U.S. Labour unions’ climate change policies explained

stevis report 2019 cleavagesLabour 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.”

Green New Deal Resolution introduced in U.S. House of Representatives

ocasio cortezOn 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.   

sunrise movementOn 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.”

 

Growth and diversity in the U.S.clean energy industry

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.

U.S. Democrats promote Green New Deal, based on a Jobs for All guarantee

“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.”

AOC sunrise demonstrationThe  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)  .

If time is short, read the brief introduction by the  Sierra Club magazine : “What is this Green New Deal anyway?” , and follow  #Green New Deal .

4th U.S. Climate Assessment provides new estimates of economic costs of climate change

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) .

4th climate assessment labour

From the 4th National Climate Assessment U.S. – Chapter 1 Overview