Uber, Vigilent, VMware, WeWork, Workday.
The Global Climate Action Summit in San Francisco will gather 4,500 delegates from around the world on September 12 – 14. According to the Summit website, “At GCAS governors and mayors, business, investor and civil society leaders will make bold new announcements that will act as a launch-pad to Take Ambition on climate action to the Next Level while calling on national governments to do the same. ” Discussion and statements will be organized around five themes: Healthy Energy Systems, Inclusive Economic Growth, Sustainable Communities, Land and Ocean Stewardship and Transformative Climate Investments.
The University of California Berkeley Labor Center is holding an official “affiliate event” at the Summit, called Labor in the Climate Transition: Charting the Roadmap for 2019 and Beyond . The sold-out event will showcase the best practices in worker-friendly climate policy for 2019 and highlight “the importance of labor unions for building sustainable broad-based coalitions that can support strong climate policies at the state, national and international level.” Co-sponsors of the event are the California Labor Federation, California Building and Construction Trades Council, Service Employees International Union, IBEW 1245, the International Trades Union Council, and BlueGreen Alliance.
The global Rise for Climate action , led by 350.org, was timed for September 8, to capitalize on the publicity and high profile attendees of the San Francisco Summit. According to The Guardian’s report , San Francisco alone attracted 30,000 demonstrators, led by Indigenous leaders. The San Francisco Chronicle also reported that demonstrations will continue throughout the week, in “Angry activists plan to crash Jerry Brown’s SF climate summit” (Sept. 9), and there is an online petition at the “Brown’s Last Chance” protest website , calling for the elimination of fossil fuels in the state.
Among the reports/announcements released so far at the Global Climate Summit: Climate Opportunity: More Jobs; Better Health; Liveable Cities , which estimates that “by 2030, a boost in urban climate action can prevent approximately 1.3 million premature deaths per year, net generate 13.7 million jobs in cities, and save 40 billion hours of commuters’ time plus billions of dollars in reduced household expenses each year.” The report was published by C40 Cities, The Global Covenant of Mayors for Climate & Energy and the New Climate Institute; a press release summarizing the report is here (Sept. 9).
On August 20, Canada’s Minister of Environment and Climate Change published a Discussion Paper to launch consultations on the mid-term evaluation of Canada’s light-duty vehicle greenhouse gas emission regulations for the 2022–2025 model years. Public comments may be submitted to firstname.lastname@example.org by September 28, 2018. Once comments have been reviewed, if the government determines that regulatory changes are needed, it promises a second consultation period. One of the first off the mark with a response: Clean Energy Canada, with “Canada should explore stronger vehicle standards to cut pollution and enhance competitiveness” .
The mid-term review is required by the 2014 regulations under which Canada currently operates, but it comes at a time when Canada must decide whether to continue to align its fuel efficiency standards with the U.S., as it has done for 20 years, or follow its own path. The current Canadian trajectory is shaped by our GHG reduction commitments under the Paris Agreement, the Pan-Canadian Framework for Clean Growth and Climate Change , and a 2017 commitment to develop a national Zero-Emissions Vehicle Strategy by 2018.
But in the U.S. , on August 2, the Trump administration announced the Safer Affordable Fuel Efficient Vehicle Rule (SAFER) , which proposes weakening the EPA’s greenhouse gas emissions standards and Department of Transportation’s Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards for light duty vehicles in model years 2021 through 2025. The proposed rule would also revoke a legal waiver which allows California and 13 other states to set their own pollution standards. Based on arguments made in the document “Make Cars Great Again” , published by the Wall Street Journal, the Trump plan claims it will save $500 billion in “societal costs,” avert thousands of highway fatalities and save consumers an estimated $2,340 on each new automobile. Most of the Administration’s arguments are refuted in “Five Important points about the Safe Vehicle Rule” by the Sabin School of Law at Columbia University. Other critiques: from Vox: “Trump is freezing Obama’s fuel economy standards. Here’s what that could do” (Aug. 2); and “The EPA refuted its own bizarre justification for rolling back fuel efficiency standards” (Aug. 16); “Trump administration to freeze fuel-efficiency requirements in move likely to spur legal battle with states” in the Washington Post (Aug. 2) ; “Trump’s Auto Efficiency Rollback: Losing the Climate Fight, 1 MPG at a Time” by Inside Climate News (Aug. 2) .
What should Canada do? Technical analysis comes in Automobile production in Canada and implications for Canada’s 2025 passenger vehicle greenhouse gas standards, released by the International Council on Clean Transportation in April 2018, which analyzes the Canadian vehicle manufacturing market and sales patterns and describes the possible impacts if Canada aligns weakens its greenhouse gas emission standards with the Trump administration, or maintains its existing standards and aligns with California. Other opinions: From Clean Energy Canada on Aug. 2 , “Canada should hold firm and reject Trump’s efforts to roll back vehicle standards” ; or “On vehicle emissions standards It’s time Canada divorced the United States” in Policy Options (April 2018); and “Trump’s plan to scare Americans into supporting car pollution” in the National Observer (Aug. 7) .
The heat waves that have gripped much of the world in June and July have also been manifest in Canada, where as many as 70 people died in Quebec (mostly in Montreal), as temperatures stayed at over 40 degrees Celsius with the humidex. Many more are likely to have died, but Health Canada does not keep statistics on heat related deaths. In their July 7 press release on the topic, the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment quote figures from the Climate Atlas of Canada which state: “Before 2005, Montreal had, on average, 8 days per year with temperatures over 30 degrees C. With climate change, it is predicted that Montreal will experience more than 50 days per year with extreme temperatures by 2050.” For Toronto, the prediction is for 55 days per year with temperatures over 30 degrees after 2050.
In general, public attention and interventions are normally directed to the most vulnerable in the population: the aged, chronically ill, homeless and those living alone, as in “Doctors urge population to stay cool after dozens die during heat wave in Central Canada” in the National Observer (July 10). But what about workers, who may not have the option to “cool off”?
On July 17, the U.S. advocacy group Public Citizen published Extreme Heat and Unprotected Workers , describing the state of regulation in the U.S., current and historical statistics on heat-related illness and death, particularly for construction and farm workers, the likely exacerbation of the situation due to climate change, and making the case for a federal heat stress standard. One example: The report states that from 1992 to 2016, heat killed 783 workers in the U.S. and seriously injured nearly 70,000. Based on this hard-hitting analysis, Public Citizen, along with United Farm Workers Foundation and Farmworker Justice, joined more than 130 public health and environmental groups in submitting a petition to the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration, calling for the agency to require employers to protect their workers from heat by imposing mandatory rest breaks, hydration and access to shade or cooled spaces, among other measures. The report is summarized by Inside Climate News in “Heat Wave Safety: 130 Groups Call for Protections for Farm, Construction Workers ” .
In a July article in Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, published by the U.S. Centres for Disease Control (CDC) , researchers recommend using a heat index of 85 degrees F as a threshold for potentially hazardous worker heat stress, rather than the current U.S. standard of 91 degrees F (32.8C). They base this recommendation on a review of 25 incidents of outdoor occupational heat-related illnesses, including 14 deaths, that were investigated by the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) between 2011 and 2016. They found a risk of illness at a heat index of just 29.4 C (85 F) – and 6 deaths happened below 90 degrees F. The authors also noted: “Employers often obtain heat index information from publicly broadcasted weather reports or forecasts that do not necessarily reflect conditions at their work sites.” Other recommendations from the article: “ a comprehensive heat-related illness prevention program should include an acclimatization schedule for newly hired workers and unacclimatized long-term workers (e.g., during early-season heat waves), training for workers and supervisors about symptom recognition and first aid (e.g., aggressive cooling of presumed heat stroke victims before medical professionals arrive), engineering and administrative controls to reduce heat stress, medical surveillance, and provision of fluids and shady areas for rest breaks.”
In Canada, Professor Glenn Kenny of the University of Ottawa is an expert on the effects of heat stress on older people, and on workers. Some of the studies on which he has collaborated: “Heat Exposure in the Canadian Workplace” (2010) in the American Journal of Industrial Medicine , in which he points out the strengths and weaknesses of the Threshold Limit Values (TLVs) based upon Wet Bulb Globe Temperature (WBGT), the standard used in most Canadian jurisdictions; “Do the Threshold Limit Values for work in hot conditions adequately protect workers?” (2016) ; and “An evaluation of the physiological strain experienced by electrical utility workers in North America” (2015) in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Hygiene .
What are the existing heat standards for workers? A fact sheet from The Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety (CCOHS), Temperature conditions: Legislation , provides a summary chart of Canadian legislation, ranging from Alberta, (which has guidelines only), to Ontario, which has the most specific standards, set out in clause 25(2)(h) of the Occupational Health and Safety Act . Also useful: CCOHS Fact Sheet: Humidex and work and Thermal Comfort for Office work. From the Occupational Health Clinics for Ontario Workers (OHCOW) – Humidex Based Heat Response Plan (2014).
In the U.S., Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) maintains a web portal for working in indoor and outdoor heat and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health portal on heat stress is here. NIOSH also publishes information on Hazards to Outdoor Workers which includes heat, sun exposure, vector- borne diseases by ticks, mosquitos, and a separate fact sheet for Lyme disease(none of which have been updated since 2010) . In February 2016, the NIOSH published Criteria for a Recommended Standard: Occupational Exposure to Heat and Hot Environments, which updated the previous version from 1986.
The federal government’s announcement of new fuel-efficiency standards for light-duty trucks and buses on June 14 presents an opportunity for electric vehicles in Canada, according to an article by Clean Energy Canada. “Electric buses and trucks a big (rig) opportunity for Canadian innovators” argues that the new regulations will limit the lifespan of heavy- and medium-duty trucks in Canada, by requiring the older, more polluting vehicles to be replaced by cleaner vehicles. The article provides an overview of examples.
Canadian examples: An article from Corporate Knights magazine in January 2018: “The e-bus revolution has arrived”. In March, Winnipeg Transit released the first Report on its Bus Electrification Demonstration Project which began in 2015 ( summarized by the CBC here) . Winnipeg is home to the New Flyer Industries, which manufactures the battery-electric buses in use. The government of Quebec announced its Sustainable Mobility Plan in April 2018, with an emphasis on transit and electrification. New Flyer buses, along with those from Nova Bus from Quebec are being tested in the Pan-Ontario and Pan-Canadian Electric Bus Demonstration and Integration Trials , launched in April 2018 and coordinated by Canadian Urban Transit Research and Innovation Consortium (CUTRIC- CRITUC) . Their CUTRIC-CRITUC news site provides updates; their 2018 Biennial Forum, Building Low-Carbon Smart Mobility Projects Across Canada, gathered industry players in Montreal, June 21 and 22.
U.S. News: A June 21 article in the New York Times cites many examples of electric fleet conversion. “Buses, Delivery Vans and Garbage Trucks Are the Electric Vehicles Next Door” in the (June 21) highlights the Antelope Valley Transit Authority in Los Angeles County, which intends to replace all diesel buses with 80 fully-electric ones in 2018; the Chicago Transit Authority (planning to buy 20 electric buses) ; San Francisco ( will convert to electric-only bus procurement starting in 2025, aiming for an all-electric fleet by 2035), as well as the Los Angeles Sanitation department for garbage trucks, Duke Energy for pick-up trucks. An article in Cleantechnica, “UPS Places Order For 950 Workhorse N-GEN Electric Delivery Vans” describes Workhorse products, which include the N-GEN vans sold to UPS and which are also competing (with partner VT Hackney) in the US Postal Service procurement process for Next Generation Delivery Vehicles. The N-GEN vans offer an option to include the Horsefly autonomous delivery drones .
The Transportation Electrification Accord (TEA) was officially launched in Portland, Oregon at the EV Roadmap 11 conference on June 19. In fact, the Accord was first signed in November 2017 , according to the Sierra Club press release which describes it and lists the original signatories, including the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers District Nine, Natural Resources Defense Council, Sierra Club, as well as Plug In America, and industry organizations Advanced Energy Economy, Energy Foundation, Enervee, Illinois Citizens Utility Board, Proterra, and Siemens. Honda and General Motors signed on at the June 19 launch.
The “Accord” is a voluntary statement of eleven principles, meant to educate policymakers and inspire change. The first two principles are: 1. There is a clear case on both policy and regulatory grounds for electrifying transportation, which can provide benefits to all consumers (including the socioeconomically disadvantaged), advance economic development, create jobs, provide grid services, integrate more renewable energy, and cut air pollution and greenhouse gases.
2. Electrified transportation should include not only light-duty passenger vehicles, but also heavy-duty vehicles (e.g., transit buses and delivery trucks), as well as off-road equipment (e.g., airport and port electrification equipment).
Globally: A March 2018 report from Bloomberg New Energy Finance and the C-40 Leadership Initiative provides a great overview of statistics and analysis: Electric buses in cities and demonstrates the strength of China’s leadership. The city of Shensen has been seen as the poster child of this strength – for example, read the blog from the World Resources Institute in April 2018 “How did Shenshen China build the world’s largest electric bus fleet?“. The Global EV Outlook 2018 released by the International Energy Association at the end of May focuses mostly on the growth of personal vehicles, but reported that the stock of electric buses rose from 345,000 in 2016 to 370,000 in 2017 , (with electric two-wheelers at 250 million). Growth has been driven almost entirely by China, which accounts for more than 99% of both electric bus and two-wheeler stock.
