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Tag: "environment"

One Example of Working-Class Environmentalism

[ 11 ] March 2, 2013 |

Too often, including in the comments at this blog, the idea that labor unions and environmentalists have irreconcilable goals goes unchallenged. But there is in fact significant common ground. Over the Keystone XL Pipeline, the Transit Workers Union, health care unions, and other unions opposed its construction on grounds of both environmental health and the future of the planet. Employers love to say that the Environmental Protection Agency is a job killer. Too often, many unions buy into that rhetoric as well. But not all. A leader on pushing back against job blackmail for years is the United Steelworkers. The USW has long used EPA regulations to push its own interests both inside and outside the workplace. Other unions that used to do this as well were the Oil, Chemical, and Atomic Workers (OCAW) and the International Woodworkers of America (IWA), which is the subject of the second half of my book project. Unfortunately, those latter unions no longer exist. But the Steelworkers keep up the fight. Here it is with a press release ripping the oil refinery industry for violating EPA standards on safety and the workplace environment.

Part of the problem right now on this labor-environmental issue is that the industrial unions of the CIO were always much more open to making alliances with environmental organizations than the AFL trade unions. But it’s the industrial unions that have been slaughtered by outsourcing, deindustrialization, and globalization, while many of the trade unions, especially in the building trades, remain relatively healthy. So a changing culture in the remnants of American unionism isn’t helping. But the reality is far more complicated than the stereotype of workers and environmentalists being always opposed.

Keystone Approved

[ 163 ] March 1, 2013 |

The Obama Administration Obama Administration’s appointees in the State Department announces its approval of the Keystone XL Pipeline at 4 pm on Sequester Friday. How brave.

Disaster for the climate. Hardly surprised, greatly disappointed. Obama will not go down as a president good on environmental issues.

The AFL-CIO and Keystone XL Pipeline

[ 80 ] February 28, 2013 |

On Tuesday, the AFL-CIO gave tacit support for building the Keystone XL Pipeline, a very disappointing development for many involved in the climate movement, as well for some of the federation’s constituent unions that had fought the building trades over whether labor should support it. The Transit Workers’ Union took a particularly leading role on this issues, with the Laborers, IBEW, and Teamsters the unions most pushing for building it. I have more on this at LaborOnline. An excerpt:

I understand the tough situation that Keystone creates for organized labor. A union’s job is to protect the interests of its members, including keeping them employed, all too rare today. But in the early 21st century, with organized labor in deep decline, does it make sense to promote short-term job growth at the cost of telling the thousands of people who care deeply about a variety of progressive causes, including climate change, that organized labor is not an ally?

Let’s also remember that climate change is the greatest issue faced by humans in the 21st century. Events like Hurricane Sandy, the drought parching half the United States, and the massive forest fires in the West that are changing the ecology of states like New Mexico will almost certainly become far more common. Climate change will disproportionately affect the poor. Lack of air conditioning will cause higher death rates from heat exhaustion. Warmer weather will lead to higher cockroach populations that cause elevated asthma rates among urban dwellers. The poor in low-elevation nations like Bangladesh will suffer tremendously, not to mention those living in floodplains in the United States. Climate change is absolutely a working-class issue. Organized labor needs to play a leading role in conversations on how to fight this menace. Building a massive pipeline that makes the problem worse is counterproductive.

So I understand why LIUNA and the building trades are behind the pipeline. I won’t criticize them too harshly for a stance that will create jobs. But if organized labor wants to remain relevant within the 21st century progressive movement, it can’t support policies that intensify climate change. Endorsing more petroleum pipelines may create a few jobs in the short-term, but has starkly negative long-term consequences, both for the planet and for labor’s ability to make much-needed alliances with other organizations.

From my perspective, it just comes down to whether it makes more sense to get a few jobs now or be relevant in the movement to make a world a better place. Labor is getting crushed left and right and part of the reason is that it by and large has not made itself available to be part of the social movements trying to change this country for the better. It’s come around on immigration, much to its credit. Environmental issues are just as hard, but parts of organized labor are excellent on these issues and others are at least willing to have conversation. Some unions though, they just don’t care. Meanwhile, the climate is changing more every day.

Chinese Environment

[ 158 ] February 21, 2013 |

We all know that the Chinese environment is just a bit degraded.

