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.
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.
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