Green New Deal for Public Housing Act provides concrete proposals and benefits

sanders cortezOn 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  .

International conference highlights union initiatives for public ownership and democratic control of energy

TUED 2019 conferenceAn international conference, “The Green New Deal, Net-Zero Carbon, and the Crucial Role of Public Ownership“, brought together more than 150 trade unionists, activists and policy allies in New York City on September 28, 2019. In November, a 50-page summary of the conference was released by Trade Unions for Energy Democracy (TUED), with summaries of presentations (including many links to related documents), as well as links to video of some sessions.

TUED Coordinator Sean Sweeney described the context of the conference:  “The world is completely off-track to avoid catastrophic climate change, and we can’t wait any longer. Fortunately, unions and their allies around the world increasingly recognize that only comprehensive public ownership and democratic control of energy gives us a chance to achieve the scale of change needed in the time available.” Speakers from the U.K., South Africa, South Korea, Zimbabwe, the U.S., among others, addressed the key themes through their own experiences, including:  “Privatization of State-Owned Electricity Utilities Has Failed, But Alternatives Exist”; “Defending and Reclaiming Public Energy Requires Building Union Power”; “The Transition Must Take into Account the Development Needs of the Global South”. As for next steps, Peter Knowlton, outgoing President of the United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers of America (UE), proposed a specific mobilization for 2020: “to bring millions of workers into the streets for Earth Day on April 22, 2020. But we need to have a continuous series of actions, … A week of activity between the “bookends” of Earth Day and May Day could be a wonderful opportunity to bring the labor and environmental movements together in a way we haven’t seen before.”

The conference was organized by Trade Unions for Energy Democracy (TUED), with support from Rosa Luxemburg Foundation (New York Office) and the City University of New York (CUNY) School of Labor and Urban Studies, in partnership with unions – from Canada, the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) and the National Union of Public and General Employees (NUPGE). Local 32BJ SEIU  hosted a two-day retreat in advance of the full gathering.

Social workers urged to advocate for a Green New Deal and climate justice

environmental justice social workersThe  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.”

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.

Labor’s voice in support of the Green New Deal

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

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

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