And then there’s this of course:

But luckily the Chinese government has a hot new plan to solve at least the air problem:

Ah, yes—the Chinese government will stop at nothing to reduce pollution that has enveloped parts of the country in a toxic soup. First, Chinese cities restricted the number of cars on the road and scrapped old vehicles. Then the government asked citizens to give up a time-honored tradition of setting off thousands of firecrackers before and on Chinese New Year. Beijing’s next ambitious measure? Banning barbecue.

At least that’s what China’s state media is reporting, though it scrimps on details. China’s environmental watchdog has now issued draft legislation calling on cities to ban “barbecue-related activities.” (Does that include just eating barbecue, looking at barbecue, or thinking about barbecue? We don’t know!) One blogger on Sina Weibo indelicately commented in response, “Soon they’ll ban farting in order to clean up the air.”

Serious efforts here my friends. Meanwhile, there is real grassroots resistance to the environmental degradation in China that has created real pressure on Chinese politicians, for whatever that’s worth in a totalitarian state.

And remember, a major part of why China developed this way was that American companies decided that labor and environmental regulations in the United States were cutting into profits too much and so decided to replicate the paradise of the U.S. Gilded Age somewhere else.

Climate Trolling

[ 27 ] February 19, 2013 |

Andrew Revkin of the New York Times continues his climate trolling, this time complaining about people just being so unreasonable about climate change:

But on the Keystone XL pipeline – which, if not blocked by President Obama, would carry the crudest form of oil from Canadian tar sand deposits to Gulf Coast fuel refineries — it seems there’s little room for varied stances, at least according to some protesters.

As I wrote in 2011 (here, then here), a tight focus on Obama’s decision over the pipeline could be counterproductive if the hope is to build policies that might someday reduce the need for oil, whether the source is Alberta oil sands, the floor of the Gulf of Mexico or the Niger River delta. (A solid review of the climate impact was provided by Raymond Pierrehumbert on Realclimate.org in 2011.)

But Wen Stephenson, a former Atlantic and Boston Globe editor who has become a climate campaigner on behalf of his, and others’, children, sees little room for dialogue.

Imagine that–people actually believing that a project is just unacceptable and eschewing compromise over an issue that will only drive half the world’s species to extinction and make life significantly worse for most human beings. Revkin is the classic villager on climate, wanting nice conservative compromise on the issues, even before we actually get to the table with the powers that be that actually control the apparatus, like the oil and gas industry. What’s important for Revkin is the compromise.

David Roberts provides a more definitive response:

Revkin seems preoccupied with the fact that Keystone is part of larger systems and not particularly significant in light of that context. And it’s true: Everything is insignificant in light of some larger context. Climate change is a “wicked problem,” which means that everything passing as a solution will be flawed, partial, and impermanent. What to do? We are rapidly losing ground, on the verge of locking in a trajectory scientists tell us will lead to disastrous and irreversible consequences. We can sit around and fill our blogs with reasons why this or that solution is the wrong one, inferior to some better one that we’d already have, goldarnit, if those meddling pushers-of-other-solutions weren’t “distracting” from ours. We can fall in love with the ineffable intellectual tangle, as Revkin has, and accept that anything specific enough to build an activist campaign around will be meaningless in the context of global energy demand and emissions. We can read the Serenity Prayer and get used to the fact that it’s all out of our hands anyway.

But some people want to fight! Some people actually haul themselves out from behind their keyboards, call a bunch of friends, put on warm clothes, and go stomp around in public yelling about it. These are the folks throwing sand in the social gears, the ones trying to wrest the levers of power out of hostile hands. As a professional word-typer, like Revkin, I have come to believe that those people deserve a certain level of respect and forbearance. Maybe shouting advice down to them from the bloggy heights isn’t as helpful as we word-typers are inclined to think. At least we could refrain from pissing on them while they’re rallying.

I’m going to have a number of climate-related posts coming up, so I’ll save some of my thoughts for later. But I will say one thing. The last thing the climate movement needs is to listen to someone positioning himself as a David Broder of environmental issues. And that’s what Andrew Revkin is.

The Declining Grasslands

[ 30 ] February 18, 2013 |

I’ve long been skeptical of biofuels as a meaningful way out of our energy crisis, especially considering that turning corn into fuel causes a whole lot of environmental problems of its own.

