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Can the Climate Movement Break Free From the 'Jobs vs. Environment' Debate?


Can the Climate Movement Break Free From the 'Jobs vs. Environment' Debate?

Kate Aronoff

For two weeks this May, organizers across 12 countries will participate in Break Free 2016, an open-source invitation to encourage “more action to keep fossil fuels in the ground and an acceleration in the just transition to 100 percent renewable energy.” Many of the month’s events — pulled together by 350.org and a slew of groups around the world — are set to take place within ongoing campaigns to shut down energy infrastructure, targeting “some of the most iconic and dangerous fossil fuel projects all over the world” with civil disobedience.


No Environment = No Life = No Jobs. Q.E.D.


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I do not think we can until we abandon the premise that job creation is the province of the investor class.

As long as this remains the case, they will dictate terms and their terms are "rip everything up so I can make a return on my investment and all regulations protecting the environment impact my returns".


Contrary to those who traffic in one-size-fits-all UNIFORM frames, I think this is the most telling part of this article:

"Still, Labor is no monolith. There are sharp divides among unions over the climate and the future of fossil fuels. There are also plenty of potential allies. Some unions, mainly in the building trades, have poured money and staff time into stopping green group’s efforts. Others have waded more cautiously, signing onto events like the 2014 People’s Climate March on the strict condition that it not take a stand on infrastructure projects like the Keystone XL. Unions like National Nurses United and the Communications Workers of America, on the other hand, have been outspoken about their support for the climate fight. And projects like the Labor Network for Sustainability and Trade Unions for Energy Democracy — a coalition of international unions — outline and argue for a holistic transition away from fossil fuels."


It always comes down to government. An incentive for switching to renewables expires and they go right back to saying well we have to keep using fossil fuels as yet! Companies hire consultants to push that devil's compromise. "Not yet! Not yet! We need to keep it in the ground but not yet!"

Why do these incentive programs expire? Environmental organizations need to coordinate around the world to get a uniform acceptance that all governments will provide relatively long term incentives to enable a change off fossil fuels. Yes shutting down a few refineries helps but we'd shut down more of them if there were incentives like job retraining and investment in renewables sector jobs and manufacturing. Without government support and assistance the race will not be won before the worst starts to happen everywhere. That is what we need to avoid... The catastrophic decade that is fast approaching when the worst case scenarios start to become regular occurrences!


This exemplifies one reason the neoliberals were able to quietly assume control and how they hold on to it. They divide and conquer. The left all to frequently plays along by dividing itself into camps of competing interests that work against each other.

The answer to the question "Which is more important jobs or the environment?" shouldn't be one or the other. The answer is BOTH.

Environmentalists should insist that clean energy jobs be unionized. Of course a worker who relies on a fossil fuel job to feed his/her family is going to be hostile if environmentalists advocate taking that job away without providing an alternative for that individual worker. That's only natural. But, if the worker can be shown plans exactly how he/she will have a job that is just as good, if not better, then allies are created.

What the neoliberals do is to say that clean energy will create new jobs in the general economy. But, it's a big country. If the new jobs are half a continent away from the current workers and poorly paid, then workers and environmentalists are divided. The neoliberals win. Environmentalists and workers lose.


It's going to take a system change. One where we are all equal and the ones at the top won't take kindly to this. We need a society not based in money or profit, the big question will we be able to change our ways in time?


There is no way to make a rapid transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy without considerable disruption and that means many people will lose their jobs. It is up to government to help people learn new job skills. In this country coal industry workers have been hit the hardest. The climate movement should be advocating for job retraining programs, relocation services, etc. It should be clear that in fighting climate change there will be economic winners and losers. There is no alternative. The goal is to help the losers as much as possible. Job loss related to fighting climate change is a harsh reality. The consequences of not avoiding the worst effects of climate change will be a much harsher reality. Humans have got themselves into a very bad situation and that is an understatement. There will be no easy way out.


Congrats! You just unintentionally explained why the Democrats lost the working class and why people will continue to vote for people who tell them climate change isn't real.

When you go after people's jobs, you lose them. Period. Telling them that you'll give them retraining and tear apart their communities with relocation services is not an acceptable solution for those people. It's also what they were told would happen when NAFTA was signed. Didn't happen. So they don't believe you'll follow through with that instead of just leaving them unemployed or working at Wal-Mart.

When that's your vision for people, they'll gladly accept a vision of other people who tell them there's no problem. You may think you're being honest and telling it like it is. What you're really doing is being unimaginative and not finding solutions to climate change that work for people. You're making it more difficult to get consensus to act.


I think you had it right that it shouldn't be either or - either jobs or the environment. However people are not stupid and they all have come to realize that something needs be done. If the government offered an alternative to them simply losing their jobs, most of those refinery workers would be willing. Give an incentive to building a factory to manufacture solar paneling or wind turbines. Give them other jobs! The workers are being manipulated by management who tell them that environmentalists want to cut your jobs and throw you in the street. They did that to loggers telling them that saving forests would end logging jobs and then in five years of clear cutting, the whole community was trashed and the logging company moved on. The loggers lost it all. Whereas in other communities where clear cutting wasn't allowed they still had tourism and summer vacationers and life went on as did their stores and restaurants and barber shops etc.

These refinery workers are being used to stall switching to renewables. Yes refineries will start closing just like coal mines are closing. It is necessary but you can't ask them not to resist change if it means they lose everything. The government should provide incentives to create local jobs for these workers in a different industry. It will happen anyway. There is no avoiding it. However at the moment the forces of delay are using their jobs as an excuse to keep stalling change.


In a progressive society, our goal would be to abolish "jobs" with technology. To have machines do the chores and free the people to enjoy life.

Why should the 1% be the only ones without jobs and enjoying life? A smart, humanistic distribution of resources is possible. Only conservative animal greed and stupidity stand in the way.


The tone of this article is strikes me as ALL wrong. The argument implicitly is that the unions had better change their attitudes, for the climate activists are going to shut them down.
It is not just workers as workers but as family members fearful of the future that need to be cared for, the future of the workers' children.
350.ORG has focused on seeking an enemy, while it should be seeking friends and allies. I read the full statement by the USW and it seems more balanced and cooperative than Break Free is behaving. I had been planning to join a Break Free action but now I will carefully stand back.


Congrats to Kate Aronoff for cutting through the reflex, bullshit polarization that handicaps the discussion about transitioning. She is very accurate - there is another way that mainstream media and politics refuses to acknowledge, that is, a coherent, transparent and accountable plan for transitioning
away from the dirty energy oligarchy and its fascist trimmings, blithely called ' our current democracy'.
Look for this comprehensive accountable messaging in political discussions and notice its striking absence, married to the apologetics of ineffective incremental change, and already documented to fail while preserving the dark forces which undermine change.


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