Posts Tagged ‘environmentalism’

Letter to the Editor: Comment on “A Legacy in Jeopardy” in the Retiree Advocate, March 2014

Wednesday, April 2nd, 2014

My strong suggestion to PSARA is for the organization and its members to seek the counsel of all concerned when discussing “Big Coal.” Has PSARA spoken with miners, workers at coal preparation plants, and those involved in its transport? What are the alternatives that are going to replace those jobs? Where are the new jobs going to be coming from? While proclaiming a “dawn of a new era of sustainability, a future of clean, renewable energy” one wonders where workers figure into that grand design.

Our environment is more than the air we breathe, the water we drink, or the food we eat. Economic and societal needs must also be included in the discussion. The purest water, food, and air means exactly what to an undernourished kid living in a vermin-infested tenement, or to a dirt-poor parent seeking family-sustaining employment?

PSARA would be wise to very publicly align itself with organizations that seek win-win solutions to conflicts dealing with climate change – in all its manifestations. A recent study called Jobs Beyond Coal found that in a number of cases unions representing workers in coal-fired power plants have actually supported the planned closing of their highly-polluting workplaces – because environmentalists and government officials worked with them to ensure a “just transition” in which workers’ livelihoods and the needs of their communities were addressed.

Just as the New Deal in the Great Depression of the 1930s put millions of unemployed people to work doing the jobs America’s communities needed, so today we need a “Green New Deal” to rebuild our energy, transportation, building, and other systems to drastically reduce the climate-destroying greenhouse gas pollution that pours into the air. Such a program would put an end to the “jobs versus environment” conflict because environmental protection would produce millions of new jobs, and expansion of jobs would protect the environment. Such a program provides a road for both labor and environmentalists to move beyond our current dilemma.

We must pursue the vision of a new economy. Just expanding the kind of economy we have will just expand the problems of inequality and environmental catastrophe our current economy is already creating. Instead, we need to be guided by the vision of a new economy where we all have secure livelihoods based on work that builds a sustainable world.

A job with equal or better benefits must await the miner the Monday following the Friday he leaves the pit for the last time. Without Just Transition the “dawn of a new era” will be in danger of “postponement,” perhaps terminally so.

Rich Austin, PSARA Member – Mount Vernon, WA 

PSARA: Environmental Justice and Full Employment

Wednesday, April 2nd, 2014

CLIMATE CHANGE is a wake up call spoken in the language of fires, floods, storms and droughts – telling us that we need an entirely new economic model-one based on equity, sustainability and good jobs.”

According to the World Health Organization, climate change is the biggest global health threat of the 21st century. Between 1970 and 2004, there were over 140,000 deaths annually attributable to the use of fossil fuels.

Today the polar ice is melting; seas are rising. We are experiencing more extreme weather like Hurricane Sandy and the hurricane that slammed into the Philippines in November, 2013.

Scientists studying tropical diseases maintain that diseases like malaria and dengue fever will become more widespread as mosquitoes and other pests move north.

Food production is expected to decrease by 2% every decade.

The oceans are becoming more acidified. Plankton, the microscopic organisms at the base of the food chain, is rapidly moving toward the poles and decreasing in number. These organisms make half of the oxygen we breathe. 

These facts are met with business as usual by the fossil fuel industry and many government leaders. Meanwhile poor and working people are suffering from the damage caused by climate change.

While the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere passed 400 parts per million in May 2013, fossil fuel corporations are planning to dig and transport more coal, and destroy more land and water by fracking more oil and gas. They tell us we stand in the way of progress when we object.

The fossil fuel corporations work hard to keep us divided with the promise of jobs for construction, mining and refining.

We do need jobs that pay living wages and allow families to live with dignity. We need to create and expand work that promotes healthy communities and a healthy planet. Puget Sound Advocates for Retirement Action (PSARA) will fight to ensure there is a just transition for those workers whose jobs are replaced by a new energy economy.

The refusal of Congress to tax billionaires while cutting social services and other programs critical to survival of the planet has to end. Income inequality today is worse than at any time in history. PSARA demands robust programs to respond to the threat of climate disaster and the destruction of lives and hope created by extreme income inequality.

We need nothing less than a large marshalling of the country’s resources to put people to work repairing our crumbling infrastructure. We need to be building the new systems and services necessary to survive the disastrous effects that have already been set in motion by the loading of too much CO2 in the earth’s atmosphere.

PSARA calls for significant government spending to help save the planet. We need smart electrical grids carrying renewable energy. We need jobs to build mass transit and we need energy-efficient affordable housing along those transit lines. We also need major investments in the old infrastructure to cope with the coming storms.

This is no time for austerity – it is time for massive government investment. 

A Legacy in Jeopardy

Sunday, March 2nd, 2014

By Robin Everett

Washington State has a long history of environmental protection. We are consistently ranked as one of the greenest states in the nation. In 1970 Washington established the Department of Ecology. It was the first agency of its kind in the United States, even preceding the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Seattle started the U.S. Mayors Climate Protection Agreement and sparked a grassroots effort that has spread across the country and garnered international attention. Washington is one of the first states in the nation to commit to phasing out its coal power plant in Centralia, and now over 150 coal plants are slated for closure in the U.S. We are truly a leader of the environmental movement. We are truly the Evergreen State.

