Posts Tagged ‘Climate Change’

Climate Change Is Violence…NOW

Thursday, October 1st, 2015

By Bobby Righi

One day last week, a friend visiting from out of the state asked me, “I know that lots of people are concerned about the environment and climate change, but what about concern for people? “ This is a person who works on issues of food and is very concerned with social justice. That she would see the fight against climate change as a side issue was a shock.

For many of us, the pain of climate change seems far into the future, and we here in the Northwest are enjoying the sunny summer, though such a summer should be a kind of warning. Of course, if you are living near a coal plant or in the Duwamish Valley and you often have to race your children to the hospital as they struggle for a breath because of dirty air, you are not so removed from climate change’s threat.

A recent article by Rebecca Solnit called “Climate Change Is Violence” derides some scientists and the U. S. security apparatus as they predict that climate change will cause more social unrest and war. The authorities are just worried about the poor “behaving badly,” she says. But people should rebel when faced with unbearable and oppressive conditions. Rebecca Solnit points out that the real violence is climate change itself.

There are widespread and massive droughts and loss of food crops causing famine. Distribution systems that normally starve the poor are even worse when food gets scarce. We have all watched the films of massive hurricanes and storms that flood, and wipe out communities, killing hundreds.

This summer effective temperatures in some areas of Iran and Iraq reached highs of 150 degrees! In Karachi, Pakistan, over 1,000 impoverished workers died in the streets. Every day in China over 4,000 people die as a result of breathing polluted air from coal-fired power plants.

In the Northwest, there are now 160 forest fires burning, and three fire fighters just died in one of these fires near Twisp. In low-lying coastal areas like Louisiana, Florida, and Bangladesh, and in fact, the whole eastern seaboard of the U.S., farm land is being inundated by higher and higher tides, driving people away and into deeper poverty. Oceans are acidifying and species are disappearing.

Deaths, desperation, and disappearances. And it is all happening NOW, not sometime in the future. These are not “acts of God.” Climate change is anthropogenic — caused by human beings — and by some humans much more than others.

The top perpetrators are those who profit from the use of fossil fuel and who wage powerful fights to keep any regulation off the books. The oil, gas, and coal companies have huge reserves that they are determined to dig up and burn — to hell with the rest of us. They will not suffer; they will have their islands of comfort protected by their own military.

But we can stop this. The fossils must stay in the ground where they have been for millions of years. We cannot afford to keep burning them. Scientists say that we could now transition to renewable energy. We just need to do it.

We have to work together to force our governments to quit subsidizing the energy companies and start subsidizing job training programs for a new fossil-free economy. The first to benefit should be the people who lose their jobs as fossil fuels are phased out and the front line communities who, as we can see, bear the brunt of pollution and climate change devastation.

All of this has to be done at once – demand jobs and a safety net and also an end to support for fossil fuels. Hard to do, but we are the working class and that is what we do – hard work. Things are only going to get more and more violent if we don’t.

On Wednesday, October 14 there will be events around the world and across Washington State to demand results from leaders in Paris at the U N Climate Change Conference in December. Here in Seattle, a coalition of unions, community groups, schools, and environmental organizations are planning a day of creative events and demonstrations culminating in one large gathering in the evening.

Save the date. Details will be published in the next Advocate.

Bobby Righi serves on PSARA’s Executive Board and is a member of the PSARA Environmental Committee.

The Crisis of Climate Change

Tuesday, August 4th, 2015

By Jeff Johnson, President of the Washington State Labor Council (WSLC) and a PSARA member

Editor’s note: The following is an exerpt from Jeff Johnson’s speech at the WSLC Convention, July 23-25.

Brothers and Sisters, now we have another crisis facing us, though it is one that also presents us with a great opportunity. That crisis is climate change.

Forty-three years ago when I was a student in Washington, D.C., an analyst from the CIA made a presentation in a political science class I was taking. The presentation was on the geo-political ramifications of a warming planet. She hypothesized that if the planet kept going the way it was that we would reach a point in time when the temperate zones, those areas of the world that are the bread basket for the planet, would begin shrinking and that this could set off a geo-political confrontation over food and water.

Now I wish I could tell you that I totally got what she was saying at the time, but I didn’t. I looked at it as a hypothesis and with all the interests of a twenty-year-old, including whether there was enough beer in the refrigerator. I assumed that even if this was true, we wouldn’t let it happen.

