How are workers affected by PG&E power outage in California?

california map PGE_outage_10-10-2019The 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.

The right policy mix determines the extent of job creation for California’s proposed offshore wind industry

floating offshore windCalifornia 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 Summer of 2019: Flooding, hurricanes, wildfires and heatwaves

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 .  )

BCclimate-risk-assessmentIn 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: 

heatreportcoverThe 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-report-cover-thumbnailKiller 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.

ICYMI – More Labour support for a Green New Deal in the U.S.

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 SEIULos 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 Dealappeared 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.”

18Strategies-for-Slider2The 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.

Strong community advocacy brings landmark climate legislation to New York State

New YorK RenewsOn 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.