Monday, June 15, 2015

Necessary and Just Transition From Fossil Fuels

Alister Doyle writing in a recent Reuters story said,
“An apparent slowdown in the pace of global warming in recent years may be an illusion based on skewed data, according to a study on Thursday that found no break in a trend of rising temperatures. In 2013, the U.N. panel of climate experts reported a ‘hiatus’ in warming since about 1998, despite rising man-made emissions of greenhouse gases. That heartened skeptics who say the risks of climate change have been exaggerated. The new U.S. study in the journal Science, based on a re-analysis of worldwide temperature data, found no pause in the warming blamed by most climate experts for producing heatwaves, downpours and higher sea levels. ‘There is no discernible … decrease in the rate of warming between the second half of the 20th century and the first 15 years of the 21st century,’ experts led by the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) wrote.”

This is not the first example of politically edited UN reports using suspect modeling to understate the scope and urgency of the climate change crisis. The corrective NOAA study adds another seal to the crypt of global warming denial. In a desperate move to avoid joint interment there is now a break in class solidarity among the fossil fuel capitalists—and coal is being thrown under a diesel bus.

The first hint of this perfidy, noted in the May 26 WIR, was the call by Big Oil and Gas in Alberta for the new NDP government in that province to enact a carbon price/tax as the “most effective way to combat climate change.” It is in fact not very effective in the grand scheme of what’s needed but would make historically cheaper coal far more expensive than oil and gas.

It soon became clear that this strategic shift was not isolated to Canada. From a June 3 AP dispatch,
“As a global agreement to rein in climate-warming carbon emissions draws closer, oil and gas companies are increasingly talking about coal as the problem and describing themselves as a crucial part of the solution, together with renewable energy sources like wind and solar power. ‘We stand ready to play our part,’ six major European oil and gas companies including Royal Dutch Shell and BP said in a recent letter to U.N. climate officials working on a major climate deal set to be adopted in Paris in December. As they see it, their part includes gobbling up coal’s market share in power generation. Natural gas plants — many oil companies also produce gas — release about half the CO2 emissions of coal-fired plants and lower levels of air pollution.”

Saturday’s New York Times reports,

Norway’s $890 billion government pension fund, considered the largest sovereign wealth fund in the world, will sell off many of its investments related to coal, making it the biggest institution yet to join a growing international movement to abandon at least some fossil fuel stocks. Parliament voted Friday to order the fund to shift its holdings out of billions of dollars of stock in companies whose businesses rely at least 30 percent on coal.”

Oslo’s coal divestment is to be applauded. But cynics will point out that much of Norway’s sovereign and personal income flows from royalties and jobs in offshore oil and gas wells.

Coal is certainly dirty in many ways. An article in the Sunday New York Times entitled Coal In Poland Is Lowering Life Spans says,

“Poland has the highest levels in Europe of the tiny pollution particles that are strongly linked to serious health problems like heart attacks, strokes, cancer and even dementia, said Martin Adams, an air quality expert at the European Environment Agency. Poland is home to six of Europe’s 10 most polluted cities, the agency’s figures show. That filthy air is largely a result of Poland’s heavy reliance on both hard coal and lignite, which is also known as brown coal. With energy policy on the agenda as the Group of Seven leaders meet this week, clean power is still in its infancy in Poland, where a tangle of political and economic forces have kept coal secure in its place as the dominant fuel. About 85 percent of electricity and 43 percent of heat come from the fuel some call ‘Polish gold,’ the government estimates.”

When the UN COP19 climate summit met in Warsaw in December 2013, the Polish Coal Institute was an official sponsor and numerous workshops were held on the prospects for “clean coal”–a disgraceful fraud that is no longer tenable. Coal has to go pronto if we are to avoid climate catastrophe.

But that doesn’t mean that expanded use of only relatively “cleaner” oil and gas is the solution to the crisis. That’s sort of like telling gun control advocates that we agree to ban the deadly 50-cal handguns but let’s leave alone the 38s and 9mils that often only wound their victims. We also have to target oil and gas for elimination to stop global warming.

Granted, restructuring a sustainable world powered by 100 percent clean renewable energy will not be accomplished overnight. By necessity, there will be a transition period where we must continue to use a steadily declining share of fossil and nuclear fuels. This can be done through intelligent, democratic, centralized planning in a new emergency public sector based on nationalized industries—not through market gimmicks such as carbon price, carbon tax, or cap-and-trade.

From a working class point of view, we also need to raise an additional demand not mentioned by the oil companies, or even most of the negotiators who will be showing up in Paris in December for COP21. That is the need for a Just Transition for workers whose jobs will be eliminated by the ongoing fossil and nuclear phaseout and industries dependent on them. It’s our duty to guarantee no worker will be left behind. We need to provide retraining, and relocation if necessary, while maintaining their living standards until they find suitable new jobs. The bosses that have reaped enormous profits for more than a century from these climate and environment wrecking industries should be made to foot the bill for job reclamation as well as ecological restoration.

Just Transition should begin right now in the coal industry. Already taking a beating from the glut of dirty fracked oil and gas, both Big Oil and climate activists will be stepping up the effort to leave coal in the ground. We can’t survive the crisis with coal. We see the coal bosses as our enemy. But we care deeply about the working, retired, and unemployed coal miners who have played such an honorable role in the battles of American labor. We will not abandon them.

> The article above was written by Bill Onasch, and is reprinted from the KC Labor Week in Review.

No comments: