Ever since the EPA hearings on emission limitations for existing power plants that I attended in Pittsburgh, I have been thinking about the contrast in the reaction to climate change between labor activists and environmentalists.
I found a position statement by Richard Trumke addressing a United Nations Summit on Investment and I found his sentiment very compelling. He said: “Why should investors or working people focus on climate risk when we have so many economic problems across the world? The labor movement has a clear answer: Addressing climate risk is not a distraction from solving our economic problems. Addressing climate risk means retooling our world – it means that every factory and power plant, every home and office, every rail line and highway, every vehicle, locomotive and plane, every school and hospital, must be modernized, upgraded, renovated or replaced with something cleaner, more efficient, less wasteful. That means putting investment capital to work creating jobs.”
If we are going to actually address the climate change crisis, we need to work together. We need to have the discussions and the creative solutions that come from a broad collaboration. Unions are good at solving problems, that’s what we do. Market driven policies in place now will not move our economy in the direction it needs to go. We need a total mobilization of policy, capital, labor and the education and engagement of the whole general public to make this kind of total societal shift, and make it quickly.
Have we ever done such a thing? Well, we have done it 70 years ago when the nation was challenged to mobilize for World War II. Within only a few years, we focused industrial production, food system output, and individual sacrifice to meet the war effort. Everybody got behind it, and everybody made it happen.
The challenge of moving away from fossil fuel combustion to preserve our atmosphere in a temperate range suitable for human life is no less critical. But we have yet to address the compelling issues that need to be met so we can move forward with equitable, economically viable, lasting solutions.
We have to address the people problems, not just apply technical fixes. What can we do to protect the displaced workers in the fossil extraction industries of coal, oil, and fossil gas? The pensions and health benefits are an obligation that has to be honored. How can we re-direct the workforce to make the infrastructure of a non-fossil economy replace the aging infrastructure of the fossil age? Skills and know-how are abundant, but shifting the systems for applying the expertise of workers in new ways needs to be organized and focused for deployment. If we are serious about re-structuring our economy to save the world, why are we still subsidizing fossil fuels and fragmenting business conditions for renewable systems? No business will grow and thrive in an environment of different rules in 50 states, changing tax treatment each year, and punitive insurance and utility tariff systems, again varying in all the states.
We need to have an organized policy and a strategic plan. We need the unity of purpose from people at all levels. Education, empowerment, and care for people above machines, and good wages for hard work above profits to the few multi-national corporate interests that benefit from plundering the earth forever.
Think about what kind of a world we leave to our grandchildren. We can plan to leave them a living Earth, or bicker away our efforts and leave them a despoiled planet.