The 2018 U.S. Energy & Employment Report (USEER) was released in May, reporting that the traditional Energy and Energy Efficiency sectors employ approximately 6.5 million Americans, with a job growth rate of approximately 133,000 net new jobs in 2017 – approximately 7% of total U.S. new job growth. The report provides detailed employment data for energy sectors including Electric Power Generation and Fuels Production (including biofuels, solar, wind, hydro and nuclear) and Electricity Transmission, Distribution and Storage. It also includes two energy end-use sectors: Energy Efficiency and Motor Vehicle production (including alternative fuel vehicles and parts production). It is important to note that, unlike many other sources, this survey includes only direct jobs, and not indirect and induced jobs.
In addition to overall employment totals, the report provides an in-depth view of the hiring difficulty, in-demand occupations, and demographic composition of the workforce – including breakdowns by gender, age, race and by union composition. As an example for solar electric power generation: “about a third of the solar workforce in 2017 was female, roughly two in ten workers are Hispanic or Latino, and under one in ten are Asian or are Black or African American. In 2017, solar projects involving PV technologies had a higher concentration of workers aged 55 and over, compared to CSP technologies.”
The previous USEER reports for 2016 and 2017 were compiled and published by the U.S. Department of Energy. In 2018, under the Trump Administration, two non-profit organizations, the National Association of State Energy Officials and the Energy Futures Initiative, took over the task of compiling the data, using the identical survey instrument developed by the DOE. Timing was coordinated so that year over year comparisons with the precious surveys are possible. Peer review of the report was performed by Robert Pollin, (Political Economy Research Institute) and James Barrett, (Visiting Fellow, American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy). The overview website, with free data tables at the state level, is here .
A Guidance Document was released by the American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine in February 2018. Responsibilities of the Occupational and Environmental Medicine Provider in the Treatment and Prevention of Climate Change-Related Health Problems (also appearing in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine ) is intended to set standards for physicians specializing in workplace health. The Guidance Document provides concise and very current information about the direct physical impacts related to climate change (heat stress and ultraviolet exposure, air quality, and allergic sensitivities) as well as indirect impacts (disaster zone exposure, stress and mental health, and waterborne and vector-borne disease). Most of this information is not new: two previous major reports have covered the same ground: The Lancet Countdown Report for 2017, (which links climate change and specific health conditions for the population at large, not just workers, and which included a report for Canada ), and the landmark U.S . Global Change Research Program report, The Impacts of Climate Change on Human Health in the United States: A Scientific Assessment (2016) .
What is important about this new Guidance Document? It focuses on the workplace, and sets standards for the role of occupational health physicians which include a responsibility to protect workers. For example: “Provide guidance to the employers on how to protect working populations in the outdoors or in the field who are potentially exposed to the extreme temperatures…. Quickly identify employees with acute and chronic cardiovascular and respiratory illnesses within the organization who will be significantly affected by increasing temperature and worsening air quality, an increase in ozone, particulate matter, and high pollen count ….Provide effective guidance to employers about seasonal activity and address the increasing risk of vector-borne disease among the working population…. Deliver support to the employees at risk for mental illness due to disasters, loss, and migration by providing more comprehensive programs through their employment…. The article concludes with: “ OEM providers are called to be on the forefront of emerging health issues pertaining to working populations including climate change. The competent OEM provider should address individual and organizational factors that impact the health and productivity of workers as well as create policies that ensure a healthy workforce.”
There is also a call to action in a new report from France’s Agency for Food, Environmental and Occupational Health & Safety. The full expert analysis is available only in French ; an English abstract is here . The report predicts the occupational risks associated with climate change, from now till 2050, and identifies the main drivers of change: rising temperatures, changes in the biological and chemical environment, and a change in the frequency and intensity of extreme events. What’s new in this report? It highlights the breadth of impact of climate change, stating that it will affect all occupational risks, except those associated with noise and artificial radiation. The report also makes recommendations, urging immediate workplace awareness campaigns and training about the health effects of climate change, with a preventive focus. From the English summary: “The Agency especially recommends encouraging all the parties concerned to immediately start integrating the climate change impacts that are already perceptible, or that can be anticipated, in their occupational risk assessment approaches, in order to deploy suitable preventive measures.” The full report (in French only): Évaluation des risques induits par le changement climatique sur la santé des travailleurs (262 pages) is dated January 2018 but released in April. It was requested by France’s Directorate General for Health and the Directorate General for Labour, to support the country’s 2011 National Adaptation to Climate Change Action Plan (PNACC).
On April 3, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced its decision in a midterm evaluation of the fuel-economy standards for light vehicles manufactured in 2022-2025. EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt issued his Final Determination , supported by a 38-page analysis – which overturned the evidence of a 1,200-page draft Technical Assessment Report completed under President Obama in 2016. This opens up the uncertainty of a new rule-making process, with vehement opposition from the State of California, which is entitled to set its own emissions standards, as well as other players in the U.S., including over 50 mayors and state Attorney Generals from across the U.S., who issued their own Local Leaders Clean Car Declaration . The Declaration states: “ Whatever decisions the Administration may make, we are committed to using our market power and our regulatory authority to ensure that the vehicle fleets deployed in our jurisdictions fully meet or exceed the promises made by the auto industry in 2012.” Within the auto industry, parts-makers represented by the Automotive Technology Leadership Group (including the Motor & Equipment Manufacturers Association, the Manufacturers of Emission Controls Association, and the Aluminum Association) support the existing standards . The Alliance for Automobile Manufacturers trade group, which represents Toyota, Ford, General Motors, Fiat Chrysler, BMW, Mercedes, and Volkswagen, have pushed for lower standards since the Trump inauguration.
All of this matters for Canada for at least two reasons: 1). 95% of vehicles manufactured in Canada are exported to the U.S., and thus our fuel emissions regulations have been developed in collaboration with the U.S. EPA – most recently to govern production for 2017 – 2025 models, and 2). transportation represents the 2nd highest source of emissions in Canada. The WCR surveyed Canadian reaction in March 2017, when Donald Trump first authorized the EPA review. Now, with the decision published, recent reaction appears in “Canada in tough position if Trump Administration lessens vehicle standards” in the Globe and Mail (April 1); the National Observer “Scott Pruitt delivers another Trump-era shock to Canada’s climate change plan” ( April 2) ; “Trump’s fuel economy rollback leaves Trudeau in a bind: Follow the U.S., or take a stand” (April 3) in the Toronto Star , which quotes the the Canadian Vehicle Manufacturers’ Association, as saying that “both Canadian consumers and climate efforts could be harmed if Trudeau decides to maintain a higher standard for Canada than Trump does for the U.S.” . Unifor, representing most Canadian auto workers, has not issued a reaction yet, although president Jerry Dias was quoted in March 2017 in “ Auto workers union takes aim at Trump’s examination of fuel standards” in the Globe and Mail, stating that he “would fight any attempt to roll back environmentally friendly regulations in the auto industry ”.
For well-informed U.S. reaction, see “Stronger fuel standards make sense, even when gas prices are low ” in The Conversation; “Why EPA’s Effort to Weaken Fuel Efficiency Standards Could be Trump’s Most Climate-Damaging Move Yet” in Inside Climate News (April 2 ) ; from the American Council for an Energy- Efficient Economy “EPA fails to do Its homework on light-duty standards” ; and “Auto Alliance Pushed Climate Denial to Get Trump Admin to Abandon Obama Fuel Efficiency Standards” in DeSmog (April 2).
Donald Trump’s decision to impose tariffs on solar panels and washing machines on January 23 was roundly criticized on many grounds – most frequently, the impact on jobs in the solar industry, as stated in the New York Times Editorial on January 23 ,“Mr. Trump’s Tariffs will not bring back manufacturing jobs”. The Times supported their opinion with several articles, including “Trump’s Solar Tariffs are clouding the industry’s future” (Jan. 23) , which states: “Far more workers are employed in areas that underpin the use of solar technology, such as making steel racks that angle the panels toward the sun. And the bulk of workers in the solar industry install and maintain the projects, a process that is labor-intensive and hard to automate.” The Solar Energy Industries Association in the U.S. response is here, and their Fact Sheet (Feb. 2) explains the terms and impact of the decision. The Solar Foundation released its 8th annual Jobs Census on February 7, revealing the first-ever year of decline in the number of jobs, but still a census of over 250,000 workers. For a thorough overview, see the Fact Checker article by the Washington Post, “Trump says solar tariff will create ‘a lot of jobs.’ But it could wipe out many more” (Jan. 29).
Three Canadian solar companies immediately filed a suit against the tariffs in the U.S. Court of International Trade, arguing that they violate NAFTA. The EU, China, South Korea, and Taiwan have also filed complaints at the World Trade Organization. For a deeper look at the possible implications for other countries, including Canada, consider the complexity of global trade: From an excellent overview in The Energy Mix: “Trump Solar Tariff may be opening salvo in trade war”: “Although China appeared to be Trump’s intended target, the tariff on solar cells and panels will mostly hit workers in other countries. Thanks to dispersed supply chains—and partly in response to previous U.S. tariffs—solar photovoltaic manufacturing is a global industry. Malaysia, South Korea, and Vietnam all hold a larger share of the U.S. market than China does directly. And all are entitled to seek remedies under various trade agreements.” The Energy Mix item refers to “U.S. tariffs aimed at China and South Korea hit targets worldwide” in the New York Times (Jan. 23), which adds: “Suniva, one of the American solar companies that had sought the tariffs, filed for bankruptcy protection last year, citing the effects of Chinese imports. But the majority owner of Suniva is itself Chinese, and the company’s American bankruptcy trustee supported the trade litigation over the objections of the Chinese owners.” From Reuters, “Why the US decision on solar panels could hit Europe and Asia hard” states that Goldman Sachs estimated that the tariffs implied “a 3-7 percent cost increase for utility-scale and residential solar costs, respectively …. Two key exclusions with respect to technology and certain countries (Canada/Singapore, among others) were included as part of the (initial) recommendation.” Canadian Solar , founded in Canada but a multinational traded on NASDAQ, is one the world’s biggest panel manufacturers.
For an overview of the current state of the U.S. renewable energy markets and labour force, including solar, see In Demand: Clean Energy, Sustainability and the new American Workforce (Jan. 2018) , co-authored by Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) and Meister Consultants Group. Highlights: there are 4 million clean energy jobs in the U.S., with wind and solar energy jobs outnumbering coal and gas jobs in 30 states. Quoting the IRENA Renewable Energy and Jobs Annual Review for 2017 , the In Demand report states that: “The solar industry grew 24.5 percent to employ 260,000 workers, adding jobs at nearly 17 times the rate of the overall economy in 2016.” The coal industry employs 160,000 workers in the U.S. In Demand compiles statistics from the U.S. Department of Energy, International Energy Agency, International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) and many others, about current and projected clean energy markets and employment in the U.S.: renewable energy, energy efficiency, alternative vehicles, and energy storage and advanced grid sectors.
A new study which examined how LEED-certified green buildings had performed over a 16 year period reported that the green buildings delivered $7.5B in energy savings, $1.4B of benefits in reduced greenhouse gas emissions, and a further $4.4B in public health benefits. Those health benefits included an estimate of 21,000 lost days of work avoided in the U.S. alone; other health benefits derive from avoiding an estimated 172–405 premature deaths, 171 hospital admissions, 11,000 asthma exacerbations, 54,000 respiratory symptoms, and 16,000 lost days of school in the U.S. The results are summarized in “Harvard study: Green buildings deliver nearly $6bn in health and climate benefits” ; the full study appears as “Energy savings, emission reductions, and health co-benefits of the green building movement” in the Journal of Exposure Science and Environmental Epidemiology online (Jan. 30) (restricted access). The study was commissioned by the engineering company United Technologies Corporation and conducted by researchers at Harvard’s Healthy Buildings program at the T.H. Chan School of Public Health. Buildings studied were located in the U.S., China, India, Brazil , Germany and Turkey.
Although Canada was not included in the study, on January 22, the Canada Green Building Council announced that Canada ranked second amongst countries outside the U.S. for its LEED-certified buildings, with a current total of 2,970 projects totaling more than 40.77 million gross square meters of space. The 2017 annual Top 10 Countries and Regions for LEED list is compiled by the U.S. Green Building Council to recognize LEED markets outside the U.S., which remains the largest market at 30,669 projects with 385.65 million gross square meters of space. China is the largest market outside the U.S., followed by Canada, followed by India, Brazil, and Germany. In February 2018, certification and professional credentialing services for LEED and other energy-efficiency programs in Canada will change, with the launch of a joint venture between the Canada Green Building Council and for-profit Green Building Certification Inc. Canada ( GBCI). The relationship of the two bodies is outlined in their press release .
A November 2017 report from the Labor Center at University of California Berkeley examined the “California Policy Model” – defined as a collection of 51 pieces of legislation and policy implementations enacted in California between 2011 and 2016 – and found that with progressive policies such as minimum wage increases, increased access to health insurance, reduction of carbon emissions and higher taxes on the wealthy, the state showed superior economic performance in comparison to Republican-controlled states and to a simulated version of California without such policies. According to “California is Working: The Effects of California’s Public Policy on Jobs and the Economy since 2011“, the suite of progressive policies resulted in superior total employment growth , superior private sector employment growth, and higher wage growth for low-wage workers from 2014 to 2016. All the while, keeping the state on track to meet its 2020 GHG emissions targets. The environmental policies included in the analysis were: starting in 2006, AB 32, which committed the state to lowering its greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by 2020; regulations under AB 32 in 2012 and 2013, which introduced the state cap and trade program; SB 350 in 2015 and 2016, committing the state to greater use of renewable energy and further improvements in energy efficiency ; and SB 32, which raised the emissions reduction goal to 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2030. The report warns that enforcement of labour standards and a lack of affordable housing remain as challenges facing the state, and also admits to possible weakness regarding the second of its two methods of analysis, the synthetic control statistical method.