Well, the hypothesis is proving out, and we did let it happen.

Ban Ki-Moon, Secretary General of the United Nations, said before last year’s People’s Climate March in NYC, “We must act on climate change now. We don’t have a Plan B, because we don’t have a Planet B.”

Pope Francis, in his recent encyclical on climate, linked climate change and inequality together, and said that we have a collective moral responsibility to look after our common good.

But all we need is our own eyes to recognize that severe weather events (climate change) caused by carbon pollution are dramatically impacting our economy, our health, and our very existence.

Increasing ocean acidification has led to the closing of shellfish operations in Puget Sound and Willapa Bay; accelerating glacial melt is leading to increased flooding and storm water pollution; increasing droughts are affecting our water supply and food production, causing great hardship for families and communities dependent on the agricultural economy and causing forced migration around the planet as people desperately seek food, water, and economic survival; great storms like hurricanes Katrina and Sandy and Typhoon Yolanda in the Philippines have exacted enormous tolls on life and property.

Today 85 percent of Washingtonians believe that climate change is real and that it is largely man-made; this is twenty points higher than the national average.

And 55 percent of Washingtonians believe that climate change will negatively impact them. We have no choice but to significantly reduce our carbon emissions and green house gas emissions over the next several decades.

We need to cap and lower carbon emissions over time. This will mean leaving much of the proven fossil fuel reserves in the ground.

But we do have choices over how we do this if we don’t let the oil and fossil fuel industry divide us with false choices over jobs and the environment.

We can have both jobs and a clean and healthy environment if we choose.

We are not going to transition off fossil fuels overnight, but we will have to, over the next several decades, if we are to stop and reverse the negative effects of climate change.

So, as labor, we need to be both on the right side of history, but we also need to be at the table planning for a successful transition rather than being served up on the menu.

As we put in place policies that reduce carbon emissions, we need to make sure that workers who work in fossil fuel-dependent industries are protected. We need to make sure that industries can actually meet carbon emission reduction levels; so we will need some compliance flexibility to ensure this happens.

We also need to prevent the leakage of jobs and investments in these industries during the transition from unfair competition from companies out of state or out of country that don’t have to meet these emission standards.

We need to protect direct line workers in fossil fuel industries and other vulnerable workers, particularly in communities of color. People who work and live closest to industrial sites and highways and whose health is most negatively impacted by carbon pollution must be protected. These workers and community members suffer rates of asthma and lung disease two to three times higher than the general public.

We need to change this. We need to invest in repairing our state’s infrastructure – from sea walls to water mains and pipelines, from the electrical grid to water storage and flood plain protection – creating tens of thousands of building trades jobs, protecting against severe weather, and lowering our carbon footprint.

We need to invest money in the renewable energy economy, taking energy efficiency to scale in our public, commercial, and residential sectors; building high speed electric rail; investing in electric car technology and infrastructure; investing in mass transit; expanding our capacity for various forms of renewable energy; and creating tens of thousands more jobs.

And we need a “Just Transition” — one that invests carbon revenue in mitigating rising energy costs. One that assists vulnerable communities, providing income and benefit support to direct line fossil fuel workers. And one that provides job and training opportunities to direct line workers and to workers in communities of color.

The late visionary labor leader Tony Mazzocchi, from the Oil, Chemical and Atomic Workers Union, once said, “We need to treat workers as good as dirt.”

He was referring to the new super fund created to clean up toxic waste sites. Tony believed that we should have a super fund to invest in transitions for workers so that they would not have to bear the burden of economic transition. It is important for workers to be able to maintain their wage and benefit packages and the standard of living they have struggled for and won over time.

This Changes Everything

Sunday, September 7th, 2014

By Bobby Righi 

“There is a willingness to sacrifice large numbers of people in the way we respond to climate change – we are already showing a brutality in the face of climate change that I find really chilling.…We are with full knowledge deciding to allow cultures to die, to allow peoples to disappear…. I think the profound immorality and violence of that decision is not reflected in the language that we have. We are not speaking about this with the language of urgency or mortality that the issue deserves.” Naomi Klein in Earth Island Journal, Fall 2013. 