Another big problem with biofuels is turning much of the United States into a gigantic corn monoculture. The rush to plant corn (and soy) on every acre of ground has meant the most intensive farming of our grasslands yet, leading to the decline of those already too rare ecosystems and crashing bird populations. But hey, biofuels makes the Iowa corn industry happy and so it’s not going anywhere.

The End of Cod

[ 145 ] February 5, 2013 |

Last weekend, I decided to check out Cape Cod in the winter. It was pretty great, even if cold. On my way to the Cape, I drove past a Wendy’s. They were offering a fish sandwich–made with North Pacific cod. That’s right, North Pacific cod on Cape Cod.

The cod fishery of the North Atlantic and the livelihoods it sustained for 300 years are basically finished. The New England Fishery Management Council has reduced the cod catch by 77% in the Gulf of Maine, 61% on Georges Bank. The reality is that the fishers probably won’t even catch that tiny quota. The fish are gone, driven to near extinction not by the family fishermen that work out of the small ports in New England but by giant industrial fishing trawlers that are taking every fish of any edible size out of the oceans at an alarming rate.

Here’s a graph off the annual catch off the Grand Bank:

Reduced quotas have not brought the fish back in the last 15 years because there just aren’t any left. The only way to bring this back at all is a total moratorium on fishing for at least 20 years and then maybe not. A lot of fishermen are angry–but what can we do? There’s just no fish left.

There actually are two things we can do. Neither will bring the fish back, but that’s a done deal. First, as the first linked article suggested, we can develop alternative economies for these fishing ports around wind energy. That’s very different work than fishing, but it’s something. Some of these cities–New Bedford for instance–have developed reasonable tourist industries and have attracted some young people to live there and build some kind of alternative economies. Many–Fall River for instance, a mere 15 miles from New Bedford–have not. This is the best and most obvious way to create at least some jobs based upon harvesting natural resources, albeit in a very different way.

The second thing we can do is to take some kind of national responsibility for workers who lose their jobs because of resource depletion. There’s actually significant precedent for this in the Pacific Northwest. The Clinton Forest Plan that provided some finality to the old growth/spotted owl logging wars in the 1980s and early 1990s provided retraining programs for loggers and mill workers who lost their jobs due to the industry’s disappearance. My own father took advantage of this program, although he later found work in another mill.

Even more interesting is the case of the Redwood Employee Protection Program. The first real battle in the Northwest over the forests, really the precursor to the spotted owl, was the successful campaign to expand Redwood National Park. When the bill was signed by President Carter in 1978, it included REPP, a program that provided significant payments to workers displaced by the mills that had to close down. They received direct payments from the federal government until 1984 to build a bridge until they could find other work. The generosity of this was controversial–Carter himself was quite skeptical. And in many ways it didn’t work that well. There were battles over who should qualify–were the mills shutting down because of a lack of timber or because of globalization and mechanization? Moreover, there were some disappearing funds and management issues. We don’t need to get into these details now. What’s notable though is that at least one time the federal government decided to expand the welfare state, however tentatively, to workers put out of work in order to save rare resources.

Of course, this is politically impossible, even unthinkable, in the modern political climate. But rather than throw the fishermen and their families on the street with few economic opportunities, wouldn’t a program to help build regional economies and stabilize communities make a lot more sense? I think it would.

Fracking Disclosure

[ 51 ] February 1, 2013 |

Marjorie Childress reports on a New Mexico lawmaker opposing right-to-know legislation on fracking:

“It’s gonna fuel litigation, radical fringe groups, who don’t understand the process of what we do and how we do it,” Rep. Don Bratton, R-Lea County, said about HB 136, a bill that would require companies to publicly disclose hydraulic fracking chemicals, a procedure that uses high pressure to inject a mixture of sand, water and chemicals into rock and shale formations deep underground to release natural gas.

Bratton objected to the bill, saying that requiring companies to disclose fracking chemicals—which he said were components “we use in our everyday lives”–was like requiring grocery stores to disclose all the ingredients in products they sell, like toothpaste. He also said there was no evidence that fracking chemicals pollute water deep underground.