The 40-plus temperatures and melting asphalt of Australia’s latest heat wave seem hard to understand for North Americans shivering under a polar vortex, but both temperature extremes relate to climate change, and both can be deadly for vulnerable groups, including outdoor workers. On December 22, a new scientific paper was published in Environmental Research Letters and summarized in layman’s terms by Climate News Network as “Humidity is the real heat wave threat” (December 24). In “Temperature and humidity based projections of a rapid rise in global heat stress exposure during the 21st century” in Environmental Research Letters, scientists at Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory used numerous models to project frequency of high wet-bulb readings, (a scale which combines heat and humidity). The authors project that in the south-east U.S., where current wet-bulb temperatures now reach 29 or 30°C only occasionally, such highs could occur 25 to 40 days per year by the 2070’s or 2080’s, and wet-bulb temperatures of 35°C could occur on one or two days a year. (35°C on a wet-bulb scale is considered the limit of human survivability.)
The situation would be worse in parts of South America, China, and especially in Northeast India and coastal West Africa, where there is little cooling infrastructure, relatively low adaptive capacity, and rapidly growing populations. The authors conclude that “ heat stress may prove to be one of the most widely experienced and directly dangerous aspects of climate change, posing a severe threat to human health, energy infrastructure, and outdoor activities ranging from agricultural production to military training.” One might add, to any outdoor worker, including those in agriculture, construction , delivery, and emergency responders.
Similar warnings were published for farmers in Asia in “Deadly heat waves projected in the densely populated agricultural regions of South Asia” in Science Advances (August 2, 2017), summarized by Inside Climate News. Researchers at Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles concluded “The most intense hazard from extreme future heat waves is concentrated around densely populated agricultural regions of the Ganges and Indus river basins.”
But a recent article from Climate News Network shows that we’re all in this together. ” Warming drives climate refugees to Europe” (Dec. 22) summarizes a study which combined EU asylum-application data with projections of future warming, and concludes that even under optimistic scenarios, asylum applications to the EU would increase by 28% by 2100 . The article concludes “Though poorer countries in hotter regions are most vulnerable to climate change, our findings highlight the extent to which countries are interlinked, and Europe will see increasing numbers of desperate people fleeing their home countries.”
Sadly, we are becoming used to seeing headlines about the costs of fighting climate change-related wildfires, hurricanes, and floods – most recently, the record wildfire season of 2017. These news reports usually discuss loss in terms of the value of insurance claims – for example, “Northern Alberta Wildfire Costliest Insured Natural Disaster in Canadian History – Estimate of insured losses: $3.58 billion” from the Insurance Bureau of Canada, or in terms of the budgets of emergency service agencies – for example, “Cost of fighting U.S. wildfires topped $2 billion in 2017” from Reuters (Sept. 14), or in terms of health and mental health effects – for example, “Economic analysis of health effects from forest fires” in the Canadian Journal of Forest Research (2006). “The Science behind B.C.’s Forest Fires” (December 5) post by West Coast Environmental Law discusses the links to climate change, and concludes that the record wildfires of 2017 foreshadow growing economic and human costs in the future.
When employment effects of disasters are reported, it is usually by statistical agencies interested in working days lost or unemployment effects, for example, “Wildfires in northern Alberta: Impact on hours worked, May and June, 2016” from Statistics Canada, or “Hurricane Katrina’s effects on industry employment and wages ” from the Bureau of Labor Statistics ( 2006) . While all these are important, Hurricane Katrina taught that there are also other aspects, including those of environmental and economic justice.
One recent example which illustrates recurring patterns: on December 5, the Kaiser Family Foundation and the Episcopal Health Foundation in Texas released the results of a survey about the impacts of Hurricane Harvey . While most of the survey reports on the loss of homes and cars, it also measures employment impacts: 46% of respondents reported that they or someone else in their household lost job-related income as a result of the storm – through fewer hours at work (32%), losing a job entirely (12%) or losing income from a small business or unpaid missed days (32%). And as so often is the case, income disruptions affected a greater share of Hispanic (65%) and Black (46%) residents compared to White residents (31%).
Two recent news reports highlight a more surprising story of the California wildfires: “California Is Running Out of Inmates to Fight Its Fires” in The Atlantic (Dec. 7 2017) and “Incarcerated women risk their lives fighting California fires. It’s part of a long history of prison labor” (Oct. 22, 2017) . These articles describe the long-standing practice in California of using prison inmates as firefighters: in the current season, almost 3,000 of the 9,000 firefighters battling wildfires are inmates, who get a few dollars plus two days off their sentences for each day spent fighting wildfires.
The Fort MacMurray wildfires in northern Alberta in 2016 rank as the costliest natural disaster in Canadian history, exceeding the previous record, which was the 2013 flooding in Calgary and southern Alberta. That ranking is based on the estimate by the Insurance Bureau of Canada of $3.58 billion; the Conference Board of Canada also reported on the economic impacts (free; registration required). Statistics Canada measured work days lost and employment insurance claims through their Labour Force Survey instrument, and so were able to differentiate effects by sector, sex and age, as location, in two reports: Wildfires in northern Alberta: Impact on hours worked, May and June, 2016 (November 2016) and “Wildfires in northern Alberta affected hours and Employment Insurance beneficiaries”, a section in the Annual Review of the Labour Market, 2016 .
Another assessment of the total financial impact of the Fort McMurray wildfire estimated the financial impact of the Fort MacMurray fire was $9.9 billion, as reported by the CBC (January 2017) and the Toronto Star (January 17). That research, by two economists from MacEwan University in Edmonton, was commissioned by the Institute for Catastrophic Loss Reduction , but does not appear to have been published as of December 2017. Their estimates included indirect impacts such as the expense of replacing buildings and infrastructure, lost income, and lost profits and royalties in the oilsands and forestry industries. And they estimate the mental health impacts and cost of suffering of the firefighters as $3.78 million.
Excellent news reports also described the employment situation – including the government and union support for workers : “ Fort MacMurray wildfires leaves livelihoods in limbo” in the Globe and Mail (updated March 2017); “Fort MacMurray smoke halts major oilsands project” in the National Observer (May 7 2016), “ Fort McMurray firefighters who slew ‘The Beast’ now battling emotional demons” from CBC News (July 3 2016) , and “Resilient but tired: Mental effects of wildfire lingering in Fort McMurray” in The National Observer (Dec. 18 2017).
An Employment Fact Sheet from ProBono Law website answers FAQ’s regarding workers’ rights in Alberta as of May 2016 – such questions as: . “If business operations are badly affected and an employer has no work for some or all employees, does the employer have to pay them …?” (No); “An employee’s home was badly affected by the fire. Are they entitled to paid or unpaid leave to sort out the personal problems caused by the fire?” (No, employees are not entitled , but some employers do offer such leaves as part of their benefit plans or will offer them if asked.) Future recourse regarding leave provisions may be available as of January 2018, when the Alberta Employment Standards Code is amended to provide new Personal and Family Responsibility Leave of up to 5 days of job protection per year for personal sickness or short-term care of an immediate family member, which includes attending to personal emergencies. And failing that, there is always the hope, as described in the Toronto Star, that “Workplaces are adapting to climate change by offering paid extreme weather leave” (November 14).
On November 16, TransCanada Pipeline shut down the existing Keystone Pipeline to contain a spill in South Dakota, estimated at 210,000 gallons– the third in the area since operations began in 2010. Reports include “South Dakota Warns It Could Revoke Keystone Pipeline Permit Over Oil Spill” in Inside Climate News . On November 20, the Nebraska Public Service Commission granted approval to Keystone – but an approval which Anthony Swift at NRDC describes as a “pyrrhic victory” because the original proposed route through Nebraska was rejected, and the new alternative route approved – the Keystone Mainline Alternative route – must now undergo new state and federal environmental approval processes . Official intervenors may also file an appeal in the Nebraska courts within 30 days and may petition the Public Service Commission for a rehearing within ten days. Even TransCanada seems to wonder if the Keystone will ever get built – the official press release states: “As a result of today’s decision, we will conduct a careful review of the Public Service Commission’s ruling while assessing how the decision would impact the cost and schedule of the project. ” Other reaction to the news of the approval: from The National Observer ; Alberta’s Calgary Herald; Council of Canadians ; Bold Nebraska (an alliance of landowners, environmental groups and First Nations), and from Common Dreams, ” ‘This Fight Is Far From Over’ Groups Declare as Nebraska Clears Path for Keystone XL Construction” – summarizing the responses of 350.org and the Sierra Club.
As for strong and resolute opposition: In May 2017, CBC reported that leaders of the Blackfoot Confederacy in Canada, the Great Sioux Nation (U.S.) and the Ponca tribe (U.S.) signed a joint declaration of opposition to Keystone XL . In a broader coalition, First Nations, along with non-native groups such as 350.org and Greenpeace USA, have now launched the Promise to Protect campaign which states: “We will make a series of stands along the route – nonviolent but resolute displays of our continued opposition to a project that endangers us all. Join native and non-native communities in the Promise to Protect the land, water, and climate. ” In light of the resolute and deep resistance, it is important to note an article in The Intercept “Nebraska approves Keystone XL Pipeline as opponents face criminalization of protests” (Nov. 20), which reported: “In anticipation of the Keystone XL’s construction, legislation was passed in South Dakota in March that allows the governor or a local sheriff to prohibit groups numbering more than 20 from gathering on public land or in schools, and also allows the Department of Transportation to limit access to highways by prohibiting stopping or parking in designated areas.” The South Dakota Senate Bill 176 is here.
On November 13, the Political Economy Research Institute (PERI) at the University of Massachusetts published a new study by authors Robert Pollin, Heidi Garrett-Peltier and Jeannette Wicks-Lim, all well-established experts on the job creation benefits of renewable energy. Clean Energy Investments for New York State: An Economic Framework for Promoting Climate Stabilization and Expanding Good Job Opportunities examines the benefits of large-scale investments in renewable energy and energy efficiency for New York State, and proposes a Just Transition policy framework to support such clean energy investments. Their analysis is based on an estimate of a 40 percent decline in production activity and employment in fossil fuel industries in New York State as of 2030. They examine the labour market and present detailed statistics about the compensation and benefits, unionization, educational qualifications, gender and race of the small percentage (0.15 percent) of the total state workforce who worked in fossil fuel dependent industries in 2014.
In Chapter 8, they propose a Just Transition program guaranteeing pensions and reemployment, as well as providing income, training and relocation support for workers. They also propose support for fossil-fuel dependent communities, primarily through channeling new clean energy investments to the affected communities. The report cites the model of the Worker and Community Transition program that operated through the U.S. Department of Energy from 1994 – 2004.
Because of the level of detail in the report, (including information about the unfunded pension liabilities of the relevant companies), the authors are able to make very specific policy recommendations and also provide cost estimates. For example, they call on the State government to mandate full funding of pensions via state law, or through coordination with the federal Pension Benefit Guarantee Corporation (PBGC), to the extent that companies could be prohibited from paying dividends or financing share buybacks, or the state (in cooperation with PBGC) could place liens on company assets when pension funds are underfunded.
The report estimates a total cost of approximately $18 million per year to fund 100 percent compensation insurance for five years, retraining for 2 years, and relocation support for workers. This is based on an average of $270,000 – $300,000 per worker per year, for the estimated 67 displaced workers likely to be eligible.
Interesting context for this report appears in an interview with Robert Pollin in the Albany Times Union, “N.Y. must try harder to become a clean energy beacon.“
SolarPower Europe, together with consultants EY, published Solar PV Jobs & Value Added in Europe in early November, concluding that Europe is poised for a solar jobs revival after several years of policy-driven uncertainty. The report discusses the policy environment, including trade policies, makes job projections, and estimates the socio-economic impact per segment of the value chain, for roof-mounted and ground-mounted solar. The job creation forecast: the the PV sector workforce will grow from 81,000 full time jobs (FTE) in 2016 to over 174,000 FTE by 2021 (an increase of 145% in the next 5 years). As quoted in an article in PV Magazine, the President of the European solar industry association states that an additional 45,500 jobs could be created across Europe next year if the trade restrictions on modules and cells from Asia were to be removed. SolarPower Europe proposes an industrial competitiveness strategy for solar in Europe which aims to support 300,000 direct and indirect jobs by 2030. It has also released a Policy Declaration, Small is Beautiful which promotes the benefits of small scale, clean, locally owned distributed energy.
In the U.S., the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) released the 2017 Clean Energy Industry Report on October 27, showing a 3.4% employment growth rate for clean energy between December 2015 to December 2016 (surpassing the economy as a whole). Growth is projected to double again to 7% by the end of 2017. At the end of 2016, clean energy jobs employed 146,000 New Yorkers, distributed as follows: 110,000 jobs in energy efficiency; 22,000 renewable electric power generation (12,000 of which are found in solar energy); 8,400 alternative transportation; 2,900 renewable fuels, and 1,400 in grid modernization and storage. The report also discusses a labour market imbalance where demand exceeds supply of clean energy workers, with employers reporting the most difficult positions to fill are engineers, installers or technicians, and sales representatives.
