Global Warming and Economic Crisis Lead to One Solution: Climate Jobs

Climate Jobs(Screengrab: The Real News)SHARMINI PERIES, EXEC. PRODUCER, TRNN: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Sharmini Peries, coming to you from Baltimore.

The urgency of the climate change crisis has been ripping across the world, culminating in catastrophic climate disasters such as a Superstorm Sandy, Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines, Katrina in New Orleans. These are some of the symptoms of the problem. This week, the IPC see also underlined the urgency of global warming crisis in a synthesis report sent to nation-states prior to the UN climate summit taking place in late September in New York City.

On this Labor Day, however, we are challenged by how do we rebuild the economy that is still sluggish after the economic crisis and tackle climate change both at the same time. Climate activist Bill McKibben in a Rolling Stone article coined the slogan “CLIMATE/JOBS. TWO CRISES, ONE SOLUTION”. Is that possible? How do we reorganize our economy to counter the climate change crises?

To discuss this, we have two panelists joining us from New York City today.

May Boeve. May is the executive director of 350.org, an international climate change campaign. She is also coauthor of Fight Global Warming Now.

Also joining us from New York City is Bruce Hamilton. Bruce is vice president of the Amalgamated Transit Union, the largest union that represents public transit workers in North America and the first U.S. union to join the fight against the Keystone XL Pipeline.

Thank you both for joining us.

BRUCE HAMILTON, INTERNATIONAL VP, AMALGAMATED TRANSIT UNION: Good to be here.

PERIES: So let me start with you, Bruce. This debate is really about developing new jobs, transitioning old jobs, so that we reduce carbon emissions. Then why are some of the unions so slow on the take?

HAMILTON: Why are some unions so slow on the take? Internationally, labor unions have been on the forefront of the fight against climate change for many years, for decades. U.S. unions have maybe been a little bit slow to catch on, but the fact is we are catching on. And the big climate march that’s coming up to support a treaty at the UN next month will be joined by about 75 labor organizations. And the numbers are growing every day. So labor unions in the U.S. may have been sort of behind the unions internationally, but unions have for a long time recognized that climate change is the number-one issue really facing labor. It’s the biggest issue that labor has ever faced. And it’s also—labor provides the solution to climate change.

PERIES: May, in your organizing efforts for the September 21 march in New York during the United Nations Climate Summit, you were making a special effort to reach out to unions and getting them to endorse the march. How are unions responding to this?

MAY BOEVE, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, 350.ORG: Very positively. And Bruce has been at the forefront of this. And it should be said that jobs in the transit sector are part of the solution to climate change. We need fewer people relying on individual automobiles to get around, and transit is a big part of the solution. As Bruce said, we’ve had 75 unions endorse the march, just today, two more—the international Service Employees International Union (SEIU), and the NEA, the major international teachers union, have endorsed.

And endorsements are one thing, and coming out to march together is another. And it’s our goal to show on September 21 that there really is a united movement calling on leaders to act on climate change. And it’s really much too late to act, but we’re here to say the time is now and we’re here united together.

PERIES: So let me ask both of you this question. It is appears that it is really the fossil fuel emission industry and the unions affiliated with those workers that might be having difficulty, because they can really not see their own future in the tackle and in the climate change and green jobs campaign. How do you address that? Bruce, why don’t you start. Yeah.

HAMILTON: Sure. In fact, there are far, far more jobs in fighting climate change than in trying to go along with the [incompr.] for more and more environmentally destructive projects. The union leaders may be not as attuned to that as many of the workers in those industries, at least in the United States. I don’t know if you know, but in Canada the main union that represents workers in the Alberta tar sands actually has a position against further development of the tar sands, because they understand what a danger it is to everybody.

A union’s very first priority is——well, we always say an injury to one is an injury to all. And unless we do whatever we can to protect the earth—there are no jobs on a dead planet. Labor’s number-one priority is to get involved in the fight for climate change—fight against climate change, sorry. And that is truly where the jobs are. As Bill McKibben put it, climate jobs, meaning the doing of the job itself, fights climate change. And certainly, as May said, transit jobs are all climate jobs, but there’s tons of climate jobs in energy production and distribution. Fixing the distribution system so that it doesn’t have the leaks and making it far more efficient, stopping the leakage of methane from the production of natural gas, and from just retrofitting buildings so that they use less energy, there’s tons and tons, millions of jobs. And the unions’ role should be to make sure that all of those jobs are good union jobs going forward. And we believe that that is what is going to be happening. And you’ll see that very soon.

PERIES: May, what is your position on workers working in the emissions industry?

