by Bill Onasch
Necessary and Just Transition
Alister Doyle writing in a recent Reuters story said,
“An apparent slowdown in the pace of global warming in recent years may be an illusion based on skewed data, according to a study on Thursday that found no break in a trend of rising temperatures. In 2013, the U.N. panel of climate experts reported a ‘hiatus’ in warming since about 1998, despite rising man-made emissions of greenhouse gases. That heartened skeptics who say the risks of climate change have been exaggerated. The new U.S. study in the journal Science, based on a re-analysis of worldwide temperature data, found no pause in the warming blamed by most climate experts for producing heatwaves, downpours and higher sea levels. ‘There is no discernible … decrease in the rate of warming between the second half of the 20th century and the first 15 years of the 21st century,’ experts led by the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) wrote.”
This is not the first example of politically edited UN reports using suspect modeling to understate the scope and urgency of the climate change crisis. The corrective NOAA study adds another seal to the crypt of global warming denial. In a desperate move to avoid joint interment there is now a break in class solidarity among the fossil fuel capitalists—and coal is being thrown under a diesel bus.
The first hint of this perfidy, noted in the May 26 WIR, was the call by Big Oil and Gas in Alberta for the new NDP government in that province to enact a carbon price/tax as the “most effective way to combat climate change.” It is in fact not very effective in in the grand scheme of what’s needed but would make historically cheaper coal far more expensive than oil and gas.
It soon became clear that this strategic shift was not isolated to Canada. From a June 3 AP dispatch,
“As a global agreement to rein in climate-warming carbon emissions draws closer, oil and gas companies are increasingly talking about coal as the problem and describing themselves as a crucial part of the solution, together with renewable energy sources like wind and solar power. ‘We stand ready to play our part,’ six major European oil and gas companies including Royal Dutch Shell and BP said in a recent letter to U.N. climate officials working on a major climate deal set to be adopted in Paris in December. As they see it, their part includes gobbling up coal’s market share in power generation. Natural gas plants — many oil companies also produce gas — release about half the CO2 emissions of coal-fired plants and lower levels of air pollution.”
Saturday’s New York Times reports,
“Norway’s $890 billion government pension fund, considered the largest sovereign wealth fund in the world, will sell off many of its investments related to coal, making it the biggest institution yet to join a growing international movement to abandon at least some fossil fuel stocks. Parliament voted Friday to order the fund to shift its holdings out of billions of dollars of stock in companies whose businesses rely at least 30 percent on coal.”
Oslo’s coal divestment is to be applauded. But cynics will point out that much of Norway’s sovereign and personal income flows from royalties and jobs in offshore oil and gas wells.
Coal is certainly dirty in many ways. An article in the Sunday New York Times entitled Coal In Poland Is Lowering Life Spans says,
“Poland has the highest levels in Europe of the tiny pollution particles that are strongly linked to serious health problems like heart attacks, strokes, cancer and even dementia, said Martin Adams, an air quality expert at the European Environment Agency. Poland is home to six of Europe’s 10 most polluted cities, the agency’s figures show. That filthy air is largely a result of Poland’s heavy reliance on both hard coal and lignite, which is also known as brown coal. With energy policy on the agenda as the Group of Seven leaders meet this week, clean power is still in its infancy in Poland, where a tangle of political and economic forces have kept coal secure in its place as the dominant fuel. About 85 percent of electricity and 43 percent of heat come from the fuel some call ‘Polish gold,’ the government estimates.”
When the UN COP19 climate summit met in Warsaw in December 2013, the Polish Coal Institute was an official sponsor and numerous workshops were held on the prospects for “clean coal”–a disgraceful fraud that is no longer tenable. Coal has to go pronto if we are to avoid climate catastrophe.
But that doesn’t mean that expanded use of only relatively “cleaner” oil and gas is the solution to the crisis. That’s sort of like telling gun control advocates that we agree to ban the deadly 50-cal handguns but let’s leave alone the 38s and 9mils that often only wound their victims. We also have to target oil and gas for elimination to stop global warming.
Granted, restructuring a sustainable world powered by 100 percent clean renewable energy will not be accomplished overnight. By necessity, there will be a transition period where we must continue to use a steadily declining share of fossil and nuclear fuels. This can be done through intelligent, democratic, centralized planning in a new emergency public sector based on nationalized industries—not through market gimmicks such as carbon price, carbon tax, or cap-and-trade.
