Week In Review April 24

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Apr 242016
 

onaschoutsmall  by Bill Onasch

A Short Detour

The lead topic of the last WIR was the still ongoing exposure of lies and dirty tricks by the world’s richest corporations and their political servants to keep us ignorant of their climate wrecking in pursuit of super-profits. I promised that this week I would offer my perspective for how we can use this truth to reverse the course set by the ruling class short of disaster. But I’m going to take a little more oblique route to address some timely developments.

Friday was the first high profile Earth Day in quite awhile. Since I believe in recycling, for background on Earth Day I’ll quote myself in the April 29 WIR last year,

“The 1970 first Earth Day in the USA was a big deal. Just in New York City alone, a million took part in a march down Fifth Avenue and a Rally-Festival in Central Park. There was also a giant action in Philadelphia and impressive ones in virtually every city and town across the country.

“The focus of this massive mobilization, that far exceeded the expectations of organizers, was palpable water and air pollution generated by industry, cars, and chemical agriculture. This outpouring, far broader in demographics than its campus instigators, had a salutary effect. It was the driving force leading to the passage of the Clean Water and Clean Air Acts along with the establishment of the Environmental Protection Agency. Those historic gains were supplemented by OSHA, the Urban Mass Transit Act, and Amtrak, making the Nixon years more productive on environmental measures than any other administration. The USA briefly became a vanguard in such governmental regulation, a model soon copied–and improved–by most other industrialized countries.

“But there was a letup after these swift and substantial achievements. Many in the fledgling ecological movement concluded that since they had now done the heavy lifting a system that seemed to still work could carry on with some occasional prodding and tweaking….Earth Day became a ritual observance, most years dispersed in to thousands of micro-gatherings focused primarily on green lifestyle adjustments. Big groups such as the Sierra Club, who ultimately grew to a million members, devoted most of their activity to lobbying, litigation and electoral endorsements.”

All industries resisted the new government regulations resulting from Earth Day One, cheating where they could. But the fossil fuels industries breathed a sigh of relief because what they knew about global warming hadn’t yet been exposed.

But this year’s Earth Day, hosted by the UN, was staged to be all about climate change. The chosen venue came attached with some historical irony. The land for the New York City complex housing the United Nations Headquarters was donated by John D Rockefeller. His father started him off as a director of Standard Oil—main ancestor of Exxon-Mobil—as well as US Steel. He was also a director of the Colorado Fuel & Iron Company at the time of the bloody Ludlow Massacre that slaughtered wives and children of striking coal miners.

Accompanied by brass bands, and many school children bused in for the occasion, representatives of 170 countries were on hand for a ceremonial signing of the accord adopted by the Paris Climate Summit last December. President Obama was in England celebrating Queen Elizabeth’s ninetieth birthday but Secretary of State Kerry, with a grand-daughter on his lap, signed for the USA. Al Gore, who had signed the first climate treaty in Kyoto in 1997—that President Clinton declined to submit to the Senate for ratification—was present and beaming. Among other VIPs was Leonardo DiCaprio.

So when can we expect all this pomp to change our circumstances? An AFP story explains it won’t be a galloping pace—more the speed of the creatures that the French like to turn in to escargot,

“The next, and final, procedural phase will be ratification by individual governments. Countries which do not sign the document on Friday can do so in the year that follows. The agreement sets out broad lines of attack against climate change. It defines the goal of limiting global warming to ‘well below’ two degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) — 1.5 C if possible. It does not prescribe deadlines or targets for curbing planet-warming greenhouse gas emissions: these are described in further detail in non-binding pledges countries filed to shore up the pact….On current trends, scientists say, the world will warm by 4 C over benchmark pre-Industrial Revolution levels — or 3 C if countries live up to their pledges.”

A 4C world could not sustain human civilization as we know it. 3C would be only marginally less disastrous. It could take many centuries for the greenhouse layer to dissipate to pre-industrial levels. Even if the current non-binding pledges are met we would be bequeathing unrelenting misery to future generations.