Finally from the U.S., an article by Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) economists, appeared in the October issue of Monthly Labor Review with a summary and analysis of the detailed data of Employment Projections for the entire U.S. economy for 2016-26, released on October 24. The article notes: “Healthcare and related occupations account for 17 of the 30 fastest growing occupations from 2016 to 2026. … “Of the 30 fastest growing occupations, 6 are involved in energy production. Employment for solar photovoltaic (PV) installers is expected to grow extremely fast (105.3 percent) as the expansion and adoption of solar panels and their installation create new jobs. However, because this is a relatively small occupation, with a 2016 employment level of 11,300, this growth will account for only about 11,900 new jobs over the next 10 years. Developments in wind energy generation have made this energy option increasingly competitive with traditional forms of power generation, such as coal and natural gas, and are expected to drive employment growth for wind turbine service technicians. Employment of these workers is projected to grow 96.1 percent. As with solar PV installers, this occupation is small, and its rapid growth will account for only about 5,500 new jobs.” Surprisingly, “Faster-than-average employment growth from 2016 to 2026 is projected for a number of oil and gas occupations, including roustabouts, service unit operators, rotary drill operators, and derrick operators. The oil price assumptions in the MA model are expected to cause employment growth in the oil and gas extraction industry, at an annual growth rate of 1.7 percent over the 2016–26 decade. ”
Labour and climate activists gathered to exchange experiences and plan for future action at the Second Labor Convergence on Climate event, held on September 23-24, under the banner “Building Worker Power to Confront Climate Change.” The meeting was hosted by the Labor Network for Sustainability (LNS), which recently released a report on the meetings summarizing the impressive initiatives and projects, including: the Canadian Postal Workers Union proposal Delivering Community Power, which envisions expansion and re-purposing of the postal station network to provide electric vehicle charging stations, farm-to-table food delivery, and community banking ; the International Brotherhood of Teamsters described the San Francisco Zero Waste program that now diverts 80% of municipal waste from landfills into recycling and composting and provides union jobs; Service Employees International Union (SEIU) 1199 described their environmental and climate justice programs, resulting from the impact of disasters like Superstorm Sandy; worker training programs at the Net-Zero Energy training facility built by the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) Local 595 in partnership with the Northern California National Electrical Contractors Association; the United Food and Commercial Workers described their experience with the Good Food Purchasing Policy as a tool for protecting and enhancing labor standards for workers in the food industry and advancing climate justice; and the International Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen profiled their successful Green Diesel campaign to win cleaner fuel engines and a visionary strategy called “Solutionary Rail” , profiled in “How we can turn railroads into a climate solution” in Grist (March 2017) and in “ Electric Trains everywhere – A Solution to crumbling roads and climate crisis” in YES Magazine (May 2017).
Participants at the Second Labor Convergence on Climate included over 130 people – labour union leaders, organizers, and rank and file activists from 17 unions, 3 state federations/central labor councils and 6 labor support organizations, as well as environmental and economic justice activists.
The 2017 Convention of the AFL-CIO took place in St. Louis from October 22 to 25. In a breakthrough, Resolution 55 on Climate Change, Energy and Union Jobs was adopted, putting the AFL-CIO “on the record” as recognizing the threat of climate change and acknowledging the need to move to a sustainable alternative energy system. The resolution also calls for workers impacted by the energy transition to be protected. The floor debate is available on YouTube , showing supportive speeches by members of the Utility Workers, IBEW, LIUNA, USW, the Boilermakers, CWA, AFA, the Montana AFL-CIO and the Southeast Minnesota Area Labor Council. Speaking strongly against the resolution was the General President of the UA, which represents workers in the plumbing and pipefitting trades, including pipeline and energy industry workers. He objected to the exclusion of the UA in the process of drafting the resolution. Resolution 55 was, in fact, a compromise version arrived at by the Executive Council from several resolutions submitted.
From the text of Resolution 55 : “ THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED, that the AFL-CIO will fight politically and legislatively to secure and maintain employment, pensions and health care for workers affected by changes in the energy market; and BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that the AFL-CIO supports incentives and robust funding for research programs to bring new energy technologies to market, including renewables, carbon capture and advanced nuclear technologies; and BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that the AFL-CIO will support the passage of key energy and environmental policies with a focus on ensuring high labor standards, the creation of union jobs and environmental sustainability; and BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that the AFL-CIO will continue to urge the United States to remain in the Paris Agreement and to work to ensure that all nations make progress on emissions reductions; and BE IT FINALLY RESOLVED, that the AFL-CIO believes that the United States Congress should enact comprehensive energy and climate legislation that creates good jobs and addresses the threat of climate change.”
The full list of Adopted Resolutions from the 2017 AFL CIO Convention is here. The Labor Network for Sustainability has archived past resolutions by U.S. labour unions to their own conventions here . LNS President Joe Uehlein stated: “The resolution certainly could have gone further to support climate protection but it is an important and historic step for the U.S. labor movement” . And from the full statement of reaction by LNS, The New AFL-CIO Stand on Climate Change: What Does It Mean for Labor and for the Climate? , which concludes: “Overall, this resolution represents a powerful statement of labor’s stake in protecting the climate. However, it retains many of the assumptions and approaches that have often put unions at loggerheads with concrete climate protection efforts. Whether it actually represents a new beginning or just old wine in new bottles will largely depend on the growing sector of the labor movement that is committed to putting labor “at the center of creating solutions that reduce emissions while investing in our communities, maintaining and creating high-wage union jobs, and reducing poverty.”
Three recent studies from University of California at Berkeley provide evidence of the job benefits of clean energy industries. The first,“Diversity in California’s Clean Energy Workforce”, from Berkeley’s Center for Labor Research and Education Green Economy Program, claims to be the first quantitative analysis of who is getting into apprentice training programs and jobs on renewables. It states that “ Joint union-employer apprenticeship programs have helped people of color get training and career-track jobs building California’s clean energy infrastructure”. The authors attribute this to the recruitment efforts by unions, as well as the location of many renewable power plants in areas where there are high concentrations of disadvantaged communities. It presents data for the ethnic, racial and gender composition of enrollment in apprenticeship programs in 16 union locals for electricians, ironworkers and operating engineers. The report finds significant variation in racial and ethnic diversity amongst unions,with women’s participation minimal, (ranging from 2 – 6%) in all cases. Uniquely, the study also examined the impact of clean energy construction on disadvantaged workers, finding that 43% of entry-level workers live in disadvantaged communities, and 47% live in communities with unemployment rates of at least 13%. Further, it states: “Most large-scale renewable energy plants have been built under project labor agreements. These agreements require union wage and benefit standards and provide free training through apprenticeship programs.”
Two other reports were released by the Center for Labor Research and Education, the Center for Law, Energy and the Environment (CLEE) at UC Berkeley Law, and advocacy group Next 10. The Economic Impacts of California’s Major Climate Programs on the San Joaquin Valley: Analysis through 2015 and Projections to 2030 (January) and The Net Economic Impacts of California’s Major Climate Programs in the Inland Empire: Analysis of 2010-2016 and Beyond (August) examine the impact of climate programs on California’s most environmentally vulnerable regions. The “Inland Empire” (defined as the counties of San Bernardino and Riverside) report , examined four key policies: cap and trade, the renewables portfolio standard, distributed solar policies and energy efficiency programs. These policies were found to have brought a net benefit of $9.1 billion in direct economic activity and 41,000 net direct jobs from 2010 to 2016 . Policy recommendations to continue these benefits: “reward cleaner transportation in this region; help disburse cap-and-trade auction proceeds in a timely and predictable manner; and create robust transition programs for workers and communities affected by the decline of the Inland Empire’s greenhouse gas-emitting industries, including re-training and job placement programs, bridges to retirement, and regional economic development initiatives.”
The three reports were released to be part of the public debate about extending the cap and trade legislation (passed in July) and about California’s Senate Bill SB100 , which passed 2nd reading in the legislature on September 5. SB100 would toughen existing targets to 60% renewable electricity by 2030, and require utilities to plan for 100% renewable electricity by 2045 .
On June 2, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo announced that his state would invest $1.5 billion in renewable energy projects through the Clean Climate Careers Initiative. The program has three elements: “supercharge” clean energy technologies, create up to 40,000 clean energy jobs by 2020, and achieve environmental justice and Just Transition for underserved communities. Both the Governor’s press release and one from the Worker Institute at Cornell University Industrial and Labor Relations School attribute the inspiration for the new renewable energy initiative to the “Labor Leading on Climate” program at the Worker Institute.
The Institute has just published Reversing Inequality, Combatting Climate Change: A Climate Jobs Program for New York State (June 2017), in which Lara Skinner and co-author J. Mijin Cha argue for an “audicious” job creation plan which would create decent green jobs in the building, energy, and transport sectors. The report provides case studies and specific proposals to reduce GHG emissions – for example, to retrofit all public schools in the state to reach 100 percent of their energy efficiency potential by 2025, reduce energy use in all public buildings by 40 percent by 2025, install 7.5 GW of offshore wind by 2050, rehabilitate New York City public transit, and construct and improve the existing high-speed passenger rail corridor between Albany and Buffalo, and between New York City and Montreal. The report also includes a recommendation to establish a Just Transition Task Force – a recommendation incorporated in Governor Cuomo’s plan.
In the plan announced by Governor Cuomo, $15 million has been committed “to educators and trainers that partner with the clean energy industry and unions to offer training and apprenticeship opportunities, with funding distributed to the most innovative and far-reaching apprenticeship, training programs and partnerships. ” The state is also committed to the use of a Project Labor Agreement framework for the construction of public works projects associated with the initiative.
A Working Group on Environmental Justice and Just Transition has been appointed and staffed, with a first meeting scheduled for June. It will advise the administration on the integration of environmental justice principles into all agency policies, and to shape existing environmental justice programs. The press release includes endorsements from the NYC Environmental Justice Alliance and unions, including: Greater New York Building Construction Trades Council, New York State AFL-CIO, New York City Central Labor Council, AFL-CIO, IBEW Local 3, Transport Workers Union, Utility Workers Union Local 1-2, United Association Plumbers & Pipefitters, and the past Secretary Treasurer of Service Employees International Union.
Governor Cuomo’s Renewable Energy initiative was announced one day after Donald Trump’s withdrawal from the Paris Climate Accord, and after the Governor had signed an Executive Order reaffirming New York’s commitment to the Paris goals, and had launched a Climate Alliance with the states of California and Washington.
As anyone alive must know by now, Donald Trump announced that the United States will withdraw from the Paris Climate Agreement on June 1, 2017. NPR offers an annotated, fact-checked transcript of Trump’s announcement here. The Editorial Board of the New York Times called it “Our Disgraceful exit from the Paris Accord” ; Bill McKibben called it “Trump’s Stupid and Reckless Decision” in a New York Times OpEd, and Vox headlined: “Quitting the Paris Climate Agreement is a moral disgrace” . Leaders from business, government, and civil society around the world reacted with dismay: see a compilation of global reaction from the Daily Climate, or from The Conversation, a compilation of analysis by academic experts: “Why Trump’s decision to leave Paris accord hurts the US and the world” – including Simon Reich from Rutgers University who states: “many may well claim that June 1, 2017 was the day that America’s global leadership ended.”
Almost immediately, the states of California, Washington and New York stepped forward into the leadership gap with the June 1 launch of a U.S. Climate Alliance. By June 5, according to a New York press release , 10 more states had joined : Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Oregon, Puerto Rico, Rhode Island, Vermont and Virginia. The mayors of hundreds of U.S. cities have also committed to the Climate Alliance, including Atlanta, Washington, D.C., New York City, Los Angeles, Chicago, Houston, Phoenix, Philadelphia, San Antonio, San Diego, Dallas, San Jose. The Alliance is committed to achieving the U.S. Paris Agreement goal of reducing emissions 26-28 percent from 2005 levels, and to meeting or exceeding the targets of the federal Clean Power Plan. Read “Bucking Trump, These Cities, States and Companies Commit to Paris Accord” in the New York Times and “These Titans of Industry just broke with Trump’s decision to exit the Paris accords” in the Washington Post (June 1) to see the extent of immediate push-back over the decision.
HOW DID CANADA REACT TO TRUMP’S DECISION? The official government position was stated by Catherine McKenna, Minister of Environment and Climate Change : “While Canada is deeply disappointed that the United States has chosen to withdraw from the Paris Agreement, we remain steadfast in our commitment to work with our global partners to address climate change and promote clean growth. It is the right thing to do for future generations and will create good jobs as we grow a clean economy.
Canada will continue to take leadership on climate change.
In September, we will co-host a Ministerial meeting with China and the European Union in Canada to move forward on the Paris Agreement and clean growth…. With or without the United States, the momentum around the Paris Agreement and climate action is unstoppable.”
And by June 5, Canada was on the world stage as the official host of World Environment Day .
Other Canadian reaction to Trump’s decision: In the mainstream press: “World reacts to Trump’s climate move: ‘He’s declaring war on the planet itself’” in the Globe and Mail (June 2); from the CBC, “Trump quitting the Paris accord might not necessarily be the end of the world” . In Maclean’s magazine, Catherine Abreu, Director of Climate Action Network Canada, wrote “What Trump’s retreat really means for Global Climate Action” ( June 2), which provides a concise analysis of the impacts, affirming a theme put forth by others – Trump’s move is damaging but not an insurmountable problem, and others are stepping up to the task, and in fact, are galvanized to greater effort.