From a working class point of view, we also need to raise an additional demand not mentioned by the oil companies, or even most of the negotiators who will be showing up in Paris in December for COP21. That is the need for a Just Transition for workers whose jobs will be eliminated by the ongoing fossil and nuclear phaseout and industries dependent on them. It’s our duty to guarantee no worker will be left behind. We need to provide retraining, and relocation if necessary, while maintaining their living standards until they find suitable new jobs. The bosses that have reaped enormous profits for more than a century from these climate and environment wrecking industries should be made to foot the bill for job reclamation as well as ecological restoration.
Just Transition should begin right now in the coal industry. Already taking a beating from the glut of dirty fracked oil and gas, both Big Oil and climate activists will be stepping up the effort to leave coal in the ground. We can’t survive the crisis with coal. We see the coal bosses as our enemy. But we care deeply about the working, retired, and unemployed coal miners who have played such an honorable role in the battles of American labor. We will not abandon them.
On the Fight for Fifteen Front
E Tammy Kim began a report on the Aljazeera America site,
“Some 1,300 low-wage fast-food workers came from around the country to Detroit’s Cobo Center on Saturday for the second ‘Fight for $15’ convention. There was a victorious buzz in the air, though most of the line cooks and cashiers are new to the labor movement. In the main hall, a sea of workers and allies stomped in unison and yelled, ‘We work, we sweat, put $15 on our check!’ The round ballroom was festooned with banners…”
Coming less than two months after the highly successful 4/15 strikes and rallies involving 60,000 in more than 200 localities, the reported enthusiastic optimism is well earned. Public sympathy and active solidarity in working class communities is still on the rise. In May 5,000 marched on McDonald’s headquarters in suburban Chicago and submitted a petition with 1.4 million signatures calling on the burger giant to pay 15 and respect worker rights to unionize.
Fast Food workers have returned solidarity through their support for winning state and local 15 dollar minimum wage laws covering all workers. Victory was recently won in Los Angeles and New York looks promising. In St Louis and Kansas City rallies are keeping the pressure on for city minimums before a reactionary new state law banning them goes in to effect in late August.
This inspiring movement has coaxed boss party politicians to utter some platitudes about income inequality. The presumptive Democrat nominee for President found time in her busy schedule to place a phone call to the delegates in Detroit. Hillary Clinton told the activists “I want to be your champion!” While we should be wary of such late, unproven converts such statements can be utilized. SEIU president Mary Kay Henry is a Democrat but she injected the proper note for the occasion by telling delegates that Clinton’s remarks show “how powerful people around the world are listening to this movement to change our world.”
As the action plans coming out of the Detroit convention are revealed the WIR will keep readers updated.
* Seattle was the launching pad for the 15 Now minimum wage movement. A “champion” and on the ground leader of that battle, Kshama Sawant, became the first Socialist in living memory to be elected to the Seattle City Council. My friend Ann Montague, who has followed all this from the beginning, has posted a good piece on the Labor Standard site about the extraordinary measures Democrats are using to try to defeat Kshama for reelection. You can read all about it here.
* Challenging contract talks are under way between General Electric and its unions. The UE, which has a national agreement, is posting daily updates on their site.
* The Star-Tribune reports “Thousands of protesters marched through downtown St. Paul to the State Capitol on Saturday, calling for the cancellation of the proposed Sandpiper oil pipeline that would travel near some of the state’s pristine waters….the Tar Sands Resistance Rally organizers estimated that 5,000 anti-pipeline and climate change activists took part in the colorful and peaceful march, marked by dozens of national speakers and live music and dance. Police reported no arrests.”
* From the June 2 Wall Street Journal, “With about 100 days remaining on a four-year labor pact, United Auto Workers union locals are drawing up strike contingency plans to prepare members for potentially contentious negotiations with Detroit auto makers now awash in profits. UAW officials—representing about 140,000 General Motors Co. , Ford Motor Co. and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles employees—next month will begin negotiating a new deal ahead of a Sept. 14 contract deadline. After years of being barred from striking against GM and Fiat Chrysler as a condition of government-sponsored bankruptcy bailouts, the UAW this year is no longer subject to that restriction—leading some local officials to set up food pantries and others to encourage its members to sock away money in case of a work stoppage. Wage negotiations will be taking place as U.S. auto volumes are expected to pass 17 million vehicles this year, potentially the best sales performance since 2001.”
* Among the numerous events scheduled at the St Paul East Side Freedom Library is a Workshop on Common Sense Economics, 7 PM, June 24.
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