Since the dominant driving force of global warming is fossil fuels the solution would seem obvious—commit to completely replace fossil fuels with clean, renewable, freely available energy sources like solar, wind, and tidal, as quickly as possible. That is in fact what nearly all climate scientists propose. There are credible estimates that an emergency crash program could accomplish this goal in 20-25 years.

But those who own the polluting global economy, and control most governments, reject such measures that mortally threaten their profits and rule. They will not agree to more than tactical tinkering. That’s why the non-binding goals are all over the map.

The U.S. largely relies on a temporary reduction in power plant emissions due to conversion from coal to now cheaper fracked natural gas. In fact half of Obama’s pledge had already been accomplished when his plan was initially announced nearly two years ago.

However, tiny Holland, home base of Royal Dutch Shell, has a wary eye on rising sea levels. They plan to ban all cars other than plug-in electrics by 2025—while Shell continues business as usual elsewhere.

Like the dandelions that pester my wife’s lawn and garden efforts, nuclear power advocates, in the camp of General Electric, are again sprouting, fertilized by the lack of progress toward needed elimination of fossil fuels. This past week, Eduardo Porter wrote a New York Times article entitled “Liberal Biases, Too, May Block Progress on Climate Change.” He says,

“Ted Cruz’s argument that climate change is a hoax to justify a government takeover of the world is absurd. But Bernie Sanders’s argument that ‘toxic waste byproducts of nuclear plants are not worth the risks of the technology’s benefit’ might also be damaging.”

He bolsters his attack on an alleged anti-science left with a Pew Poll showing a big majority of the American Association for the Advancement of Science favor more nuclear power.

It is true that some scientists—even the dean of climate scientists, Dr James E Hansen—have in utter desperation shown conditional support for nuclear power as an emergency stop-gap measure due to inaction on replacing fossil fuels with safe, clean, renewable energy available free of charge.

The WIR has dealt with this issue numerous times over the years. For the benefit of new readers I’ll briefly explain why I disagree with Hansen–who I much respect and admire–and dismiss Porter’s twisted pro-corporate line.

It is true that nuclear power plants produce negligible greenhouse emissions where they generate electricity. But their advocates ignore the vast amounts of emissions resulting just from the mining, refining and transporting their fuel. The fuel is not renewable—it depends on a dwindling supply of extractable uranium. They are anything but safe. Reactor accidents can be catastrophic. And there’s no known proven method for safe disposal of waste that can remain dangerous for centuries. These objections are not political bias—they are based on solid science.

This completes my detour—next time I’ll keep my promise of discussing what working people can do right now to work for climate as well as class justice.

In Brief…

* An AP dispatch, “The Chicago Teachers Union said the countdown toward a possible strike had begun after it rejected the recommendation of a neutral arbitrator that it accept a contract offer from the nation’s third-largest school system. The union said the earliest a strike could begin is May 16, about a month before the last day of school on June 21. The union also could strike in September, when school resumes for about 400,000 students.”

* Mark Ugolini, a new writer at Socialist Action, has done a good piece on recent strikes and demonstrations of Fast Food and other low wage workers fighting for 15 and a Union.

* My bus driver friend Rod in Vancouver has kept me informed about a likely strike by bus drivers, Sea Bus captains, maintenance and other transit support workers in that city. The company managing the privatized system is demanding concessions. A strike vote will be taken April 28. My last visit to Vancouver was during the last transit strike in 2001 that lasted four months.

* 216 zookeepers, groundskeepers, craftsmen, janitorial staff and police officers represented by Teamsters Local 727 have reached a tentative agreement with the Brookfield Zoo in suburban Chicago. Their previous contract had expired December 31. The main issue in dispute was health care costs and the union had filed Unfair Labor Practice Charges. The workers had pledged basic care for animals in the event of a strike. No details of the TA have yet been made public.

* I’m not sure where the Earl of Downton stood but the British House of Lords forced the Tory government to back off canceling the equivalent of union dues check-off for public sector workers.

That’s all for this week.


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Check out our digest of news stories about working class and climate issues, posted Monday-Friday by 9AM Central. on our companion Labor Advocate blog.