Other Canadian reaction: From Mitchell Beer in Policy Options (June 7), “Trump’s Paris Withdrawal, Canada’s Opportunity”; Matt Horne’s Opinion piece, from a Vancouver point of view, in the Globe and Mail (June 4) “Environmental progress is possible despite Trump’s climate-change agenda”; from the Energy Mix: “World Leaders Respond, U.S. States and Cities Step Up as Trump Blunders Out of Paris Agreement” (June 2) ; “Canadian big city mayors defiant in face of Trump’s exit from Paris Accord” in the National Observer (June 1), which quotes Canadian mayors assembled at the Federation of Canadian Municipalities Big City Mayors’ Caucus in Ottawa on June 1; and Denis Coderre, Mayor of Montréal and president of Metropolis, a 140-member world association of major cities : “in spite of this setback, cities will not just stand down; ….Mayors from around the world will be meeting in Montreal from June 19 to 23 at the Metropolis World Congress. … climate change will be at the heart of our deliberations, in collaboration with other networks of cities such as the C40 Climate Leadership Group and ICLEI.”
HOW DID UNIONS REACT TO THE TRUMP DECISION? In “Unions respond to US announcement on Paris climate change agreement” (June 2), Canadian Labour Congress President Hassan Yussuff states: “While President Trump’s decision on Paris represents a set-back to united action on climate change, it doesn’t change the fact that the rest of the world is moving forward. Canadian government, civil society and industry recognize the need to adapt to a low-carbon economy.” The CLC also references the response by the ITUC (included below).
From the AFL-CIO, a brief 2- paragraph response: “Paris Climate Agreement Withdrawal a Failure of American Leadership” (June 1) ; from the Service Employees’ International Union, “Trump’s wrong decision on Paris won’t stop working Americans from pushing for progress on climate change” , and in his blog on June 2, Leo Gerard, United Steelworkers’ International President states: “Workers Want a Green Economy, Not a Black Environment” . He refutes Trump’s reference to serving Pittsburg not Paris by detailing the pollution problems caused by the steel mill and zinc plants in Pittsburg in the 1940’s and ‘50’s, and concludes: The U.S. “has an obligation to lead the world in combatting climate change. Great leaders don’t shirk responsibility. ” The Labor Network for Sustainability Facebook post of June 1 concludes with: “In taking this step, Trump has abandoned his opportunity to lead, and it is up to the U.S. labor movement to step up and provide support and leadership to communities, cities and states who are committed to solving the climate crisis; to ensure that workers are not left behind, and that we can all make a living on a living planet.”
Internationally, the International Trade Union Confederation reacted with: “The clear commitment by governments in the Paris Agreement to give workers, including those depending on the fossil fuel economy, a key role in developing a Just Transition strategy, will be undermined by the US announcement, which will also inhibit industrial and economic transformation in the US.” The ITUC statement continues with a statement from the Richard Trumka of the AFL-CIO , which interestingly does not name Donald Trump, but rather blames the decision on the advice of EPA head Scott Pruitt.
From UNI Global Union: “Planet first, Trump last – UNI condemns Trump’s decision to pull out of the Paris climate deal” , which states that “President Trump is on the wrong side of history,” … “This latest miscalculated act makes us even more determined than ever to work for people and planet.”
And on June 9, in advance of the G7 Environment Summit in Bologna: Our jobs, Our planet was released by the Trade Union Advisory Committee to the OECD (TUAC) and the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC), with the support of trade union confederations from G7 countries. The declaration states: “ Today, we reaffirm once again our commitment to support ambitious climate action and the Paris Climate Agreement. Pulling out of the Paris climate agreement from ambitious climate pathways equals abandoning a cleaner future powered by good jobs”.
In the U.K., the Greener Jobs Alliance reaction, Reasons to be Fearful , is written in the context of the British national elections, scheduled for June 8, and criticizes Prime Minister May for her weak criticism of the Trump decision. This theme is taken up by DeSmog UK, “How the UK’s Climate Science Deniers (and Government) Reacted to Trump’s Paris Agreement Withdrawal” (June 2) .
The Australian Council of Trade Unions, in response to the Australian government’s reaffirmation of its own commitment to the Paris Agreement on June 2, released their position: “Commitment to Paris crucial for ensuring a Just Transition for workers“.
The May 5th Newsletter of Trade Unions for Energy Democracy provides an early assessment of “Why U.S. unions marched for the climate” . The article lists some of the many unions who marched in Washington D.C. on April 29 in the March for Climate, Jobs and Justice, highlighting the unique perspective of the National Nurses Union and 1199 SEIU, who see the public health effects of climate change in their daily work. TUED also mentions a meeting convened by Naomi Klein and Avi Lewis and hosted by the American Postal Workers Union, “bringing together roughly 30 labor, community and social movement activists and organizers, to reflect on possibilities for building on the Canadian Leap Manifesto framework to advance the struggle for energy democracy and just transition in the U.S. context.”
Finally, the TUED article credits the Labor Network for Sustainability (LNS) with much of the work in building participation in the March. The latest LNS newsletter reports that over a dozen unions and more than 3000 members marched in Washington, including 100 members from AFSCME’s local DC37 in New York. The newsletter also describes marches on the West Coast, where climate change was included in the May 1 messages. The LNS Facebook page has more details and photos.
A joint press release (April 26) includes brief statements from each of the members of the labour steering committee for the march: Service Employees International Union ( SEIU), Communications Workers of America (CWA), American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU), American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) (including the local from the EPA), and BlueGreen Alliance.
Solar job growth is strong in the U.S., according to The Solar Training and Hiring Insights report , released by the Solar Training Network , a program funded by the U.S. Department of Energy’s SunShot Initiative and administered by The Solar Foundation. The report aggregates data from several sources, including an extensive survey of more than 400 solar installers, as well as smaller case studies and in-depth interviews with dozens of solar employers, trainers, and workforce development boards in the U.S. Amongst the findings: Solar employers expect to add 26,258 positions in 2017, a 10% growth in the workforce; the largest growth in the industry has occurred in installation, with 93,199 installation-related jobs added between 2010 and 2016; average wage range for an inexperienced, new installer was $10 – $23, progressing to $20 – $48 for a crew-leader; 77% of industry respondents did not have formal mentorship or apprenticeship programs. The report also provides insight into the prevalence and structure of in-house training programs, and employer attitudes to such issues as the importance of experience and certification in hiring decisions.
The 2016 U.S. Wind Industry Annual Market Report, released on April 19th by the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA), states that wind power added jobs at a rate more nine times greater than the overall economy in 2016; domestic wind-related manufacturing jobs grew 17% to over 25,000 factory jobs in the U.S. According to the Association spokesman, “bigger, better technology enables new wind turbines to generate 50 percent more electricity than those built in 2009 and at 66 percent lower cost … With stable policy in place, we’re on the path to reliably supply 10 percent of U.S. electricity by 2020.” Further, “The average modern wind turbine installed here in the U.S. creates 44 years of full-time employment over its lifetime.” The report also emphasizes the importance of jobs and revenues to rural economies, where wind projects are concentrated. Other reports re wind energy: also from the AWEA, a white paper, Wind brings jobs and economic development to all 50 states ; from Navigant Consulting, Economic Development Impacts of Wind Projects released in March 2017 states that “the U.S. wind industry will drive over $85 billion in economic activity over the next four years while wind-related employment will grow to reach 248,000 jobs in all 50 states in 2020.” The Navigant forecasts measure the impact of the extension of the Production Tax Credit (PTC) programs in the U.S.
An April Issue Brief from the Center for American Progress examines the Trump actions to date and concludes that “The Trump Budget Cuts Hit Coal Communities and Workers Where It Hurts” . In a concise, well-documented overview, the paper explains the widely-accepted facts about the decline of the coal industry – that it is caused not by over-reaching environmental regulation, but by market forces and declining productivity, especially in the Appalachian coal mines. But the thrust of the report is to estimate in detail how the Trump budget proposed for 2018 would eliminate $1.13 billion in federal funding for 7 of the 12 Obama-era programs, undoing the current efforts to diversify the economies of coal mining communities and provide workforce training.
In 2015, then-President Barack Obama launched the Partnerships for Opportunity and Workforce and Economic Revitalization, or POWER, Initiative, which funded efforts by 12 federal agencies to align, scale up, and target federal economic and workforce development assistance to coal communities and coal economy workers . Coordinated by the Department of Commerce, the Initiative included the Appalachian Regional Commission, which had been established in 1965 to invest in economic and workforce opportunities in Appalachia, and the National Dislocated Worker Grants program, part of the Department of Labor Employment and Training Administration, which channeled funding to state workforce development agencies to provide employment and training services. The CAP issue paper was co-authored by Jason Walsh, who was a senior policy adviser in the White House under President Obama, involved in the design and coordination of the POWER Initiative.
A new report from Columbia University Center on Global Energy Policy asks “Can Coal make a Comeback?” and with detailed statistics and discussion of coal in the context of the global energy industry, answers the question as “No”. The paper concludes with some examples of local economic diversification programs, stating: “There is a lot the federal government can do to help accelerate locally driven economic diversification efforts… But this all requires a clear-eyed assessment of the outlook for the coal industry and a commitment to put sustainable solutions ahead of politically expedient talking points.”
The Columbia paper also calls for the federal government to help provide retirement and healthcare security by passing the Miners’ Protection Act . But an April 19 article in the New York Times “Retired Miners Lament Trump’s Silence on Imperiled Health Plan”(April 19) describes the uncertainty for the miners and the political horsetrading in Congress – part of the government funding showdown due April 30. The fates and possibly the lives of more than 20,000 retired miners rests on extending federal funding to the health benefits fund, depleted by coal industry bankruptcies . For the best explanation see “ Mine wars: The struggle for coal miners’ health care and pension benefits comes to a head” in The Conversation, published April 26 and updated April 30th with the news that Congress had extended health care benefits until May 5. This will be the latest of several extensions, without a resolution to the issue.
In addition to the economic analysis of the Columbia University report, the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis ( IEEFA) published a brief on April 21, “U.S. Coal Phase-out, Blow by Blow: Plant Closings and the Likely Corresponding Effect on Specific Companies and Mines”— which “focuses on how the scheduled closures, conversions or curtailments of 46 coal-fired generating units at 25 electricity plants in 16 states stand to affect the U.S coal-mining industry through 2018, including the loss of nearly 30 million tons of coal demand.” It does not estimate job losses or community impacts.
In releasing its most recent working paper , the Labor Network for Sustainablity (LNS) states : “On the eve of the second Peoples’ Climate March, we offer this as a contribution to the conversation that we must continue in earnest and move us to bold, decisive and immediate action.” Comments are invited, as is participation in Labor Contingent of the People’s Climate March in Washington D.C. on April 29. According to 350.org, , more than 100,000 people have already RSVP’ed for the Washington March alone, as of April 13. See information about the March in Toronto or Vancouver.
The LNS paper, Jobs for Climate and Justice: A Worker alternative to the Trump Agenda , describes a Jobs for Climate and Justice Plan – a four-part strategy to defeat the Trump ideas, and develop a climate-safe and worker-friendly economy. Author Jeremy Brecher states that “protecting the climate requires a massive and emergency mobilization” comparable to the industrial transformation of World War 2. The paper suggests ideas to create new climate-friendly jobs and protect the workers and communities who are threatened by climate change, and while most of these have appeared in earlier LNS publications , the sheer number of positive, concrete examples of worker initiatives across the U.S. makes this an inspiring document .
According to an article in Common Dreams, “The Fights to Protect Science, People and Planet Are Inherently Connected” (April 6) . A blog post from Legal Planet, “The War on Science continues” also makes clear how the Trump administration disregard for science is impacting climate change research, and how closely intertwined the two issues are. So on April 22, Earth Day, watch for or join the March for Science “the first step of a global movement to defend the vital role science plays in our health, safety, economies, and governments”. “….. We are advocating for evidence-based policy-making, science education, research funding, and inclusive and accessible science.”
The main Science March is set for Washington D.C., but there are sister marches around the world, including in 18 cities across Canada . The Canadian organizers, Ottawa-based Evidence for Democracy , state: “The politicization of science, which has given policymakers permission to reject overwhelming evidence, is a critical and urgent matter. It is time for people who support scientific research and evidence-based policies to take a public stand and be counted”. This is not just an American issue. Canadians remember the muzzled scientists of the Harper era, and can see current examples – Evidence for Democracy published a report on April 6, Oversight at Risk: The state of government science in British Columbia – the first of several planned surveys of provincial government scientists . Some results: 32 per cent said they cannot speak to the media about their research; 49 per cent think said political interference reduces their department’s ability to create policies and programs based on scientific evidence.
The Labor Network for Sustainability in the U.S. released a new paper, “Trump’s Energy Plan: A Brighter Future for America’s Workers?” , which urges the labour movement to “unwrap the package” and examine the proposals in Trump’s America First Energy Policy , released on the first day after his Inauguration. LNS reviews and refutes the major planks in that policy, including the “bring back the coal industry” claim, and states, “Our hard-hit coal miners and communities deserve a plan that will enable them to find decent livelihoods in the future, not one that lures them with illusions that it will bring the coal industry back.” LNS has previously published its plan, The Clean Energy Future: Protecting the Climate, Creating Jobs, Saving Money , written by Synapse Economics .