However, that legacy is in jeopardy. In the dawn of a new era of sustainability, a future of clean, renewable energy, we are faced with a choice to lead this new era or retreat to a past tied to dirty energy.

Big Coal is hoping we pick the latter. Peabody Coal, Arch Coal and others seek to ship nearly 100 million tons of coal through our state every single year through proposed ports at Cherry Point and Longview. From mine to port, these projects threaten our green reputation by releasing toxic coal dust and diesel exhaust along the rail lines, clogging our railroads, ports, and highways, risking our families’ health, polluting our air and water, and stoking the climate crisis. In fact, Governor Jay Inslee, in his first press conference as governor, stated, “this is the largest decision we will be making as a state from a carbon pollution standpoint certainly during my lifetime, and nothing comes even close to it.”

PSARA couldn’t agree more. We have deemed climate change one of “the transcendent issues of this time in history.” Our mission is “uniting generations for a secure future.” Will future generations feel united with us if we sell out their future for short-term goals? So we choose to be a leader in this new era and reject proposals that short-change that vision for a better world for our children.

We are pleased to see that the Washington Department of Ecology (DOE) agrees with the public that there is a lot at stake in determining whether or not coal export is good for Washington State. Responding to more than 215,000 public comments, mostly supporting serious analysis of the impacts of mining, transporting and burning coal, they have decided that only a broad and sweeping review of all the risks will suffice. Ecology’s commitment will ensure we will have all the information we need to determine if these proposals cause harm to our health, environment and economy.

Unfortunately, the Army Corps of Engineers will hide under a rock and limit their scope to a study around the approximate site of the terminals.

Both projects are now in the study phase, which can last from 2-3 years. In the meantime, PSARA will continue to work with our allies to educate our members and the public about the connection between coal and climate change, with its tremendous human toll and economic cost. In the future, PSARA members will be asked to attend public events where the fate of coal exports through Washington will be considered.

Meanwhile, you can contact the WA Department of Ecology and thank them for their work to assess the impacts of these terminals: WA Dept. of Ecology, Director Maia Bellon, maib461@ecy.wa.gov.

Robin Everett is an Organizing Representative for the Sierra Club and a PSARA member. 

We Need Jobs and the Environment

Friday, August 2nd, 2013

By Bob Shimabukuro, PSARA Eexcutive Board member and Associate Editor of the Retiree Advocate 

We need to find jobs, we need to find ways in which low-income families and communities of color can participate in the soon to be “smart (meaning computer controlled and dependent) economy,” and we need to do it soon. This appears to be the immediate response to PSARA’s “Jobs & the Environment, NOT Jobs vs. the Environment” Forum held July 16 at the Central Area Senior Center.

Panelists at the forum included Jeff Johnson, President, Washington State Labor Council; Kathleen Ridihalgh, Northwest Regional Director of Sierra Club; Michael Woo, Executive Director of Got Green; and Barbara Hins-Turner, Executive Director, Pacific Northwest Center of Excellence for Clean Energy

The forum provided a venue for PSARA members and their respective communities to discuss the issues which will guide our international economies during the next century: jobs and the environment, especially global warming/climate change.

Panelists Jeff Johnson, Kathleen Ridihalgh, and Barbara Hins-Turner discussed their roles in bringing together the Labor, Environmentalist, Business, Government and Education/Job Training interests so that everyone’s input is at the table in discussions around the new technology, global warming and possible new fields of employment that might open up.

Michael Woo spoke to a different but closely related issue;: namely, who’s not at the table. Woo pointed out what should be familiar to all: Those who are ignored and left behind now, are those who will be ignored and left behind even more in the new smart economies. The only way to change that is to mobilize people, which is what Got Green is doing.

The City of Seattle’s contracts currently have no provisions to employ or train local residents on public works jobs. Got Green is working to change that. Hiring out-of-work community members makes sense. People don’t have to travel very far, hence a smaller carbon footprint. It also means that some of the City’s funds go directly back into the community.

In April, Mayor McGinn agreed to support local hiring, Shortly after that he agreed to have community negotiators at the table, with building trades union leaders and minority contractors, to negotiate over jobs on the Elliott Bay Seawall.

These short-lived victories turned sour when the city dictated the size and composition of the community seats, and a gag order on discussing content of the negotiations.

Said Woo,

Our take-away from the Seawall negotiations was that our community is strongest when we can have the debate about jobs out in the open, in a public arena, not behind closed doors. From that point forward Got Green held fast to the notion that a city-wide ordinance for Targeted Local Hire was the way to go.” 

(For more information, see story of Targeted Local Hire from the “Got Green’s Annual Organizing Report 2012: the Year of Emerging Leaders” handed out at the forum.)

PSARA members apparently felt the same way. In the small group discussions that followed the panel presentation, PSARA members expressed that supporting Got Green was important. They also welcomed the coalition building of labor and environmental groups by Ridihalgh and Johnson. Questions posed to Hins-Turner indicated that many members were not aware of the job training program partnering corporations, utility companies, universities, community colleges, organized labor, government.

Members also expressed a sense of urgency about these issues, given the recent global warming/climate change news.

(A report from the Environmental Committee will be in the September issue of the Retiree Advocate)