Hmmm….Can you imaging the horror of asking a company to put the ingredients of what makes up their products on packaging? I mean, it would be just like the United States in 2013! Of course reproducing the good old days of patent medicines and rat poison in our sausage is an actual goal of the modern Republican Party.

As a supporter of the bill said:

“If it’s true that they’re all benign, ..why on earth is there such a huge fight about what’s in it? If it really is just soap, water, sand, common lubricants…why is an extraordinarily modest bill similar to bills in other states, why is there an onslaught of opposition?” Egolf asked

Carbon Emissions

[ 34 ] February 1, 2013 |

U.S. carbon emissions keep slowly falling, down to levels not seen since 1994, despite a lot more people in this country. I’m probably a bit more skeptical about the long-term sustainability of this than some people for three reasons. First, much of this is based upon the transition from burning coal to burning natural gas. While I’m sure that’s going to be the trend for the foreseeable future, unless we invest heavily in a national infrastructure based around wind and solar energy, eventually it may change back to coal if gas prices go up. Second, the poor economy has played a major role in depressing energy use. That won’t last forever, although given policymakers unwillingness to think about the deeper structural reasons for our economic problems, we probably aren’t seeing a return to 1997 or 2005 anytime soon. Third, I’m not sure whether the continued drop in miles driven by Americans will continue. It’s possible because people in their 20s and 30s are more committed to urban life and eschewing cars like no generation in American history since the car was invented. On the other hand, Americans really like driving and a booming economy might just convince a lot of those people that 3000 square foot houses and SUVs in the suburbs aren’t such a bad thing.

Still, a good sign all in all.

You: Worse for Animals Than Chernobyl

[ 100 ] January 23, 2013 |

Where is this amazing photo of a wolf near a wetland taken? Chernobyl. As has been noted before, the most militarized parts of the earth (the DMZ for instance) and the most contaminated parts of the earth are the best places on the planet for wildlife to survive. Why? Because the sheer existence of humans is a disaster for 95% of the species on the planet. Worse than land mines, worse than nuclear meltdown.

When Labor Becomes Justified in Hating Environmentalists

[ 167 ] January 13, 2013 |

As someone dedicated to building bridges between the labor and environmental movements, this post from Good promoting the idea of online grocery stores makes me want to hold my head in my hands. The post never says a word about labor or workers. What it does say is this:

1. People like food variety
2. That variety leads to waste
3. Let’s use technology to just eliminate grocery stores and get groceries to consumers without the middle man!

For we technological festishist Americans, this probably sounds good. I don’t want to go to the store and I want what I want when I want it!! Problems solved and we can feel good about our impact on the planet since that food won’t be wasted.

The issue of food waste is way more complex than this and Voila! technological innovations are no solution. Something like 50% of food waste happens in the home. But I’ll leave that alone for now. Quick question though–what happens to grocery store workers? A lot of those are union jobs too. What happens to those people? Do they even deserve consideration? In our rush to replace all work with robots and technological efficiencies, what do ideas like this mean for long-term economic and community sustainability? These questions are not only unanswered (and no doubt unconsidered) in the Good article, but in our society generally. We talk about unemployment and underemployment but are extremely reticent to consider that our unstated goal that eliminating work in the name of efficiency is a positive good is a big part of the problem.

It’s at times like this that I am at a loss to defend environmentalism to organized labor.

…..I am reminded of Good Magazine’s own atrocious labor practices. Easy to believe they’d publish something like this.

What We Need to Fight Climate Change: More Austerity!

[ 74 ] January 12, 2013 |

Maybe what Scott is missing that is Alan Simpson and Erskine Bowles are genuises. They know that the gods are angry at America’s deficit spending and are making our climate go crazy as a divine punishment. The only thing that will appease their anger–austerity programs that fall on the poor while making wealthy Beltway pundits feel good about themselves.

Anyway, this is a really good overview of the weather craziness going on right now. Insane cold in Russia and China, record heat in Brazil and Australia, fires in Australia, 8 inches of snow in Jerusalem, etc. This is the new normal. Or maybe it isn’t since it is going to get worse.

Human civilization as we know it cannot survive this level of climate change. The political, social, and environmental implications are too great. Humans are an extremely adaptable species. We aren’t going anywhere. But the world we know and love, it is slipping away. I really remain unconvinced that one can say our children and grandchildren will live better lives than we will. And it’s not because of national debt.

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