The most recent installment of the America First Energy Policy was released on March 28: the Presidential Executive Order on Promoting Energy Independence and Economic Growth , replete with the illusory promise to bring back coal jobs. Summaries and explanations are easy to find: from the Office of the White House Press Secretary ; the Brookings Institute ; “The Giant Trump Order is Here. What it is, what it does” in The Atlantic; “Trump just gutted U.S. policies to fight climate change” from Think Progress . Dismay and outrage is also widespread, summed up by Vox :“This is it. The battle over the future of US climate policy is officially underway”. Even the mainstream Washington Post brings out the battle imagery in its headlines: “The standoff between Trump and green groups just boiled into war” (March 30) , and “The assault on climate science is evil, and evil must be fought” (March 31).
Although disguised in the language of job creation for coal miners, the Executive Order goes beyond the attack on the Clean Power Plan and coal-fired power plants – empowering the Cabinet to review and rollback other Obama-era policies, including limits on methane leaks, a moratorium on federal coal leasing, and the use of the social cost of carbon to guide government actions. The Editorial Board of the New York Times sums up the scale of the attack: “President Trump risks the Planet” (March 28) .
The claim of “bringing back coal jobs” has been disproved repeatedly and convincingly. Typical is the press release from the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis , which sees “zero employment impact” from Trump’s measures, stating, “Market forces overwhelmingly favor natural gas-fired electricity generation and renewable energy, and the trend away from coal will continue”…. Coal is simply being outpaced. It is an industry in decline, and the fundamentals are inescapable.” “A simple way to see why Trump’s climate order won’t bring back many coal jobs” in Vox refers to the Department of Energy Annual Energy Outlook 2017 , which projected that without the Clean Power Plan, U.S. coal consumption would rebound only as far as the historically low levels of 2015, when there were approximately 63,000 coal miners in America. Today, there are approximately 50,000. Compare this to the solar workforce, which created 51,000 jobs in 2016 alone – to bring the total number to 260,077 U.S. solar workers, according to the Solar Foundation’s National Solar Jobs Census. Even the CEO of Murray Energy, the largest privately-owned coal company in the U.S., acknowledged in a report in The Guardian, that coal jobs are not coming back.
What the Trump Executive Order could do, according to modelling by consulting firm the Rhodium Group, is to limit U.S. greenhouse gas emission reduction to around 14 percent below 2005 levels by 2025 – a far cry from the Paris Agreement pledge of 26 %, and effectively ceding climate leadership to the European Union and China. The Sierra Club USA provides a thorough discussion of the environmental impacts in Donald Trump Orders EPA to Unwind Clean Power Plan in Setback for “Vitally Important” Clean Air (March 28) . The reaction of major environmental groups such as Environmental Defence Fund, Earthjustice, and Natural Resources Defence Council is summarized in “Environmental groups vowing to fight Trump’s Climate Actions ” in the National Observer (March 29).
Is there any cause for hope? Yes, according to analysis by Inside Climate News in “Hundreds of Clean Energy Bills Have Been Introduced in States Nationwide This Year” (March 27). This provides a state-by-state summary of bipartisan clean energy legislation, stating: “At least eight states—California, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Nevada, New York, Pennsylvania and Vermont—are considering legislation to dramatically boost their reliance on clean power in the coming decades. These bills specifically call for increasing the mandate to obtain electricity from sources like wind and solar, a common form of escalating quota called a renewable portfolio standard (RPS). Currently, 29 states in the nation, along with Washington, D.C., have them and eight others have voluntary targets.”
Voices of Business are also challenging the Trump agenda. In “Climate change is real: Companies challenge Trump” in The Guardian (March 29) , the CEO of the We Mean Business coalition calls the transition to a low-carbon economy “inevitable”, and the Executive Order “regrettable “. Further, he states: “This announcement undermines policies that stimulate economic competitiveness, job creation, infrastructure investment and public health.” Similar sentiments appear in the Business Backs Low Carbon USA statement signed in November 2016 by over 1000 companies and investors. The statement calls for the U.S. economy to be energy efficient and powered by low-carbon energy, and re-affirms “our deep commitment to addressing climate change through the implementation of the historic Paris Climate Agreement.” The list of over 1000 companies is here .
Finally, and giving everyone a voice: the People’s Climate March on Washington D.C. on April 29 , organized by the coalition which emerged from the 2014 March in New York City and around the world. The Labor Network for Sustainability will be leading a labour contingent in Washington – see their Facebook page for information , and see the People’s Climate March website for locations of sister marches.
Mental Health and Our Changing Climate: Impacts, Implications, and Guidance is a report released at the end of March by the American Psychological Association, Climate for Health, and ecoAmerica. The goal is to raise public awareness of the issue and to provide “climate communicators, planners, policymakers, public health professionals, and other leaders the tools and tips needed to respond to these impacts and bolster public engagement on climate solutions.” Although it doesn’t directly address workplace issues, much of the discussion is relevant. For example, the report catalogues the acute mental health impacts that result from the horror and disruption of natural disasters or extreme weather events such as Hurricane Katrina – depression, disrupted social relationships, domestic violence, and heightened intergroup aggression. The report also highlights women as being at higher risk: “because, on average, women have fewer economic resources than men, women may also be more affected, in general, by the stress and trauma of natural disasters.” (p.39).
Extreme weather and disasters focus attention, but there are also chronic impacts resulting from longer- term climate changes – the key example given is a proven increase in violence and inter-personal aggression associated with higher temperatures. Certain occupational groups are highlighted for their high risk to climate-related anxiety, including first responders to natural disasters, but also including health care-givers, and those directly employed in natural settings – conservation officers, park rangers.
The final section of the report deals with tips to build resilience at the individual and community level. It urges that training be provided for first responders so that they can identify and deal with appropriate compassion for the victims of natural disasters.
The rest of the world is driving towards new technologies, but U.S. state governments are rolling back EV incentives and on March 15, Donald Trump took the U.S. a further step away from reducing transportation emissions. Following pressure from U.S. auto companies, and in the name of creating American jobs and reviving American manufacturing, the White House announced that the EPA and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) will re-open the evaluation of the Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) and greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) standards for light-duty vehicles manufactured in 2022- 2025 . Never mind that the EPA, in the waning days of the Obama presidency in January 2017, had already issued its official Determination to leave the standards in place, stating that they “are projected to reduce oil consumption by 50 billion gallons and to save U.S. consumers nearly $92 billion in fuel cost over the lifetime of MY2022-2025 vehicles”, with minimal employment impacts. The New York Times compiles some of the U.S. reaction to the announcement, quoting Harvard’s Robert Stavins, who states that rolling back the Obama-level regulations would make it impossible for the United States to meet its obligations under the Paris Agreement. A sample of U.S. concerns appear in: “Trump Fuel economy rollback would kill jobs and cost each car-buyer $1650 per year “ by Joe Romm in Think Progress ; DeSmog Blog “Trump Takes Aim at Fuel Efficiency Requirements, Prompting Concern US Automakers Will Lag on Innovation” ; and the Detroit Free Press, reporting on a lead-up Trump speech in Ypsilanti, Michigan , “Trump visit puts UAW politics in crosshairs” http://www.freep.com/story/money/business/2017/03/14/trump-visit-puts-uaw-politics-crosshairs/99165906/ (March 14). The Detroit Free Press states that autoworkers were bused in to the Trump event by their employers, with Fiat Chrysler and General Motors offering their workers a day’s pay as well. No immediate reaction to the announcement came from the United Autoworkers union, although the DFP article states: “UAW President Dennis Williams has repeatedly said he disagrees with Trump on health care, immigration, the environment and most other major issues. But Williams supports Trump’s desire to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) …..”
In Canada, where Unifor represents autoworkers, president Jerry Dias spoke out in “ Auto workers union takes aim at Trump’s examination of fuel standards ” in the Globe and Mail (March 16), and in a CTV News report . He states that “ he would fight any attempt to roll back environmentally friendly regulations in the auto industry following Trump’s announcement”. Canada’s Minister of Environment and Climate Change was in Washington on March 15th, meeting with EPA head Scott Pruitt, but her reaction was guarded and diplomatic, as reported in “As Trump eyes reprieve for gas guzzlers, Canada looks to China ” in the National Observer and in “Trump targets fuel-efficiency standards” in the Globe and Mail (March 16). Traditionally, Canadian fuel emissions standards have been harmonized with the U.S. , as a result of the strongly integrated auto industry. For example, at the end of February, Canada released its proposed regulations for heavy-duty vehicles, and according to the International Council on Clean Transportation, Canada continued to follow the U.S. model. Similarly, Ontario announced a Memorandum of Understanding on auto manufacturing with the state of Michigan on March 13, pledging cooperation on regulatory standards as well as technology and supply chain management.
Harmonization will be more difficult after Trump’s announcement on March 15, just as Canada and Ontario are reviewing their own revisions to fuel emissions regulation . Ontario reacted to the Trump announcement with a pledge to continue to cooperate with California and Quebec in the Western Climate Initiative – read “Ontario plans to team up with California against Trump on climate change” in the National Observer (March 16). California won the right to set its own fuel emission standards in the 1970’s, and today, fifteen other states voluntarily follow California’s tougher standards, including Georgia, Pennsylvania, North Carolina, and the New York metropolitan area – translating into more than 40% of the U.S. population. “The Coming Clean-Air war between Trump and California” in The Atlantic surveys this latest conflict between California and the Trump administration . A press release from Governor Gerry Brown called the fuel standards announcement “a cynical ploy” that puts politics ahead of science, and pledged that California will fight it in court.
Eleven medical societies in the United States, representing over 400,000 medical practitioners, have joined together to form The Medical Society Consortium on Climate & Health . Their launch document on March 15 was Medical Alert! Climate Change is harming our health , directed at the general public to sound the alarm that climate change health impacts are here and now.
The report gives only a nod to the threats in the workplace, given its goal to reach a general audience. It warns that “anyone can be harmed by extreme heat, but some people face greater risk. For example, outdoor workers, student athletes, city dwellers, and people who lack air conditioning (or who lose it during an extended power outage) face greater risk because they are more exposed to extreme heat. People with chronic conditions such as cardiovascular and respiratory diseases, and those who work or play outside, are especially vulnerable to extreme heat.. ..” The report also touches on the other major health-related impacts, such as spread of infectious diseases borne by ticks and mosquitos, air pollution, effects of forest fires, polluted air and food, mental health burden, etc.
The Consortium states that “most physicians are aware of the adverse health effects of climate change and feel a responsibility to inform the public, patients and policymakers about them. A majority of survey respondents report they are already seeing health harms from climate change among their own patients – most commonly in the form of increased cardiorespiratory disease (related to air quality and heat), more severe and longer lasting allergy symptoms, and injuries attributed to extreme weather.”
The goal of the consortium is to educate, and to advocate for reduced fossil fuel consumption and increased clean energy. Their website offers a library of publications related to the growing literature on climate change and health. The website also compiles resources from their member societies, such as the American College of Physicians and the American Academy of Pediatrics, about how to green medical workplaces. In this, they join a number of existing associations such as Practice Greenhealth and Healthcare without Harm, an international organization with Canadian membership.
In Canada, the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment , which was established in 1994, shares a similar mission for policy advocacy, and maintains an active blog and Facebook presence. The Canadian Medical Association has a number of policy and position documents on environmental impacts on health; their most recent policy statement on Climate change and Health was issued in 2010, yet still seems remarkably relevant.
We are used to looking to California for leadership in climate change policy – and the Senate bill SB58, California Renewables Portfolio Standard Program continues that reputation. Although only in rough draft form as it was introduced in February, it proposes to accelerate the target for sourcing electricity from renewable energy to 50 per cent by 2025, and 100% by 2045. Inside Climate News has a summary of the renewable energy legislation; for a detailed view of the importance of California as a standard-bearer for climate change action, read “In the Face of a Trump Environmental Rollback, California Stands in Defiance” (Feb. 21) in Yale Environment 360.
Massachusetts is less often recognized for its leadership, despite its commitment in the Global Warming Solutions Act, 2008 to reduce the state’s greenhouse gas emissions 80 per cent from 1990 levels by 2050 . In addition, An Act to transition Massachusetts to 100 per cent renewable energy (S.1849) was introduced into the legislature in January 2017, requiring the state to achieve 100 percent renewable electricity generation by 2035, and phase out the use of fossil fuels across all sectors, including heating and transportation, by 2050. Advocacy group Environment Massachusetts provides a summary here . The text of the Act calls for a Council for Clean Energy Workforce Development, specifying that it include representatives from organized labour, as well as universities and community colleges, renewable energy businesses, occupational training organizations, economic development organizations, community development organizations, and “organizations serving Environmental Justice Populations”. A Workforce Development Fund would also be authorized, with “At least half of the funds spent from the clean energy workforce development account on an annual basis shall be spent on programs and initiatives that primarily benefit (1) fossil fuel workers displaced in the transition to renewable energy, (2) residents of gateway municipalities …., or (3) residents of areas identified as Environmental Justice Populations under the Environmental Justice Policy of the executive office of energy and environmental affairs. “
The deliberately-executed distraction and turmoil of President Trump’s policies in the U.S. threaten and weary us all, at the same time that well-planned resistance is most necessary. Long-time activist Frances Fox-Piven wrote in The Nation in January, before the Inauguration, “Throw sand in the gears of everything”, reflecting on past resistance movements in U.S. history, including civil rights and the Vietnam War. She asks, “ So how do resistance movements win—if they win—in the face of an unrelentingly hostile regime? The answer, I think, is that by blocking or sabotaging the policy initiatives of the regime, resistance movements can create or deepen elite and electoral cleavages”. Fox Piven puts strong hope in the actions of state and local governments, as well as citizen action. She also points to the defining protest which finally turned government policy on the Vietnam War: soldiers refused to followed orders.