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Week In Review April 17

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Apr 172016
 

onaschoutsmall  by Bill Onasch

Welcome Aboard to Our New Readers

I had a lot of catching up to do following the Labor Notes Conference but I finally entered dozens who signed up for the Week In Review there in to our e-mail system. Most weeks we publish on Sunday. You will note that the sidebar has an archive of past Reviews since we started using WordPress three years ago. Another ten years of entries before that, in a different format, can be found here. I hope the WIR meets your expectations.

What They Knew, When They Knew It

Inside Climate News, who have won Pulitzer and other prizes for their investigative reporting, are continuing their series begun last Fall, Exxon: The Road Not Taken. Along with similar projects by the Guardian, and the late, lamented Aljazeera America, this excellent series reveals the scope of post-World War II suppression and manipulation of science by the fossil fuel industries—often in collusion with government officials. Much of the evidence was obtained through discovery by the Center for International Environmental Law.

At least as early as 1946, scientists employed by oil companies, including the predecessors now merged to form America’s biggest—Exxon-Mobil—began to warn about the hazards of air pollution from cars. Since that didn’t fit in to American capitalism’s grand postwar schemes of Urban Sprawl—including replacing mass transit with America’s Love Affair With the Car–these concerns were given a secrecy level resembling the Manhattan Project that built the first atomic bombs.

In 1965, scientists briefed President Johnson on the greenhouse effect warming the planet– and that fossil fuels were the main source of greenhouse gases. Being from the biggest oil-producing state at that time–and busy with escalation of the Vietnam war–LBJ asked few questions and the public heard nothing.

In 1968, the American Petroleum Institute, the trade group for the oil and gas industries, received a report they had requested from the Stanford Research Institute. Its predictions were alarming—and have subsequently mostly been verified. It said,

Significant temperature changes are almost certain to occur by the year 2000 and these could bring about climatic change….If the Earth’s temperature increases significantly, a number of events might be expected to occur including the melting of the Antarctic ice cap, a rise in sea levels, warming of the oceans and an increase in photosynthesis. It is clear that we are unsure as to what our long-lived pollutants are doing to our environment; however, there seems to be no doubt that the potential damage to our environment could be severe.”

It wasn’t what the client wanted to hear. But the API didn’t ignore the report—they buried it so deep it wouldn’t again see the light of day for more than forty years. Companies like Exxon retained their own in house scientists to monitor the trends revealed by the Stanford report. They also started preparing a counter-attack against any scientists not on their payroll who might attempt to alert the public to the dangers of global warming. That didn’t happen for twenty years.

In 1988, Dr James E Hansen, a prominent scientist at NASA, the most followed and admired scientific agency, explained the basics of global warming to a congressional committee. It wasn’t the lead story on the Evening News but for the first time at least readers of the New York Times and Washington Post learned something about the greenhouse effect.

In a recent interview, Hansen explained why he initially took the risk of going public.

I don’t think that I have been alarmist — maybe alarming, but I don’t think I’m an alarmist. We have a society in which most people have become unable to understand or appreciate science, and partly that’s a communication problem, which we need to try to alleviate.”

No one has done a better job of explaining the climate change crisis in popular language most of us can understand than Dr Hansen. And as we related in the March 26 WIR, he has also become a climate activist. That includes being arrested in civil disobedience actions against coal industry Mountaintop Removal in West Virginia and at the White House against the Keystone XL pipeline—initially approved by Secretary of State Clinton but now stymied as a result of mass demonstrations that included union contingents as well as civil disobedience.

Dr Hansen’s stature and age—now “retired”—helped protect him against serious retribution from the fossil forces. That wasn’t the case, however, for younger climate scientists surviving on meager grants who were subjected to vicious slander attacks on their personal as well as scientific character—sometimes even receiving death threats. But this corporate-backed intimidation failed. Today 97 percent of scientists in fields related to climate accept the consensus that climate change is real, in progress, and mainly driven by the effects of burning or extracting fossil fuels.

After decades of dismissing climate science as “junk science,” last year Big Oil reluctantly admitted the climate crisis is real. With less reluctance they chose to throw their coal competitors under the bus. Just this week, the world’s biggest producer and distributor of coal—Peabody Energy—filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. But API speciously argues that oil and gas, combined with renewable energy sources, can play an important role in addressing the climate challenge.

This has made life easier for governments like ours in Washington who are responsible to Big Business. As President Obama seeks to burnish his climate legacy most of his plan hailed by many environmentalists who should know better places a modest burden only on coal-fired power plants in a dubious state administered cap-and-trade scheme. Fracking methods in oil and gas that generate enormous amounts of greenhouse gases—as well as other environmental damage—has thrived on Obama’s watch. This administration has also opened up pristine arctic waters for offshore oil drilling.

While far-right Republicans mostly stick to denial the prominent climate declarations by both Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders heavily depend on biomass as renewable alternatives to fossil fuels. Make no mistake—in the USA biomass primarily means burning food for fuel. Ethanol—mainly from corn–is an alternative that has failed in so many different ways over the last decade or more.

This thumb-nail sketch of how we got to where we are today is what led KC Labor to choose our slogan of For Class and Climate Justice. You can’t have one without the other. Next time I’ll review for new and old readers alike my perspective of where we need to go from here.

The Hang-Up At Verizon

In the biggest strike in the USA so far this year, 39,000 CWA and IBEW Verizon workers hit the proverbial bricks this week in the East from Massachusetts to Virginia. Their old contract expired last August. The unions offered some concessions on health care costs but the company wasn’t appeased, still not budging on numerous drastic take-aways. Dan DiMaggio gives a good summary of issues in Labor Notes,

The company is pushing to offshore more call-center jobs, outsource more line work to low-wage contractors, and force workers to accept assignments away from home for up to two months at a time—all while it’s making $1.8 billion in profit a month.”

For the first time, a few retail wireless stores are involved—a breakthrough that needs to be expanded. Most strikers install, repair, or maintain traditional landlines. Like AT&T, Verizon has encouraged customers to switch to less labor intensive, and largely nonunion wireless service. The chart above graphically illustrates the rapid decline in union jobs at Verizon.

Verizon workers need and deserve active solidarity from the entire labor movement in what will likely be a bitter battle. Watch for updated posts of news stories and union appeals on our companion Labor Advocate news blog. And you can watch a CWA video about the strike’s first day here.

London Calling

Yesterday, 150,000 workers and students marched from the University of Central London campus to a rally in Trafalgar Square to protest the brutal austerity policies of the Conservative, aka Tory government. At the same time, 60,000 surrounded a Tory conference in Manchester. The student and union contingents were no surprise. What was remarkable was the Labor Party playing a leading role in such street actions.

This traditional mass party of the working class had been transformed twenty years ago by Tony Blair in to New Labor—modeled on Bill Clinton’s New Democrats. The unions that had founded and funded the party were downgraded to junior silent partners and many union militants and socialists were purged. A lot of the left abandoned the Labor Party as just another boss party—like the American Democrats.

Last year the “New” Labor Party, favored to win by all the polls, suffered a humiliating loss in parliamentary elections. The Tories won a huge majority for another five year mandate. But instead of another nail in the coffin of the workers’ party this triggered a youth revival of “old” Labor. Largely in response to veteran left-winger Jeremy Corbyn’s campaign to become party leader, tens of thousands of young workers and students joined the party. Corbyn won 60 percent of the membership vote in a five candidate contest.

This doesn’t change everything—but it changes a lot for the better. There are worthwhile lessons from across the Atlantic for Bernie Sanders supporters in the only industrialized country without a mass working class party that the WIR will continue to raise.

That’s all for this week.


The WIR is available by RSS

If you want to be on our e-mail list send your name and e-mail address to: billonasch@kclabor.org

You can follow Bill Onasch on Google+

Check out our digest of news stories about working class and climate issues, posted Monday-Friday by 9AM Central on our companion Labor Advocate blog.

Our sole source of operating income is reader contributions. If you can help please visit the KC Labor Donate page.