BOEVE: I agree with Bruce said. And, you know, there’s a concept that’s referred to as just transition, which is the idea that as we transition from the fossil economy that contributes to climate change into a new economy, primarily reliant on renewable energy, clean energy, we have to think about the workers who currently work in that old economy. And they weren’t the ones who made the decision to invest all this money in finding new areas to exploit like the tar sands, but that are trying to find good work. And so I think it’s very important that the climate movement express this position. And that will be an important story going forward about how do we actually move into this next economy in a way that creates more economic opportunity, not less.

And I just want to underscore Bruce’s point that tackling climate change is a huge opportunity to jump-start the economy. And more and more sectors of the economy are starting to think along these lines, and Bruce mentioned a number of them. And my favorite example is waste. Every city has a program to deal with its waste. And recycling, actually, is one of the biggest job producers of any sector in the green economy. And just think about on a daily basis if you’re watching this webinar how much you throw away and actually the potential to create the green economy and as we think about waste differently. And that’s just one example.

PERIES: Bruce, in the past, governments have—especially in the United States, I should emphasize—have heavily relied on the corporate sector to address the climate crises and somewhat regulating it on one hand you, but also relying on it to create a green economy. And yet this week’s IPCC report is really directed towards the governments and the governments must take leadership in addressing climate change. How are unions positioned in this debate?

HAMILTON: In the United States, of course, unions’ position is evolving. Internationally, all of the big union federations are united in pressing governments. And that’s why we’re coming together at the UN later is to press the world’s leaders to really take a lead and take the battle away, really, from the owners of the fossil fuel industry. They have no choice, really, but to exploit their resources. There are trillions of dollars worth of fossil fuel reserves, and their intention is to burn it. And we simply can’t afford to allow them to do that. And only governments, only the world’s leaders getting together can really stop them from doing that. And so unions need to be increasingly taking the position that social and environmental concerns need to be driving our economy, rather than having the economy driving social and economic conditions and environmental conditions. It’s only when people get together democratically through their governments that we’re going to really see that happen, because the owners of the fossil fuel industry have made it very clear that they’re simply not going to engage in the kinds of activities that are necessary to get emissions down to a point where life is sustainable on earth.

PERIES: May, what about you? I know that social movements have lost faith in corporations trying to resolve this issue. Is your campaign more directed at governments?

BOEVE: Well, this is no ordinary summit that’s coming up in September. Heads of state from all of the world will be there. President Obama will be there, and so will heads from other major countries. And so this is actually a gathering that hasn’t happened in a very long time to try and build the kind of political momentum that will be needed to do all the things that Bruce was saying. And a problem as big as climate change cannot be fixed without government action at the highest level. So we know that to be true, and the findings in the IPCC report only underscore that.

Now, you ask, what about the role of corporations? One of our major campaigns at 350 is focused on the fossil fuel industry as a sector, and it’s modeled on the campaign that eventually helped bring down the apartheid regime in South Africa, which is to divest, have institutions that have large investments in the fossil fuel sector—coal, oil, and gas—actually take their money out of that sector and move it into the clean energy sector. And so this divest and invest message is a crucial one, and it’s one way of demonstrating that the fossil fuel industry, if not checked, will burn every reserve that they have. And the people on this planet and the ecosystems on this planet simply can’t afford that. So we’ve been working to move these massive pools of capital to try and rebuild the new economy.

And some governments have taken up the banner, and some cities are divesting, and some states will divest. And so it really is a movement that’s sweeping not just the U.S., but many other countries as well, including Australia and many parts of the European Union.

PERIES: Okay. Here’s one last kind of a fun question to you. If you could get one solid ear at the summit, which country and which leader would you choose, and what would you say to them? Bruce?

HAMILTON: President Obama is in charge of the country which has been the major stumbling block to getting—20 years [inaud.] gotten together and tried to put together an agreement to reduce emissions, and it’s principally the United States that has been holding that back. President Obama is in a unique position to take the lead. And we intend to be out there on the streets encouraging him to do just that on September 21. Everybody that’s listening to this program needs to join us there in New York City, September 21, Columbus Circle, 11:30 a.m.

HAMILTON: I once again agree with what Bruce said. And just to add to it a little bit, as someone who lives in this country and was part of watching the fervor that helped elect President Obama, this March really represents that same set of people who came together to usher in his presidency. And it’s not yesterday’s environmental movement. This is a much broader coalition and set of people who will be there, people who are concerned about immigration reform, civil rights, racial justice, all the many issues that unite the progressive movement. We’re all going to be there on the 21st. And that’s what I want the president to know, that it’s the people who elected him, who helped bring him to where he is, that believe that he has to take leadership on this issue at this time.

PERIES: Okay. All the best to you both for organizing the 21st. Thank you for joining us.

BOEVE: Sure. Thanks. Bye.

PERIES: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.