by Bill Onasch
Shock Treatment For Denial
A map prepared by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration shows the eastern United States was in the grip of one of the coldest deviations from average January temperature on the entire planet. That will come as no surprise to most readers–and February is on a similar track.
But NOAA also reports that on a global scale this January was the fourth warmest ever recorded. It also marked the 347th consecutive month with temperatures above the 20th-century average.
England has been experiencing the worst flooding since they started keeping records there. Heavy rains in Argentina, Bolivia, Ecuador, Paraguay, Peru, and Uruguay have caused the overflowing of rivers, displaced thousands of habitants from their homes, destroyed crops and killed people and animals.
But no relief is in sight for parched California. The entire state is suffering varying degrees of drought and desperate farmers can’t get irrigation water for crops and pasture. There’s a big sell off of cattle due to dried up grazing land and almond growers are felling and plowing under their groves. The Central Valley that attracted environmental refugees from the 1930s Midwest Dust Bowl, chronicled in Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath, is now seeing farmers and farm workers beginning to leave in search of greener pastures, or new occupations, elsewhere. As a result of this disaster food prices are already spiking across the country.
A similar drought in Brazil has made soybeans more expensive and driven the price of coffee up forty percent this year.
All of this is consistent with the predictions and warnings of climate science. Our climate is in distress; it is changing; the changes are unwelcome–and this is mainly caused by burning fossil fuels. Those who continue to deny this despite accumulating evidence do so out of ignorance or fear–or because they profit from this destruction of our biosphere.
Secretary of State Kerry last week blasted the global warming deniers–in remarks made in China. The Chinese regime does not deny global warming and have in fact been a leader in developing alternative energy such as solar and wind. But they use all energy available to them to support their vast and growing economy–fueled in large part by work offshored by American manufacturers. Several years ago China overtook the USA as the number one source of greenhouse gas emissions. My country must now be content to run neck-and-neck with Australia as the top per capita carbon polluter–with Canada trying to break away from the pack to go for the Bronze.
Secretary Kerry is in a position to do something both substantial and dramatic about global warming. He can reject the rubber stamp approval of the Keystone XL pipeline granted in an environmental impact study by his State Department. We shall see.
After a first term that featured loosening restrictions on off-shore drilling and promoting the ethanol scam, President Obama has talked more about climate change in his second. On Thursday, using a duplicitous excuse of reducing carbon emissions, he approved a 6.5 billion dollar loan for Georgia utilities to build the nation’s first new nuclear power reactors in more than three decades.
There are, of course, good reasons why there have been no new nukes here for over thirty years–and Germany is phasing out all nuclear power there. Three Mile Island is what soured Americans and since then we have seen Chernobyl and Fukushima. There was a new leak of 100 metric tons of highly radioactive water at Fukushima just this past week. It is no where near under control.
Besides the threat of catastrophic reactor accidents is the fact that there are no known methods of safe, secure storage of waste that can remain dangerous for centuries. This brief AP dispatch was buried in papers yesterday,
“More airborne radiation has been detected in southeastern New Mexico from a leak at the nation’s first underground nuclear waste dump. The federal Energy Department said Monday that the results were from samples collected last week at air monitoring stations at and around the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant near Carlsbad. Last week, federal officials confirmed the first-ever leak at the facility. It stores plutonium-contaminated waste from Los Alamos National Laboratory and other government nuclear sites. Officials say there is no public health threat. Waste shipments to the site were halted this month after a truck caught fire underground. Officials say they did not think the incidents were related.”
And–in a reminder that nuclear energy is not renewable–the Navajo nation is mobilizing against plans to open a new uranium mine on their sacred ground in New Mexico.
German nukes are being shut down in response to a mass movement against them. Had a Republican subsidized a resumption of this both profitable and dangerous source of energy there would have been a massive outcry from those who drive hybrids and go on nature hikes. But complaints from the Pale Greens about this green-washed Democrat they helped elect have been as muted as Miles Davis’s trumpet.
While climate change is overarching, we can’t afford to neglect other impacts of fossil fuels on our environment.