Naomi Klein will be in Seattle on Sunday, September 28, at Town Hall at 7:30 p.m. as part of an international book tour to promote her new book, This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate, that tackles the most profound threat humanity has ever faced: the war our economic model is waging against life on earth.

In the last couple of years Klein spoke to the founding meeting of a large, newly consilidated union in Canada; she was on the Bill Moyers show and visited survivors amidst the devastation of Hurricane Sandy. She has worked in support of the Idle No More movement of First Nations Peoples fighting for their lands.

Klein attended the Heartland Institute’s convention where climate change deniers rail against science, and she reported on scientific meetings like the December 2012 meeting of the American Geophysical Union in San Francisco where Brad Werner, a geophysicist from the University of California presented research that shows that our entire economic paradigm is a threat to ecological stability. He said that challenging this– through mass-movement – is humanity’s best shot at avoiding catastrophe.

This book promises to be a provocative challenge to our current economic model as well as to mainstream environmental groups. Klein has exposed the reformist behavior of some of the “Big Green” groups and the way they partner with fossil fuel corporations to smooth out concerns over climate change.

Naomi Klein emphasizes the need for collective action and solidarity: “The book I am writing is arguing that our responses to climate change can rebuild the public sphere, can strengthen our communities, can have work with dignity. We can address the financial crisis and the ecological crisis at the same time. I believe that. But I think it’s by building coalitions with people, not with corporations, that you are going to get those wins.” Earth Island Journal, Fall 2013.

What questions might we expect in her new book?

• Do we have to make sacrifices in order to fight climate change?

• How do we build solidarity among groups to insist on curbing the fossil fuels corporations’ power and force them to use their immense profits for the public good?

• How do we fight economic inequality at the same time as climate change and achieve full employment at a living wage?

• What does the incessant violence against young Black people and the heartless treatment of thousands of children seeking refuge along our border have to do with climate change?

• What can we do to repair the damage to the land, rivers, and oceans that has been caused by extractive industries?

• How can we work so as to put power into the hands of communities to develop and control alternative energy sources for the common good?

Naomi Klein may raise these questions and offer hopeful examples but it is up to us to work together here and now to achieve justice on a healthy planet.

Bobby Righi is a PSARA member and serves on PSARA’s Environmental Committee. 

Coal trains carry death to the Philippines

Wednesday, February 6th, 2013

By Steve Ludwig and Roger Rigor

On Dec. 3, 2012, “Bopha” hit the southern Philippine island of Mindanao as a category-5 typhoon. Residents were stunned. While tropical storm Washi had caused severe flooding and left 1200 dead in 2011, no one could remember a storm the likes of Bopha. “We never thought this would happen to us. Our ancestors, our grandparents – it never happened to them,” Remy Camarling reported to BBC News (he had lost his wife and his two children were hospitalized). The number of people killed by Bopha will likely surpass Washi’s toll, and damages will be over one billion U.S. dollars, making Bopha the most destructive storm ever to hit the Philippines.

Because of the typhoon’s strength and unusual southern track, many are pointing to global warming as a contributing factor. Ironically, the storm was raging as the the UN Conference for Climate Change in Doha, Qatar was being held and where industrialized nations practically snubbed an urgent appeal for action by developing countries like the Philippines. Japanese researchers have predicted a ten-fold increase in super typhoons by the year 2100 if “business-as-usual” attitudes allow current warming trends to continue. Can the people of the Philippines withstand such an onslaught?

Peabody Coal, in partnership with BNSF Railroad and SSA Marine, wants to help us find out. As coal sales in the U.S. fall, Peabody plans to keep its profits up by extending sales to Asian markets. Already, three or four coal trains make their way each day up our Puget Sound coastline to be exported from Canadian ports. A proposed new coal port near Bellingham would double or triple that number. Marketing surplus coal has already depressed coal prices and caused energy companies around the world to postpone switching to cleaner, but more expensive, sources of power.

Is a different future possible? States such as Vermont and California are proving that clean energy sources, lower greenhouse gas emissions and more jobs can coexist. Surely Washington can follow their example. For the sake of the Philippines and all of us – Stop Peabody’s coal trains!

Steve Ludwig and Roger Rigor are members of the Philippine – U.S. Solidarity Organization and PSARA members