In “Where’s the best place to resist Trump? At Work” ( Washington Post ,Jan. 31; re-posted to Portside) the authors argue that “ From solidarity strikes to slowdowns and sit-ins, workplace revolt is a key strategy in opposing the new administration”. Describing some of the early anti-Trump protests, they state: “These actions are indispensable, and may form the seeds of a new movement, but people should not ignore one of the most powerful means of resistance and protest that they have: their roles as workers.” Federal workers are not the only ones with the power to resist and disrupt, though federal workers are leading the way with courageous initiatives such as information leaks and alternative Twitter accounts. The longshoremen in Oakland, California for example, declined to report for work on Inauguration Day : see “Want to Stop Trump? Take a Page From These Dockworkers, and Stop Work” in In These Times (Jan. 23). Or read “Some New York Taxi Drivers Are Striking In Protest Of Trump’s Refugee Ban” in Buzzfeed (Jan. 29).
Resistance by federal workers is described in “In Show of Internal Dissent, Federal Workers Rising Up Against Trump” a February 1 article from Common Dreams. Another ongoing, public form are the many “rogue” Twitter accounts, started by the National Parks Service ,and now including very active accounts at alt_EPA (with over 300,000 followers), alt_Interior , alt_NOAA , alt_DOL , and more. Ironically, they form a goldmine of activist information. But beware of trolling accounts and imposter accounts.
Other web sources to follow U.S. developments, especially those related to climate change and environmental regulations, are: Climate Central ; Common Dreams ; Democracy Now: Donald Trump Coverage ; Inside Climate News; Think Progress ; and 350.org . Also notable, Deregulation Tracker , where the Sabin Center for Climate Change Law (Columbia Law School) is monitoring changes to legislation and regulations, and the Environmental Data and Governance Initiative , which is monitoring, documenting, and analyzing changes to approximately 25,000 federal websites using proprietary software that allows them to track changes to the language and code. Climate Central published “The EPA Has Started to Remove Obama-era Information” (Feb. 2) based on the EDGI monitoring.
Acting on a December 2016 Executive Order of Governor Gerry Brown, the California Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment released the first in a series of reports which will examine the impact of the state’s climate change programs on communities designated as “disadvantaged”. The February report, Tracking and Evaluation of Benefits and Impacts of Greenhouse Gas Limits in Disadvantaged Communities: Initial Report measuring the effects of the Air Resources Board’s Cap-and-Trade Program, which regulates greenhouse gas emissions from industrial facilities and other sources. The report is largely based on 2014 emissions data, and warns that “limited data does not yet allow for comprehensive analysis of the impacts of Cap-and-Trade on disadvantaged communities”. Initial findings however, are that major industrial facilities are disproportionately located in disadvantaged communities; there is a moderate correlation between GHG and other air pollutants, with refineries showing the strongest correlation. California maintains a planning and enforcement tool, CalEnviroScreen, the “ first comprehensive, statewide environmental health screening tool” in the U.S. In late January, California Air Resources Board announced the appointment of its first Assistant Executive Officer for Environmental Justice, with a mandate to ensure that environmental justice and tribal concerns are considered in air pollution policy-making and decision- making.
Following on the January 2017 report US Energy and Employment from the U.S. Department of Energy, more evidence of the healthy growth of the clean energy industry comes in a report by the Environmental Defense Fund Climate Corps and Meister consultants. Now Hiring: The Growth of America’s Clean Energy and Sustainability Jobs compiles the latest statistics from diverse sources, and concludes that “sustainability” accounts for an estimated 4.5 million jobs (up from 3.4 million in 2011) in the U.S. in 2015. Sustainability jobs are defined as those in energy efficiency and renewable energy, as well as waste reduction, natural resources conservation and environmental education, vehicle manufacturing, public sector, and corporate sustainability jobs. Statistics drill down to wages and working conditions – for example, average wages for energy efficiency jobs are almost $5,000 above the national median, and wages for solar workers are above the national median of $17.04 per hour. Comparing clean energy with the fossil fuel industry, the report states that the 1.4 million jobs in energy efficiency construction and installation alone is more than double the number of workers in fossil fuel mining, extraction and electric power generation combined. Now Hiring states that for every $1 million invested in building retrofits and industrial efficiency, 8 direct or indirect jobs are created; in comparison, 3 are created by a comparable investment in the fossil fuel industry. This final comparison of job multiplier effect is based on “Green versus brown: Comparing the employment impacts of energy efficiency, renewable energy, and fossil fuels using an input-output model” by Heidi Garrett Pelletier at PERI, and appears in the February 2017 issue of Economic Modelling.
For those who rely on U.S. climate change research and science, two recent incidents in the Trump transition are noteworthy. First, the U.S. Department of Energy released a Directive for Scientific Integrity, approved January 4, 2017, which states: “The cornerstone of the scientific integrity policy at DOE is that all scientists, engineers or others supported by DOE are free and encouraged to share their scientific findings and views. ” Department of Energy personnel “will not suppress or alter scientific or technological findings or intimidate or coerce any covered personnel, contractors or others to alter or censor scientific or technological findings or conclusions.” It also directs the DOE to appoint a “Scientific Integrity Official within the Office of the Deputy Secretary of Energy to serve as an ombudsperson for matters related to scientific integrity.” Canadians, who recall the muzzled scientists of the Harper era , will applaud the policy, even as we continue to fight for scientific rigour in environmental assessments . A recent DeSmog blog explains.
Every day brings new developments in Washington: President Trump has effectively gagged staff at the Environmental Protection Agency and Department of Agriculture. In response, a Scientists March on Washington is being organized, according to Climate Central (Jan. 25). The preliminary website states: ” There are certain things that we accept as facts with no alternatives. The Earth is becoming warmer due to human action. The diversity of life arose by evolution. Politicians who devalue expertise risk making decisions that do not reflect reality and must be held accountable. An American government that ignores science to pursue ideological agendas endangers the world.”
A reassuring development for researchers, in light of the Trump order to dismantle the Environmental Protection Agency website: Volunteer scientists, computer programmers, librarians and citizens have been hard at work since December, gathering and archiving environmental and climate change data produced by the U.S. government, in advance of the Trump inauguration. “Guerilla archiving” events, beginning at the University of Toronto , have also taken place at University of Pennsylvania, San Francisco, and Los Angeles (on Inauguration Day!) in the coordinated task of identifying and gathering the URL’s of important sources of information which will likely become vulnerable to removal in the Trump government. Read “Climate Data Preservation Efforts Mount as Trump Takes Office” in MIT Technology Review (Jan. 20) for an up to date summary and links to some of the many players in this complex effort. A December blog by The Project Archivists Responding to Climate Change (ProjectARCC) group explains the major players and indicates the scale of the effort.
Briefly, many of the collected web sites are being stored in the servers of the End of Term Web Archive, a collaborative effort of established actors such as the Internet Archive , (which already stores 279 billion web pages!), Library of Congress, the U.S. Government Publishing Office, University of California Digital Library, and others. Over 10,000 URL’s of federal climate data websites have already been nominated for archiving, according to the public list available here , though none of the “in process” web pages are available to view yet . For those concerned by the scrubbing of the White House website of all mentions of “climate change”, a separate White House archive , housing the Obama version, is available here .
The University of Pennsylvania’s Program in Environmental Humanities is housing a separate DataRefuge project, in part to back up environmental data sets that standard Web crawling tools can’t collect. The Climate Mirror is a distributed effort conducted by volunteers to mirror and back up data in locations outside the U.S. – an effort also underway at the Internet Archive. Quartz has published “Hackers downloaded US government climate data and stored it on European servers as Trump was being inaugurated” (Jan. 21) .
Most of the work is being done by volunteers, who are eager for help and donations. The Environmental Data and Governance Initiative has a clear set of requests for help, including a list of upcoming archiving events in Ann Arbor and New York City. There is a well-developed process to nominate vulnerable sites, which requires the help of knowledgeable researchers, as well as a need for programmers and IT nerds to work on scripts to help harvest data sets and web pages not easily accessed. The Free Government Information website (another volunteer group ) has also published “2016 End of Term (EOT) crawl and how you can help” . Success will ensure that environmental data and facts survive in the public realm.
California’s climate leadership position in the U.S. was solidified on January 20, 2017 – coincidentally Inauguration Day in Washington- when the California Air Resources Board released its 2017 Scoping Plan Update: The Proposed Plan for Achieving California’s 2030 Greenhouse Gas Target . Proposals include a target to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2030 – the most ambitious target in North America, according to a Reuters report . The plan also extends the cap-and-trade program to 2030, based on economic modelling which concludes that cap-and-trade is the lowest cost, most efficient policy approach and provides certainty that the state will meet the 2030 emissions goals even if other measures fall short. The Scoping Plan also call for an 18 percent reduction in the carbon intensity of transportation fuels burned in the state, and for 4.2 million zero-emission vehicles on the road. The proposals, a hearings schedule, and technical appendices are all available at the ARB website .
Another economic analysis evaluating cap-and-trade was published in January by Next10. The Economic Impacts of California’s Major Climate Programs On The San Joaquin Valley , analyses the costs and benefits, including job gain and loss, of three programs: Cap- and- trade, the Renewables Portfolio Standard, and energy efficiency programs, specific to the to the San Joaquin Valley economy. The authors chose to examine the San Joaquin as a “a bellwether of the state’s transition to a low-carbon economy” since its geography and dependence on agriculture make it vulnerable to climate change effects , and vulnerable also to climate policies because “it faces more socioeconomic challenges than the state as a whole”. After examining the data and using advanced modeling software, they found that the three programs brought over $13 billion in economic benefits to the Valley, mostly in renewable energy, and created over 31,000 jobs just in the renewable energy sector alone. Research and analysis was done by academics at the Center for Law, Energy and the Environment (CLEE) at UC Berkeley Law and UC Berkeley’s Donald Vial Center on Employment in the Green Economy .
Unionists were among the hundreds of thousands of Canadians who joined in the Sister Marches for the Women’s March in Washington on January 21, 2017 . The Canadian Labour Congress statement of “Why we March” is here . Unifor’s President Jerry Dias endorsed the March and called for a “united mobilization effort” against the Trump agenda. The March was an undeniable success, and the Washington organizers, quoted in a Globe and Mail report, recognized: “This is more than a single day of action, this is the beginning of a movement – to protect, defend and advance human rights, even in the face of adversity. ”
Jeremy Brecher of Labor Network for Sustainability tackles this issue for U.S. labour unions in “How Labor and Climate united can trump Trump” . After cataloguing some of the worst threats under a Trump administration , he calls for “an alliance of unions and allies willing to fight the whole Trump agenda” and states: “Such a “big tent” needs to include unions that are not part of the AFL-CIO, such as SEIU, Teamsters, and National Education Association. Some unions may choose not to join because they are unwilling to take a forthright stand against the Trump agenda; it would be both absurd and catastrophic for that to prevent the rest of the labor movement and its allies from taking on a fight that is about the very right of unions to exist.”
The United Resistance, led by the NAACP, Greenpeace USA, and the Service Employees International Union, is chief among these new alliances, pledging to “stand together” on the issues of civil rights, immigrants, women’s reproductive rights, social equality, action on climate change, public health and safety, public dissent, and access to information. Their inspirational video is here , as well as a list of the alliance members. The AFL-CIO is not listed as a member of the United Resistance, though their recent blogs oppose Trump’s nominees, and they promoted the Women’s March. For more about the United Resistance, see “More than 50 Organizations Launch United Resistance Campaign as Trump’s Cabinet Hearings Begin” in Common Dreams (Jan.10).
In a second article , SOCIAL SELF-DEFENSE: Protecting People and Planet against Trump and Trumpism , Jeremy Brecher borrows a term from the Solidarity movement in Poland 40 years ago, and takes a larger, more global focus. He writes that “Social Self Defense includes the protection of the human rights of all people; protection of the conditions of our earth and its climate that make our life possible; the constitutional principle that government must be accountable to law; and global cooperation to provide a secure future for people.” “Social Self-Defense is not an organization – it is a set of practices to be engaged in by myriad organizations, hopefully in close coordination with each other.” Although the article highlights a number of examples, such as the growing Sanctuary movement in the U.S., and case studies of alliances, including Vermont Labor Council Initiates Social Self-Defense , the overriding impact is to emphasize the scale of the task: “These actions appear to be on the way to being the greatest outpouring of civil resistance in American history.”
The U.S. National Academies of Science Press released an important report in January 2017, suggesting changes to the methodology of the Social Cost of Carbon (SCC), an economic metric used to measure the net costs and benefits associated with the effects of climate change- including changes in agricultural productivity, risks to human health, and damage from extreme weather events. U.S. government agencies such as the Environmental Protection Agency are required by law to estimate SCC when proposing regulations such for vehicle emission standards or energy efficiency standards for appliances. One of the most recent, thorough, and important applications of the U.S. Social Cost of Carbon appears in the 2015 Regulatory Impact Analysis Report for the Clean Power Plan Final Rule. The U.S. updated the SCC to $37 U.S. per tonne of carbon dioxide in September 2015, a value often criticized as too low, and economists continue to differ about the methodology. A study by researchers at Stanford University, published in Nature Climate Change (2015) estimated a more accurate SCC of $220 per tonne – six times higher.