Strip mining is not as vulnerable to catastrophic accidents as underground but that doesn’t mean it’s free from serious health threats to miners–and their families and neighbors. Ken Ward Jr, in his excellent Coal Tattoo blog in the Charleston (West Virginia) Gazette, cites a peer reviewed study published in the Journal of Exposure Science and Environmental Epidemiology,
“People who live in Appalachian areas where coal mining is prominent have increased health problems compared with people in non-mining areas of Appalachia…. Coal mines and related mining activities result in the production of atmospheric particulate matter (PM) that is associated with human health effects.”
These problems include respiratory and cardiovascular disease.
Even after the coal is burned it’s still nasty stuff. Pollution controls on smokestacks concentrate arsenic, heavy metals and other dangerous things in the ash left behind. A small portion of this hazardous waste is recycled in to products such as asphalt but a lot of it is simply dumped in to storage ponds.
On February 5, a pipe at one such Duke Energy pond in Eden, North Carolina ruptured, dumping 82,000 tons of ash in to the Dan River. More spills have since followed and more than seventy miles of the river bed and banks was coated with a grey toxic mess.
Chances are there is such a pond near you. There are at least six hundred of them in the USA.
And here’s a little update on those Alberta tar-sands blessed as kosher by the State Department. The CBC reported last week,
“New federal research confirms that Alberta’s oilsands are polluting ground water and seeping into the Athabasca River. The industry has maintained that toxic chemicals are contained safely in tailing ponds, but new research shows this isn’t the case.”
The polluters lied–what a shock.
Collectively, these incidents and trends over just the past few weeks that I have cited point to a climate/environmental emergency. But don’t bother to call 911. The abusive custodians of our biosphere are prospering from a fossil based economy. They dominate not only industry and commerce but all things political, the mass media, and have made universities and churches dependent on their generosity. They are not going to voluntarily abandon their unprecedented wealth and power to do the right thing. Somebody has to take them out.
Looking around, I don’t see anybody with the power to do that except us–the ones who do all the work. The working class can no longer afford to be passive or even content with playing a supportive role. We’re going to have to build a working class-led environmental movement to save the day.
The long established Blue Green Alliance, a loose formation of the top bureaucratic echelons of a few unions and Pale Green groups, hasn’t done much and likely won’t. There are unions, such as National Nurses United, the Amalgamated Transit Union, and SEIU, who have contributed significant official support to the movement against Keystone XL.
There are some other initiatives in the union movement that show promise. One is Trade Unions for Energy Democracy who describe themselves, “a global, multi-sector initiative to advance democratic direction and control of energy in a way that promotes solutions to the climate crisis, energy poverty, the degradation of both land and people, and the repression of workers’ rights and protections.” They have an impressive list of union affiliates from around the world, including the USA.
The Labor Network for Sustainability, whose slogan is “making a living on a living planet,” say, “Labor Network for Sustainability is dedicated to engaging trade unions, workers and our allies to support economic, social, and environmental sustainability. LNS provides a community for those in the labor and sustainability movements and their allies who care about economic justice, ecology, and equality. Our members are helping labor become a force for advancing worker interests – while advancing the broader social good.”
I’ve participated in a more modest network of climate savvy labor activists in the Midwest, the Alliance for Class & Climate Justice. All of these forces will undoubtedly be represented at the April 4-6 Labor Notes Conference in Chicago. It should be a good opportunity to start to take the next indicated step–a worker-led environmental movement for a sustainable and full employment society. I hope to see you there.
* AFT organizer Dawn Tefft reports in Labor Notes on a two-day strike by both tenure and adjunct faculty at the University of Illinois Chicago campus. They are seeking a first contract to cover both units.
* There have been some additional good articles on the UAW debacle in Chattanooga by Steve Early, Mike Elk, and Sam Gindin.
* The NLRB has certified the California Nurses Association to bargain for 800 RNs at the Bay Area’s biggest private hospital, Sutter’s California Pacific Medical Center’s Pacific campus.
* The UE reports, “By a margin of nearly 2 to 1 over the incumbent company union, Renzenberger rail crew drivers at more than 30 rail yards covering the length of California have voted in a mail-ballot election to be represented by UE. Like Renzenberger drivers who have previously joined UE in Illinois, Indiana, New Jersey and Ohio, these workers suffered from low wages, outrageously unfair work rules, abusive bosses, and lack of benefits.”
* It only took 38 years but the writers for the self-described pro-labor In These Times are now members of the CWA Newspaper Guild. The primarily grant-driven employer did not oppose the organizing effort.
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