The January report from the National Academy of Science, Valuing Climate Damages: Updating Estimation of the Social Cost of Carbon Dioxide , suggests restructuring the Integrated Assessment Models framework used to ensure greater transparency, and recognizes new research which should be incorporated into the models (e.g. the effect of heat waves on mortality) . It also recommends a regular 5-year updating schedule, “to ensure that the SC- CO2 estimates reflect the best available science.” For a summary of proposed changes and the political context, see “Scientists have a new way to calculate what global warming costs. Trump’s team isn’t going to like it” in the Washington Post . Noting that the new report has no legal force, The Post article quotes expert reviewer Richard Revesz, Dean emeritus of the New York University School of Law: “If the metric is revised, then the incoming administration would have an obligation to explain why it’s departing from the current approach… Any changes made without adequate scientific justification would likely be struck down in court.” But see also “How Climate Rules might Fade away” in Bloomberg Business Week.
What are the implications for Canada? Canada, like the U.K., Germany, France, and other countries, already uses its own Social Cost of Carbon, pegged at a $28 per tonne in 2012, according to Canada’s Regulatory Impact Analysis Statement issued with the vehicle emissions regulations for passenger cars and light trucks. The Leaders Statement from the North American Leadership Summit in Summer 2016 , ties Canada more closely to U.S. and Mexico, when it pledges to “ … align analytical methods for assessing and communicating the impact of direct and indirect greenhouse gas emission of major projects. Building on existing efforts, align approaches, reflecting the best available science for accounting for the broad costs to society of greenhouse gas emissions, including using similar methodologies to estimate the social cost of carbon and other greenhouse gases for assessing the benefits of policy measures that reduce those emissions.”
The American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE), a long-time advocate and researcher about the value of energy efficiency , published a blog on January 10, 2017, arguing that energy efficiency creates at least 1.9 million full- and part-time jobs across the United States, almost 10 times as many as oil and gas extraction. The blog is largely spent in summarizing a December 2016 report, Energy Efficiency Jobs in America: A comprehensive analysis of energy efficiency employment across all 50 states , which sees an optimistic future in 2017. Based on surveys of employers from approximately 165,000 U.S. companies, the report states that energy efficiency employers are expecting employment growth of approximately 245,000 jobs (a 13% growth rate) in 2017. Energy Efficiency Jobs in America also calls for state and federal policies to support or enhance this growth, including: Advancing energy efficiency standards set by the U.S. Department of Energy for appliances and equipment. • Strengthening building codes at the state and local levels to capture all cost-effective energy efficiency opportunities at the time of design and construction • Accelerating energy efficiency improvements in devices and buildings that use electricity or natural gas through utility programs, state policies such as energy efficiency resource standards, or by investing in all cost-effective energy efficiency resources, and • prioritizing the role of energy efficiency in developing and/or strengthening clean energy standards at the state level. Energy Efficiency Jobs in America was released by two U.S. advocacy associations: Environmental Entrepreneurs (E2), and E4TheFuture.
The ACEEE, perhaps best known for its annual Energy Efficiency Scorecards , released a White Paper in December, advocating energy efficiency initiatives to reduce carbon emissions. In Pathway to Cutting Energy Use and Carbon Emissions in Half , the ACEEE analyzed 13 “packages” of energy efficiency measures which, when combined, could reduce energy use by 34% and carbon emissions by 35% by 2040. Improvement in industrial energy efficiency – factories, commercial buildings, transmission and distribution systems, and power plants – was seen to have the largest potential impact at 20.8%.
“Standing Rock Solid with the Frackers: Are the Trades Putting Labor’s Head in the Gas Oven? is a new article by Sean Sweeney, examining the divisions in the U.S. labour movement over the Dakota Access Pipeline. The article , originally published in New Labor Forum and re-posted and updated on the website of Trade Unions for Energy Democracy on October 14 , describes the pro-pipeline statements of the North American Building Trades Unions (NABTU) , and, like Jeremy Brecher’s article on the same issue , Sweeney sees NABTU as the driving force behind the AFL-CIO’s energy positions. Likening the current dispute to the internal division over the Keystone XL Pipeline, Sweeney states that “The DAPL fight suggests that the split in labor is deepening.” Sweeney pays particular attention to (and promises a future article about ) the Laborers’ International Union (LIUNA)’s Clean Power Progress campaign, launched in June 2016 to support natural gas as a clean, bridging fuel – with the glaring omission of any mention of the emissions of fracking. The article concludes: “For now, having waged a successful putsch, NABTU is the voice of the AFL-CIO regarding a big chunk of labor’s energy policy. The Federation’s reputation is now so low that it seems to be no longer concerned about ‘reputational damage.’ By linking arms with Standing Rock Sioux, progressive labor is keeping alive the best traditions of labor environmentalism pioneered by Tony Mazzocchi and the Oil, Chemical and Atomic Workers in the 1970s.”
Further updates on the DAPL front: Protests and arrests continue as recently as October 22. But in what is seen as a victory victory for freedom of the press, on October 18 a judge dismissed trespassing and riot charges against reporter Amy Goodman, the reporter for Democracy Now whose video ignited support for the Standing Rock Sioux Nation protest. Read the transcript of Amy Goodman’s reaction here , and complete Democracy Now coverage of the DAPL protests here . For a summary of the judge’s decision, see the New York Times report .
The most recent e-bulletin from the Labor Network for Sustainability in the U.S. highlights the Labor Convergence Conference which they convened in January 2016. The Convergence website includes a draft version of Principles , with a strong statement on environmental justice. It concludes: “As workers and trade unionists we will either initiate change or be the victims of it. We hereby resolve to use our power to reshape the economic, political, and social system in the interests of all the world’s people who are threatened by climate change.” Also from the Convergence conference, a statement of Goals and Strategies , with one of the first year goals to “Create a Labor Resolution on Climate Justice”. Some Convergence members have passed resolutions within their own unions: see the American Postal Workers Union resolution, “Climate Change, Jobs and Justice” , passed August 21, 2016 and the International Association of Machinists Local 1746 Climate Change Resolution passed in September 2016.
Protests against the Dakota Access Pipeline in North Dakota are continuing, according to Democracy Now on October 7. On October 5, three U.S. federal judges heard arguments over whether to stop the construction, but they are not expected to make a ruling for three or four months. Meanwhile, Jeremy Brecher of the Labor Network for Sustainability released a new post , Dakota Access Pipeline and the Future of American Labor, which asks “Why has this become a divisive issue within labor, and can it have a silver lining for a troubled labor movement?” The article discusses the AFL-CIO’s statement in support of the pipeline, and points to the growing influence of the North America’s Building Trades Unions’ within the AFL-CIO through their campaign of “stealth disaffiliation”. It also cites an “ unprecedented decision” by the Labor Coalition for Community Action, an official constituency group of the AFL-CIO , to issue their own statement in support of the rights of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, in direct opposition to the main AFL-CIO position. The Climate Justice Alliance, an environmental justice group of 40 organizations, has also written to the AFL-CIO in an attempt to begin discussions. Brecher’s article concludes that the allies and activist members of the AFL-CIO are exerting increasing pressure, and asks “Isn’t it time?” for a dialogue which will shift direction and build a new fossil-free infrastructure which will also create jobs in the U.S. For unions interested in supporting the protests against the Dakota Access Pipeline, a sample resolution for local unions is available from the Climate Workers website.
“Just Transition: Just What Is It?”: An Analysis of Language, Strategies, and Projects is a paper published by the Labor Network for Sustainability, along with Strategic Practice: Grassroots Policy Project. It traces the history of the Just Transition concept from a U.S. point of view, starting with the Jobs for Peace movement post-WW2, to the Super Fund for Workers initiated by Oil Chemical, and Atomic Workers leader Tony Mazzocchi, to the adoption of the idea by the environmental movement, the resistance that has developed to the “just transition” idea within much of organized labor, and finally to the adoption of the term and its reinterpretation by the environmental justice and climate justice movements. An analysis of policy is followed by seven “mini-case studies” of concrete social experiments, and the paper concludes with a series of questions which aim to bring a common vision to the fight for Just Transition. The report is based on 17 interviews conducted between October, 2015 and March, 2016. Leaders of the following organizations reflect on their experiences and interpretations of “ Just Transition”: Climate Justice Alliance; GreenWave; National People’s Action; New Economy Coalition; ALIGN: The Alliance for Greater New York ; Asian Pacific Environmental Network; Buffalo PUSH; Kentuckians For The Commonwealth; Movement Generation; AFL-CIO; Black Workers for Justice; BlueGreen Alliance; Labor Network for Sustainability; Oregon AFL-CIO; North Carolina League of Conservation Voters; and Sierra Club.
A related paper, jointly published by the Labor Network for Sustainability (LNS) and the Institute for Energy and Environmental Research (IEER), is another example of the many policy proposals to achieve Just Transition. The unique aspect in Beyond a Band-Aid: A Discussion Paper on Protecting Workers and Communities in the Great Energy Transition , is the proactive approach to Just Transition strategy, calling for direct investments to be made in local economies dependent on fossil fuel jobs before devastating economic disruption begins. A Community and Worker Protection Fund (CWP Fund) is proposed to replace the taxes and fees paid by fossil fuel facilities; it would make targeted investments designed to create jobs, before or at the pace that fossil fuel jobs are declining. Job creation would be directed at such initiatives as renewable energy, HVAC conversion, decommissioning fossil fuel facilities, and economic diversification. The paper also discusses possible ways to pay for the CWP Fund, including: levying a “modest” carbon fee or tax, or eliminating fossil fuel subsidies and tax breaks.
Also, from the Labor Center at the University of California, Berkeley , comes Advancing Equity in California Climate Policy: A New Social Contract for Low-Carbon Transition . (Executive Summary here ). This paper, directed at advocacy groups, lawmakers and regulators, proposes a “Climate Policy Equity Framework” and uses it to evaluate California’s climate policies to date, using three principles: Environmental Justice; Economic Equity; and Public Accountability. It also applies the Framework to two cases of statewide GHG reduction strategies, one in the area of energy efficiency and the other in renewable energy. Finally, the report recommends strategies to build a social contract as part of the effort to restructure to a greener economy, “to move beyond a “lowest common denominator” approach towards a proactive equity agenda” with greater public accountability.
Protests against the Dakota Access Pipeline have been underway since August; the Standing Rock Sioux Nation through whose land the pipeline would pass say that it would damage the Missouri River, their water supply, as well as sacred sites. Environmentalists object to its capacity of 570,000-barrels-per-day of oil from North Dakota’s Bakken shale formation, representing GHG emissions equivalent to 29.5 coal plants. For a chronology and in-depth coverage of the issue, go to Democracy Now , whose reporter Amy Goodman brought the world’s attention to the protests with her video report on September 6 , showing security personnel attacking protestors with mace and dogs. The Indigenous Environment Network also offers frequent updates. On September 9, a U.S. court denied the Sioux Nation’s request for an emergency restraining order against the project; hours later, the White House intervened to order a halt on the disputed section, and the Department of Justice, the Department of the Army and the Department of the Interior issued a Joint Statement withdrawing the Army’s authorization for construction until it can determine whether it needs to revisit any of its previous decisions regarding the Lake Oahe site . Furthermore, from the Joint Statement: “ this case has highlighted the need for a serious discussion on whether there should be nationwide reform with respect to considering tribes’ views on these types of infrastructure projects. Therefore, this fall, we will invite tribes to formal, government-to-government consultations on two questions: (1) within the existing statutory framework, what should the federal government do to better ensure meaningful tribal input into infrastructure-related reviews and decisions and the protection of tribal lands, resources, and treaty rights; and (2) should new legislation be proposed to Congress to alter that statutory framework and promote those goals. ” Even before the White House intervention, the Washington Post acknowledged the importance of this dispute in “Showdown over oil pipeline becomes a national movement for Native Americans” (Sept. 7); for a more up-to-date appraisal see an article at Think Progress which acknowledges the long legal road ahead, but calls the DAPL a turning point.
On September 22, in ceremonies in Vancouver and Montreal , at least 50 First Nations from Canada and the U.S. (including the Standing Rock Sioux) signed on to the Treaty Alliance against Oils Sands Expansion, which pledges coordinated opposition to projects that will expand the production of the Alberta Tar Sands, including the transport of oil sands products by pipeline, rail or tanker. That includes “all five current tar sands pipeline and tanker project proposals – Kinder Morgan, Energy East, Line 3, Northern Gateway and Keystone XL. The Treaty, as well as the background to it, is available here .
In the U.S., the “jobs vs. the environment” controversy has surfaced again over the DAPL. See the August press release from the Laborers’ International Union which states: “Today, the General Presidents of four skilled craft unions, Laborers’ International Union of North America (LIUNA), International Union of Operating Engineers (IUOE), International Brotherhood of Teamsters (IBT), and United Association (UA), sent a letter to the North Dakota Governor Jack Dalrymple encouraging him to use the power of his office to protect the jobs of thousands of American workers who are lawfully constructing the Dakota Access Pipeline.” On September 15, the AFL-CIO issued a statement calling on the Obama administration to allow construction to continue, saying “it is fundamentally unfair to hold union members’ livelihoods and their families’ financial security hostage to endless delay. The Dakota Access Pipeline is providing over 4,500 high-quality, family supporting jobs.” Other U.S. unions, including the National Nurses Union, Amalgamated Transit Union, and United Electrical Workers, are supporting the DAPL protests: see Portside coverage here (Sept 17),